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

04.18.12 @ 4:48PM Tags : , , , ,

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.


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


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  • 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.

    • 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

      • 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.

  • Jared Caldwell on 04.18.12 @ 5:07PM


    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):

    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.

    • 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.

      • jordan carr on 04.18.12 @ 5:34PM

        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.

        • 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.

      • Jared Caldwell on 04.18.12 @ 5:38PM

        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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

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

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • Jared Caldwell on 04.18.12 @ 11:14PM

            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?

            • 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.

        • Daniel Mimura on 04.19.12 @ 6:37PM

          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.

          • Daniel Mimura on 04.19.12 @ 7:26PM

            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.)

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

    • 1000 people like it

  • Excellent shots made possible thanks to a… grip.

  • jordan carr on 04.18.12 @ 5:30PM

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

  • Adam J McKay on 04.18.12 @ 5:37PM

    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.

    • And God brought the Black Magic Camera for 3k

    • Lance Bachelder on 04.19.12 @ 2:49AM

      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.

      • Haha…great thing we have this time-travelling feature with Internet ;)) It’s July 2014 and C500 has not even scratched the Arri Alexa’s reputation… not even RED’s :)

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

  • >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.

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

      • 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.

        • 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.”

          • Jared Caldwell on 04.19.12 @ 10:40AM

            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.

  • 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

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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

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

          • ” 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???

          • @ 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.

          • 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.

          • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • I see where you’re coming from and appreciate the discussion. Your point on the lights is actually a great one. I mentioned rental prices coming down for that reason, but only time will tell. we may both be right to a degree, I think it all depends on when this 4K move actually happens, i’m sure arri has something up their sleeves.

  • ….or you could use an epic

    come on, the M is a technical joke, their solution to make things smaller is to cut it in two parts, that’s not a solution, that’s lame engineering. I am not criticizing the Alexa itself, it is indeed a good camera, but come on arri, the M lacks punch. And what are they planning to sell it at?

    • And I agree I find cutting the camera in two kind of strange and makes rigging the cameras extra complicated but the people in the Alexa budget will sure have a solution for this.

    • It’s kind of amusing to hear someone proclaim a camera, not yet even shipping, a technical joke. There seems to be a tendency, these days, to a very quick willingness to dismiss things we know very little about.

      • “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.”

        If I were a steadicam op, I’d be pissed. 5 extra pounds of weight is being added to the rig. I find the problem, albeit not a technical joke, is that it’s the same camera, recreated in two halves. It’s a tethered camera…. what the F23/F35 used to be. DPs hated that because tethered cameras restrict so much production opportunity.

        I don’t doubt that the Alexa M will sell a lot of units, but I don’t think it’s going to be the wildly successful “small form factor” camera that they’re trying to push it as.

  • If a film like Hugo can be made on an Alexa, why is everybody acting like 4K is a must-have? Why can’t somebody just give us a super 35 HD (or 2K) cam with a RAW spigot on it at a fair price?

    • nothing inherently wrong with HD/2K but I for one can’t wait to shoot work at 4K even if its years away, 35mm film was shown at SD for a century yet now we can rescan and remaster and to a degree make films look like they were shot this year. I for one subscribe to the idea of future proofing.

  • I was a Red fanboy back when they started advertising “3K for 3K$”. But that Scarlet never happened and Jannard and his gang’s attitude has made me increasingly hate them over the years. The guy’s ego surpasses the reliability of their products and even if I understand the fact that Red fanboys (like Apple fanboys…) think that they “know better”, the fact remains that while Epic and Scarlet are amazing cameras, they will never rule the market. Just like the Mac.

    • I wasn’t going to make the Apple comparison, but you went there. RED just need Apple’s ‘oh that doesn’t work? Here have a whole new one’ policy. They are amazing cameras.

      • To be fair, RED have have done that on occasion. Just not quite often enough.

