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Film Vs Digital - Why Is Arri Alexa So Expensive


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#1 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 12:04 AM

Hi All,

 

I'm currently 23 years old and I have been wondering one thing. What is the big difference between film...and digital. I have noticed that colors seem different on film, but I just don't get it....

 

I have come across the funds to purchase an Arri Alexa camcorder system myself and really want to know the advantages to filming digital where the marketing resembles "It's just like film." What is the big whoop?

 

Also, can someone explain to me - why these cameras are so expensive? (24,000$ +) whereas the DSLR cameras are roughly under $5,000. Is it their dynamic range capability? The sensor on them more big or advanced? What is the exact quality that makes these PL mounted lenses so god damn expensive?

 

I have recently been inspired by Ryan Gosling's "DRIVE" movie and the cinematography of a Mr. Sigel.

 

Thank you all for reading my questions and slight tirades in this matter.

 

-Michael


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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 01:55 AM

DSLRs are mass produced cameras, they are made mostly for the large stills market, the video is more or less an extra feature and there are compromises made on that side to keep the costs down. One example is recording onto a very highly compressed codec, while the Alexa can use either uncompressed RAW or codes like Prores.  Shooting video DSLRs have a lower resolution and have artifacts like moire and skew when panning quickly. 

 

If buying an Alexa, there is more involved than the camera body. I don't know where you got $24k price for the Alexa, unless you're confusing it with the RED, the Arri is much more expensive. The cheaper Amira is priced at $40k. The  Alexa starter kit price is $80k. There are more time spend checking and burning in of individual cameras, something which isn't done with mass produced cameras, where they take samples from the production line. You can read more here: http://www.fdtimes.c...TIMES_LoRez.pdf

 

The main difference between digital and film has been smooth handling of highlights and the skin tones. Now some digital cameras like the Alexa can give similar results.

 

Cine lenses have much higher quality and more complex mechanics than stills lenses. They are usually hand built and are individually tested and calibrated.

 

http://www.fdtimes.c...ok-150m_2up.pdf

http://www.fdtimes.c...013-FDTimes.pdf

http://www.fdtimes.c...0MedRez2-up.pdf


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#3 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 02:26 AM

hey Bryan

 

Thank you for the response. So I read that big pdf and apparently all I got from it was "the sensor is super duper sensitive to light...it does not crush highlights and retains blacks....just like film!" I still do not see the hardcore comparison of these facts that make it so expensive. Also i was thinking of another camera when I thought 24k.

 

Thanks

 

Michael


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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 03:20 AM

You can get the first 80% quite cheaply it's the last 20% that's expensive, with the last few percent being extremely expensive. That may mean having a high rejection rate on the sensors because they don't come up to specification.

 

Much of the price can involve the product support, the R & D costs of not only the sensor, but the quiet cooling system and quality engineering. Arri cameras are built for a long reliable working life in the professional world used by people who usually don't own the equipment. The productions that use these cameras tend to rent the equipment and are used by people who are extremely demanding and the productions are prepared to pay for it because they make extremely expensive stars look good.

 

Usually the cheaper cameras aren't state of the art and have more limited dynamic range.  


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#5 Mark Dunn

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 09:49 AM

From a sales viewpoint, Arri would be crazy to make the Alexa much cheaper than the cameras it replaced. The last price I saw quoted for the 535 was over £50,000 IIRC.

It's hand-built by Germans on German skilled wages, not mass- produced by Thais at Thai wages.

Interestingly there is an Alexa kit for sale on the forum right now,  one careful owner, $80,000.


Edited by Mark Dunn, 29 May 2014 - 09:51 AM.

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#6 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 04:46 PM

I still just don't understand why on Earth these cameras are so expensive.


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#7 Perry Paolantonio

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:01 PM

I still just don't understand why on Earth these cameras are so expensive.

 

Aside from all the other reasons people have enumerated above, how do you think these things are developed? The amount of engineering time and effort that goes into making something like this literally takes years, with multiple people working on it (electrical and mechanical engineers, software developers, etc). Those people have to be paid salaries, they need offices to work in, electricity bills have to be paid, parts need to be purchased, they need tools to make these things (which themselves are incredibly expensive), subcontractors need to machine bits of the camera, manufacture circuit boards, build chips, etc. That's before you get into marketing it, building a network of sales people, and doesn't even begin to consider technical support, shipping costs, and any of a host of other things that one needs to consider when something is being manufactured.

 

Arri isn't in it to make cameras for free, they're doing it because it's a business, and they need to turn a profit. So, on top of all the costs that go into making and selling them, they need to do more than break even. Because if they don't, they won't exist. Money is needed to feed future development, so there's more to it than just breaking even.

 

How many of these do you think they sell in a year? I'd be surprised if it's much more than 100-150 of them. This is a specialty market, unlike iPhones or dSLRs, where millions of units will be sold (in turn bringing the manufacturing costs way down).

