Why the ARRI Alexa is One of the Most Popular Cameras for Film
History of ARRI Cameras
The origins of ARRI lie in a small shop in Munich, opened by August Arnold and Robert Richter in 1917. Among the various things the shop sold were film cameras and other related apparatus.
ARRI’s first products were printing machines and lights for filmmaking. The first camera Arnold and Richter built was the KINARRI 35.
When Richter visited the USA in 1925, he saw how Hollywood studios were using bigger and heavier cameras. This observation influenced future ARRI camera designs.
The breakthrough came in 1936, with the prototype for a new lightweight camera, the ARRIFLEX 35.
During World War II, German combat cameramen used ARRIFLEX cameras, and the first ones to make their way to America were captured by the allies during the war.
After the war, with ARRI resuming manufacturing, the company released its next generation ARRIFLEX 35 II camera. With more Hollywood films being shot on location from the late 1960s onwards, ARRIFLEX cameras became more widely used.
This included such cultural landmarks of cinema as Easy Rider (1969).
The ARRIFLEX 35 III was the new model released by ARRI in 1979. In the meantime, it had also produced the 35BL, its first silent 35mm production camera.
Various notable Hollywood films used this model, including Taxi Driver (1976), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Shining (1980).
From the end of the 1980s onwards, larger formats and faster speeds began to dominate filmmaking. The ARRIFLEX 765 arrived in 1989, innovating the use of a separate, electronically-synchronised camera movement motor to minimise noise.
In 1994, the ARRIFLEX 535 represented a further technical advance, with its adjustable viewfinder system. The company went on to refine this initial version to make it less bulky.
Meanwhile the ARRIFLEX 435 replaced the 35 III.
The company adapted agilely to the digital age, bringing out the ARRI D-20 in 2005 and D-21 in 2008. And then, the first ARRI Alexa model in 2010. Housing the infamous ALEV III CMOS Bayer sensor, that would go on to be used in all models of ALEXA and Amira up to present day including ALEXA LF and ALEXA 65.
The Move to Digital: ARRI Alexa
The move to digital worked well for ARRI. The ALEXA looked and felt familiar enough as an ARRI camera, and the company’s researchers had looked extensively at things like image processing and what pictures should look like when comparing to film.
The images that the ALEXA captured did not look like video, they appeared cinematic. The camera’s dynamic range and exposure range was similar to film, as was its ability to expose highlights and shadows.
It had the image processing capability to achieve cinematic imagery, a familiarity we as an audience have adopted since the dawn of film.
The original ALEXA went on to become one of the most successful digital cine cameras of all time. By 2017, it was being used in 80% of major motion picture productions.
Crews were already familiar with the ARRI name and with its kit, including the lenses and peripherals they could continue to use with the new, digital ARRI cameras.
But the real proof was in the results: pictures that looked more like film.
Another major benefit of the ALEXA, which has supported its widespread adoption, is how simple it is to learn to use and operate. With digital came vast menus and more buttons, ARRI’s simplified design based on their history of film cameras made digital to film enthusiasts.
Excellent Image Quality
A key feature of the ARRI ALEXA for filmmakers is image quality. Colour reproduction and grain texture are stand-out features, due to the way the camera has been engineered to produce more textured, softer images whilst still retaining resolution and detail.
With the ARRI ALEXA, you do not get images that feel too sharp or overly digital.
The way the company’s engineers have concentrated on colour science has continued to pay off, helping to produce natural skin-tones and familiar highlight roll off that was previously unseen in digital cameras. The ALEXA’s imaging system is highly sensitive, and it will maintain its dynamic range at all sensitivity settings.
The camera has the ability to show the operator a surround view to allow them to see edge of frame, booms and marks entering show or record Open Gate allowing the full extent of the sensor to be recorded especially useful for VFX.
It is an example of how the ALEXA effortlessly combines technical excellence with ease of use.
The Same Sensor
All ALEXA cameras have the same sensor, the ALEV III . This shows an enormous amount of confidence in their original concept. This also allows operators and Directors of Photography to understand how to light and expose scenes so they do not have to be concerned with if the camera is capable or not.
For the end-user, it means they can rent any ARRI ALEXA and be sure of the results. The imagery will be of the same high standard that people have come to expect from ARRI.
Different designs will vary in terms of size and functions, but they are all fundamentally built around the same sensor.
ARRIRAW allows full date and information from the sensor to allow the most flexibility in post production. This format retains the camera’s natural colour response and exposure as uncompressed and unprocessed sensor data.
It is the digital equivalent of a film negative, which the camera then processes, converting the single channel image into a colour image for normal viewing.
It retains the pristineness of the raw recorded data, which allows you to go back and refine your results in post production.
This represents a significant advantage for post production, visual and special effects as well as the end to end image.
ARRI ALEXA Mini
The ARRI ALEXA Mini has proved to be extremely popular with documentary and independent filmmakers.
Essentially, it’s a lightweight variant of the full size ALEXA model, with a carbon fibre body weighing in at 2.3 kg.
It enables filmmakers to shoot anywhere or mount the camera on to anything with superb image quality. It is perfect for gimbal and drone work too. It features interchangeable lens mounts, and is capable of working with anamorphic lenses.
The Mini was updated with a full frame ALEV III sensor in 2019 to achieve true 4K imagery for requirements from 4K broadcasters, the ALEXA Mini LF goes on to continue the original Mini’s success while we patiently wait for the announced and delayed ALEXA Mini II.
The ALEXA range of cameras continues to set the industry standard for modern, digital filmmaking.