It’a hard to argue with the fact that the Arri Alexa is the gold standard for cinematic quality that all other digital cinema cameras are held to. Nearly every independent filmmaker would jump at the chance to shoot their projects on the Alexa if they could, but more often than not the price of the camera, even as a rental, is prohibitive to lower budget productions.
As such, most filmmakers look to one of the countless alternatives out there. And they are out there. There’s truly never been a more affordable time to invest in a cinema camera as there is today – especially when you factor in the ultra-low budget DSLR/mirrorless market.
Many filmmakers opt to shoot on cameras like the Sony FS7, Lumix GH4, Blackmagic URSA, Canon 5D III, or other cost effective digital cameras for the simple fact that they deliver fantastic images at a very low cost… Yet no matter what, so many of us are still trying to get our cameras to look more like the Alexa, either by tweaking camera settings or picking up the slack in the editing room.
When you work with an Arri Alexa it’s obvious why the camera is priced the way it is. It is the ultimate professional tool that is in some ways more reminiscent of a Super 35mm motion picture camera than a digital cinema camera. And much like the S35mm cameras of the previous generation, they are most often reserved for higher budget productions.
But there is one notable difference between Arri’s digital lineup today and their film lineup of years past: Arri once did offer a solution for the lower budget productions – Their Super 16mm camera line, but today there is no digital equivalent.
As many of you already know, I’m a huge fan of Super 16mm film and will be shooting my next short on either the Arriflex SR3 or Arriflex 416, depending on availability. I love the format not only for it’s aesthetic, but it’s convenience too. No other film format really serves the low budget filmmaker like Super 16mm, as it’s all around lower cost (from raw stock to processing), makes it a viable alternative to 35mm or high end digital for many filmmakers. And the physical form factor of Super 16mm cameras make them ideal for run and gun shoots, or handheld work – both of which are common scenarios on indie-level productions.
When film was still being used in abundance by features of all shapes an sizes, those with a lower budget could turn to Super 16mm film (as opposed to 35mm) to achieve the quality they wanted without breaking the bank. During that period Arri was manufacturing some amazing 16mm cameras that served that very market, many of which are still in use today…
So with that in mind – What I would love to see from Arri is a digital equivalent of their S16mm film cameras of years past.
A Super 16mm Alexa would be a dream for many filmmakers. In an ideal world it would utilize the same type of sensor and color science that we’ve all grown to love on Arri’s other digital cameras, but would also be housed in a smaller package. The smaller sensor and smaller physical size of the camera would presumably allow for a more cost effective price-point. In many ways this camera might look more like an “Amira Mini” than an Alexa Mini, as it would ideally be designed with handheld shooting in mind.
If this type of digital S16mm Alexa could be delivered at a relatively reasonable price-point (something along the lines of the new Panasonic Varicam LT at under $20k), they would fly off the shelves. This would be the case even if features like ARRIRAW, 120fps over cranking, or full 4K recording weren’t available. While some DPs will have a legitimate want and need for those types of features, there are plenty of other cameras in the sub $20K market that can deliver them – from RED to Sony to Blackmagic to many others…
But for those filmmakers seeking a true Super 16mm film look with Alexa color science and dynamic range, it would be worth compromising on features (even if it means no RAW recording) to have the ability to capture that aesthetic.
Some of you might be thinking that $20K is a lot to spend on a hypothetical camera that doesn’t record RAW, has a cropped sensor, and doesn’t have other key features that competing cameras offer in spades. But a camera like this wouldn’t be about the specs, it would be about the quality. There is a distinct gap in the market right now between affordable cinema cameras like the Blackmagic URSA, and higher end cameras like the Arri Alexa SXT, and a camera like this would certainly help to close that gap.
Even if it wouldn’t be a purchase option for some low budget filmmakers, it would certainly make a much more viable rental option. Not to mention, the ability to buy or rent S16mm lenses would help filmmakers save even more money when compared to renting full S35mm PL mount cinema lenses.
Will a camera like this ever exist? Who knows. But if anyone from Arri is listening: I certainly hope that a digital S16mm camera has been considered as a part of the future of the Alexa lineup. If something like this is in the pipeline, I will be the first in a very long line waiting to shoot with one.
This is all wishful thinking, but with NAB coming up around the corner who knows what Arri or anyone else has in store. Here’s hoping!