Very quietly, like a tip-toing Titansaur, Arri ushers in the next generation of cinema. Strictly speaking, though, this is a road already travelled:
- 65mm film cameras exist already. Arri makes them too.
- It is out-muscled by true IMAX film
- A 65mm digital camera was already released years ago by Vision Research, the Phantom 65. Now discontinued.
But the Arri Alexa 65 camera is special. It is not a dinosaur, nor is it a scientific camera or experiment. It is a definitive statement by Arri. If cinema must survive, it must get bigger, as I’ve written here.
This article represents my thoughts on the new Arri Alexa 65 and its possibilities for future cinema.
What is the Arri ALEXA 65?
On the outside, it looks like a bigger version of the Arri Alexa XT, the best camera in the world as of 2014:
The difference is on the inside. Here are the official specifications (important ones highlighted in color):
|Camera type||65 mm format digital cinema camera|
|Sensor||ARRI A3X CMOS sensor|
|Image aperture||5-perf 65 mm (54.12 mm x 25.58 mm active image area)|
|Sensor resolution||6560 x 3102 (Open Gate – maximum recordable)|
|Dimensions||Length: 387.8 mm | 15.3 in|
|Width: 208.3 mm | 8.2 in|
|Height: 163 mm | 6.4 in|
|(body only with XPL mount)|
|Weight||10.5 kg | 23.2 lb|
|Lens mount||ARRI XPL mount with Lens Data System (LDS) functionality|
|Shutter||Electronic, 5.0º to 358.0º. Adjustable with 1/10º precision.|
|Frame rates||20 to 27 fps (Open Gate) *|
|Exposure index||EI 200 to EI 3200. Base sensitivity EI 800|
|Dynamic range||>14 stops|
|Recording file format||Uncompressed ARRIRAW|
|Recorder crop modes||5-perf 65 mm (Open Gate, 1.78 extraction)|
|8-perf 35 mm (future)|
|Storage (type)||Codex XR Capture Drive *|
|Storage (capacity)||480 GByte capacity / 850 MByte per second data rate *|
|Storage (recording time)||11 minutes @ 24 fps|
|Viewfinder||Electronic color viewfinder ARRI EVF-1|
|BNC connectors||4 x 3G SDI|
|– MON (1) OUT: 2 x 3G SDI|
|– MON (2) OUT: 2 x 3G SDI|
|SD card||For software updates and menu settings etc. as with ALEXA|
|New high speed operating mode for fast ARRIRAW frame grabs (planned feature)|
|Miscellanous interfaces||Focus / iris / zoom motor control with full wireless lens control support|
|5 x RS 24 V|
|1 x 12 V|
|TC I/O (5-pin Lemo)|
|1 x LDD|
|2 x LCS|
|BAT and ACC connection|
Monitoring and playback
|Monitoring||3 independent color outputs, all with optional overlays:|
|MON (1) OUT|
|MON (1) OUT|
|MON OUT assistive displays:|
|Zoom, overscan, overlay info, frame lines, false color exposure check, peaking focus check|
|CDL||CDL server support is provided as ALEXA XT|
|In-camera playback||Playback via EVF-1, HD-SDI MON OUT including audio|
Open Gate means using the full area of the sensor.
* Upgrade planned for Q1/2015. For more information on specifications, check out the official page.
The most important specifications are the sensor size and resolution. Then comes the lens mount and the data rate. We’ll look at each.
Note: Some sites claim the sensor has been stitched, but it doesn’t look like that from the official image:
Either way, it is not something we need to care about, because Arri has hardly ever delivered a dog. For this level of perfection, they also charge the highest! For now, the Alexa 65 is rental-only.
Comparing the sensor of the Arri ALEXA 65 with others
How big is the sensor of the Arri Alexa 65 and how does it compare to its ‘competition’? Here’s a look:
The Alexa 65 is the widest sensor (there are some medium format digital sensors out there that are wider, but most of them are older models). It is bigger than traditional 65mm film and even the discontinued Phantom 65.
Here’s a comparison of the crop factor of the Alexa 65 with its most important peers, as well as the aspect ratio (native):
|Format||H. Crop Factor||Native Aspect Ratio|
|Arri Alexa 65||0.69||2.11|
What does a large sensor imply? Here are some ‘issues’:
- The lens image circle is way bigger, which means you need medium format lenses
- For larger apertures, the lenses will be even bigger than their 35mm equivalents. We’re talking bucket-size lenses here. Zooms? Careful what you wish for!