        • Also worth noting that RED’s recent Color shifts (Red Color 3/ Red Gamma 3) have made a much more pleasing image that, to me, makes the whole skin tone and general color tone comparisons to the Alexa moot. Besides, cost to performance, RED’s the king player, they just sometimes need a better attitude and better marketing. Although, i will agree that Alexa was actually the one to kill film, and I dare say it all died the moment Deakins “gave up the ghost”. I wish Arri would put out a 4k camera as now everyone is seeing the benefits of such a camera, then, we’d have 4 or 5 viable options: Red Epic, Red Scarlet, Sony F65, Canon c500, and then an Alexa 4k. But notice who’s on the list most?

    • So you’re comparing Red with Apple? That is a compliment indeed.

  • I’ve worked with each camera for years. I’d say 8 out 10 times Alexa needs to be crushed in post to recover blacks. The noise it spits, well let’s say, RAW wouldn’t do anyone wrong.
    The truth is indeed in what you see and your style. As someone who shot film I preferred Fuji and it’s green tones, while loving Kodak for its vibrant saturation. 422 is great for fast turn around, but not color grading and VFX. You need RAW to really play. Koo. Love your voice, but you might be off the mark. It takes two to dance. RED and ARRI need the each other, like Kodak needed Fuji for years. Its about choice, nothing else.

    • Daniel Mimura on 04.19.12 @ 6:51PM

      Wow…I didn’t think of it that way, but that’s exactly right. Kodak and Fuji…and with Red and Alexa, it is giving DP’s choices. Well, with all the new stuff from Sony, Canon, and now Blackmagic (?!)…it’s just more choices of things to shoot with.

  • The people I know who have worked with these cameras talk about them like how a man talks about a sexy woman.

  • Some great points here. I totally agree that the ALEXA — and a LOT of other cameras — would not be offering the features they are without RED. I’m a fan of RED, of course, as I own a SCARLET, and I have high hopes for the Dragon sensor. Oden — great point. Competition is definitely a good thing — but again, I’m not trying to say “this camera is better than that camera and this other manufacturer should just give up.” When I say the ALEXA “killed” film, what I mean is the simple fact that the ALEXA has been adopted so widely is the reason that the demand for film dropped so precipitously. Others have certainly played a role — DSLRs, RED, Sony, Canon, Phantom… but I’m not talking about who was first or who influenced whom. I just mean that when DPs who previously said they’d never shoot digital start shooting on the ALEXA, and when people who work day in and day out in the industry — not indies like me who spend most of our time NOT shooting — start telling a rental house that they’d rather have the ALEXA, that’s when film camera manufacturers say “okay, the number of film cameras in the world is enough, we’re not going to make any more.”

    I’m definitely not talking about who STARTED film’s demise — my point is that the tipping point happened in large part thanks to the ALEXA’s success (though not, of course, because of the ALEXA exclusively). Again — all of these cameras are great tools for different jobs. But the one that had equal (or more) dynamic range than film and the one that is used so widely is the one that has people saying, “film had a good run.” RED’s resolution is admirable and will be a big deal for features going forward, but they’re ahead of their time because of a lack of distribution infrastructure. 9 out of 10 producers and production companies will take ease of use, fast turnaround, and dynamic range over extra resolution that won’t be seen by an audience until some hypothetical point in the future. TGWTDT was the first large-scale end-to-end 4K digital cinema release.

    • shaun wilson on 04.19.12 @ 12:28AM

      15 reasons why Koo is right about digital over film:

      (1) its cheaper
      (2) its quicker
      (3) its not as archival as a digital file
      (4) its less labor intensive
      (5) Only limited number of manufacturers are still making 35mm motion picture cameras
      (6) 35mm stock manufacture is in rapid worldwide decline
      (7) distributors prefer complete digital workflows
      (8) producers will always go for a cheaper option to get the job done
      (9) digital projection systems have replaced film based projection systems so less demand
      (10) Visual effects-based workflows achieve better results in 4K and above.
      (11) Government film funding bodies are changing over to digital preferred productions in their guidelines
      (12) Film processing is environmentally damaging
      (13) Film processing employs greater OHS risks for operators than for digital methods.
      (14) Film is a physically volatile medium.
      (15) Film is more fragile and prone to damage than digital.


