Sound’s a bit dramatic doesn’t it ? Sorry about that..
I’ve just wrapped on 100 Bloody Acres and after a pretty punishing shoot, I started thinking about just how great the Arri Alexa camera is. And I wanted to try and think about how to make an already great camera perfect.
Our gear package from Lemac was a single bog-standard Arri Alexa, along with some stupendous Hawk 1.3x Anamorphic lenses.
100 Bloody Acres was pretty tough gig for the gear. We were shooting is some fairly hot and very dirty conditions. Despite a ruthless regime of nightly cleaning, it only took a few minutes on set before you could write your initials in the dust settling on the top of the camera… (and now I’m hoping the guys from Lemac aren’t reading this !)
The dust was so fine that it just got into everything. It was like red talc. It looks great on screen…most of the time it just hung in the air as extra atmosphere on our shed interiors. But it was so fine that it just clung to everything.
Despite all that, the camera did not stop working once. Not a single re-boot, not a software glitch. It was quite disconcerting to see my 1st AC Frank Hruby nonchalantly blowing air up through the cooling vent at the back and literally seeing clouds of dust coming out of the camera
I’ve done a fair bit with the Arri Alexa now. I’ve actually grown quite fond of it. It really is very reliable performer, even in the toughest of conditions. There is so much to like about it. Most importantly of course are the pictures. But….
I started wondering if there were five things I could find that I didn’t like about the camera….it took a little while to get to five and here they are, in no particular order….
- The viewfinder mounting.
OK, there is an order in this case. The number one idiotic annoying every-day-I-grapple with-it problem with the Alexa is the way they’ve mounted the viewfinder. What on earth where they thinking when they designed this mount ? I mean to look at, it seems sturdy enough. It seems to even promise doing what you want…making it possible to orient the viewfinder and have it stay where you need it. And yet I’m constantly wrestling with the knobs to get it “just right”. When hand held, it’s almost impossible to reach half the fiddly knobs you need to reach to make it work.
And the Extension viewfinder is worse than the bamboo scaffolding I’ve seen in Vietnam. It’s got a magical ability to magnify whatever issues you have with the short eyepiece mounting by a factor of ten.
So a big raspberry to the designer of the VF mounting and the extension mounting for making me suffer every single day I use the Alexa.
2. Controls for the operator are on the dumb side…recording media on the operator side ?
Alexa is a drama camera, not an ENG camera. I don’t understand the logic of having the card slots for this camera on the operators side….well actually on your right cheek ! I mean if the camera purred the way an Arricam did when you ran it with film I’d happily nuzzle my ear next to the card slot and listen to those bytes being recorded as a final check that the loader had laced the digital magazine properly.
Sadly that final audible check you had for film is no longer required. So please, let’s move the card slots to the dumb side of the camera where a loader can quietly reload the camera and the operator doesn’t have to take their eye away form the viewfinder.
And while we’re at it, lets move the control panel to the operators side. Annoyingly, you can control and access some things but I’m constantly finding myself reaching around the camera to access menus and functions. By all means, have a status screen on the offside so the loader or 1st AC can verify the settings but the controls belong on the operator’s side.
3. A diopter that stays where you leave it.
You’d think with nearly 100 years of making cameras, Arri would be able to make a viewfinder with a diopter that simply stayed where you left it last. Apparently not.
4. A gigantic viewfinder cable and Lemo connector right next to the lens mount.
Theres no reason to have the viewfinder connector so close to the lens mount. In fact, the position of the connector and cable, means that Arri had to change the way the PL mount rotates to allow for the gigantic cable that looks like it could easily carry the entire broadband capacity of a major city through it’s wires. Returning to problem number 1, maybe it could even be integrated into the viewfinder mount ? It certainly has no place anywhere near the front of the camera. (nor does the audio input connector for that matter)
5. Recording natively something better than 1920 resolution on board without having to resort to big expensive off board recorders.
I love Alexa for her pictures, but there is something very special about having a 4K file to be able to work with. Yes even for TV. I’ve shot multiple seasons of TV drama using RED, and that extra resolution has saved me countless times.
Yes, I know I can use wildly impractical and expensive external recorders to record Arri Raw, but it makes it all rather unwieldy. Another thing to attach to the camera and power and another thing to go wrong when you don’t have the connections right…
It’s just ugly.
So please go licence cineform or make your own compression, but just copy RED and give us a compressed RAW recording with more resolution please. After my tests for 100 Bloody acres, I could BARELY see any difference between Pro Res 4:4:4 1920 and Arri RAW uncompressed. Uncompressed isn’t needed. I’d rather have compression with more resolution please.
So it turns out there are a few things that aren’t quite perfect with the Alexa…in fact they’re sometimes downright annoying….
It’s hard to stay angry with her though. She really does make some pretty pictures….
Have you got anything you find annoying ? Let me know….