 

While it would be amazing if we had Star Trek style replicators available to just spit these out at will, making things (especially complicated, high quality things), is hard, slow, expensive work, and that costs money.


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#8 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:05 PM

I get the production costs, the engineers, the handsmanship of this thing...but what makes the fact that it's all "hand crafted" any better than machine-manufactured DSLRs? Not trying to be rude, but I still have yet to be told what's so great about these. I do see the arri alexa quality in all my favorite movies...the way it just looks "filmic" as they say..and how DSLRs kind of have this overtly CRISP quality to them over film which makes it look a bit too real over film....

 

I don't know if that 2 stops of dynamic range at the end is necessarily worth 80 grand....


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#9 Perry Paolantonio

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:11 PM

Garbage In, Garbage Out.

 

If you start with low quality, you end with lower quality. as was mentioned, a dSLR is recording to a very highly compressed file format. That introduces all manner of artifacts into the image, some you can see, some you can't. But even the ones you can't see have an effect on later processing of the image.

 

I'm not a camera guy, so I'll let someone else talk about the specifics, but the simple fact of the matter is - if you're going to put your picture through the wringer, which is the norm in any post-production workflow, even simple ones, then you need to start with the highest quality. Otherwise, by the time the picture comes out the other end, it's got a ton of other problems.

 

Compression is the first one that pops to mind, but there's other stuff: the quality of the lenses, the color space of the captured file, the noise introduced by the sensor, the quality of the processing done inside the camera, and on and on. With something like a dSLR, you're baking a ton of problems into your source file - sometimes things that cannot be unbaked in post.


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#10 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:22 PM

A lot of the stuff inside the Alexa is probably custom made. A lot of the stuff into vDSLRs is not Custom made, it's off of the shelf-- someone's shelf, much like how iphones use pretty much off the shelf parts, just in a specific way.

Compare this with something, let's say NASA has to build, with much higher tolerances, reliability requirements, and much less likely to be off of the shelf hardware, not to mention wide compatibility, and you'll get an idea why it's so expensive.

It's simple for Canon to get a chip based h.264 encoder which is made for multiple other devices from multiple other companies, and throw it behind a sensor wherein you'll sell millions, it's quite another to have to design your own types of chips and sensors (no other camera used the Alexa Sensor, just as no other camera uses the RED sensors, they are proprietary). Look at the BlackMagic cameras, for example, they use common off of the shelf components, made by other companies, just put together a certain way, and the economies of scale kick in and give you a good image at a low price. Imagine how much more it would cost them if most of the bits within that camera were special proprietary, not for sale to other companies?

 

Another way to think of it is why a Ford Taurus is so much cheaper than a Lotus. Both of them are cars, but one is engineered and built for higher performance, with better materials, which are harder to get, or made of better stuff, and made in lower quantity, so the cost per each unit goes up..

 

Mathematically, you have a factory, you have fixed costs for labor/electric ect. In a day, lets say you can make 1000 sprogets, and if you make 1000 the cost per sproget to break even and make a profit for reinvestment is say $1. What if you only make 500 in a day then and need to sell them all and still make a profit and cover all your expenses? Simplistically, you would have to charge $2 to meet the same conditions (though in reality, you'd charge more but probably not exactly double). that's a pretty simple through experiment. If you can increase your factories efficiency or the client demands more, you can charge even less, $0.50 if you make 2000 and you still make money to expand and cover your fixed costs (expand here can also mean money for RnD).  Kinda of make sense?


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#11 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:29 PM

Hi Adrien,

 

That sounds like such a good description...I never thought the sensors were proprietary...I did look into the ALEXA page and they do tout the fact that the sensor is custom built with Arii Scientist "magic" technology or whatever. Not exact words...but haha, still.

 

Recently DSLRs got that magic lantern with RAW capability (really crappy post-flow) but definitely I think ProRes encoders built into the Arri with ARRIRAW offstorage support is super fantastic. And as you mentioned, I do notice the ARRI ALEXA has this serious film-like...(whatever this means - i kind of dont have a clue) quality - its softer..just looks like...a movie? Not sure if you can understand what I mean...I guess that has to do with their proprietary lenses...probably it costs more to make 'filmic' lenses than 'dslr' lenses....thoughts sir?


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#12 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:33 PM

Lenses have little to do with it (and theirs aren't proprietary really, they'll work on and PL camera). An Alexa would look amazing with any lens on it-- even a crap stills lens if you're not pulling focus.

 

It has to do with color science and the sensor. Arri has a lot of experience in this since they also built film scanners and Film Lasers and, well they're the oldest company around honestly.

