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  • Writer's pictureSam Mosco

Is the ARRI Alexa 35 Truly the Best Camera in the World?


Arri Alexa 35


Get an inside look into ARRI's latest (and greatest?) digital cinema camera.



ARRI, which stands for ARnold and RIchter, is a company that has been in business since 1917, with over 100 years of experience in making cameras and lights for the film industry.


When ARRI released its first ALEXA camera in 2010, it stood as a milestone, proving that digital could not only emulate but potentially even surpass film. It quickly became the number one choice of top cinematographers such as Roger Deakins and was used to shoot movies such as Skyfall, Hugo, and The Avengers.


With the success of the first ALEXA (now known as the Alexa Classic), ARRI's departure from its longtime tradition in manufacturing analog motion picture film cameras in 2005 was set in stone as it fully embraced the digital revolution.


The ARRI Alexa 35 is their most recent offering, and features a Super 35 sized ALEV 4 CMOS Sensor at a maximum resolution of 4.6K (4608 x 3154).



Our Alexa 35 Production Kit with ARRI LMB Matte Box


First Impressions


I'm Sam, the owner of Flying Dutchman Cinema, and I purchased an Alexa 35 with a full kit for the company for over $125,000. Crazy right? Let me explain.


As a cinematographer, I have worked with a large variety of camera systems and brands. I can tell you firsthand that the Alexa 35 stands out. What blew my mind the most was how hard it was to blow out and overexpose anything. Its dynamic range (the ability of the camera to capture the darkest blacks and the brightest whites) is far greater than any other camera ever introduced, even film. The skin tones are very natural and filmic, and its ability to capture true to life colors with its REVEAL color science is unmatched.


I didn't just buy this camera because I thought it would make me money. I bought it because I really believe that this is the best camera in the world to date. And I want to make it possible to share it with everyone for an affordable price.


Why, then, is this the best camera in the world? First I'll share the specs with you and then I'll go into why.


Specs and Features

  • 17 Stops of Dynamic Range

  • 4.6K Sensor

  • LogC4 Gamma

  • ARRI Textures

  • ARRIRAW and Apple Pro Res recording formats

  • 0.75 - 120 FPS

  • Side Display

  • Rugged and Durable

  • Internal ND: Clear, 0.6, 1.2, 1.8

  • LPL / PL / EF mounts

  • Internal Audio Recording (2 internal mics)

  • 24v

  • ARRI Camera Companion App

  • Enhanced Sensitivity Mode, up to EI 6400



Okay, so that's a lot of technical details and that definitely doesn't cover everything. But here are some reasons why I think this is the best camera in the entire world to date:


  • Best Image Quality. Hands down, gut feeling, this camera makes the best images currently out there. It's very filmic. Resolution isn't everything! I don't really believe you need 8K to make a good image. It might be helpful for a movie with heavy VFX / Chroma Key work, but even the Avengers was shot in 2.8K. Even an 8K camera can be too sharp and look like crap. 4.6K is plenty of resolution, allowing you the flexibility to re-frame while still delivering to 4K.

  • Greatest Dynamic Range. RED Digital Cinema claims to be able to have 17+ stops of DR, but in my experience, not all of that is usable. I believe that ARRI's testing methods on this are more strict and realistic. It's crazy how much this camera can capture.

  • Smoothest Highlight Rolloff. Most digital cameras suffer from some sort of color fringing or weird artifacts as highlights approach and overexpose at 100% IRE. But this camera handles it better than any other I've ever seen. It's super smooth and honestly even better than how traditional film handles it.

  • In-camera RAW. For even greater flexibility in post, you can shoot ARRIRAW internally without the need for an external recorder. But it's great to shoot Pro Res too!

  • Logical Menus and professional connections. For a top-tier 'advanced' camera, it has one of the most user-friendly menu systems in any camera. It was built for a professional environment, unlike so many other manufacturers, who make confusing menus and complex button arrangements, and then don't include professional connections such as an SDI port, timecode, accessory power, and audio input. ARRI has years of experience and feedback from Hollywood and it shows. It helps the camera department run efficiently and doesn't get in the way.

  • Awesome MVF. The MVF-2 (Multi Viewfinder 2) is a combo electronic viewfinder and LCD touch screen. It's the same one used with the Mini LF. I prefer to operate using the eye piece, so the high image fidelity of the MVF-2 is a treat.

  • ARRI Textures. This can be a bit of a confusing concept. But you essentially have an option in-camera to change how it handles noise / grain. There's no other cinema camera on the market that does this and it gives you another creative variable to play with to tell a visual story. It's a bit like selecting a film stock. You can change the Texture to give it a pleasantly "Nostalgic" look, or select a clean Texture, or one good for skin tones. Read more about it here.


The lift-up side plate is great way to mount accessories like a Teradek without getting in the way of the input / outputs

Are there any drawbacks? Sure. Cameras are a tool, and you wouldn't use a screwdriver to change a lightbulb. (Definitely don't try that at home). Some cameras are aimed more at the one-man-band videographer or hobbyist. For fairness, let's look at some potential cons:


  • Form Factor. It doesn't have a tiny form factor or is as light as a mirrorless or DSLR camera, especially if you add a lot of accessories. It's close to the size of an Alexa Mini but slightly larger / heavier. But it is still a lot lighter than older film cameras or previous Alexa models. Weight has a lot to do with how good handheld looks, though, and an ultra light camera is not something you want for that. My suggestion is to rent an Easy Rig with the Alexa for handheld work. For gimbal work, it works great on a Ronin 2 or similar and doesn't cause any issues.

  • Requires more power (24v) compared to the 12v standard, but this isn't a problem when paired with 150wh batteries or a sharkfin.

  • The low-light performance is great, but there are Sony cameras that can crank the ISO up a lot more.

  • Price. The purchase price especially. But I believe you get what you pay for.

  • Don't expect it to solve all of your problems. Bad lighting? Inexperienced crew? Over-the-top acting? Rushed production? Poorly-written script? Even with an amazing camera, it will still look bad. Conversely, a bad camera can be made to look good in the right circumstances. But if you want to put your best foot forward, why settle for good when you can have the best?

Conclusion


So, is the ALEXA 35 the best camera in the world? I think so, but you might disagree with me if you need a small, cheap, run-and-gun camera. And that's okay! There are plenty of options out there when choosing a camera to shoot on and plenty of good cameras. But when you are talking about quality and performance, nothing can top the Alexa 35. There's a reason cinematographers prefer ARRI.


Did I miss anything? Is there another camera you prefer? Feel free to let me know in the comments.



Sources

iMDB


ARRI















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