On The Move

It’s no secret that the ARRI ALEXA is a well-executed digital cinema camera that has become a favorite for projects as diverse as blockbuster theatrical releases and popular television series over the past few years. The ALEXA is even being used to shoot commercials and music videos, as well. The camera’s very organic image quality, dynamic range and general look have proven to be a major hit. Given ARRI’s long history and heritage of creating innovative film cameras and lighting gear, it’s not surprising that the ALEXA has been popular in the cinematography community.

The new ARRI AMIRA was introduced at the 2013 European IBC Show in Amsterdam. Representing a whole new direction for ARRI, the camera is intended to tap into markets where utilizing a camera like the ALEXA, which is designed as a two-operator digital cinema camera, just isn’t practical. A fully outfitted ALEXA for cinema production is a large, heavy camera setup. ARRI obviously saw an opportunity in the market for a very high-quality, yet highly portable camera system and acted upon it. The AMIRA was conceived to be easily utilized by a solo operator. It’s smaller, lighter and presumably will cost less than the ALEXA (ARRI hasn’t yet released an MSRP), yet it still shares the same sensor and image quality as the ALEXA.

So will the AMIRA just be a smaller ALEXA designed for handheld shooting? Let’s explore some of the more interesting tidbits ARRI has put out to the press.

IMAGING

Let’s cut to the chase. The AMIRA, at least at press time, won’t support any form of 4K image acquisition. I asked ARRI, and they replied that they’re not able to comment on potential future camera products. Filmmakers, DPs and other image-quality watchdogs already have began asking how the AMIRA will be able to compete with other digital cinema cameras like the RED EPIC and the Sony F5, F55 and F65, all of which are capable of capturing at 4K or higher spatial resolutions. AMIRA captures 2K or 1920×1080 files in Rec. 709 or Log C using ProRes LT, 422, 422 HQ or 444 codecs. More on this later.

Markus Dürr, Product Manager for the AMIRA, is based in Munich, Germany, at ARRI’s headquarters. "The design goal for AMIRA was primarily to get a camera that’s perfectly suited for any kind of documentary-style shooting," he reveals.

While the AMIRA doesn’t boast 4K capabilities, ARRI has included some other specifications that are impressive. How does a camera with a dynamic range that exceeds 14 stops, low noise levels, subtle highlight handling, natural color and especially smooth, flattering skin tones sound?

While the AMIRA wasn’t available for a hands-on review, I’ve shot with the ALEXA, and one of the things that continually impresses me about that camera is the incredibly smooth and lifelike skin tones. Other cameras I’ve shot with, which shall remain unnamed, have much higher spatial resolution than the ALEXA, but all of that resolution really has little to do with how the footage will look to someone on their computer screen or on a large movie screen.

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