So I got a chance to work on a set yesterday with a brand new, just out of the box, Arri Alexa. I was incredibly excited to see how it performed as I have been hearing about this camera for little while now. Keep in mind that I did not personally use the Alexa on this shoot, but I am friends with the camera team so I hung out with them all day. This is a lot of their feedback and I just wanted to share it. I cannot back up any of this stuff, so if you know something isn’t true, leave a comment! I will be primarily comparing it with my also limited knowledge of the RED, seeing as that is it’s primary competition.
First off, Arri makes great cameras. I have shot with a few of their film cameras before so it was nice to see and feel a camera with familiar menus and button placement. And the menus are definitely a plus on the Alexa. They are a lot easier to find your way around than RED menus. You have a nice big screen on the smart side of camera to easily see where you are navigating to without the need of an external monitor.
Secondly it is nice in that it comes with things like a top handle, shoulder pad, and EVF. It has built in places for rails, and handles for going handheld…with a rec button on it. It just feels over all like a more professional body than the RED, which it should. After all it costs about $40,000 more than a RED.
One big upside to the Alexa is that it shoots in ProRes. Either LT, HQ, or 444. Which means you get viewable and editable .mov’s right out of the camera. No need to use a debayer or compression on it. One big downside of that though is that it is not shooting in RAW like RED. I guess Arri is going to come out with hard drives soon for the Alexa that will enable you to then record some sort of ArriRAW format, but as of now, no RAW.
In terms of being buggy, which I had heard the Alexa is, it seems Arri has fixed most of those problems at this point. They only ran into one bug on the shoot. The battery died during one take right at the very end, signaling a bunch of error messages. Luckily the Alexa does not have to finish writing a clip after you stop recording. It is finishing as it goes, I think it is always 3 seconds behind. So even if you lose power, the most you will love of a clip is 3 seconds, not the whole clip. However, after the battery died, the Alexa would not shut down properly. It kept trying to reboot every 2 or 3 seconds until they figured out that the battery was dead and yanked it.
Speaking of batteries, the Alexa burned through them. They had 4 large anton bauer batteries that were gone within the first half of the day. They had to get more batteries brought in from the rental house and it ate through those too. I don’t know if this is a normal thing with the Alexa or what, but that has definitely got to change.
So here are a few more cons. No playback. Apparently this is coming in some sort of update at some point…but as of now, you cannot do any sort of playback from the camera. You have to download the clips. Not a big deal, but when the talent wants to see the shot to get a feel for what they need to change in their performance, which happened yesterday, there was no way of accomplishing that.
The other issue is that it shoots to sony SxS cards, which isn’t a big deal, but it means you have to get another card reader…and the 2nd AC said he would much prefer CF cards. I have never had any major issues with SxS cards, but I do have to agree that I like CF cards better. And he is smart so I’m assuming he has a pretty good reason.
As far as the image quality, it looks fantastic. Although I must say, on the monitor I really couldn’t tell it apart from something shot on RED MX. I asked the DP what his thoughts were on it. He said he really liked it, a lot more than he expected to. He said after working with RED for the past few years, that he was very impressed with the Alexa.
So all in all I think Arri has an amazing camera that we are going to see a lot more of in the near future, however, I don’t think there are enough pros for the price at this point and I think RED will continue to be the main camera around here for a while at least.
***Here is a few corrections from the DP Rhet Bear: “hey chris, just read your blog… nice write up. few corrections for you. the screen is actually on the “dumb” side of the camera… one of my biggest problems with the design. Also the batteries that we were using the first have of the day weren’t AB… we did use the aunton’s later in the day and they held up much better than the blocks in the morning. they also helped balance the camera much better when we went hand held. I was told that our blocks had all been recently recell’d, but my guess is they either weren’t, or the recell’d happened long ago… :)
also regarding the SxS cards… I don’t know if I prefer CF cards over them, but the design of the alexa body actually allows you to insert the SxS card flipped, and then it get’s stuck. This didn’t happen during the shoot, but during the prep I inserted the card upside down and it felt like it went in properly…
glad you were able to see it in action! since it was my first day on set with it, I was shocked at how smooth the shoot went. the 18 second reboot times were great compared to the “redelays” I think this camera will take some work away from mx bodies… we’ll see what the Epic has for us later in the year…”