In The Driver’s Seat

Along with Panavision, ARRI has been the gold standard in the production industry for decades, but the Munich-based company has had a much smoother transition to the digital age than their American rival. ARRI released the Arriflex D-20/21 in 2005, and although it wasn’t an immediate success, cinematographers appreciated that ARRI listened to their needs for the new format. It wasn’t until the release of the ALEXA in 2010 that ARRI took pole position in the professional market.

In 10 years, it’s an understatement to say we’ve come a long way in digital sensor technology. For years, one of the biggest criticisms of the ALEXA camera was that it didn’t offer 4K capture. Because the ALEXA is a professional digital camera system whose primary distribution is through broadcast and cinema, ARRI took its time in releasing a 4K camera since 2K and 1080 are still the dominant distribution channels.

ARRI ALEXA SXT

At Cinec 2014, ARRI blew the 4K myth out of the water by announcing the ALEXA 65, a 65mm digital camera with a monster sensor (54.12×25.59mm) that’s larger than 5-perf 65mm film. It can capture full-resolution Open Gate (6560×3100 ARRIRAW) at 24 fps. Because of the sensor, they also created a series of high-performance 65mm prime and zoom lenses, which consist of a 50-110mm Zoom 65 and eight Prime 65 lenses, ranging from 24mm to 300mm. The lenses are basically Hasselblad medium-format glass housed in cine-style lens barrels. You should also know that the ALEXA 65 isn’t for sale and only available through ARRI Rental. I’m betting the ALEXA 65 will be the camera that directors Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson shoot their first digital movies with.

As for its popular doc-style AMIRA, ARRI released Software Update Packet (SUP) 2.0, which unlocks 4K UHD recording and lets you capture ProRes codecs up to ProRes 4444 in 3840×2160 resolution up to 60 fps to CFast 2.0 cards.

4K AT LAST

Now ARRI offers both 4K Cine and 4K UHD on its latest and signature ALEXA camera, the ALEXA SXT. Like other ALEXAs, the SXT contains the same 3.4K ALEV III sensor, but adds the ALEXA 65’s electronics, which contain new FPGA processors that ramp up image processing, enable advanced pixel correction and reduce noise. (In layman’s terms, it greatly improves overall image quality.) Like the ALEXA XT, the SXT contains Open Gate, 4:3 and 16:9 sensor modes, which can be recorded in ARRIRAW or ProRes.

The SXT also introduces a new type of look file, the ALF-2 (ARRI Look File 2), which has an ASC CDL (Color Decision List), as well as a 3D LUT (Look-Up Table). The SXT’s color-management engine matches the look of current ALEXA cameras, but the engine lets you create new looks, as well. For film crews, there are three HD-SDI outputs, which can allow a Log C image to be shown to the director for live grading, a Rec. 709 image to be output to video village and a Rec. 709 image with status overlays on the camera’s onboard monitor.

SXT cameras will arrive mid-2015 and will consist of SXT EV, SXT Plus and SXT Studio models. They will replace current XT cameras, although the Classic EV model will remain in the lineup.

THE MIGHTY MINI

Three-axis gimbal rigs like Freefly Systems’ MoVI and DJI’s Ronin have completely disrupted the camera movement industry. You no longer have to be a trained Steadicam operator to get dynamic movement in a scene, but you do need a smaller camera. Capitalizing on this trend, ARRI recently announced the ALEXA Mini, which will start shipping mid-2015. The Mini is one of the most unique cameras ARRI has brought to market in years. It’s designed to be used for specialized shots, but contains most of the features you would expect from an ALEXA system, and you can also record 4K UHD ProRes files like the AMIRA. But its killer app is its compact size (the Mini is small enough to fit in a backpack), so you no longer have to use other manufacturers’ cameras to capture specialty shots, making your color grade faster and more consistent.

ARRI ALEXA mini

Unique shooting applications for the Mini would be tight locations where it would be difficult to bring a full-size ALEXA body (e.g., in a car). For stabilization, the Mini can be mounted in the latest gimbal rigs or on high-end, gyro-stabilized aerial systems (you probably wouldn’t want to fly this on your sub-$1,000 drone). Because of ARRI’s low-light performance, the Mini is also great for underwater shooting. (Third-party manufacturers are currently developing underwater housings for the system.)

Other key features include integrated and environmentally sealed electronics, a lightweight carbon housing and a titanium PL mount that connects with the new internal sensor mount, giving you a stable flange focal distance, even with huge lenses. You can operate the Mini remotely or like a traditional camera with a viewfinder, or onboard monitor, and controlled by a user-button interface. It also has an interchangeable-lens mount that you can replace with any mount designed for the AMIRA (B4, EF, etc.).

The Mini contains a 4:3 sensor, automatic de-squeeze mode for anamorphic shooting and frame rates of 0.75 to 200 fps. Regarding codecs, it can record ProRes or uncompressed ARRIRAW to CFast 2.0 cards in-camera or to an external Codex recorder that can record up to four ALEXA Minis simultaneously for 360º plate shots—VR-ready. This versatile little camera packs some serious punch!

Learn more about ARRI products at www.arri.com.

The Big Picture

ARRI to release an ultrawide anamorphic zoom, the AUWZ 19-36/T4.2
By Neil Matsumoto

Widescreen Super 35 is out. Anamorphic is in. Recently, ARRI has dominated the digital anamorphic wave for movie production with its ALEXA Plus 4:3, Studio and M cameras. With a 4:3 sensor, the full area of the sensor is used, giving you better image quality because you’re not throwing out additional information by cropping the sides of the sensor.

If you’re unfamiliar to the format, anamorphic lenses use cylindrical, or curved, optics to squeeze the image horizontally onto a frame, and then during projection, the image is "unsqueezed" to a widescreen theater screen by an anamorphic projection lens. The aspect ratio of the widescreen format is 2.39:1, but usually referred to as 2.40:1. In terms of a look, the lenses are known for blue-tinged lens flares with a beautiful bokeh. Up until recently, shooting in the anamorphic format has been more difficult than Super 35 and its spherical lenses due to a lack of versatile anamorphic lenses.

ARRI has a successful lineup of professional anamorphic prime lenses with its ARRI/Zeiss Master Anamorphic lenses. At NAB 2015, ARRI introduced a new zoom lens, the ARRI Anamorphic Ultra Wide Zoom AUWZ 19-36/T4.2. The AUWZ has a unique telecentric optical design so it gives you consistent field illumination, from the center to the corners. Also, the anamorphic elements are positioned at the back of the lens, so focus breathing is reduced, as well as distortion, even at close focus.

The AUWZ’s flares are controlled by a multilayer, anti-reflective lens coating that generates creaminess around the highlights and gives your night shots a dreamlike look. The zoom can also capture great close-ups, which was probably the most difficult thing to achieve in CinemaScope. To obtain metadata for zoom, focus and aperture settings, the AUWZ contains LDS (Lens Data System) functionality, which will assist your complicated setups and post workflows.

The release date is still pending, but it’s safe to say, the AUWZ soon will be the hottest lens on the rental market.

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