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April 18, 2012

At NAB, the ARRI ALEXA Quietly Continues its Takeover of the Film and Television Industries

For all of the stellar spec sheets and newfangled doodads coming out of the RED camp at NAB this year, one look at the active production landscape will show you that one camera is absolutely everywhere: the ARRI ALEXA. From feature films like Drive to TV shows like Game of Thrones to seemingly every TV commercial in existence -- seriously, almost every commercial is shot on an ALEXA these days -- the camera is as ubiquitous on high-end productions as HDSLRs are for low-end shoots (though the latter is changing with the advent of "real" large-sensor video cameras). Why is the ALEXA everywhere? Because of its stellar imagery, ease of use, established workflow, and fast turnaround time. It is not a stretch to say the ARRI ALEXA is the camera that killed film, not anything from RED (or anyone else for that matter).

This is not to disparage the offerings from RED or Canon or Sony; I'm simply stating that ARRI has done a terrific job of making a camera that fits into existing workflows, one that DPs and ACs and DITs are comfortable with, and one that has been widely adopted very rapidly. All of this had a lot do with the fact that everyone stopped making film cameras this past year. To my eye, its imagery also looks better than anyone else's -- which, quite frankly, is more important than which spec sheet looks best. I'm surprised they've shipped "only" 2,500 of them, but then again the film industry is actually fairly small, and these are rental-only cameras.

Of course, the ALEXA also has a price to match its image quality: high. At roughly $90k for a camera package, the ALEXA is not meant for indies (which is why we don't cover it as much as other cameras on this site), since its high price tag brings with it higher rental dayrates. But since we're covering all sorts of new cameras at NAB this year (have you seen the $3,000 RAW BlackMagic Design Cinema Camera?), it's worth a look at ARRI's latest developments. There's nothing earth-shatteringly new at NAB, as most of ARRI's yet-to-ship products were announced previously, but they have a number of new things on the way or shipping, like optical viewfinders, 4:3 sensors (for anamorphic lenses), new ProRes and DNxHD codecs, and a new Debayer algorithm promising "even cleaner, sharper-looking images, especially on high contrast edges and in areas with fine detail."

Next month, they'll also be shipping a new version of their ARRIRAW Converter software compatible with Macs.

Alexa M

In May ARRI's ALEXA M will ship, which is only partially pictured above -- it's actually a two-part camera that separates the head from the body:

Note that this picture is taken from a perspective that makes the tethered body look much smaller than it is. Via reader Stefan, here's the new ALEXA M promo short, which shows the kinds of situations ARRI has designed it for:

Besides these tight spaces and specialized applications, the big reason ARRI is making a smaller camera (head): 3D. RED has dominated big blockbuster 3D films (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Prometheus, The Hobbit) until now because of the small size of their DSMC, which makes it an obvious choice for rigs that need two of every camera. But the ALEXA M will start shipping next month, and that means eighteen months from now you're going to see a lot more ALEXA-shot 3D blockbusters in theaters.

I'm not a cinematographer, though I do like keeping tabs on these things. So before we go let's take a look back at some Roger Deakins quotes:

[The ALEXA] is the first camera I’ve worked with that I’ve felt gives me something I can’t get on film. Whether I’ll shoot on film again, I don’t know.

And:

The Arri specs on the Alexa seem totally honest and accurate.

I've heard from DPs who don't believe RED's 13.5 stop specification for the EPIC/SCARLET, which also calls into question whether the Dragon will really get 15+ stops (it's no coincidence that this spec is just above the ALEXA's dynamic range). But the RED remains a good choice for indies because it is much cheaper (especially the SCARLET) and smaller than the ALEXA. And there have been a lot of great films shot on RED -- some of my favorites include Beginners, Margin Call, Blue Valentine (RED and film), Winter's Bone, Che, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, and Contagion -- good company to keep regardless of what you end up shooting on.

Arri's business model is built around long product cycles of expensive, robust solutions, and I doubt they have any interest in mixing it up on the lower end with RED, Canon, and Sony. Hit the links below for more if you're interested in more about the ALEXA.

Links: Mike Curtis' ARRI NAB Booth Notes, ARRI PR1, ARRI PR2

Your Comment

103 Comments

GIGANTIC FONT!!!

April 18, 2012

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Robert

How did that happen?! Fixed.

