April 2013

First Look: ARRI ALEXA XT

ARRIRAW, true anamorphic capture and internal ND (but no 4K)
By Neil Matsumoto

The ARRI ALEXA was introduced in 2010, and in just a few short years, the camera has taken over the professional production space with cinematographers widely considering it to be the first "film-style" digital motion-picture camera. At this year’s Academy Awards®, the ALEXA was well represented (Zero Dark Thirty, Amour), with Claudio Miranda winning the Oscar® for Best Cinematography for his work on Life of Pi. Even master cinematographer Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, who shot Skyfall with the ALEXA, revealed that the camera’s tonal range, color space and latitude exceeded that of film.

ARRI just announced the new ALEXA line with features that have been requested by professional users. The ALEXA XT, ST M, XT Plus and XT Studio cameras will replace all previous models with the exception of the original ALEXA.

ALL IN WITH ARRIRAW

With the release of the new ALEXA XT, perhaps the biggest winner is data recorder company Codex Digital. All XT models contain the new XR Module, a side panel that was developed with Codex to replace the SxS Module. The XR Module is smaller, lighter, more affordable and will record ARRIRAW inside the camera without cables. Also, with the new ALEXA, ARRIRAW can be captured at speeds of up to 120 fps onto 512 GB XR Capture Drives. You also can still capture ProRes and DNxHD files for longer recording times, as well as ProRes 4444 at 120 fps. By using familiar Codex workflows, the XR Module will give filmmakers more post solutions.

TRUE ANAMORPHIC CAPTURE

Recently, ARRI/Zeiss have announced a new line of anamorphic lenses that are designed for both 35mm film and digital cameras. Although the ALEXA’s sensor hasn’t changed in terms of resolution, its 4:3 sensor delivers a true cinematic widescreen look when used with true anamorphic lenses unlike the rectangular-shaped sensors of most other digital cameras. An anamorphic de-squeeze license is included for all XT cameras, as is a high-speed license for 120 fps capture. Even if you’re not shooting widescreen, the 4:3 sensor gives you an advantage because you’re able to reframe your shots in post, like you would with 4-perf 35mm film.

INTERNAL ND

The new ALEXA XT cameras contain an in-camera Filter Module, IFM-1, which rates the cameras at a base sensitivity of EI 800 without using external ND filters, even when shooting in bright sunlight. The Precision IRND filters used with the IFM-1 are based on technology that will give you the highest image quality and perfect color balance, from ND 0.3 to 2.4.

OTHER NEW FEATURES

Lens metadata is becoming increasingly more important for an efficient VFX workflow, and the ALEXA XT models all contain the ARRI LDS (Lens Data System) lens mount. The LDS mount reads the position on all lens rings and records them as metadata in the ALEXA format. There are now over 41 lenses that have LDS built in, including the ARRI/Zeiss Master Anamorphic, Master Prime and LDS Ultra Prime series, the Master Macro 100 and the ARRI/Fujinon Alura Lightweight Zooms.

For more comfortable viewing, the ALEXA XT models contain a new Viewfinder Mounting Bracket, VMB-3, which has a more rigid design, while still providing comfort for the camera operator. Two 15mm rods enable quick changes in camera support since accessories can be hung from the rods rather than off the baseplate. ARRI is also releasing a separate accessory, the Viewfinder Extension Bracket, VEB-3, which has a fold-out extension arm that holds the viewfinder in place during camera moves.

Unlike many digital cameras, the ALEXA runs very quiet. Now the XTs incorporate an even quieter fan, which provides an extra safety margin shooting in hot or sensitive locations.

WHAT, NO 4K?

Although these are exciting new features targeting the highest end of users, the most notable omission from the ALEXA XTs is 4K capture. ARRI has always believed that latitude trumps resolution, and this is one of the primary reasons why cinematographers have chosen the ALEXA over other systems. But in today’s marketplace, with Sony, RED, Canon and even GoPro going "all in" with 4K, it’s inevitable that ARRI will have to do the same. And although 4K isn’t for everyone, in terms of archival, it’s already essential. (In terms of photosites, it’s important to remember that the ALEXA does capture 2880×1620 and then is downsampled to 1920×1080.) I’m sure in the next year ARRI will implement 4K capture.

UPGRADE

ALEXA camera owners will be able to purchase individual upgrades that will give you the same features of the new XT configuration. Pricing is not yet available. For more information, visit ARRI at www.arri.com.

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