      (16) Digital is also a pain in the arse to deal with in every respect – thank you crippled HDMI out for starters.
      (17) Rolling shutter, moire, dead pixels, and sensor damage makes (16) look even bigger
      (18) Certain camera companies are more volatile to deal with than 35mm stock from 1905
      (19) Digital promotes a throw away attitude which DOPs from 1968 didn’t necessarily have the luxury to engage with (did Geoffrey Unsworth ever say to Kubrick “we’ll clean it up in post?”)
      (20) Software enhances cinematic incompetence

      • Jared Caldwell on 04.19.12 @ 10:26AM

        Just a quick point. Where digital still has a lot of catching up to do over film: archival. For long term archival purposes, film is a much better medium. We’re still stuck with LTO tapes in digital land. :(

        • shaun wilson on 04.20.12 @ 12:01PM

          A film archived in an LTO5 tape will hold up better than a film archived in 35mm film over a 30 year stretch. But what LTO tapes do beyond 30 years time is anyone’s guess.

          • Absolutely, everyone who says film is a great archival medium doesn’t understand that film fades, even if it is stored correctly. Film needs to be restored and cleaned up, but digital and tape backup can just be duplicated over and over again with zero loss in quality. We need better digital and tape solutions – basically more storage space – but film as a backup medium is imperfect to say the least.

      • Daniel Mimura on 04.19.12 @ 11:18PM

        14 and 15 are just dead wrong. (If you’re talking about nitrate film stock the, of course, yes, film is volatile.)

        Film is still the archival medium of choice. The problem is codecs change so fast people don’t know what to do with it and they get lost. Film has been the same since the 20′s so the format hasn’t been “lost”.

        • shaun wilson on 04.20.12 @ 11:50AM

          14 and 15 wrong? Absolutely not! I’ve been handling 35mm celluloid motion film for twenty years and can tell you first hand that after 30 years in a can, film is an archivists nightmare for storage (short life span) because the emulsion levels breakdown and corrode over time, easily scratches, and the primaries fades. Digital files do not degrade over time and remain in tact (but this is based on 40 years of computational archiving research so any longer than this mark is speculation). Proprietary codecs may come and go but to suggest that no one knows what to do with codecs is fanciful. The main stays of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video codecs have been around for a while and will continue to be here for some time to come. Speaking as a digital archivist, when new formats come along, we transcode files into new artifact copies so that the digital preservation is always in a cyclical storage system.

          • Daniel Mimura on 04.23.12 @ 3:23AM

            Yes, they are both dead wrong. Film is still being used for archival purposes. It is beginning to change, but there isn’t a digital standard, which, for archival purposes specifically is the big problem. How digital formats/codecs have you seen in the past couple years alone?

            Anothe problem is the archival media… tape and optical and spinning hard drives (b/c solid state is still too costly)…all those fail faster than 35mm film. I already have 2 drive failures because I didn’t back them up (stills, not video, but still…all my first D-SLR stills…the sad thing was, I backed them up…each drive had the same pics on them, I didn’t expect them to both fail, but they did.)…these will be very costly to try and fix (they won’t run, so I have to take it to a professional), and they may not even be fixable and it was less than 2 years since I used them last.

            I was just reading an old (not that old) American Cinematographer about some of the archive vaults in LA…

            Film archiving is done with color separations (note: color separations are black and white film, so there is no fading…) This is done for 2 reasons (that I know of)…1) is so the color won’t fade, and 2, with old films, they’re seeing that the different lays rates of a color negative act differently (some layers stretch, some shrink…etc…), so you split them apart.

            These problems are no where near the problems of digital archiving. Format is a HUGE issue. A friend works for Deluxe (the Seattle branch) and he was saying they have tons of stuff (I use that term literally) that no one even knows what it is any more…dead digital formats from the 1990′s…this was all professional stuff in that era that is completely unknown to the archival professionals! (Deluxe, among other things, is in the archiving business and they know it well, they’ve been in the film and digital motion picture business since 1915.)