April 18, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

You're absolutely correct that they currently have no interest in dipping into the indie market... I spoke with an ARRI rep at NAB and asked the exact same question.

Does ARRI 2k raw allow you to change the ISO in post like you can with RED? I thought that shooting raw meant gaining this ability... apparently the new blackmagic cinema camera shoots raw but does not have this feature.

April 18, 2012

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I'm not 100% sure, but the RAW in a RED camera is actually a compressed file, where all the information is stored, such as ISO and white balance. So it takes all the information from the sensor, adds extras for ISO changing ability, then compresses it and stores it as an R3D file.
The same thing as Canon's RAW in it's HDSLR's. So you do get all the data to work on, but the RAW from the Black Magic camera is RAW in the truer sense of the word... You literally get all the information that the sensor produces in a file. But no extra stuff that is generated internally that lets you change ISO, like from a RED. So you set it at ISO 320 and you get everything the sensor captures at that ISO and whatever white balance is set.

Hope that makes sense/is correct and helpful :D

April 19, 2012

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Jack

Some cameras use analog gain to increase sensitivity (remember when video cameras had a gain switch instead of an iso control?). Red on the other hand is able to capture a much wider range of readings making analog gain unnecessary...and it also allows iso to be changed in post since it doesn't rely on hardware gaining up the signal coming off the sensor. Compression does not invalidate something as raw...most raw implementions in the stills world are compressed.

April 19, 2012

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Gabe

Ryan,

Though I agree with you in that the Alexa has an incredible look, and that the Alexa is in fact dominating television and commercials, I don't think that the Alexa is the camera that has "killed" film (film is still very much alive, for that matter).

If anyone started that trend, I believe it would have to be Red. Without Red, it is likely that the Alexa would not exist (as evidenced here): http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/01/red-digital-cinema-sues-competitor-ar...

I also think HD-DSLR's have had just as much to do with the diminished stature of film as cameras such as those from Red and Arri.

Good to hear anecdotes from other DP's, and I appreciate the read. I just wanted to bring an article in that provides some context to the Alexa.

April 18, 2012

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Jared Caldwell

+1

April 18, 2012

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Fish

Started what trend? No-one remembers Collateral or Apocalypto? Large budget. Digital. Not shot on RED. RED are a good company, and the MX was disruptive, especially in tv docs where it speeded up the end of S16 and the Sony 900s, but come on. If they were a company that weren't owned by an already successful person with deep pockets, the deathwatch would have already started. I know several rental houses who have Epics sitting for weeks while they never see their Alexas. And the C300 doing serious business in that area too. Love RED, but their reputation has taken a lot of knocks in the last 6 months, and their product line now looks slightly over-priced. Still great cameras - just not 'hot'. And if they don't get a wriggle on price or feature wise, not likely to sell.

April 18, 2012

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Oh and I think the next blockbuster for RED will be Prometheus. If it is half as good as what the trailers look like, red will get a nice PR boost this june.

April 18, 2012

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jordan carr

Prometheus looks like a great film. It will sell not one more EPIC. And i have it on good authority that the decision was made prior to the Alexa being readily available.

April 18, 2012

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I wasn't suggesting a Red versus the world debate, but I don't agree that Alexa started the death march.

Of course when you have directors such as Mann, Fincher, and Lucas using digital, people are going to notice. Red was the first camera company to try to make a legitimate replacement for film. The Vipercam, Sony HDW-F900, etc. did not closely resemble or match the aesthetic of 35mm film. These previous cameras were used in spite of their image characteristics, not because of them. Red I feel started the trend as a compelling alternative/replacement for 35mm film.

These are just opinions based on following the industry and certain facts over the years. The Alexa definitely is here to stay and has a look that professionals desire to shoot with. I just think denying Red as a big part of that history is an oversight.

April 18, 2012

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Jared Caldwell

No-one was denying it. They just didn't start the 'hey lets not shoot film' trend. The trend they absolutely should be credited for is the 'hire me, I own my own RED'. What they did was allow camera operators to attract business because they came with the camera: something that was common in TV work, but rare in film. They build good products. They are just pinned between Alexa creaming the majority of work not still being shot on film, and a plethora of competitors below. That's a pretty standard 'deathwatch' situation in any industry. Bear in mind that there are several serious players yet to enter the fray. RED will survive because they are well funded. If they were a genuine start-up, you'd be very wary. I was just thinking who they reminded me of and it came to me: Atari. Loud, disruptive, cool, then missed a development cycle and gone.

