Alexa spawns new documentary camera14 September 2013
Arri has revealed its first documentary-style shoulder-mount digital camera: the Amira, which takes the sensor and many features of its Alexa, and adds such things as in-camera colour grading and 200 frames per second shooting.
“Everyone wants the Alexa image quality, but said make the camera smaller, lighter and more affordable,” said Stephan Shenk, Arri’s general manager, camera division. “But not too small or too light, as documentary shooting often involves large lenses that need to be balanced.”
The Amira “came out of all the feedback we received from the market. There were a lot of people who couldn’t afford an Alexa, but wanted one,” added Milan Krsljanin, Arri’s director of business development. “It has the same sensor, same picture quality – all the aesthetics of the image used on Oscar-winning movies is available for docu-style productions in a compact form factor.”
It can deliver full resolution pictures at up to 200fps, “with no compromises,” thanks to a new architecture, and the new SanDisk CFast 2.0 cards (also launched at the show), which is an open format, and less expensive than SxS. “They are able to take the 200fps, whereas SxSPro cards are limited to 120fps,” explained Shenk. Although Alexas can be fitted with CFast recorders, they don’t have the processing for the higher speeds, so will stay at 120fps. “Feature films are well served by 120fps – if you go higher there is the Phantom.”
Like the Alexa, it can record HD 1080 or 2K pictures with a dynamic range of more than 14 stops, low noise levels, subtle highlight handling, natural colour rendering, and good skin tones. It records Rec 709 or Log C images using ProRes LT, 422, 422HQ or 444 codecs.
It has live colour management, with 3D LUTs in the camera. “A lot of people doing documentaries don’t have the time or budget to do elaborate colour grading, but they still want the look,” said Krsljanin. It means “you can go straight on air,” added Shenk.
It comes with a number of preloaded 3D LUT-based looks that can be applied on set during the shoot. Alternatively, productions can custom-build their own 3D LUTs in external grading systems, load them into the camera during prep, and even modify them in-camera while filming.
For balance, new (patented) technology allows the camera to slide backwards and forwards on the mount (as can the microphone holder). “It allows a great deal of flexibility,” said Krsljanin.
It is designed to be quick to use. In the time it takes to lift the camera to your shoulder, it will be ready to record, making it usedful perfect for ‘run-and-gun’ shoots where the action is unpredictable and the camerawork responsive – there will also be pre-recording (something being added to the Alexa in the latest firmware update). Integrated, motorized ND filters as well as zebra and false colour tools aid exposure control, while an advanced peaking function aids focusing.
It has a ‘multi-viewfinder’ that combines a high resolution OLED eyepiece with a fold-away LCD monitor that displays a live image when the eyepiece is not in use and also provides full access to camera functions, without Amira having to be removed from your shoulder. Flexible multi-channel audio options are accessed from the camera’s right side, again minimizing disturbance to the operator.
There is also a new cooling system using a thermal pipe (the same principle as the new Mac Pro), while sealed electronics protect against humidity and dust.
“This camera is really made to last. It is definitely future proof. It is not something we designed at the end of the life of the Alexa to make a quick buck,” he added. It will start shipping in early 2014, and will cost less than the €39,000 Alexa HD, but they haven’t yet decided how much.