The Arri Alexa is widely regarded as the best HD camera on the market today. When played side by side with 35mm footage, the resemblance is remarkable. It shoots on a 35mm CMOS 2880 x 1620 sensor. With a big expensive recorder, you can shoot the full resolution of the sensor, but most shoot ProRes 444 on the SxS cards that make the post workflow extremely fluid. The sacrifice in resolution is of little consequence when faced with the gorgeous images the camera turns out. Enough about technical specs, if you want more go here. And if you don’t believe us minor leaguers, these guys are really famous and they like it too.
From those who aren’t supernerds like us, we are often asked “what’s the difference between the Alexa and this camera here?” Usually “this camera here” is either a RED or a DSLR.
CANON DSLR vs. ARRI ALEXA
“The DSLR is 1080 just like the Alexa right?” There’s a big difference between 1080 compressed into H264 (DSLR) and ProRes 444 1080. I find it difficult to get into a dissertation about this without sounding like a thoroughly unconvincing robot. So in the spirit of film making: show them, don’t tell them.
Unfortunately, this is a rather small screen and Vimeo does compress the original files. So the difference isn’t as clear as would be apparent on a television or theater screen. But nonetheless, some key differences are apparent. Take the first side-by-side shot and look at the tires, the grass behind the car, and even the car itself. Compare it to the 7D where the black in the tires is a little muddy, the grass is less colorful and crisp, and the silver car has escaped into white. Sorry the next shot doesn’t match better. In the shot of the car driving through the fog, the differences are subtle, but look at the trees on the right side of the frame. On the Alexa, you can count them, on the 7D you can’t. The shot with the couple sitting under a tree is a great example of the difference in latitude. While both cameras have exposed the shadow areas, the Alexa was able to captured areas hit by direct sunlight which the 7D could not. Hence on the 7D, those areas are blown out and zero information was captured. When no information exists to color correct, it is impossible to fix in post. The shot through the windshield of the car has the best example of color strength. From here on out, keep an eye on the sky. As we get into the couple in the field, you can see that the Alexa will get you a blue sky, while the 7D will lose it into the whites. Colors and definition play a big part in the rest of the video. Note especially the definition in the grass during the wide shot of the couple looking at the sunset. The flares are different as well, though I don’t want to make any claims about them since they are mostly dependent on the lenses that were used. Going back a few shots, watch the motion in the handheld shot of the girl picking flowers. Look at each camera individually and note the difference in the way the camera moves. All the shots at the beginning and end of the video were shot on the Alexa. As I note, the only color correction I did was because the 7D came out looking warmer in the magenta-y way. It was hard to notice any other differences before I compensated for that. If you want to know what settings I used for this little video, click on the vimeo length and scroll down to the bottom of the description.
RED EPIC vs. ARRI ALEXA
The Red Epic is indeed a 5k camera. But the impact of mere resolution on an image is easily eclipsed by superior color reproduction, greater latitude, and the self esteem of actors over the age of 40. 5k has its advantages in the visual effects department, but 5k on its own can’t make the Red Epic the better camera. I also hear producers saying they want 5k so they can reframe in post, to which my snarky response is that Alexa DPs tend to do it right the first time. The other major difference between the Epic and the Alexa is in machine functionality. The Epic breaks down a lot. It overheats, circuit boards short out, and like most men, gets emotional. Such problems have almost become expected on features. Such situations are rare with the Alexa. It will hold up in a range of temperatures where your crew will be buckling long before the camera. Though it is physically larger and heavier than the Epic, I’d prefer to get a work out with a camera that I can rely on. There’s also a sound consideration with the Epic. It is very loud. Try recording clean audio with it in a small bedroom and then try it again with the Alexa. That is my short rant. Obviously I’m biased, but I considered all these things BEFORE choosing to make HydraKraken an Alexa company rather than a Red company. And I don’t think I’m alone…