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Alexa in Prores versus MX RED


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#1 Joseph White

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 09:39 PM

Hey everyone,

I'm prepping a micro-budget feature film right now in Singapore (first time in Asia - this is truly an amazing city!) that we begin shooting very shortly and we're still basically deciding between these two cameras. Budgetary constraints have basically dictated that if we want to shoot RED, we will shoot MX - which is great - but if we want to shoot Alexa, we have to shoot onto the SxS cards in Prores 4444. My question is this - I've had so many people tell me that unless you are doing something for television or web, you HAVE to shoot RAW. Problem is, we have SO little money that the difference in cost between the cards and the deck is a deal breaker.

My main issue is that we are shooting during monsoon season in Singapore and we have TONS of day exterior work in all of the old canals, abandoned schools, along train tracks and will have few resources to really control much of what we get during these scenes. Director is super cool and doesn't want to shoot tons of coverage (I've been spoiled by someone who wants her film to resemble Days of Heaven, Red Desert, and George Washington haha) so I'm not super concerned about matching lots of shots within a scene with rapidly changing light, but since all of her visual references are fairly low-contrast, naturalistic images I need a camera with as much latitude as possible.

So obviously this lead me to pursue the Alexa since it is purported to have a greater range, but the compromise is the capture format. Anyone have any thoughts on this? So little Alexa footage is out there now and most of the cinematographers I have polled haven't used it yet. Anyone here have any advice? I've shot several features on the RED ONE and several commercials and music videos on the MX and I'm slightly concerned about my highlights and the ultimate lack of control I'll have on set.

Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated - I'll post some images once we start filming as man these locations are unreal...

Best,
Joseph White
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#2 thomas scott stanton

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 10:35 PM

Hey Joseph,

I think figuring out where the film will ultimately be screened will help you with your decision. If you are going directly to bluray, smaller festivals (smaller projections), etc, shooting apple pro res 444 in LogC will be sufficient (don't shoot rec709). If you plan on projecting at the arclight you might need the extra resolution and latitude that raw gives you (arri or red). Either will benefit from a good colorist. Last week I did 2 shoots with the Alexa and 2 with the Red MX. Very different looks, workflow, etc., however properly exposed footage on either camera would make the latitude argument mute In my opinion.

Good luck on the project.

Thomas
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#3 Bobby Shore

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 11:01 PM

Hey everyone,

I'm prepping a micro-budget feature film right now in Singapore (first time in Asia - this is truly an amazing city!) that we begin shooting very shortly and we're still basically deciding between these two cameras. Budgetary constraints have basically dictated that if we want to shoot RED, we will shoot MX - which is great - but if we want to shoot Alexa, we have to shoot onto the SxS cards in Prores 4444. My question is this - I've had so many people tell me that unless you are doing something for television or web, you HAVE to shoot RAW. Problem is, we have SO little money that the difference in cost between the cards and the deck is a deal breaker.

My main issue is that we are shooting during monsoon season in Singapore and we have TONS of day exterior work in all of the old canals, abandoned schools, along train tracks and will have few resources to really control much of what we get during these scenes. Director is super cool and doesn't want to shoot tons of coverage (I've been spoiled by someone who wants her film to resemble Days of Heaven, Red Desert, and George Washington haha) so I'm not super concerned about matching lots of shots within a scene with rapidly changing light, but since all of her visual references are fairly low-contrast, naturalistic images I need a camera with as much latitude as possible.

So obviously this lead me to pursue the Alexa since it is purported to have a greater range, but the compromise is the capture format. Anyone have any thoughts on this? So little Alexa footage is out there now and most of the cinematographers I have polled haven't used it yet. Anyone here have any advice? I've shot several features on the RED ONE and several commercials and music videos on the MX and I'm slightly concerned about my highlights and the ultimate lack of control I'll have on set.

Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated - I'll post some images once we start filming as man these locations are unreal...