April 18, 2012

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Continuing on from below. Arri's are rented from hire shops, Scarlets are purchased outright. I don't think you can take ancedotal evidence out of context and put RED on deathwatch. You're absolutely right that RED have a real tough fight on their hands but I don't think that's why alexas are hired out more than epics.

April 18, 2012

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nobody

The scarlet covers everything except 5k and slow-mo so why rent an epic unless you need these?

April 18, 2012

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nobody

Exactly.

April 18, 2012

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HDRx, better compression (you're gonna need it if you shoot deep, detailed scenes).

April 18, 2012

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Álex Montoya

I happen to agree with Jared here. RED, love 'em or hate 'em, truly started the conversation. While they are still tremendously polarizing as a company (due mostly to the fanboys and hype machine, in my opinion), there product caused a significant stir in the digital acquisition market. While ARRI, Sony, Panavision, and others might have been working on their next digital camera, the Red One forced them to look at bit further down the technology pipeline to stay competitive. After all, they are coming out with 4K cameras now instead of maintaining their "1080p is all we need" rhetoric, aren't they?

In regards to the Alexa M.. does anyone else think a Steadicam Op wants to trade less weight for more weight? The Alexa (base, not Plus, Plus 4:3, or Studio) is 13.8 lbs, while the Alexa M & Camera Head is a combined 18.5 lbs--not the mention mounting brackets for each, lenses, etc. I feel like the M doesn't really aid in the "reduced camera weight" department because instead of the camera being out on the sled, it's halved and moved to a backpack-like rig. This will be even worse for 3D.

Filmmakers have been complaining about tethered camera systems for YEARS. Production setup time increases, there are now two and three times as many parts, etc. The Alexa M isn't aiding there, so I have doubts that the ARRI will take more of the 3D production market share from RED. In entire studio environments, that's a possibility. Anything requiring heavy mobile/location... I have sincere doubts.

In my current view, ARRI has the native dynamic range game won. RED dominates camera size and resolution.

April 18, 2012

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Rob S.

Most of that is very fair, but its a bit 'raw' to lump Arri in with Canon and Sony. Arri, who aren't doing 4k that is.
RED are very good products. I just feel that they will struggle to grow at their current pricing, and in the rental market they are currently second choice. Yes, the Steadicam Op may be happy, but the post-production supervisor isn't. :-)
And I'm sorry - I don't agree that RED started any conversation. It just validated the theory, and we love it for that. Their maverick marketing caught the zeitgeist that the 5D walked into. Yay RED.
The M will sell bucket loads to rental houses, and be packaged with probably 2-3 full body Alexas on dramas. The anamorphic Plus will sell like free hotcakes. Arri will steal from their own market there.

April 18, 2012

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I honestly don't think that we would see 4k and RAW on the NAB floor this week if it weren't for Red. RAW, 4k and DR are all key players in replacing 35mm film. I don't see how you think Red wasn't a conversation starter. D-Cinema cams were 1080p tape-based video cameras that cost $150k+. After a $17k 4k RAW camera, look at the market today. This isn't a fanboy statement, these are just purely facts. Unless you have other facts?

April 18, 2012

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Jared Caldwell

Again... not saying RED isn't/wasn't a conversation starter. But the camera that is widely adopted by the industry -- for the right or wrong reasons, it doesn't matter -- is the one that ramps down celluloid production. Anyone making a large sensor CMOS video camera owes RED a debt because that was RED's entire idea even before HDSLRs stumbled onto it by accident.

April 18, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

I'm a steadicam operator and with the announcement of the Alexa M, my first question (which is still unanswered at this point) was, "How much does the M head weigh?"

Garrett Brown (inventor of the Steadicam™) had been talking to Arri (and the others), specifically asking them to do exactly what the Alexa M does---basically make the head just a lens and a sensor and leave everything else down a cable. The reason for this as applied to Steadicam is the Tango, which is basically a jib arm that mounts to the steadicam arm and vest (Koo--are you listening to this? I remember you were specifically interested in the MK-V AR to do high and low shots for Man-Child).