            Digital *can* be replicated indefinitely, but the sad truth is…it is rarely copied correctly, and once it isn’t, it’s gone. (This is of course, excluding that dead formats will require encoding into something current, which means that you are now bringing degradation into the chain, which is what digital was supposed to avoid in the first place.) Sometimes it can be fixed, but it’s not like film where it will decay and degrade, but it’s still clear what it is, (just if it’s just little scratches or some slight fading of color…etc…) rather than being complete unreadable and unbootable. This was one of the issues with color separations…only films that have commercial appeal today gets this treatment—all the other films are just decaying. The issue will be no different with digital, in which case, only the popular and commercial things will even be recoverable for future generations b/c no one is going to bother re-backing up terabytes (and petabytes) of old movies on god knows what format every few years.

            Kodak used to make crappy film stocks that didn’t archive well, and with the pressure of Spielberg and Scorsese (amongst others, but they were the heavy hitters that went directly to the public about it—b/c Jaws and Mean Streets are permanently faded/degraded). Starting in the 1990′s, Kodak went all out with the longest lasting dyes as they could, and making estar bases the norm (theyre stronger than celluloid) for release prints (theyre stronger than celluloid and don’t tear as easily or get sprocket hole damage).

            The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have a couple pdfs about “The Digital Dilemma” that lays out what the big problems are. The problems are bigger for the indies and documentary films…which is funny coming from the Academy…but they lay it all out, and you can’t accuse them of being in Kodak’s pockets anymore (considering this year’s Oscars weren’t in “Kodak Theater”).


            And if you’re lazy, there is something about archiving on Kodak’s site:


            I hate referencing something with company that has such a clear monetary interest in archiving on film, but it’s enough to start you thinking “digital” isn’t completely this nirvana of modern completely duplicatable awesomeness. I only include it b/c you have to register to get the PDF’s on the Academy site and most people probably won’t.

          • Daniel Mimura on 04.23.12 @ 3:28AM

            BTW, every time you re-encode into a new format, you’re degrading it.

            You have to keep the originals to avoid that, but the quick changes in formats require you to change it…and for things that are already in a finish codec to begin with (most D-SLR’s)….it’s just going to get worse faster.

            Anyone still have a Real Player?

    • Jared Caldwell on 04.19.12 @ 10:34AM


      Thanks for the clarification. Though anytime someone puts “Red” and “Arri” into the same article a Red vs Arri debate is bound to happen, I was the one who mentioned it first. I agree with most everything you say in this reply, and I’m not interested in a Red vs Arri war. I was just responding to this one sentence in your article:

      ” 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).”

      I feel you’ve further explained away that last part, so thanks for taking the time to clear it up. Hopefully you can see where I am coming from.

  • Most of you have no historical perspective about Arri. At one time they didn’t make geared heads, they didn’t make lighting, etc. Now the Worrall geared head is gone, no more Mitchell, no more Moy ’cause Arri ate their lunch. A lot of lighting companies have either downsized or disappeared since Arri started a lighting division.

    Arri launched their first digital cine camera, the D-20, in Nov 2005. It took them less than seven years to go from 0 to controlling the market. Arri “gets” the movie business better than most others.

    Half frame35mm film had been around forever and people thought that VistiVision, 70mm Panavision and 70mm Todd-AO were going to replace it. S35 film is still here, but where have all the higher quality film formats gone? Sure 70mm Imax is till around, but not at your local multi-plex. It will be interesting to see if 4K goes the way of 70mm?

    • shaun wilson on 04.19.12 @ 12:35AM

      Todd AO (as a film format) went out the door because Panavision beat them in the rental market. (p.s Todd AO was 65mm film, the extra 5mm was to accommodate the audio).

      • Todd-AO, Ultra Panavision and Super Panavision all died because no-one cared. 65/70mm films were made between 1955 and 1970. After that they were used for SFX. For Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) we used VistaVision at Apogee and Doug Trumble’s Maxella facility used 65mm.

        Arri introduced the 765 camera in 1989, but the 65/70mm revival didn’t get far..

        The best reason for 70mm prints was the magnetic sound tracks, that were better than optical sound at that time. Todd-AO won many Academy Awards for sound. Todd-AO is on Seward St, in Hollywood, just across the street from the old CFI lab. I was on their mixing stage a couple of times in the 1970s — awesome sound, much better than any theater sound system, at the time.