 

The Alexa is a great sensor which traded off higher resolution for wider dynamic range, and they really worked out the calibrations and color sciences to make it respond as much like film would as I think you can get out of a silicone chip

There was a video comparison I saw, it may have been on here, with the color saturation response of the Alexa, which was very enlightening in where and how it changes it color recording with exposure, which I also thinks helps.

 

Many DSLRs also have "sharpening" in them, as do many video cameras. This can be turned down, or off however, or left for post or dealt with a bit with diffusion filters. There's a few DSLR shots in my own reel and I like to pretend they don't necessarily look DSLR. Most of that comes down to skill of the person behind it, though.


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#13 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 05:55 PM

Hi Adrian,

 

I'd say you hit the nail on the head...the Arri Alexa is something like 1.8K measurable with a lot more dynamic range....and the coloring is purely film...like. Whatever I mean by that...lol


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#14 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 06:01 PM

Truth is, OP, that Arri chose this price point. They certainly do not HAVE to charge that much. They are selling a brand name with the camera. A reputation if you will. You aren't merely paying for a camera, you are paying for the knowledge that a world class camera company made it.

 

Take the same camera but from a no name Chinese manufacturer and they wouldn't, and couldn't, get away with charging that much. As yes, Arri could charge less and still make money. They could even assembly line them and make tons due to volume. But they wont. They dont have to. It would be more work for a diminishing return.

 

Harley Davidson could charge less than they do also. So could Air Jordans. But people have a fascination with buying what they perceive to be the "best" and paying a premium for it.


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#15 Carl Looper

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 07:37 PM

Perhaps another a question the young might ask is not so much "why not DSLR" but "why not film". If the best the digital best can do is "almost film" why not use film? Is it that film would cost even more? Depends on what kind of work is to be done. Some works work well done on film. Others do not. Some works will work out cheaper done on film. Others will not.

 

Film cameras can be found going for quite reasonable prices. What about stock? Depends on how much you shoot. So long as you decide what shots are going to be in the completed work, in advance of shooting such, rather than after the shoot (in the edit) you can keep stock costs within a reasonable budget. Indeed shooting film can be regarded as a way of ensuring that you do take such care. If the early filmmakers can teach us anything it is the wonders of planning. Not just in terms of keeping costs down, but in terms of keeping creativity up. A good shot does not need to be a question of some statistically happy accident that requires volumes be shot in order to ensure one that might work. Creativity, rather than mathematical probability, can ensure that any shots that will not work are just not shot in the first place. Or if they are, it is because those shots are the accidents.

 

The digital revolution is based on something a little different from that of the film revolution.

 

The first digital movies, transmitted over the web, were technically deplorable (from a certain perspective). MPEG1 at thumbnail resolution looking like pure mud. Yet they were amazing. This was not the arrival of a ready made train. It was the arrival of that which has yet to occur. It didn't matter what the image looked like. Into those muddy images was not where everyone was looking. It was at the clean bright pixels of the digital screen. At the fact that they were programmable. Look - you can even program them to behave a little like a movie. It was an image from deep within a crystal ball. It is the world of what might be rather than what has been. It is the world of that which hasn't yet occurred.

 

C


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#16 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 09:25 PM

 

I still just don't understand why on Earth these cameras are so expensive.


Along with the others, I can offer some ideas that will help answer that.

Anything that requires intensive (expensive) development and sells in small numbers will have a high unit value. (just say that over untill your defences crumble).

As an example, lets look at something even more extreme. Most Lambourghini models are produced in small numbers. Many sell for nearly 1/2 a million dollars.

The market for these cameras was pre-existant. All the people who had used and trusted Arri film cameras, who knew they would be forced into digital even if they didn't want to go there, would accept a digital camera developed by Arri, before any other developer. Cost? Similar (ish). No Problem.
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#17 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 09:49 PM

Thank you all for explaining this to me. I feel I will go with the best of both worlds: the Arri Alexa and the DSLR (Rebel T3i I have).

 

Could anyone explain to me how expensive the SxS solution is? I'll be broke after that 80K-90k purchase.


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#18 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 09:54 PM

Thank you all for explaining this to me. I feel I will go with the best of both worlds: the Arri Alexa and the DSLR (Rebel T3i I have).

 

If you get an Alexa, why would you even use the dslr again? (Unless it is for stills)


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#19 Michael Landon

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 09:58 PM

I don't think a part of me can bear risking the Alexa to any damage...I'll film with it but I'm extra cautious. The Rebel I will use for my own personal home videos, etc.


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#20 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 10:06 PM

SXS-Pro Plus memory Cards.  Not sure if they're fast enough for ArriRaw or if the 128gig + cards are compatible.   That's the kind of question that's easy to look up though.  No they're not cheap but they rent a lot so odds are good you'll make your money back.  On my last shoot it was nearly impossible to find anyone in the city that had any available for rent.  Had to get a bunch of 64's instead.  Good luck.


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