The ARRI Alexa has garnered a lot of buzz recently in the digital cinema game as the industry’s new wonder-cam. It’s not surprising, I discovered, as the Alexa is a digital cinema camera that feels built for production of films in a time when still cameras and computers seem to be the digital cinema norm. This month, Jon Fauer, ASC of Film and Digital Times was lucky enough to be granted access inside ARRI headquarters and brought back some revealing information and fascinating images.
Fauer’s article begins with a brief history of the Alexa and it’s quiet murmurs of “film-like” quality at IBC before delving into an in-depth interview with Franz Kraus, ARRI managing director. One tidbit from the interview I found quite interesting was Kraus’ take on film in the industry:
Today, if you shoot a picture that is not 3D or relying heavily on CGI, probably the best thing is still film. It is future-proof. There are no archive issues. You can take it to any resolution. There are great DI tools. It’s commonplace throughout the world. There’s an established worldwide 4K capable workflow. So there is headroom. Why throw that away?
It shouldn’t really be too surprising, however, considering ARRI is still one of the largest manufacturers of film cameras in the world and is very accommodating for film workflows. And I have to agree with Kraus on his point, the only thing he left out is price. There are some cases where digital is more price-friendly, but for big-budget productions, I think that film still rules the stoop.
Fauer’s article also takes an in-depth look into the assembly process of the Alexa with a tour of the workplace. Part of that tour includes a look at the extensive quality control testing that Alexa must go through with shaking, temperature and even software “burn-in.”
As Kraus explains, “Part of why we feel rather confident in shipping products that can be used immediately on production is because we are taking as much care as possible in-house to deliver something that won’t break down in rough environments.”
Another major part of Fauer’s assembly tour included a stop where the sensor chip is attached to the camera and lens mount. The sensor is, of course, the Alexa’s claim to fame in it’s ability to handle light to a dynamic range of 14 stops (RED Epic and HDRx hope to compete). The sensor also is able to oversample it’s 2K and HD output allowing for a crisper image in the recommended resolutions.
Fauer can probably explain it better than I can, however:
The sensor does a job similar to the emulsion on film. It gathers the light onto 8.25 micron photo receptors at the image plane. It is a thin wafer with flex cables on all sides like an octopus. It’s mounted to a circuit board to keep it rigid, and a low-pass filter pack is attached.
Fauer also takes time to delve into the technology behind the Alexa, it’s short history at trade shows, and why it’s being heralded as an evolutionary step in digital cinema. I highly recommend you read and view the entirety of Jon Fauer’s 24-page report at Film and Digital Times where it’s available in Low, Medium, and High resolution PDF formats.