        • shaun wilson on 04.19.12 @ 6:48AM

          Todd AO died as a film format because the strong rentals from competitor Panavision (who undercut them when Todd tried to plug T AO 35mm) made it unviable for Todd AO to continue operation and because they locked in the ridiculous roadshow screening delivery requirement which as we know turned out to be a limited scheme and an economic failure as conversions from general to wrap around 70mm theatres was a costly exercise with minimal return. If Todd had of made their technologies playable in conventional theatres I doubt the format would have demised as quick. So if there is a reason why the format was doomed its certainly not because no one cared, its because of economic rationalism within the rental market, and theatre owners not willing to invest in compatible infrastructure which in the end, killed off the format entirely. In saying this, I don’t think Western Cinema has ever surpassed the quality of the Trumble years. Isn’t it a shame the format went away so quick? Laurence of Arabia and The Fast and the Furious 3 just don’t come within miles of each other. I watched Close Encounters the other day and forget just how damn good 70mm really was. If you were around the industry back then, especially in Trumbles court, your one lucky guy indeed.

  • in the video
    2:02 we can see the camera reflection on the car.

  • AND THAT (blackmagic design) is how you make a product demo. Goddamn that was good.

  • I love the Alexa but here in Spain more and more DP’s are embracing the Epic due to it’s size, rental price and the fact that the new color sicience yields really pretty skin tones.

    BTW, I just discovered that the Epic has a gyroscope and accelerometers and it will record those metadata in each frame: that’s pretty BIG.

  • I absolutely adore everything I’ve seen from the Alexa, but it’s also frustrating that ARRI has essentially “locked-out” those of us producing projects that don’t have a budget in line with that camera… that’s where RED comes in, and their effort to provide camera systems that many can afford to shoot on becomes even more apparent, and appreciated.

  • I was still an AC many years ago when the first RED ONE arrived in a pelican case. Build 12 I think. I took one look at the image and knew that the days of film were numbered. But the death of film is not the issue here. It’s a format and aesthetic choice. Just because you shoot digital doesnt mean you throw discipline out the window. That’s a personal work ethic. Like evolution, technology with improve upon itself with our help. We are lazy creatures. Efficiency wins every time. All of these cameras are tools for us to tell our stories! I for one welcome our digital brethren.

    I love my Scarlet. I treat the entire post process like I’m processing a negative. It’s a truly amazing experience as a DP. I meter just as I would for film, and my AC takes his/her measurements with a tape measure as always. We still shoot gray cards. Same game, different capture method. I can add cinegrain later if I want. I have much more control of my image than I ever had with film. And I’m still gobsmacked that have this camera technology in my living room. Technology is becoming exponentially affordable. YAY FOR US SHOOTERS!!! Thanks to technology, we can do ANYTHING now. Remember when the first video footage from the 5D came out years ago? That was another brain blaster.

    Evolution has no time for nostalgia. Embrace your future. Shoot digital

  • Koo. You make a great point. At the end of the day it’s a tool. The differences are a Miro to a Picasso.
    The point that will never get across in the forum is detail from these cameras. Most everyone is watching these tests on Vimeo or YouTube. These debates/discussions need a true monitor, not an iPhone will a magnifying glass.

    Koo – One more note, 9 out 10 producers prefer Alexa. But in Post for VFX the story is all RAW. Even when commercials are shot on film Compositors and Graders request 4k flat pass scans from the negative. Seemly very similar to RAW.

    Thanks for your earlier response. Love your thoughts!

  • I spoke with a vice president/executive producer of CPB group, one of the biggest ad agencies in the world and she told me they have mostly been using Alexa, but are more and more using Epics. She said when she did her first camera test with an Epic she was surprised with its ease of use, there still is that misconception that RED workflow is impossible. I think this competition between RED and Arri (and others) is great for the film community, it will keep amazing technology coming our way.

    • Interesting! And yes, completely agree — competition is great. This post could basically be summed up with this: “the camera that most people are using instead of a film camera is the camera that killed film.” I’m not saying others aren’t valuable, not by any stretch of the imagination!

