March 9, 2014

The Complete Guide to Getting Started with the ARRI ALEXA

ALEXA-Studio_headerWithin the span of the past three years, the ARRI ALEXA has become the gold-standard for cameras in productions of all shapes and sizes, from the highest-end Hollywood extravaganzas to television shows and commercials and beyond. Essentially, if you're looking to work as a camera operator or assistant, or even as a DIT, it will behoove you greatly to know your way around the ALEXA. With that goal in mind, I've pulled together some of the finest resources from around the web to get you started with this excellent camera system. Luckily, it's a very intuitive camera, so you'll be up and running in no time flat!

Obviously, ARRI has released several variations on the ALEXA in the past two years, including the ALEXA XT line, which utilizes the full area of the 4:3 s35 sensor (allowing for native use of anamorphic lenses), among a whole bunch of other fantastic features which I'll get to later. However, despite the abundance of ALEXA variations, the operation of all of these cameras is almost identical, so once you're familiar with the original ALEXA, you're in for a smooth ride with the rest of them.

Here's a brief video rundown of the menu and the external buttons/connections on the body of the ALEXA from Gary Adcock.

Obviously, the menu system for the ALEXA is extremely intuitive. However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be practiced. Luckily for us, ARRI has an excellent ALEXA Camera Simulator that emulates the buttons and menu perfectly. So give it a go.

For a bit more technical information on this camera, here's a workshop from Rule Boston Camera that should tell you literally everything you need to know about the original ALEXA model. It's pretty lengthy, but certainly worth watching if you have the time to spare.

Like I mentioned before, ARRI announced multiple new models of the ALEXA in 2013, more specifically the XT line (which stands for Xtended Technology). These cameras added a plethora of new features and functionalities to the original system, most notably the 4:3 sensor readout and the ability to record ARRIRAW internally with the addition of a new SSD module on the side of the camera.

Here's an excellent overview of the ALEXA XT from the good people at AbelCine:

Of course, these new features in the XT line make for a different workflow than the original ALEXA. Once again, AbelCine has us covered:

ARRI also produces a stripped-down version of the ALEXA, simply called the ALEXA HD. It's the most inexpensive version of the camera, because it excludes many of the higher-end features (features that make it expensive to manufacture) such as the 4:3 sensor readout, ARRIRAW output, and full 2.8K image output. With the exception these features, the ALEXA HD looks and operates identically to its more advanced brethren.

On a final note, ARRI also has Camera simulators for both the ALEXA Plus 4:3 and the ALEXA Studio, so check them out, and familiarize yourselves with this fantastic camera system. Also, if you're a hardcore power-user of the ALEXA or other camera systems, I highly recommend Evan Luzi's Pocket Guides, so that you have all of the relevant camera information at your fingertips at all times.

Have you guys had the pleasure of shooting on any of the variations of the ARRI ALEXA? Do you have any tips or additional resources to share with the NFS audience? Let us know down in the comments!

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26 Comments

the alexa is an amazing camera but 2 years from now it will be an near obsolete camera other than those in telvesion who have already heavily invested in.

It will not be obsolete because of th image quality, because the images is still IMO in the top 3 range, but it will be obsolete simply due to a combination of technology and the price of the alexa camera, there are several cheaper options now that produces images just as good as an alexa in a small form factor, in two years it will be redundant to pay 40k or twice rental price for an alexa when one could possible own or rent one for a 3rd of the price in a small form factor

March 9, 2014

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JAYE

Hey Jaye consider these two perspectives.
1. Arri is also working on new technologies.
2. I'm on set that's burning tens of thousands per hour for a couple hundred hours. One major concern is that the tools work properly when we need them. One tool with a less than steady reputation that shuts down can cost the project hundreds of thousands plus make it difficult for the talent to get back into the sweet spot.

I also work indie projects and I believe your comment's more geared towards that end but thinking about it realistically the Alexa isn't really for that crowd.

March 9, 2014

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David F

@David i understand and that is partly why i said alexa will not be as relevant in couple of years unless the price changes. Cinematographers especially SAG and other union based dp's are stuburn and used to a certain workflow despite the fact that newer and cheaper technology is widely available.

You have to understand that the sondy f35 is still being used on sets and just one year ago it was widely used in day time televesion and series segments.