Best,
Joseph White



hey man,

I'm shooting a feature right now, tested the MX and the alexa pretty extensively. alexa wins hands down, even shooting 4444 to the sxs cards. I blew up the tests to 35mm, both the RED, and the alexa shooting to cards and srw-1 deck HDcamsr, and the difference (for the different alexa formats) was almost unnoticeable. in alexa RAW, there's about 2 more stops of dynamic range, but going to cards still gives you plenty of room to work with (at least 2 more stops over/under than the RED). plus the alexa handles highlights/shadows with a much more graceful way. also, the quality of the sxs cards, which is only a logc 1080 p finish, still beats out the RED 4K image in terms of overall quality (my opinion). even for FX work, I spoke with the post superviser on the show and 4444 was approved no problem. again, I took the tests all the way to print, watched on a 60 ft screen, and the alexa shot with sxs cards held up fine, looked great.

we ended up going with MX for the feature cause of budget, and it's been working fine, but would have definitely preferred to have used the alexa. Let me know if you have any other questions.

bobby shore
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#4 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 21 November 2010 - 11:30 PM

The Alexa 444 ProRes is absolutely the way to go. Your entire workflow and images overall will benefit in all ways.

Another resolution argument will follow if I say too much but don't be fooled by more RED "K" marketing, the "resolution" with the ProRes workflow would hold up in any theater as well (just as Star Wars and all the other 1080 films have since).
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#5 Joseph White

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 12:50 AM

Thanks so much for all of your advice everyone! Will let you know how it goes...meeting with the camera house today...
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#6 Paul Korver

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 02:12 AM

I third the Alexa. We do a lot of post work from both cameras and everyone has been commenting on how good the Alexa stuff looks.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 07:58 AM

The Alexa looks to me like it has greater dynamic range and lower noise, which should be your immediate choice for more naturalistic exteriors on a budget.

ProRes is not technologically as advanced as the JPEG-2000 algorithm used by Redcode, but it's very competent and the camera is clearly better.
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#8 John Sprung

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Posted 22 November 2010 - 02:17 PM

The Alexa looks to me like it has greater dynamic range and lower noise, ... is clearly better.


Yes, I agree. We have shows on both cameras. It's also three times the money, so it better be better. The choice here is between two different price/performance points.





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#9 Zakaree Sandberg

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 12:04 AM

Alexa...ive really started to like everything about this camera.
alexa if you have the budget.
MX if your low budget
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 03:24 AM

I think there is no denying that the Red One in 4K mode records more measurable resolution than the Alexa recording HD to ProRes -- with a good prime lens on the Red One, you should be able to measure 3K+ when pointing the camera at a line chart, whereas by definition, you generally can't measure more than around 1.6K or so with a 1920 x 1080 recording.

Certainly Alexa has a bit more dynamic range and less noise at 800 ASA. And unless you finish at 4K, it will be harder to take advantage of the higher resolution of the Red One.

Hopefully ARRI will get RAW enabled soon for 2.8K RAW recording for a 2K finish, which should allow a bit more resolution to be captured.

Personally I think both the M-X Red One and the Alexa are capable of very high-quality images. For feature work, I'd be a bit more concerned about the 1080P limitation of the Alexa, eventually 2K, I think that's a bit unfortunate and somewhat shortsighted of ARRI in the long run. But other than that weak spot, the dynamic range and sensitivity are very welcome, and the image is very filmish.
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#11 Henry Chan

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 04:33 AM

I think there is no denying that the Red One in 4K mode records more measurable resolution than the Alexa recording HD to ProRes -- with a good prime lens on the Red One, you should be able to measure 3K+ when pointing the camera at a line chart, whereas by definition, you generally can't measure more than around 1.6K or so with a 1920 x 1080 recording.

Certainly Alexa has a bit more dynamic range and less noise at 800 ASA. And unless you finish at 4K, it will be harder to take advantage of the higher resolution of the Red One.

Hopefully ARRI will get RAW enabled soon for 2.8K RAW recording for a 2K finish, which should allow a bit more resolution to be captured.

Personally I think both the M-X Red One and the Alexa are capable of very high-quality images. For feature work, I'd be a bit more concerned about the 1080P limitation of the Alexa, eventually 2K, I think that's a bit unfortunate and somewhat shortsighted of ARRI in the long run. But other than that weak spot, the dynamic range and sensitivity are very welcome, and the image is very filmish.


You got the be kidding about Alexa!!!
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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 04:52 AM

You got the be kidding about Alexa!!!


Can you qualify the "kidding" aspect?
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#13 John Sprung

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 01:29 PM

Certainly Alexa has a bit more dynamic range and less noise at 800 ASA. .... For feature work, I'd be a bit more concerned about the 1080P limitation of the Alexa, eventually 2K, I think that's a bit unfortunate and somewhat shortsighted of ARRI in the long run.


