2020 marks the ARRI Alexa 10th Anniversary, and this is an event worth celebrating! The ARRI Alexa has dominated the last decade in top echelon filmmaking. There’s a good chance most of your favourite films released in the last ten years, have probably been filmed on an Alexa camera.
Back in 2008, ARRI started a project with the end goal of creating a digital cinema camera for professional use. And, not only just a digital camera, but also one that mimicked the behaviour and quality of celluloid film. Which was the de-facto standard in Hollywood up until that point.
Development and A Bit of History
The early 2000’s were an interesting time in camera technology. While improvements on the consumer side were incremental due to the limited processing power of small processors and limited sensor technology, on the high-end side there were much more interesting developments. Cameras like the Panavision Genesis, Sony F23, and of course the RED ONE, all sprung-up in the later part of the 00’s, as sort of 1st generation digital cinema cameras. However, it all changed in 2010 when the ALEXA arrived and quickly became the leading camera in Hollywood.
Of course, the competition evolved and produced newer generation, better and more capable cameras, but the ALEXA solidified the transition from film to digital on a mass scale in the Film and TV production business.
As a veteran company with nearly a century experience at the time in the film equipment business, ARRI engineers used their experience and know-how in film scanning, and implement it into the colour science on the Alexa project. The camera development team also leveraged the lessons learned from the not so successful Arriflex D21, the predecessor to the ALEXA.
The ARRI Alexa is well known for its unique and accurate handling of skin tones, superior dynamic range, and pleasant highlight roll-off, all characteristics carried over from the behaviour of film.
A Purpose-Built Digital Cinema Camera
The first ARRI ALEXA (what is now known as the Alexa Classic) was unleashed summer of 2010, and its impact was immediate. “I’ve been a cameraman for more than 30 years and this is the first quantum leap in filmmaking technology I’ve seen since I started out,” said cinematographer Robert McLachlan CSC, ASC.
The ALEXA family of cameras has been a favourite of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins CBE, ASC, BSC, who used his first ALEXA on “In Time,” soon after the camera’s launch. He said the following:
“I did side-by-side testing and found that there was so much more latitude in the file from the ALEXA than in a 4K scan of a film negative,” he said. “I was also drawn to the subtle fall-off to highlights and the enormous amount of detail in the shadows. It was the first digital camera I had seen where I thought the technology had crossed the knife edge and taken us into a new world.”
You can check out the lovely collection of Alexa showreels below, showing the incredible imagery created by top-class DPs worldwide over the past 10 years.
Upgrade-able Camera with a Future-Proof Image
ARRI has released dozens of ALEXA models and expanded beyond Super35 size sensors with the ALEXA LF, Alexa MINI LF and the ALEXA 65.
However, the longevity (or rather commercial viability) of individual Alexa models is significantly longer compared to most of the competition. This is thanks to the FPGA (field programmable gate array) technology in the ARRI ALEXA, which makes it possible for substantial new functionality to be added via firmware updates.
An ALEXA Classic or XT today is still able to produce Hollywood-level images despite being ten years old cameras. This is why you see really old, beat-up ALEXAs still in use and rented out on commercials, TV series and movies.
Of course, the mighty ALEV III digital sensor, which all Alexa cameras are based on (and the AMIRA), and the revered image processing pipeline (that lovely ARRI colour science) shared across the ARRI Alexa family contributes to the popularity of ALEXA cameras.
I highly recommend you check out the ARRI Tech Talk below dedicated to celebrating the rich ALEXA history. You can find some really interesting trivia bits from the camera’s history and development presented by ARRI’s own Marc Shipman-Mueller.
New ARRI Super35 4K Camera is Coming in 2021
In the Q&A section of the ARRI Tech Talk above, Marc shared some info about ARRI’s much-awaited new camera currently in development.
To some of you this may not be news, as ARRI did say last year when they unveiled the Alexa MINI LF that next year (ie. 2020) they will be releasing a new Super35 4K camera. However, the new camera release appears to be pushed back to 2021.
Nevertheless, Marc did share the following about ARRI’s next camera:
- Super35 4K 4:3 sensor
- Similar in shape and design to the ALEXA Mini LF
- will use the same EVF as Alexa MINI LF (MVF-2)
- Support for CODEX Compact Drives
- Possible release next year – 2021
This is also stated in the ARRI Alexa MINI LF FAQ section:
We at ARRI believe in Super 35. Not everybody will shoot Large Format/Full Frame. Many productions, in particular in TV, will remain with Super 35 for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we are also working on a dedicated Super 35 4K camera (not LF), further increasing the choices for cinematographers.
This ARRI S35 4K camera will have a new S35 4K 4:3 sensor and the size of the body will be close to the ALEXA Mini LF. It will be compatible to the MVF-2 viewfinder and will support CODEX Compact Drives which have been introduced with the ALEXA Mini LF.
In order to implement additional ALEXA Mini LF features and to deliver software updates for our existing customers, the launch of the S35 4K camera will not take place in 2020, as originally announced.
Explore the legendary ALEXA range over at ARRI here.