When the alexa first came out the workflow was easy for 1080p and a that alone made it a joy to work with, however most editing programs have caught up with the new times and also there are several cameras capable of alexa workflow and produce damn near the same desired look in post as the alexa and did i mention most newer cameras are lighter in weight and more modified as opposed to an shoulder weight sized alexa.

Never said that alexa was not important, im just saying that combination of new technology and cheaper alternatives at cheaper prices will eventually leave the alexa as the new S35

March 10, 2014

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JAYE

ARRI's 4K camera (whenever it comes out) should again give them distinction and make their high price worth it to those who use high end cameras. But I do see what you are saying. The difference in image between Red, Panasonic, ARRI, Sony, etc., is not that much. They all look so good that none has a clear edge. I think that's why all camera companies are going for higher K's, to give them a step ahead, not a big step, but enough to keep them vital. I saw the latest footage from the GH4K and it looks wonderful. Footage from the 6K Red Dragon looks great too. But when ARRI comes out with 4K with their high end quality image they may have their step ahead. I wouldn't be surprised if there is an 8K camera made by someone (maybe Red) by the end of 2015/early 2016 that will give them an edge. And prices will likely continue to come down in general. So I do understand how you could say ARRI won't stay distinct for much longer. The only camera that may remain distinct is GoPro. Taking everything into consideration, including its very low price, it is the most distinct camera in the world.

March 10, 2014

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Gene

The issue is not ARRI, they make a great product. The issue is how long the ALEXA camera will last as one of the primary cameras considered for top tier productions.

Eventually ARRI will update the ALEXA line with new technology (4K+, increased latitude, faster sensor readout, increased ASA sensitivity, higher framerates, etc.) to stay the gold standard for digital cinema. Because the ALEXA is beginning to be superseded by other cameras.

March 10, 2014

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Morgan Simpson

SAG is the actors union, you moron. And its not even called SAGa any more.

March 11, 2014

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roccoforte

Hey asshole, I wanted to be the one to call him a moron!!! ;-)

March 11, 2014

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Lose

Arri is never just about the camera. They think everything through and build all of their stuff right the first time. It all works out of the box without a lot of crazy rigging. Service is available anywhere, anytime. That's what you pay for with Alexa, and that's why Arri is #1.

March 10, 2014

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Pat H

Tell that to the poor DIT's that have to manage ~1TB for an hour of footage of ArriRaw using the Codex cards. And pray that the client doesn't want transcodes done on set.

March 12, 2014

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Jorge Cayon

Umm, then I guess your saying every camera will be absolute in 2 years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3NJol-PwiY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Still the Alexa is quite a few yards a head of the F55. That's hard to beat considering the f55 is a wonderful tool. A part of me didn't want to respond but I felt compelled and I hope this video as well as countless TV shows, films and commercials will put that silly little notion to rest once and for all. They're all great cams one way or the other. It's the glass half full approach I guess, but in no way shape or form will the Alexa be obsolete in 2 years let alone 4 or 5.

March 9, 2014

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Anthony Marino

Obsolete not absolute, but you know what I meant

March 9, 2014

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Anthony Marino

The Alexa is a few yards ahead of the F55? ...The F55 can shoot 4K RAW, has global shutter, and can shoot at 240fps. I guess it depends on what perspective your comment was made from. But it could also be said that the F55 is a few yards ahead of the Alexa in terms of features. Both cameras are incredible, and are probably suited for different jobs. But I don't think one is clearly superior to the other in all circumstances.

March 10, 2014

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Nathan

In your terms that means that the gopro is superior to the Alexa because it has 4k?

March 10, 2014

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mariano

only gene is that silly.

March 10, 2014

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chris

No im not saying every camera will be obsolete in 2 years, because the changing of the tides is just now recently coming upon us price wise. Technology h.264 compressed 1080p has been stuck with us for over 10 years, the only budget options up until a 3 years ago was the sony f3 but even after the update it still was close to 30k.

However due to black magic red, sony , and others are now following suit at an alarming rate compared to what we were stuck with as far as uder 25k less than 3 years ago.

