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THE JOURNEY – Our Experience with the ALEXA LF

After unboxing our ARRI ALEXA LF in mid July, we were anxious to see what it could do, so we turned the camera on, hit the record button and recorded several camera tests to see its amazing capabilities for ourselves. The tests confirmed what we already knew about the camera and its capabilities which made us more excited to see how it would perform on-location in a real production environment but before we started there were many questions we needed to answer. We started asking each other questions, like what lenses do we choose?  What power options, follow focus, sensor mode and desired codec are the best options for our shoot? Even though we did considerable research before purchasing the camera, we were curious how the LF would perform on a demanding shoot in the hottest city in America with its larger sensor and slightly larger camera body, compared to the SXT.

OUR PACKAGE

Lenses

Lens choices with the ALEXA LF center around the new LPL mount. Since ARRI’s Signature Primes and other LPL mount lenses are only available in small numbers, and fairly expensive right now, we utilized the PL adapter and chose the Cooke S7i lenses for their full frame coverage and unique look. We were also aiming for an overall warmer look for the majority of the piece, and knew that the Cooke glass would help push us in that direction. Our overall experience with the Cooke full frame lenses was no different than with any other camera as ARRI made the PL adapter incredibly easy to use. During this shoot, we didn’t utilize ARRI’s internal ND solution, but we are looking forward to testing them on future shoots.

Battery Power

We knew powering the camera was going to be a challenge, due to it’s 19.5-34 volt requirement which presented limited options at the time we were shooting. Bebob is set to release a special gold-mount battery plate for the ALEXA LF, but that wasn’t an available option so we were left to choose between powering the camera with an AC power adapter or a block battery. However, the day before the shoot we ended up testing out a custom Hawk-Woods 24v shark fin V-Mount battery solution made specifically for an older ARRIFLEX SR3 film camera. While not made specifically for the LF, this dual battery solution surprisingly proved to be a flawless alternative. The only drawback was  that the dual camera battery solution made the camera significantly heavier, but in the end it gave us the freedom and mobility to easily move around rather than being tethered to an outlet or block battery.

Other Accessories

Regarding a wireless follow focus system we would’ve loved to have had our hands on an ARRI or Preston unit, but budgetary constraints forced us to think of other options. That led us to the Tiltamax Nucleus-M follow focus. Having tried many affordable units in the past, we were a little nervous going in. In the end, we were blown away by the build quality and dependability of the Nucleus-M unit. We did not experience any problems that seemed somewhat common, such as calibration issues or interference. In the end, it worked without a hitch. Other accessories used were SmallHD monitors and Teradek wireless video.

Editing Workflow

We made the choice to shoot PRORES 4.5k, 2:39. The capacity of the Codex 1TB cards provided plenty of recording time and we never had an issue with space. After 2 days of production, with 4 locations we ended up shooting about 1TB of footage. Offloading footage was easy with some of the fastest card transfer speeds we’ve seen, thanks to the Codex drives on our ALEXA LF. Shooting in ProRes 4444XQ not only provides a beautiful image with 12-bit color depth, but the files are easy to work with. We were able to edit The Journey on a midrange Mac Pro 2013. Assuming you have fast storage, it’s possible to edit straight from camera in full resolution. RAW shooting is also available, but it’s more resource intensive with a minimal increase in quality.

 

The Journey – Behind the Scenes

FINAL THOUGHTS

Familiarity

Working with the ALEXA LF was just as easy as any other ARRI model. The simplicity and familiarity between the ARRI family of cameras saves time for everyone on set and the ALEXA LF is no different. If you know the menu system on one ARRI camera, you know them all.

Reliability

Living in the harsh desert environment, we’ve found other higher end cinema cameras can overheat quite often even within the first five minutes of powering the camera on. In extreme cases, we’ve had to wrap cameras and place them on ice to get them working again. Thankfully for us ARRI cameras are well engineered and designed to work in all types of extreme temperatures. We pushed our ALEXA LF to the limits by shooting in direct sunlight during one of Arizona’s notoriously hot summer days. We shot 4.5K, 2:39:1 over-cranked in 110 degrees and the camera continuously ran without any interruption or overheating worries. The dependability of the ARRI LF simply allowed us to focus on what matters most, the aesthetics of the image.

LF Sensor

With the added sensitively of the large format sensor we were able to squeeze out a handful of extra takes during the small blue hour window. We were surprised at how much cleaner the higher ASAs were on the larger sensor. We shot at 1600ASA (without noise reduction) for the extra stop of light, which felt comparable noise wise to 800ASA on the previous ALEXA cameras.