It's a tradeoff. To get more resolution, they'd need more photosites. To put more photosites on the same 35mm film size chip, they'd have to make them smaller. Smaller photosites means more noise. The noise floor limits your dynamic range. Also, the boundaries between the photosites can't be scaled down any more than they are, so as you make more and smaller ones, less of your silicon is light sensitive, more of it is devoted to the in-betweens. So, you have more spatial undersampling.

Bottom line, we have two different answers to that tradeoff question to choose from. It would be interesting to do side by side tests.





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#14 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 02:11 PM

It would be interesting to do side by side tests.


I believe Geoff Boyle is working on some. It appears he's trying to work out the best method of presenting the RED images without causing too much negative comment about the method.
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 06:57 PM

It's a tradeoff. To get more resolution, they'd need more photosites. To put more photosites on the same 35mm film size chip, they'd have to make them smaller. Smaller photosites means more noise. The noise floor limits your dynamic range. Also, the boundaries between the photosites can't be scaled down any more than they are, so as you make more and smaller ones, less of your silicon is light sensitive, more of it is devoted to the in-betweens. So, you have more spatial undersampling.

Bottom line, we have two different answers to that tradeoff question to choose from. It would be interesting to do side by side tests.


On the other hand, higher resolution images allow for noise reduction processing in post without as much hit to resolution.

I like everything about the Alexa but the 1080P/2K limitation, which I feel, philosophically, should not be what digital cinema should aim for as a target. We shouldn't still be shooting theatrical features in 2K or HD a decade from now, 2K for features has always been a format of expediency for the most part, and as processing power and recording capacity improves, there is less and less reason to make it the common standard for theatrical features, not when the former standard, 35mm, was able to record more than 2K worth of resolution. If 2K becomes the standard and film disappears, then we will have ended up a step backwards, not equivalent or forwards. It's the same reason why I don't want 4K to replace IMAX.

I understand that the lower resolution allows for more speed, less noise, but the camera is already 800 ASA, it's already faster than any color negative film stock we have on the market. And dynamic range is nearly that of color negative, which leaves resolution as where the Alexa fails to match 35mm. Resolution isn't everything... but it isn't nothing either.

I'd accept a bit more noise if ARRI could make a 4K camera.

For HDTV broadcast work, the Alexa is fantastic.
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#16 georg lamshöft

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Posted 06 February 2011 - 02:57 AM

A 4k Alexa would need a ~4µm pixel-pitch (we want a nice, clean, sharp and artifact-"less" 4k output - not just large images), photosites with four times less area. Without further developments in sensor-technology that yields to about 2 stops less dynamic range in the highlights (the saturation signal or "photon-bucket-size" is directly related the size of the photosites. Maybe ALEV-IV will incorporate backlit-technology (fill-rate from ~70% -> 100%, lower noise-floor to compensate the lower saturation-signal) - but not this year...
Noise might be less of an issue (less than two stops difference) because - as mentioned - it becomes less apparent with higher resolution (- lower magnifification during presentation). We cannot even increase sensor-size beyond 30mm because it would yield to stitching multiple sensors which causes the weirdest artifacts unbearable for professional cinematography standards. DALSA just developed a brand-new full-frame CCD design (highest fill-rate) with 5.2µm pixel-pitch which results in about 12 stops (I don't think anybody tried a comparable test method for dynamic range) DR @ 50/100ASA !!! A sensor that needs a mechanical shutter, with a readout-time that would barely allow 24fps @ 2MP!

The ALEXA is a nice Super16-replacement and an extraordinary high-sensitivity-tool - but it's not a replacement for 35mm - at least ARRI itself (Munich, not US) sees it this way as well. ARRI has a complete 4k-workflow since 2005, not über-expensive and great quality. Use it when you want to go beyond "HD-broadcast"!

Why should we end up a "step backwards"? You're right, we shouldn't. But this is what we do. TV-production-standards were higher just 10 years ago, I can tell on my 3MBit-DVB-T-PAL-signal that a series is recorded with Genesis, F35, D21 or RED within a few min - who had this stupid idea to force artists to use these bulky, at times unreliable and slow "technology concepts" to take over superior, profitable, efficient standards? With the ALEXA, finally, a digital aquisition-medium looks well even under harsh conditions - we should give them time to adapt this technology for "cinema-adequate" 4k and don't fall for ridiculous marketing, otherwise we end up with VHS instead of Betamax...
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