March 10, 2014

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JAYE

Alexa looks fantastic ... almost as good as G2. Seriously, at a lower resolution, most of what you see on the screen is color rendering. But shoot in 4K, then zoom in and you may find yourself with a different opinion that is based on the image sharpness.
.
That said, a month from now, you may see an F55 quality image, including the resolution, for under $10K. IMO, this is why GH4 is priced the way it is. Its $3,300 package - a grand more than I thought it should go for - is going to compete against the new Canon and Sony offerings, both in the DSLR and camcorder style. They must think they have hit a sweet spot with it. Other companies will charge more and thus will have to offer more too.

March 10, 2014

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DLD

If you think Alexa is ahead of the F55 then you might want to compare skin tones on Blacklist (F55) to Sherlock (Alexa). Both look to be graded for a natural real look but the skin tones in Blacklist are amazing.

Sherlock if an awesome program!

March 10, 2014

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THIS is still a great post , the peopleat rule seem like some great people

March 10, 2014

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JAYE

The stubborn cinematographers from the Screen Actors Guild, its like Fox news for cameras up in here!

March 10, 2014

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ryan

I kept biting my tongue, glad you said it though. Someone needed to.

March 10, 2014

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Ken

Hahaha

March 11, 2014

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carlos

Video can't watch after 44 minutes.

March 12, 2014

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Aung

Here's my two cents regarding camera obsolescence, competing cameras, etc.

RED came out with the RED One in 2008, if my memory serves me correctly. It blew everything up. Yeah, it was unreliable, broke down half the time, weighed more than a pregnant cow, and was a weird shape for rigging. Arri waited for two years, saw what RED failed at (reliability mostly, also manageable workflow and impossible camera menus) and what it did well (large sensor, high DR, upgradeable firmware, RAW recording) and worked their magic. They made a reliable camera that was easy to operate, had recording modes that were easier on post houses, and built-in the 90 year Arri reputation, and in my estimation, blew the socks off of the RED One. So RED comes back, this time with the Epic. Higher frame rates, higher resolution, better dynamic range than the One. Pretty much levels the playing field at this point. The field split. What I would call the "new-school" guys (Peter Jackson, Michael Bay) went with RED, the "classical" guys (Roger Deakins obviously, and some others whose names escape me) went with Alexa. I think now we're back to 2008. For about 18-24 months, RED is going to own the market. People will be selling their Alexas and buying Dragons. I've seen the footage, I've followed the hype, and I think Jarred and the RED guys have really done it this time. I'm not even talking about resolution, though 6K is nice. The images off that thing look great, I will not lie. But when did they announce Dragon? Almost 2 years ago? Is it even in the hands of anyone but RED's clique cinematographers? (Mark Toia, Ketch Rossi, Tom Lowe, Phil Holland) No. My guess is, the Dragon won't be in the no-name shooter's hand until this summer. A year after the August REDuser post that said Dragon was rolling out. But all is not lost. I absolutely guarantee you that in their secretive, quiet, humble European way, they are working furiously on a new sensor and processing hardware. I think we're looking at 4K, 2K and HD recording in ProRes, DNxHD and ArriRAW, a solid 16 stops of DR, 240 frames per second and your choice of a Codex recording module, an SxS recording module (that supports the new PRO+ cards) or a CFast 2.0 recording module. My prediction is that at NAB 2016 we will see Alexa 2.0 (or whatever they decide to call it) and it will ship by IBC 2016. People will jump from RED back to Arri, and the playing field will again be level.

Just my two cents.

March 13, 2014

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Daniel Christensen

I doubt Arri 4K will be a smaller camera, probably gonna be the size of current Alexa Studio. There will be people shooting Red and Arri for different reasons.

March 14, 2014

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Natt

Sorry if I was unclear, I think any new Alexas will keep the current form factor (why would they change what is nearly flawless?) just new stuff inside. And I agree that people shoot RED and Alexa for different reason, REDcode is a great intro to RAW video because it's relatively manageable. RED is also cheaper. Their bodies are smaller (think aerials and underwater cinematography) But the smaller body also presents challenges, like how the heck do I put this thing on my shoulder?? Where do I put all my accessories? I think that's where the Alexas bigger body comes in handy, you can velcro all kinds of crap to it.

So both have their niche, I just like Arri's way of doing business better, really.

March 14, 2014

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Daniel Christensen

Thank you..

April 3, 2014

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