In closing we’d say that the ALEXA LF provided many positives and we were extremely pleased and impressed by its capabilities and build quality. Some people might question the size of the camera, but in all reality the camera weight ends up to be comparable to other cameras once you start adding all the accessories. Basically, this camera returns us to the film style preparation we’ve done for decades. We still have some unanswered questions and finding a reliable on board battery solution is key. At this time, our recommendation is the Hawk-Woods solution or look to the Bebob alternative in the future. The low-light capabilities of this camera at higher ASAs was also key along with the ability to handle the 110 degree heat. We’re looking forward to experimenting with more options on our next shoot. Stay tuned.

If you’re interested in renting our ALEXA LF please call us at 602-910-3132 for pricing.

 

Rental Package

ARRI ALEXA LF

Rental Information
ARRI ALEXA LF Rental

ARRI ALEXA LF – Camera Test

 

We took delivery of our brand new ARRI ALEXA LF here at VISION5 headquarters last week. As many of you know, ALEXA LF refers to the new large format ALEV III sensor. This along with a few other advancements, puts this ALEXA LF at the top of the range of several amazing ARRI cameras. Before that new camera smell wore off, we set out to try and quantify the differences between our new baby and our previous favorite, the Alexa Mini.

While the differences weren’t stark, there are a few reasons we feel that the ALEXA LF will become a favorite for commercial and feature work.

WHAT’S NEW

The first thing you’ll find and probably the most important, is the fact that this is the first true 4k Alexa camera outside the Alexa 65. The ability to meet those 4k standards is a big step forward regarding all the major online content producers.

Another important aspect is the wider field of view that the large format sensor creates while at the same time maintaining the shallow depth of field most DOP’s like. See below.

  • ALEXA LF - 70mm

  • ALEXA Mini - 70mm

 

The final thing we noticed is the ability to move into higher ISO’s without adding as much noise. The Alexa LF also comes with a new noise reduction feature. Based on our tests it smooths the image out a tiny amount when moving between 1600-3200 ISO. We’re not sure yet whether you’d get that same effect by taking in the image into a program like DaVinci Resolve or not. Either way the image seems to hold up in the low light really well.

THE JURY IS STILL OUT

It wouldn’t be fair to write this without talking about a couple things that some people will not be happy about. There are solutions showing up quickly though.

Over the past 5-10 years we’ve all become really comfortable shooting with smaller camera bodies. The Alexa Mini is proof of that. Well the ALEXA LF isn’t going to be a hit in regards to a lightweight, run and gun camera. This camera takes us back to the film days not only in size but also aesthetic, which in our opinion is somewhat refreshing. Needing a heavyweight dolly, crane or steadicam to create camera movement has somewhat become a thing of the past. We’ve become so overwhelmed with all the gimbal solutions and the ability to make every shot look similar to a steadicam that the creative preparation has gone away. Why are we moving the camera? Nonetheless the ALEXA LF is not a light camera coming in at about 18 lbs for the camera body alone.

The next obstacle is battery power. This is something that’s being looked at by many battery manufactures and the solutions are starting to come out more frequently. As you know the ALEXA LF requires 24V so all those V-Mount / Gold Mount batteries used to power up most cameras on the market can’t be used without a specific battery plate solution. For an easy solution that is working right now there are Hawk-Woods batteries which were designed for the Alexa LF. They make a 26V battery that has capacity up to 350 W/h. Bebob has a solution that has the potential to be really great. They make special 12V batteries, that come with a “High Load” contact strip. This makes them able to withstand the load required by the Alexa LF and still be used with 12V cameras. Unfortunately as of today the plate needed for the ALEXA LF is still backordered. Finally there is the solution by Wooden Camera that allows you to use 2 of your existing 12V batteries in tandem to create the 24V power needed by the Alexa LF. This is a newer solution so we’re still waiting to get more information.

Finally your lenses. Everyone was initially worried about the ability to use the camera without having the LPL mounted lenses like the ARRI’s Signature Primes. This is something ARRI really put some thought into before making this camera. The PL to LPL mount is extremely simple to use and our experience with the FF Cooke S7I lenses was great. We know that not everyone has a set of those beautiful lenses but there are other full frame solutions out there.  ARRI has also communicated to us that many lens manufactures are currently working on LPL mounts for their lenses. The reality is that this LPL mount could be the next standard in the future.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

In closing we think the ALEXA LF will be a hit with online content producers like NETFLIX, HULU and Amazon but we think most will be surprised at how much this will be used in the lower to mid range budget features along with commercials. Most importantly this camera might end up creating a shift back towards the way in which we approached shooting film. The question is, have we created the smallest camera possible and is the filmmaking community ready to move back towards an older approach. Only time will tell. We look forward to sharing our next video where we tested the ALEXA LF on real production.

If you’re interested in renting our ALEXA LF please call us at 602-910-3132 for pricing.

 

Rental Package

ARRI ALEXA LF

Rental Information