A few days ago, Arri announced the Alexa XT:
I believe this is the best video camera in the world at the time of this writing. If you’ve already made up your mind that I’m mistaken, head over to the comments section right away and have your say!
The rest of this article is the reasoning (rationalization?) behind my decision.
What is the Arri Alexa XT?
The original Arri Alexa had an SxS recorder attached to the camera, which only recorded 1080p Prores and DNxHD. If you wanted 3K Arriraw, you needed an external recorder, like the Codex Arriraw Recorder or Onboard Recorder.
The XT replaces the SxS recorder with a ‘Codex-built’ XR module – right on the camera (XR – Extended Recording):
Now you can record 3K, 1080p Prores or DNxHD, all in-camera – up to 120 fps.
How the new system works
The media used to record this monster raw stream is XR Media, a 512 GB solid state drive, which will be sold exclusively by Arri (probably to keep things democratic). But what about those who have invested in SxS? Nothing to fear:
In addition to ARRIRAW, ProRes or DNxHD can also be captured to the XR Capture Drive for significantly longer recording times as well as ProRes 4444 recording at 120 fps. With an SxS Adapter it is possible to record ProRes or DNxHD to a single SxS PRO card, thus protecting the inventory of existing cards. The XR Capture Drive offers a number of different paths into post, using proven Codex workflows.
Watch this video to see how this works:
Arri has claimed that the XR module/drive combination is capable of writing data at 860 MB/s (6.7 Gbps). Take a bow.
The Mother of all ND Filters
This isn’t all. There is another cool feature which I think is ‘knock-your-socks-off’ stuff – the in-camera Filter Module IFM-1.
The In-camera Filter Module IFM-1 allows ALEXA XT models to be rated at the base sensitivity of EI 800 without the need for external Neutral Density (ND) filters, even in bright sunlight. Filtering behind the lens rather than in front saves time and reduces weight, reflections and operational complexity. The Precision IRND filters used with the IFM-1 are based on innovative technologies that assure highest image quality and perfect color balance at all of the eight available densities, from ND 0.3 to ND 2.4.
If you’ve read the Chapter on Filters in the Comprehensive Rigging Guide, you know that 0.3 to 2.4 covers 10-stops, or the entire range of ND. This is revolutionary, isn’t it?
Can old users upgrade?
Having already released various upgrades, licenses, options and free-of-charge Software Update Packets, ARRI is now offering upgrades for existing ALEXAs that provide most of the functionality of the XT cameras. These upgrades include the XR Module, In-camera Filter Module IFM-1, Viewfinder Mounting Bracket VMB-3, Viewfinder Extension Bracket VEB-3, XT Fan and the anamorphic de-squeeze and high speed licenses.
Then, we have the true-anamorphic 4:3 sensor:
For the most effective use of anamorphic lenses, each ALEXA XT model is equipped with a 4:3 sensor, the same size and shape as a Super 35 mm film frame. This is crucial for delivering the unique and cinematic widescreen look that can trace its origins back to the CinemaScope films of the 1950s. It is a look that has long been appreciated by cinematographers, directors and the viewing public. An anamorphic de-squeeze license is included with all XT cameras, as is a high speed license for filming at up to 120 fps. The 4:3 sensor will also be useful on non-anamorphic productions as it permits significant reframing of the image in post, similar to shooting 4-perforation 35 mm.
Finally, we have peace and quiet:
ALEXA cameras are already among the quietest digital cameras, but an even quieter fan has become available and ARRI has incorporated this new fan into the ALEXA XT models, providing an extra safety margin in very quiet or very hot environments.
As we have seen in The Battle for 4K RAW a fully spec’d Red Epic-X, Sony F55 or Canon EOS C500 will cost you $50,000 or more. As far as the Red Epic is concerned, the cost excludes the price of the Meizler Module or a basic rig. The original Arri Alexa fully kitted up costs about $100,000.
- If I only wanted to consider resolution, I might say the Red Epic-X is king (especially with the Dragon update). The Sony F65 might follow suit quickly with a 6K upgrade for the F65.
- If I only looked only at frame rate, I might say the Phantom is king.
- If I looked only at the most widely accessible RAW workflow, I might say the Blackmagic Cinema Camera offers that.
- If I looked only at the most widely covered workflows possible, nothing comes close to the Sony F55. It covers everything from 4K to broadcast to Youtube.
- If I looked only at dynamic range, the Arri Alexa comes on top. The Red Epic Dragon might take away this crown soon, though.
But this isn’t about individual titles, is it? This is about the best video camera in the world:
- The Arri Alexa 4:3 is a 3K camera (6MP). As Skyfall showed, interpolating it for a 4K worldwide theatrical release is nothing. It also has the simplest 1080p workflow possible.
- The Arri Alexa is the most ergonomical camera in the bunch. Look at its weight distribution and aesthetics. Read the Chapter on Ergonomics in the Comprehensive Guide to know more.
- It covers up to 120 fps. That covers 99% of all productions on Earth.
- It offers uncompressed RAW with wide software support via its SDK.
- It offers pedigree and world-wide support that is only topped by Sony, and maybe equaled by Canon.
- It has a full ND filter!
- Arri offers phenomenal Dynamic Range equal to film.
- The Arri XR Media can write at 6.7 Gbps.
- Personal Opinion: The Arri Alexa has the best skin tones and textures. Too much resolution makes skin look ‘reptilian’. Sharpening makes it worse, and sometimes you’ll need ‘re-touching’ to diffuse the impact of 4K.
- Personal Opinion: The Arri Alexa has the best highlight roll-off bar none (except film, of course) – especially when you overexpose.
But what about the Dragon Epic? Well, bring it on! Until then, for me at least, there’s no competition. Wait, what about the price?
When I look at the price and sigh, I must remind myself that being the best video camera in the world gives the Arri Alexa XT the right to charge a premium.
Here’s a recent test, enjoy:
Do you agree with my assessment? Or do you hate me forever for not choosing the Red Epic or the Sony F65?