Christopher Nolan’s dream (nightmare?) has come true. The ARRI Alexa 65 is a new 6.5K digital cinema camera with a sensor equivalent to 65mm 5-perf film.
Go big or go home!
65mm is reborn in the digital age. It has now become possible for mere mortals to achieve—at least in terms of resolution, if not “texture”— a look that is closer to the epic 65mm/70mm films from Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER. For a more recent reference, there’s INTERSTELLAR which Christopher Nolan and his DP Hoyte van Hoytema shot almost exclusively on 65mm IMAX film cameras.
The Revenant: trailer just in!
In fresher news, Alejandro Iñarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki partly filmed THE REVENANT, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, on the 6.5K digital large-format Alexa 65.
So why Digital 65mm over S35mm?
- Higher Resolution: The ARRI Alexa 65 sensor is slightly larger than a 65mm 5-perf film frame and is comprised of three Alexa digital sensors arranged vertically and seamlessly stitched together. The current Alexa XT camera maxes out at 3.8K with Open Gate ARRIRaw (ARRI had announced a 3.2K upgrade for the Alexa via software). Then there’s RED Dragon which gives you 6K off of a S35mm sensor, while the RED Epic does a respectable 5K. But that was basically all your high resolution options for digital cinema cameras. Up until now.
- Depth of Field: If you’ve shot with full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon 5D MK2/3, you know how gorgeous and impressionistic the depth of field can get at “wide open” apertures. In comparison, a giant 65mm sensor, by design, gives you even shallower depth of field and without needing to “open up” to ridiculously low apertures such as f/1.4 especially when you don’t need to. The practical advantage of the Alexa 65 is this: shallower depth of field at higher apertures (f/5.6, etc) during broad daylight. Great to isolate characters from the background or to get creamy bokeh, especially with anamorphic lenses.
- Smaller Form Factor and Reduced Weight: The ARRI Alexa 65 digital cinema camera is just slightly wider than the Alexa camera and weighs about 10kg/23lbs, which is less than half the weight of, say, that 20kg/42lbs beast called the IMAX film camera! The smaller form factor and reduced weight will ensure the DP or camera operator will not need serious chiropractic therapy! So, now, handheld operation and flying the 65mm camera on a Steadicam is a snap! Which means more creative possibilities for the filmmaker.
- Bonus! Matching With Other Digital Cinema Cameras: Alexa 65 will easily match the look and feel of the Alexa or Amira—and if you’re the ‘promiscuous’ type—as well as other digital cinema cameras such as the RED Dragon and Epic (with a great colorist, of course). Previously, if you were interested in capturing the highest resolution, you’d have to use 65mm celluloid film, and then intercut your footage with digital cinema camera leading to considerable DI or grading. (For the record, I’m a film lover, and still think celluloid can’t be beat when it comes to texture and feeling.)
ARRI Alexa 65 specs:
- 65mm digital cinema camera
- ARRI A3X CMOS Sensor
- Aperture equivalent to 5-perf 65mm film
- 6560 x 3102 Resolution
- 54.12 x 25.58 mm Sensor size (active image area)
- Sensor image diagonal: 59.87 mm
- ARRI XPL Mount (64 mm diameter)
- ISO Settings 200—3200 ISO. Base is 800 ISO.
- Dynamic Range >14 stops
- LDS metadataSame accessories as ALEXA XT cameras
- Electronic Shutter 5° – 358°, adjustable in 1/10° increments
- 0.75 to 27 fps (upgrade to 60 fps planned for early 2015)
- Recording File Format Uncompressed ARRIRAW
- Recorder Modes: 5-perf 65mm (full aperture, 1.78 extraction)
- Recorder Modes: 8-perf 35mm (24x36mm – future upgrade)
- Storage (type) Codex XR capture drive
- Storage (capacity) 480 GByte capacity/860 MByte per second data rate
- Storage (recording time): 11 minutes @ 24 fps
- Weight 10.5 kg / 23.2 lbs
- Power 24 VDC
Bespoke Lenses for Alexa 65:
The Alexa 65 will use the larger XPL mount, which is a modification from the existing PL mount. ARRI Rental, for starters, has updated vintage Hasselblad V-series lenses in XPL mount for the ALEXA 65. The package will include 8 primes and 1 zoom lens, originally made by Fujinon for the Hasselblad H5D. These lenses were re-housed and re-designed by ARRI to sustain the rigours of high-end cinema production.
Alternative Lens Systems:
Matt Duclos wrote an excellent article about alternative 65mm lenses from IMAX, Pentax, Iwerks and Phantom. He also has some interesting comments about RED and Sony’s potential response to ARRI’s Alexa 65. It’s a must-read.
Holy Smokes, Batman! That’s a lot of data.
Working closely with ARRI, Codex has developed an in-built camera recorder, plus an on-set and near-set data management system called the Vault Lab 65. They had to, when you consider that Alexa 65 RAW files are 31 MB per frame and the data rate 733 MB/s. Marc Dando, managing director of Codex explains: “So obviously we needed a robust recording format with solid state drives that were rock solid in sustaining the required data rates, at frame rates of up to 60 FPS.” In his interview, Marc also reveals that the Alexa 65 was in development for years and that Codex was involved as the post-production partner from the outset. Hey, he even got an ethusiastic quote from DP Bob Richardson for the Alexa 65!
Ready to buy? Not so quick, guy!
Currently, the Alexa 65 is only available from ARRI Rental. ARRI seems to be following the Panavision legacy policy of not selling their equipment, and only renting it out. I believe ARRI may have done this for two reasons:
- To protect their customers. Many have already invested in the Alexa, XT and Amira cameras. Not all fellas possess deep pockets, and ARRI may have preempted a situation where some individuals would flood the market with Alexa 65 at low rental rates, leaving others at a disadvantage.
- To grow the digital 65mm community organically. Currently, the digital 65mm thing is super new. Only one set of primes and a zoom lens is available for the Alexa 65. By holding down the Alexa 65 for rental only, ARRI can buy time and modulate demand while more lenses and accessories are developed (by them or third-party manufacturers).
In short order, nicely done, ARRI. Like, really.