      • Exactly, every company has in their own way, either by action or inaction for that matter, contributed to the changing landscape of filmmaking technology. I agree with the post, the thing is people are pretty loyalist to their brands so Arri vs Red or Canon vs Nikon or whatever it may be debates will always start. I’m just glas we have so many options today in 2012. I think RED will be giving Arri more competition, and I’m sure Arri has plans of there own for the future. Like the producer I mentioned said, they use both systems, they choose one over the other depending on budget, content, the DP, etc. Hell she said they still use the 5D sometimes!!!

    • Jared Caldwell on 04.19.12 @ 1:47PM

      I just had my first Scarlet shoot in February. My camera op/DIT (Zac Crosby. I would highly recommend him to anyone I know. He’s never lost a shot.) just backed up the footage and opened it up in Premiere Pro. I started editing. Easy.

      I was in love with the richness of the image and the sharpness you get when oversampling down from 4k.

  • john jeffreys on 04.19.12 @ 3:54PM

    The best use of Alexa is, in my opinion, DRIVE. And the fact that some interior car angles were done with 5d II’s just makes me harder.

  • You mean, “try harder”, right John? Um, er, maybe you don’t…

  • Geoff Longford on 04.24.12 @ 8:44AM

    Nice but where is the colour???.The world doesn’t look that bland does it.Well not here in OZ.

  • As an owner of an Epic and user of Alexa’s, I love both systems. They have their pros/cons. I like that Epic shoots RAW without a Codex box and is a 1/3 the size of an Alexa. I hate that I need to transcode or attach another box to get proxy files. I hate that you can’t run the EVF and touchscreen simultaneously, unless you by another box from RED that begins to bring it up to Alexa size. And then there are RED’s accessories – mostly over engineered and cumbersome rigs. An Alexa balances on my shoulder with just one rosette hand grip while my Epic requires going into handheld rig mode. That sums up the tech for me. I could really care less about 4k (I frame nicely the first time round). 2k films look plenty sharp enough to me and if that affords more sensitivity and range, then that’s a no brainer. Unlike Red pixel counting fanboys, I believe most other people feel the same. No one complained Hugo looked soft.

    But what I believe is the real Achilles heel to Red is its professionalism. I can go on to an Alexa blog and make design criticisms of their product and get intelligent answers back. I did this on Red User to cite how the yet to be wide released Epic had a serious design issue in both its touch screen yoke and inability to run EVF and touchscreen at the same time. Not only did the Fan Boys flameout but the Wizard himself, Jim Jannard, chimed into say he’d never sell an Epic to me. Then Red User banned me for life. It’s these kind of amatuer theatrics that scare many a pro from making an investment in Red. Great product – horrible PR. And don’t get me started on their Red Store customer service – it’s definitely well below what their price tags warrant.

    So that what it comes down to. Red have an excellent product, soon to be improved with the Dragon. But are saddled with a “Raw or nothing” attitude that actually makes it a more expensive proposition for producers who demand “Proxies or no business”. Then exacerbated by fragile egos of the Red Army and its leader, I have doubts about their long term viability once Sony, Canon and Panasonic begin to kick it high gear.

    I await Janard’s assasins.

    • Watch your back Tim!!

      Seriously though, even for someone who believes in 4K (me), there’s a lot of credence to what you’re saying. One thing I will say though is that RED has a history of laughing at reasonable requests and telling you you don’t need a feature (or banning you from their forum), and then a year or two later that feature magically shows up. As far as long term viability goes, that’s one area where I’m GLAD Jannard is a driven, hyper-competitive guy — I can’t see him throwing in the towel. But look no further than the way Blackmagic has been dealing with their unexpected delays to see a case of a CEO garnering customer support with a humble, levelheaded approach. A good attitude goes a long way.

      I’ve had good experiences with RED’s customer service — I think about a year ago they staffed up and re-did the configuration of that particular wing of their business. Then again I haven’t had any real issues with my camera.

      For people who want to talk about RED but are banned from REDUSER or don’t like the vibe, feel free to voice your opinions here! Our community features will be greatly improving in the months to come.

