Roger Deakins is not exactly known as a fanboy for digital cinema. I was quite stunned to hear, that Roger – who has shot some of the most stunning films, from the Coen Brothers to Kundun, A Beautiful Mind and O Brother Where Art Thou? – is now currently shooting his first digital film. It´s Andrew Niccol‘s new sci-fi thriller “Now”, on the Arri Alexa.
On his Blog he says, that he believes, within another year, the vast majority of productions being shot digitally. That´s a pretty bold statement from a man like Roger Deakins. Looks like things are really changing now.
There has been a lot of ‘banter’ about the two camera systems and sometimes it becomes quite partisan. Much of what I read is not the same as the information I am being given by experienced camera technicians in whom I have absolute trust.
I am told that the Red and Alexa have exactly the same sensor but each uses it to gather data in a different way. The Red team has biased their camera for optimum resolution by using an array of smaller pixels, whereas Arri has biased their camera towards optimum colour depth and latitude through a use of slightly larger ‘more sensitive’ pixels. Apparently, it is not possible to do both at this time and with this same sensor.
From the images I have seen I believe that the Alexa does indeed have better colour rendition and greater image detail in the highlights and shadows. On the other hand I wouldn’t say the image it produces appears any less sharp than that of the Red even though it does in theory deliver an image with less resolution. The falloff from a highlight into a shadow area would seem superior to me.
I am not experienced with the Red at all so I only say this in respect of the films I have seen that were shot on that camera. I have seen the Red viewfinder and I wouldn’t say it was any better than the electronic viewfinder on the Alexa. Neither is a substitute for an optical finder. As for as the camera system itself, I would say that the Alexa is a better design. It looks and feels like a film camera but one that is both simple to use and lightweight. For me, there did not seem a large learning curve from using a 535B to using the Alexa.
I have been a user of Arri cameras all my career so I must also admit to being somewhat partisan. However, I have now been shooting with the Alexa for some months and I have only been impressed by the camera’s capabilities.
I’m sure I will be shot down for writing this post. I am not a technical person and I, frankly, don’t understand the technology as well as most of the people who post on this site. In the same way that some cameramen prefer Panavision to Arri cameras or Fuji to Kodak emulsion, some will prefer the Red over the Alexa. That’s not the same as saying one is actually ‘better’ than another. However, I do know what my eye tells me.
Yes, there are a number of cameras in the pipeline which are interesting. The competition is pushing the technology at a speed unimaginable a few years ago. I do believe that it will only take another year before we see the vast majority of productions being shot digitally.
Rger Deakins on his Blog
- Alexa digital camera favored by Hollywood (reuters.com)
- A Q. and A. With Roger Deakins, the Susan Lucci of Cinematography (carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins talks True Grit, Jesse James and spills some lighting secrets! (aintitcool.com)