Since I first launched this blog, one of my greatest missions has been to achieve the “Alexa look” on a budget. While most of my efforts have involved using a unique mix of color grading & carefully planned lighting with lower budget cameras, more recently I’ve been exploring another path – Making a true Arri Alexa more cost effective.
It all began when I caught wind of Arri’s CPO Program, which I spoke about in more detail in this article. In short, Arri’s original Alexa bodies have come down in price substantially over the years, and Arri’s new pre-owned platform has made it easy to buy them reliably.
But as we all know, the camera body itself is not the only expense to consider when investing in a camera system. The lenses are another huge consideration, particularly once you get into PL-mount territory, where even average lenses can run many thousands of dollars a pop.
Although I’ve never been much of a Canon shooter, I have invested in a lot of EF glass over the years… Largely because EF mounts have become standard on cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini (which I also own), and are adaptable to most mirrorless cameras.
When I first bought my Alexa Plus 4:3, I weighed whether I should keeping my Canon glass and simply swap the Alexa mount from PL to EF, or alternatively sell all of my EF glass and buy all new PL lenses.
In the end, I decided it would make more sense to convert the camera to EF using a Leitax mount (more on that below), which I could easily swap back to PL when needed for future projects.
I didn’t simply make this decision because I owned EF lenses – although that was part of it… The bigger factor was my discovery of the Leica R Mount lenses, which are not only beautiful optically, but also very affordable and easily adaptable to EF.
Had I gone the PL route, I would have likely wound up with a newer lens kit that was middle of the road (quality-wise), or a vintage kit that needed a lot of work. In effect, I would be paying for the housing more than the glass itself.
By taking the EF path, the door was opened to easily adapt vintage Leica R lenses, which offered superior quality and a smaller form factor.
I’ve shot with a lot of vintage lenses, and to me the Leica R’s offer the best bang for your buck in many ways. Not only are they extremely cost effective on the used market (my 50mm cost about $300), but they also deliver a truly stunning look. They are surprisingly sharp, and can easily match up to many modern lenses with respect to overall resolution. But because they are several decades old, they also have a unique quality to them (particularly in the bokeh) that gives them just a hint of vintage flare.
Another great benefit of the Leica R’s is that they cover full frame sensors. While I don’t need FF coverage with the Alexa, I can still benefit from the added coverage when using these lenses on some of my DSLRs or other larger sensors cameras.
In doing my research, I came across a company in Europe called Leitax. They make mounts and adapters for all sorts of cameras, and manufacture both the EF mount for Alexa cameras, as well as the EF adapter for Leica R lenses.
I decided to pull the trigger and purchase a single 50mm Leica R lens to start, as well as the Alexa kit from Leitax.
Installing the new mount was surprisingly easy, but also quite nerve wracking. Any time you do open heart surgery on an Alexa, your own heart starts to race… Below is a visual breakdown of how the mount was installed.
First, a picture of the camera mount beforehand –
The very first step is to remove the existing PL mount. If you have an Alexa and are attempting to do this, know that you will need a series of torx screwdrivers. I bought a multi-tool for $10 that covered all the different sizes, and was a lifesaver. Each component uses a slightly different torx size.
To start, you have to unscrew all 7 of the main torx screws that hold the mount in place. These screws will not come out all the way, they just need to be loosened. Once complete, you can pull the mount off very carefully, but will need to use some force – There is a suction system that keeps it stuck onto the camera body, even after the screws are loosened.
To fully remove the PL mount though, you also have to disconnect the electronic ribbon that runs from the camera into the mount. There are 4 screws on the side of the PL mount that when removed, open up a little flap where you can unhinge the electronic connection.
Once this step is complete, you can slide the mount off and the ribbon/wire will slip through the small opening on the circuit board.
Then, you wind up with something that looks like this –
In the picture above, I had already carefully pushed the ribbon cable back into the body where it is stored. You can make it out on the left side of the silver plate – the little rectangular opening.
The next step of course is to install the Leitax EF mount. This part is fairly quick and easy. You start by placing the Leitax coupling ring inside the Alexa – This is a black rubbery piece that serves as a buffer between the camera body and the mount.
Then, you screw the metal Leitax mount into the camera body using the screws provided.
The end result looks like this –
And just like that, the new mount is installed!
My last step was to convert my Leica R 50mm lens to EF so it could be used with the new camera mount. This simply involved screwing the Leitax EF ring on top of the existing 50mm lens back. Here is a quick before and after shot of the lens once the EF ring was added.
This step took only a minute or two to complete, and with that I was able to fully secure the Leica 50mm to the camera body –
I was relieved to boot up the camera and see a crystal clear image in the viewfinder. No focusing issues or other problems, just a gorgeous image coming through that tiny 50mm lens onto the Alexa sensor.
The Leitax mount is great in that it rotates to really lock in your lens, much like a PL system. It doesn’t simply click in like a standard EF mount, which gives you some added confidence when using heavier lenses or follow focus systems.
If I ever want to use PL lenses on the camera, I can simply use a Leitax PL adapter, which will allow me to go from EF to PL on this camera without fully changing the mount again.
All-in, I spent about $300 on the lens and $500 for the Leitax kit. So for about $800 total I was able to convert the camera and have some awesome glass to go with it.
This setup may not be ideal for everyone, but for my specific needs it’s nearly perfect. I now have the flexibility to use more lenses with the Alexa than ever before, and have done so very cost effectively.
I’ll certainly still be shooting on my mirrorless cameras, Blackmagic’s and other lower-cost systems on many projects. Every camera is uniquely qualified for different types of shooting scenarios…
But this modification just opened the door for me to put the Alexa to use on even more productions, and it is more versatile than ever. And now I’ll definitely be investing in more Leica R glass to build out a full kit.
Hopefully this is helpful for those of you considering a similar path. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section below!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!