      • Just finished shooting back to back commercial campaigns with both the Alexa on one and then the Epic on the other. The extra money for the Alexa body is minimized in the light of full lens packages and accessories. But in terms of time lost to both the peculiarities of operating an Epic and transcoding, the Alexa ends up costing production less. If you calculate the re-boots, black balance and random glitches as the hourly rate of people waiting, the Alexa price difference is made up by lunch or sooner. We had great full union crews, but at the end, we all agreed the Alexa was just simpler and faster to use, not to mention the extra stops of highlights also saved us time and money in lighting.

        I will still use the Epic for high speed, 3D or small body requirements but in the end, after having such direct comparisons on similar campaigns with the same crew in the field, my company has decided to unload all of our Red gear. In the last six months, the number of Alexa jobs to Epic for us is perhaps five to one and getting higher. For high end work you have to go with what gets the best images as well as the most practical to use. It’s definitely an end of an era and I thank Red for making great images affordable but the playing field has changed and will soon take another shift with Sony’s new cameras. I’m also a believer in a world of 1080p TV’s, 4k is way over sold, virtually unnecessary and definitely not worth paying the price in color space and latitude.

        I feel the future for Red will be tough as unlike the big three, they don’t manufacture their own LCD’s or chips. This puts them at a serious disadvantage. It’s almost like Arri, Canon, Sony and Panasonic let Red do the market research for them and now their bringing their experience and economies of scale to bear. Also Red’s reliance on touchscreen instead of dedicated knobs (F55, Alexa, C300) for many pros is a deal breaker. As more cameramen prefer dedicated ISO, FPS, Internal ND’s, White Balance along with better integrated I/O’s (SDI, EVF, etc), Red will have to re-design their system or lower their price. I personally love the Epic touchscreen for settings but hate having another monitor on board. If it were practical for focus that wouldn’t be the case. Also, not having a lock, makes inadvertent setting changes rife. Red’s answer: The introduced an 11″ touchscreen. Big and unwieldy, again, it seems a solution borne in theory not from practice.

        I’ll wrap it up by saying it’s good to see other companies set new standards and offer better choices.

        • Jau finished watching Gang squad. Had no idea what camera they used but i guessed near the end it started to give very video feel near the fast whipp panning fight sequences. Same feel i got in avengers 1 but nothing in sky fall so i looked up on net and i was right Alexa ! So im a bit jittery now that I ve ordered Alexa studio. Red gives the same field feel at 100 fops. Cheap video feel.

      • Im here to say this much that red epics r fantastic but it needs some improvements for sure. And red user group is a bumped up dvx user group. And when is aid that shouldn’t treat Jim is as some god well guess what I was banned for life. Need name change blah blah. Very red neck bully approach.

  • I’m An Owner Of Just About Every Canon DSLR There Is! Lol But I Have Been Contemplating On Stepping Up To Either The Scarlet Or The Epic. To Me The Arri Alexa, Just Looks A Bit Mushy For My Taste! I Have Been On This Site For 3 days ” ” Just Check Out What Movie Was Shot With What Camera, Then I Would Head Over To Youtube And Play All The Trailers In 1080P and The EPIC Would Always Be Sharp as a Tact! The RED ONE Was In Between The Arri Alexa And the Epic as Far As Sharpness Goes. Maybe I’m Being A Bit Too Anal, I Wonder Do Regular Viewers Even Care About All Of This Sharpness Stuff. May I Should Just Use All Of My DSLR’s To Shoot My Upcoming Feature Film? What Do You Guys Think?

    P.S I Do Like The Look Of The New Black Magic Camera Too!
    Here Are The DSLR’s I Have Already (Canon 5d Mark ii – Canon 5d Mark iii – (2) Canon 60ds – Canon 7d – and Canon T3i)

  • Andrew Turner on 11.5.12 @ 12:03PM

    I had a look at the promo for the Alexa M and what a dissapointment!
    Sure it is sharp and clear, but it looks like news footage. Motion depiction is pure video look.
    Wake up and use film while you still have the chance and leave the new fangled toys to the kids.

    • I feel you on that film request. Just finished color correcting a movie I shot on film over the Summer. I still love film but now that Fuji is getting out of the game and Kodak is on the brink, it’s days are certainly numbered.

  • An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been doing a little homework on this.

    And he in fact bought me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him.

    .. lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!

    ! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about
    this subject here on your site.