The Arri brand has been around for nearly 105 years and has been the go-to for high-end feature film production equipment, starting with movie lights and printing machines, to inevitably introducing revolutionary film cameras, and more recently their new flagship digital camera system, the Alexa35. Within the modern digital space, Arri has had unmatched color science and arguably provided the best image quality over strong competitors such as the Sony VENICE line, Panavision Panaflex, Panasonic Varicam, and RED camera systems. However, each of the previously mentioned platforms provides impeccable and noteworthy quality to the art and industry of cinema. So, why has Arri become, as it seems to stand, the go-to for the highest level of directors and cinematographers to film with, unless they’re renting out an IMAX body? This is the primary point we will discuss in this article.
The Oscars and Arri
As of the Oscar season of 2022, Arri cameras have been used for four out of the five Best Cinematography nominees of the year, with the lone exemption being Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which was filmed using a Panavision XL2. Additionally, eight out of the 10 Best Picture nominees of the year used Arri cameras, either entirely throughout the film or in combination with other cameras. This is not an uncommon trend on an annual basis, and a camera that shows up in that many motion pictures can easily be considered the predominant cinematic camera body in Hollywood. But, there must be a reason behind this trend, right?
Arri Alexa’s Longevity
Arri released the Alexa in April 2010, and it was the first real foray into the digital cinema camera market for the company. They kept the same Super 35 CMOS sensor for 12 years, until the Alexa 35 was launched in May 2022. Between these arrivals included other Arri releases that were game changers in their own way, such as the Arri Alexa Mini and Alexa LF. Alexa always stuck with the ideal that a richer image quality always held dominion over higher resolutions, which is a mentality that over the previous decade took the film industry by storm, with most cinema cameras raising the resolution from 2K, to 4K and eventually 8K within 6 years of the release of the original Alexa. The Alexa stayed at 2.8K, and with most theater screens being in 2K resolution, there was not a pressing issue to enter the rat race.
Though there have been many other iterations or camera releases from Arri which boasted higher resolutions, with the Alexa 65 capable of shooting at 6K resolution and the Alexa mini shooting up to 4K resolution, each of the cameras released since the original Alexa have all still used the same ALEV III sensor. For the 4K and 6K cameras, there were multiple ALEV III sensors stitched together to achieve larger formats and or utilize in-camera upscaling to achieve their images. However, the major revolution that occurred with the release of the Alexa 35 is that they launched a new sensor, the ALEV IV, which provides up to 4.6K resolution and 17 stops of dynamic range, the most in any camera available on the market.
Arri also utilizes their PL mount and LPL mount, their own methodology and design to increase the globalized usage of lenses. However, if you still want to use your EF lenses from Canon or other cine prime lens manufacturers such as Zeiss, even their anamorphic lenses, and Sony, Arri has lens mounts capable of utilizing non-native lenses, allowing for high-speed workflow. Arri Alexa cameras also have their own image processing file format, ArriRAW. However, if you don’t want to shake up your workflow too much, the cameras are capable of recording in Apple ProRes.
Arri Alexa’s Reception
Legendary Cinematographer Roger Deakins has been well documented in using an Alexa for many of his films, dating back to the release of the original Alexa, and has stated that this camera was the turning point for digital to be better than film. Arri's camera systems were used on his 2 Academy Award-winning films Blade Runner 2049 and 1917, and since 2016, Arri has been used to shoot 70% of the top 100 grossing films. Since its release, 8 movies have won Best Picture and 10 films have won Best Cinematography. Suffice it to say, it remains so critically acclaimed and other camera systems pale in comparison for use in the professional film industry.