My thoughts on the Alexa and where it's going

Via Zacuto Shootout

Via Zacuto Shootout

I have a love/hate relationship with the alexa.

The love is that I think it gets as close to film as most digital cameras. So, yes, I think it’s the best digital camera right now. But I don’t like that people are like, “ok this is the best, and it’s perfect and there’s no where to go except making it full frame or 4k.” Cause it’s not perfect. And there is a reason people still shoot on kodak film. Contrary to what many people think, film still, in my eyes, has the best, most natural “shot like how we have a dream” look. The look, the motion, how it renders highlights, how it blooms how it overexposures. How color look, how skintones look. Film stock changes each of how this looks - you can’t just say “film in general” is perfect, because it is all about the different film stocks. But the motion and the reaction to light and highlights and the lack of shadow detail, I am drawn to this. And it maybe just me, but that’s all I can go off of.

The alexa skintones are more natural than say, the Red Dragon or Helium. But overall, it can be improved. The sensor has a dramatic shift from magneta to green as you raise up the ISO. A shift that doesn’t happen when you underexpose film.

And the motion of the camera, it doesn’t have the same feel as film. I wonder though if that is changing now that film is scanned with a CMOS sensor vs CCD or how we watch film and mostly watch it on our computer. I still have a lot to learn.

And the noise of the sensor. The grain. I don’t think at 1600 ISO the Alexa feels like film grain, I think it feels like video noise. And at 3200 ISO, it is not film-like - it is quite ugly, well to me. As video noise, not beautiful like underexposing 5219 two stops.

What I like about film is that there is no shadow detail. Sometimes I think shadows should just be shadows. Of course, this makes it harder to work - you need more powerful lights. You can’t work with what already exists always. It’s slower, and productions have been significantly going down in budgets and therefore crew sizes and time, so it’s better to work faster, to get the coverage you need for the director.

So for me, I did try the Sony F35 as an alternative, as kind of “close to 35mm film” because of it being a CCD sensor and having red, blue and green, no subsampling. But there was something about its highlight handling that clipped more than the alexa that I didn’t like. And I tried the Red MX and later dragon. The Red MX I think the motion is pleasing, but the color is not there - it doesn’t have the saturation you can have with film, especially the newer film stocks.

So where does Arri go next? Unfortunately, it seems that they are now wanting to move forward in the resolution game. 4k Arri LF, and soon the 4k Arri LF Mini. For me, personally, I am not a fan of the alexa in 4k. I much prefer the look of the film, “Drive” shot at 2k pro res. The Cohen Bros. film I saw shot on the LF, it just feels too sharp to me. I use diffusion all the time when I shoot at 3.2k and I use softer, older lenses. So maybe it’s me and the world has moved on.

I think resolution isn’t the answer, and the crispness of 4k and above take out the mystery of film. The organic feeling of it.

Man I am rambling.

I think we still have a long way to go with sensors, and I wonder if there is a company out there that would be interested in, the modern era, matching the colorimetry and dynamic range of film, and the highlight roll off of film, and the shutter of film. I know Arri attempted this with the d21, and the Alexa Studio with a mechanical shutter. And my next testing I want to see how the mechanical shutter affects a handheld walking shot with it off.

Wow that was a fun rant. My apologies to everyone who I offended, which is probably 92% of those who read this. Sorry again, but taste is just a matter of taste, and God bless that we all have different aethetics and tastes and that people can claim that a Ingmar Bergman movie is better than an Adam Sandler movie, and some people would think the exact opposite. And God bless that. I don’t want to be a world that doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Here’s a great look at different ISOs and the effect on noise and color shift in the Alexa: