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Monday, January 3, 2011

Alexa In The Field

Three cinematographers working in three different production styles push the new ARRI ALEXA to the limit

Labels: CinematographyARRI

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Foerster counts the immediacy of watching dailies the same night and seeing pretty much what you get on a monitor a great advantage. “Obviously, that’s a danger because you suddenly have a lot of people standing there giving input, whereas before you would just have a crummy little video tap that’s never a real reference,” she says. “We mostly shot with two cameras, and I had two waveform monitors above the main viewing monitor. So I was watching the image in a relatively good quality and cross-checking with the wavelength monitors on top. I was also using my light meter. There’s a temptation not to use it sometimes, but that would be a big mistake because you start out with a certain light level and you need to know it. You need to know where you are and how much you’re moving away from that level.”

What Foerster found fascinating about ALEXA is the workflow. “The footage lands in post the same day, ready for the visual effects people to check the greenscreens and start compositing,” she says. “There was a debate at the beginning about bluescreen vs. greenscreen, but I think a greenscreen environment, though it isn’t pleasant to work with, was the better choice with ALEXA.”


TIM DASHWOOD: PUTTING ALEXA TO THE TEST FOR A 3D MUSIC VIDEO
“ARRI really did their homework with ALEXA,” says Canadian-based cinematographer Tim Dashwood, admittedly one of the early “trimmed down D-21” scoffers. “They obviously listened to input from camera operators, ACs and DPs. Everything about it seems familiar the first time you touch
it. On the outside, ALEXA feels like a solid workhouse that doesn’t have to be treated with kid gloves. It balances on the shoulder the way you would expect any ARRI camera to.

Cinematographer Tim Dashwood shot a 3D music video with two ALEXA bodies. According to Dashwood, the ALEXA’s most significant feature is the onboard ability to record directly into Apple’s ProRes codec for immediate dailies and editing in Final Cut Studio.
“You don’t have to be a computer genius or specially trained AC to get it up and running. This is highly appreciated, since the firmware on competing camera systems seems to be updated every few weeks. The ALEXA menu system makes sense, has a simple dial that can be operated in all weather conditions and uses film stock terminology we can all understand. The most talked about feature is the sensitivity, low noise and wide latitude of the sensor, which is absolutely mind-blowing. However, I think the most significant feature for TV and film production is the onboard ability to record directly into Apple’s ProRes codec for immediate dailies and editing in Final Cut Studio—no sensitive hard drives, no time to ingest and no tethered decks.”

Adds Dashwood, “The option of the ARRIRAW workflow [instead of ProRes] will give even more wiggle room to grade the image in DI. Also, the PL mount can be replaced with Panavision or SLR mounts. The HD viewfinder is very good, but I’m looking forward to working with the more advanced model with an optical viewfinder.”

Dashwood was sold on the camera, and when he found out two ALEXA bodies would be available on the same day, he jumped on the idea of shooting a test for 3D capabilities, noise and latitude. “I decided to do something to keep the attention of a producer and director who would be evaluating the shots,” he says. “I phoned an artist I had shot a few music videos for in the past, and she agreed to sing one of her new songs for us as we performed one long take as she walked from one set to another. We were able to go from very low-light, 1-watt bulbs on a Christmas tree to daylight outside without changing the exposure. I used an ISO of 320, T2.8 on a 18mm Zeiss Master Prime, and a 180º shutter in LogC mode. It was amazing how the sensor was able to handle the extreme latitude and allow me to key green leaves from a greenscreen on 10-bit ProRes 422 [HQ] clips.”

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