A Date with Alexa: This Digital Video Camera is a Gamechanger
According to Marc Weigert, the Emmy-award winning visual effects supervisor, producer, blogger and CEO of Uncharted Territory in Los Angeles, 2010 IS THE YEAR THAT CELLULOID DIED. Marc goes on to urge all DPs to “Touch the smooth plasticky emulsion one last time and relish the memory.”
Has Marc been partying with Joaquin Phoenix and Lindsay Lohan? It’s a bold statement, however, we think that film is likely to be around a while longer. But it’s nice to know that digital technology is getting to the point that it’s being used in the same sentence as film, and not just by those producers, who like shooting with digital so they can watch the dailies immediately on set. Marc was writing about Arri’s new ALEXA digital camera – and how it simply blows film out of the water. Period.
Before we go any further, we promise we won’t get all geeky and drift off into the magical land of tech specs, which face it, very few of us understand. That said … if you’re interested, and looking for a really interesting technical article, check out this link to an article written by Art Adams called “Stunning Good Looks.” Art has illustrated his writing with lots of great visual examples and added thoughful insights into ALEXA’s techs and specs.
For the rest of us, let’s start at the beginning with our desire to shoot commercials and films with digital technology without losing that filmic look. This is where ALEXA makes her grand entrance.
Digital video cameras generally consist of the same main components: Camera lens, imager, image processing and video output. How well a camera performs depends on construction, quality, and combination of these components. ALEXA is a compact, lightweight and affordable digital camera that redefines motion picture capture with ultra-fast workflows and image quality akin to 35mm film.
ALEXA has been designed to function as both a motion picture camera and a broadcast camera. For TV production, the time and cost savings as well as the extraordinary simplicity of ALEXA workflows transforms budgets and schedules, with staggering cinematic image quality. For features, the sheer variety of outputs, functions, lenses and accessories will enable filmmakers to realize their visions without ever feeling restricted by technology.
So in a nutshell, this camera is able to deliver incredible production value at an affordable cost.
Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming 3D motion picture, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is being shot with a full ALEXA system. The cinematographer is Robert Richardson, ASC and principal photography began June 28th, literally weeks after the new camera became available. That’s a kind of endorsement that money can’t buy. For Richardson, the camera delivers an increased dynamic range and sensitivity to help make the transition to 3D seamless.
If you’re a DP, the ALEV III is a Super 35 format CMOS Bayer sensor that allows the use of all 35mm PL mount lenses. Focus and depth of field can be manipulated to create rich and spellbinding cinematic images.
ALEXA’s unequalled base sensitivity of 800 EI and spectacularly wide exposure latitude over 13 stops means greater flexibility and efficiency on set. Okay, we got a little geeky for a moment. Translation: Bright windows won’t need to be covered with gels, and shooting at night is possible with fewer lights or in available light.
Now we get to the good stuff (for us that is) In post, it’s easier and faster to get the most out of the captured images on an ALEXA. More picture information in highlight and shadow areas as well as very low noise level help the colorist reduce time, effort and cost in grading. ALEXA’s super clean color separation makes shooting greenscreen and compositing effortless. New hardware that is purchased separately, allows high fidelity footage to be recorded onto Sony SxS PRO removable media cards, providing immediate availability of material into Final Cut Pro and AVID editing systems.
We like, we like.
“World Cup” is a short film that was commissioned for an event at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, where full details of ALEXA’s recording and workflow options were first revealed. Director Sam Nicholson, ASC pushed ALEXA to the limits of digital cinematography in the short, which was produced by Stargate Studios and shot by Dana Christiaansen.
Nicholson says, “We tried everything from very dark situations all the way to off-the-chart clipped. We were really interested in the dynamic range of this camera, and it’s amazing – better than anything I’ve seen on the market yet.”
According to Nicholson, they mixed the light throughtout. “We had every colour temperature in the book, just to see it in the same frame. The colourimetry of the ALEXA chip holds everything; the colour balance is enormous to be able to get detail out of the shadows and hold the highlights. This camera clearly sees beyond what you can see with your eyes.” He goes on to say, “For greenscreen, ALEXA will hold smoke, water and reflections; extremely delicate keys are possible because the blue channel is so quiet … I can’t wait to shoot more projects with it.”
Here are a few more comments from the folks who worked on “World Cup”:
The ALEXA is wonderful handheld; it sits right on your shoulder. The eyepiece in its prototype form is comfortable and seems incredibly high quality to me. It has a beautiful, sharp image; it snaps right into focus and seems to have little to no frame lag. We were chasing a soccer ball around and I felt it was really working well.
Dana Christiaansen – Cinematographer
We were lighting with some really small lights and getting stunning images from the camera. When you have a tool like that, it helps the production on so many levels. I think ARRI has made a camera that operators are going to be very happy to work with.
Brad Stonesifer – Camera Operator
ALEXA is pretty impressive; we see these digital cameras all the time and we’re constantly looking at how they live in the film space – how they resolve on film. From what we’ve seen with ALEXA just in this short period of time, it’s a game changer.
Tom Vice – VP Operations, FotoKem