ARRI is developing a 4K camera with 14 stops of dynamic range and high frame rate capabilities, and while that might not come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention, now we've got confirmation straight from the company itself. Everyone is making a 4K camera, so it was only a matter of time that ARRI jumped on board as well. What's interesting, however, is not that ARRI is developing a 4K camera, but that they aren't happy with how quickly companies seem to want to push HD to the wayside and get on the UHD and 4K trains.
In a recent Hollywood Reporter post, ARRI's Managing Director, Franz Kraus, revealed some of his thoughts about tactics employed by companies to make 4K look better:
“What annoys me, more than being asked about whether we are launching a 4K camera, is that at trade shows, HD quality is often being dumbed down, or not presented to its optimum quality, in order to make Ultra HD 4K look good,” Kraus said. “This is a bad trick because consumers will buy 4K displays based on the false expectation that the image is really that superior to HD.”
He argued, “The perception of picture quality has a lot to do with the physical performance of the display. For example, a 2K image displayed on an HD OLED monitor looks incredible because the active light source shows far higher contrast ratios in the picture.”
He also revealed that ARRI was planning on releasing a 4K-plus version of the ALEXA shortly after the first version:
“The Alexa camera family concept had initially included a 4K-plus sensor version to be launched approximately one year after the introduction of the first Alexa. But the outcome of an intensive feasibility study more than two years ago showed that we would sacrifice dynamic range for resolution, so we decided not to proceed,” he explained.
With Sony now fully invested in cameras that are shooting in 4K and matching the ALEXA in dynamic range, and RED potentially leap-frogging both of them, it sounds less like ARRI is actually disappointed with the 4K transition, and more like they assumed their technology would be cutting edge for longer. If you have skilled DPs already choosing ARRI because of the trusted name and excellent color science/dynamic range over resolution, why are they worried about whether consumers will be "duped" into moving into 4K too soon, especially as theaters are pushing into 4K distribution (arguably where 4K makes a much greater difference)?
The ALEXA is the industry standard camera in TV, and to a lesser extent in movies, where RED has also carved out space for itself among higher-end features. It's a little strange that a company so focused on absolute quality wouldn't be more excited about getting higher-quality images in front of audiences. They obviously have less money to work with than a company like Sony or Canon, but how quickly and swiftly they took over the industry was about more than just the images coming out of their camera. If they are leapfrogged in technology by competing companies, will their name still mean as much as it has in the past? Does this worry them?
Which camera you shoot on is far less important these days as you can get something that looks great out of any of them, and for many of the projects shooting on ARRI, the camera is a small part of the budget. Franz is absolutely correct that a proper HD image will look better than a poor 4K image. You have to wonder, though, if they are playing a dangerous game by potentially being the last one to the 4K party and likely pricing their camera at the highest end (which we can infer by the pricing of the ALEXA HD that was just released). Rental houses have largely been able to deal with these costs in the past, but with camera prices on a serious downward trend, will rental houses still be doing the business they once were in order to be able to buy a dozen or two dozen cameras at $100,000 a pop? When you can buy an ALEXA-quality 4K camera at Best Buy (a slight exaggeration, I know), why will rental houses still be investing so much money in cameras?
It's clear that whatever ARRI releases from now on will put overall image quality as the most important aspect, but what happens when you can get 90-95% of ARRI quality and stability for 1/3 the cost? Will rental houses still see the benefit in spending that much more for basically the same quality?
What do you guys think about the potential of the ARRI 4K camera? Do you think ARRI is worried about other companies moving ahead much faster with their tech? Are they right to criticize the move to 4K without first getting the most out of HD? What role do you see ARRI playing if everyone else catches up at much cheaper prices?