- The center and corner performances of the lenses must be stellar. Any imperfections will be blown up on 6.5K. There is no hiding place.
- Poor makeup will be instantly visible. In fact, shooting skin without filtration might end careers.
- DOF will be shallower, and pulling focus will be a nightmare.
- The sensor will heat up like an oven. Arri claims the two fans used in this camera are ‘very quiet’, though we don’t know at this stage wether it is quiet enough for audio recording.
Speaking of lenses, here’s what Arri has in store for the Alexa 65:
These are rebadged (by IB/E Optics) Hasselblad lenses. The new options are eight primes and one zoom (114mm front diameter):
|Lenses||35mm Equivalent||Stop Equivalent|
|Zoom 50-110 T3.5||35-76||2.4|
Arri also has a range of Vintage 765 lenses available. For more details, click here. Hasselblad lenses are already famous for IMAX and other 65mm work, being some of the finest lenses on earth. However, they are not the only lenses available.
The Arri Alexa 65 uses a new mount called the XPL mount (eXtra PL?). It has a flange focal distance of 60mm. Here’s how the flange focal distance compares to other medium format lenses:
|Mount||Flange Focal Distance|
|Arri Alexa 65||60|
|Bronica 645 ETRS||69|
|Kowa Six/Super 66||79|
|Zeiss Ikon Panflex||99.35|
Anything greater than 60mm can be adapted, which makes this distance an excellent choice. You can get cheap medium format lenses, though if you have the budget for this behemoth of a camera and everything that goes with it, why would you want old lenses that are not rehoused for cinema applications?
Which brings us to the kill-joy part, the workflow.
What about workflow?
Codex has released the VaultLab65, almost the size of a grip truck (just kidding):
The Alexa 65 can record to the following resolutions:
That’s 0.7 TB/s (though in the official specs the data rate is 850 MB/s)!! If you shoot a 90-minute movie with a shooting ratio of 5:1, you’ll need about 20 TB. A feature or documentary will easily be in the hundreds of terabytes, and most likely in the Petabytes. The camera does not record in Prores. Here’s the workflow diagram:
I’ll stop here. Pros will shit in their pants.
Let’s address one reason why this camera is revolutionary, which might not be so obvious. The weight of the Alexa 65 is 10.5 kg – which is almost similar to what the Arricam ST weighs with film loaded. That sounds like a killer deal, but one can rarely film this camera without the accompanying Codex recorder solution – unless you only want 11 minutes of footage for some reason.
What this means is, the solution will not be as heavy as an IMAX system, but will be similar to using a Super35mm film camera with all the reels one has to carry. The advantage of a 11 minutes-at-a-time (like a film magazine!) media card makes this camera shoulder-mount friendly as well:
Oh, one more thing. The Alexa 65 has a frame rate range of 20-27 fps. This means, most likely, one will shoot 24 fps. More options are possible in future updates. Again, one must be careful what one wishes for. Even if 120p is possible at 6.5K, the data rate will be a cool 3.5 TB/s. This is almost in the realm of science fiction.
A quick comparison of the Arri ALEXA 65 with the Red Epic Dragon and Sony A7s
Why the Sony A7s? Well, it’s the only other ‘large sensor’ that can shoot 4K. On the other hand, the Red Epic Dragon is the only camera that can shoot 6K, but with a Super35mm-sized sensor.
Which makes the Alexa 65 special and unique. You must understand the package here. It’s a medium format 6.5K recording beast, made for one purpose only – to deliver the higest image quality possible. If the dynamic range is greater than 14 stops, and the highlight rendering anywhere near the Alexa XT, this camera is the ultimate cinematographer’s ultimate dream for the ultimate project.
My thoughts on the Arri ALEXA 65 and who it is for
Large scale big budget movies. Mega documentaries. And small format movies like The Master, where the goal is to get the ‘medium format look’. Though the price for this look is going to be too steep for the average die-hard fan.
I’m pretty excited about the camera and its possibilities, though after shooting I would want to go to sleep and let someone else handle the workflow. Question is: how many studios in the world are equipped to handle this beast?
So, what does the future hold? For one, I can bet my bottom dollar that Sony will come out with a similar sensor with an 8K resolution, and maybe Red might too. Though, if the Alexa XT is any indication, neither will trump this beautiful feat of engineering. Just my 200 million cents.
What do you think?