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.)