Rob S: yeah, I don't want to trade for more weight (within reason---really light cameras are harder to work with IMO)...but 18-19lbs is only about 2 lbs heavier than a 16SRIII and WAY lighter than a 35mm camera with the film in it. I would rather NOT run the Alexa M, but if I had a Tango, I'd be all for it.

April 19, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

PS: I hadn't watched the video yet, which shows plenty of steadicam footage, as well as footage of the unfortunate grips and AC's now required to lug around the extra gear, just like with the Genocide (the steadi-op nickname for the Panavision Genesis).

It has it's place and is often needed, but shooting tethered sucks. There wasn't really really any steadicam footage in this video that actually needed to use the M head. (You might use it b/c you don't have a full sized rig, but they were using full sized rigs.)

April 19, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

Dslrs have nothing to do with it, you can count the amount of successful films shot on dslr's with one hand.

April 18, 2012

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Ryan

1000 people like it

April 19, 2012

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Menelikk

Excellent shots made possible thanks to a... grip.

April 18, 2012

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awesome.

April 18, 2012

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Hugo and in time looked amazing on the alexa. Hugo winning the Oscar for best cinematography.

April 18, 2012

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jordan carr

Fully Agree. I have shot with RED and I have shot with the Alexa. There really is no comparison. The Alexa is a dream to shoot with, so easy and the images even in the "compressed" prores state are an absolute dream in post. If I had the money I would be shooting on nothing but Alexa. Sadly, I still live in the HDSLR world with the vast majority of indies out there.

April 18, 2012

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Adam J McKay

And God brought the Black Magic Camera for 3k

April 19, 2012

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Menelikk

Not to worry... once see 4k footage from the C500 and especially 1Dc you'll forget all about Red and Alexa. My first thought at seeing C500 footage in 4k was holy cow, it's a 4k Alexa for 30 grand! The image from both these cameras is just insane, better than anything I've ever seen from any other camera. The thought of a $15,000 DSLR was just stupid to me - what was Canon thing? Then I saw Shane Hurlbut's short "The Ticket" projected in 4k and was just floored. When I learned it was recorded internally I couldn't believe it - the image is just beautiful! Colors, skin, practical lights all render so naturally and so un-Redlike.

Shane even likes it more the C500 and thinks it blows away F65, Alexa and Epic. So the price tag now looks completely different to me, it's actually a bargain! I want one... now! I like DSLR shooting, I don't want to haul around a huge brick all day. Thanks Red for inspiring 4k and low cost high acquisition and thanks Canon for now taking it to the next level.

April 19, 2012

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Lance Bachelder

The only thing I could say is: this is it coolest camera promo vid I've seen, thanks for posting.

April 18, 2012

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Marcus

>ARRI ALEXA is the camera that killed film, not anything from RED

And Red guys begun the film killing before Arri. And Alexa won because of all the "TO HELL WITH RAW, GIVE US PRORES!!!" lazines in the crowd.

April 18, 2012

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Natt

So the reason the Alexa seems to be the digital cinema camera of choice for most features, television and commercials is... laziness?

April 18, 2012

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Scott

in a sense natt has a point, obviously not the only factor but definitely one of them. And on that point not necessarily laziness but changing an entire post production pipeline is very expensive and only happens when its absolutely necessary. Alexa bought a lot of studios time in this sense.

April 18, 2012

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carlos

A lot of producers would rather have "this looks good out of the camera and you can plug the files in and edit and turn it around quickly" over "we'll have extra resolution for the future when people have better TVs and theaters, and you can change the exposure/white balance/etc. in post." Shoot it, hand it to the editor, color correct, output. I wouldn't say "laziness" so much as "time is money."

April 18, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Yeah, it's a little bit weird to me, because the Red post workflow (or any RAW format) is most similar to digital post for film. I don't know why a RAW workflow would be a barrier to entry for productions.

I do think there were a lot of common misconceptions about the Red One and the RAW workflow that generated a bad reputation for Red that has absolutely stuck with DP's. When you have a camera that looks and feels similar to other 1080p D-Cinema cameras with .5+ more stops of dynamic range than an Epic, I can see the appeal if you are already of the mindset Red products have "x-y-and z" things wrong with them.

April 19, 2012

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Jared Caldwell

I think Arri is gonna have a hard time keeping their prices so high in the next couple of years. We will get Alexa look on much cheaper cameras

April 18, 2012

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carlos

Disagree. Arri have never been cheap, never will be cheap. Its part of the brand. Lots of cars can do 150mph now. Its just what other things, tangible and intangible you want to go with that. No-one buys a Rolls Royce for its mileage. Even if there is a camera that can do EXACTLY the same things as Alexa, 30k cheaper, that price ain't coming down for that brand.

April 18, 2012

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I know what your saying but I meant that I think times are changing where lower budget cameras will have just as good a look, forget specs I'm talking simply aesthetic, and then there will be no reason to keep going Alexa route, or the price of renting will have to come down. Lots of cameras can do everything from HD to 5K but people still go for Alexa. I see that changing, Cars are cars, you buy for looks and brand. Cameras on the other hand are advancing at a high rate in terms of functionality, capability, ease of use, etc. and prices are dropping. People said Kodak was never gonna go under. Film would never be replaced. It can only keep pushing forward for the next couple of years.

April 18, 2012

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carlos

You got it backwards even though other cameras have better specs dps still choose alexa because of aesthetic, cheaper cameras will match the specs but not the look

April 18, 2012

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Ryan

read my first post, I said this that once cameras get to the aesthetic and not specs of alexa they will have serious competition.

April 18, 2012

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carlos

" I think times are changing where lower budget cameras will have just as good a look, forget specs I’m talking simply aesthetic"
lol arn't we saying the same thing???

April 18, 2012

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carlos

@ Ryan
"cheaper cameras will match the specs but not the look"
How do you know that? I heard this type of speech for other types of technologies and today the opposite is happening. You don't see the shift happening actually in this world I guess.

April 19, 2012

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Menelikk

Because the market for cheap cameras is not demanding the kind of quality that the alexa actually produces. So why would cheap cameras address a problem thats not there for their base. Alexa and cameras catered to large budget acquisitions that have to satisfy dp's who have 20 plus years of shooting film, and are used to perfect color reproduction and the smoothest highlight rolloff you've ever seen. Digital age indie guys were brought up on the 5d, which is a very inaccurate color reproducer. BUT, you don't see indies and nobudgets complaining about it. Many don't even know they have bad color, but the cheap cameras will give them quality color when they don't know the difference? No, they will give you a bucket like 4k or 12bit and never mention highlight rolloff or actual color accuracy. None of the 4k cameras coming out will give you actual 4k resolution, just a 4k frame, color works the same way. If you tested cameras you'll know what specs are real and what is marketing.

April 19, 2012

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Ryan

The Alexa is close to film, do you really believe you will get a camera just as good as FILM for 3k, then your crazy

April 19, 2012

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Ryan

Hmm.. To me this is very interesting. Why? Because they're clearly having their eyes on Canon right now. Canon created the 4K DSLR mostly for use as a BCAM in big productions. Now that ARRI are releasing their M camera I don't think many DOP's shall choose to take a 4K DSLR over a ARRI M.

April 18, 2012

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Tim

+1

April 18, 2012

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What I find totally cool is seeing, how they made the shots, the rigs. A real 'behind the curtain' moment for me. Thanks for posting Koo.

April 18, 2012

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marcus.sg

Can I just point out - 2500 cameras is a LOT at that end of the market. In 2 years? My guess would have been under 1500. That's $225M gross on just one product line where there was never sufficient supply, and not counting ancillaries. Now they are adding the M and the Plus. That is a very healthy little business.

April 18, 2012

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Who said Kodak was never going under? That deathwatch began in the 80's! Personally I was amazed they lasted so long - that patent business was really the last asset they had.
I get your point, but I think you miss mine. The Alexa wasn't built for you to buy. Its business model will never work for you, if you think $90k for a camera is expensive. Considering you can buy a used EPIC for $35k, and a new Scarlet for $15k it makes no sense on a personal level, unless you are doing over 100 charged shoot days a year.
You don't just buy a car on looks and brand. We buy cars that fill enough of our needs that we can afford. As you point out, there are now cameras (with lots more to come) that will match almost anyone who wants to own one. But Arri are a serious luxury brand. Their fresnels are not one dollar cheaper now because you can buy a Chinese knockoff at a twentieth the price. They price their craftmanship and reputation into their kit. Always will. And the very top end will always be happy to pay it.

April 18, 2012

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