Arri AMIRA – Video Review (part 1)

The Arri AMIRA has caused a lot of buzz since its announcement last year. It’s the first time the famous Alexa sensor comes into the hands of single operator shooters and small crews. The camera, advertised as a “documentary style” tool, is not affordable in the sense of entry level shooting, but it puts a very high quality imaging device into the hands of a whole new audience.

amira1The Arri AMIRA is not only targeted at documentarists and low budget productions, but with its B4-mount option will most likely also become part of the inventory at many TV stations around the globe. We had a chance to test Arri’s new contender and as expected I have many positive things to say, about a camera that isn’t a light weight, but has nothing to hide either.

sa_previewLast week I spent two days shooting a live music video with Sophie Abraham (preview scenes in the video above). The full video and my detailed experience about working with the Arri AMIRA on set with minimal lighting and a crew no larger than 2-3 people can be found here.

In the hands-on video above as well as this text I want to give you a basic overview about the strengths and weaknesses of the new Arri AMIRA.
I’m sorry about looking so destroyed in the video, this was after a very long and intense day, and the video was recorded until the morning of the next day.

In terms of sharpness and color reproduction this sensor that is also found in the Arri ALEXA is widely known as the best 2K sensor in the film industry hands-down. You can argue that there are sensors with more resolution (4K or even 6K) or more bit depth (Sony F65), but in terms of perfecting something without compromise Arri is the industry leader.

The fact that small crews and single operator shooters now have the chance to work with this sensor in a camera body laid out for them is very exciting.
The Arri AMIRA gives you a sharp and organic super35mm image. There is pleasant filmic noise and very little of it if you expose correctly. With 13.1 stops of usable dynmaic range we tested in our new cinema5D test labs the camera’s sensor is more than capable for any kind of application including high end cinema productions (that will live without RAW) upscaled to 4K.

amira_13amira_07Who is this camera for?
This is the most important thing to talk about when looking at the Arri AMIRA. In my observation the biggest strength of the Amira is that it has been made as ergonomic as any camera can be for very small crews and single operation, but high end productions might miss some features they know from the Arri ALEXA.
For those working alone or in small crews there is lots of support built into the camera. From a workflow directly in the convenient ProRes format with speedy CFast media cards, down to the overall convenience of the body design, working with the menu, button layout and strong audio support. It’s a camera that tries very hard not to be in your way and it succeeds in every way but one:

While weighing almost half of an Arri ALEXA, the AMIRA is still heavy in comparison to most entry-level solutions we’ve come to know: The C100 / C300 / C500 cameras by Canon, the FS700 by Sony, the KineMINI, any DSLR, they are all much lighter in comparison. And that’s why they work with Movi’s, helicopters and small tripods.
So if all your accessories are laid out for smaller, lighter cameras, you can either pass on the AMIRA, or you will need to get new equipment and possibly get a little help carrying stuff on your shoots.
IF however your shooting style is handheld, I’m convinced the AMIRA will please you. As soon as its 5kg were resting on my shoulder, the weight actually was a benefit making my shots look more organic and smooth and weight was no longer an issue due to the perfect balance that is easily achieved (given that you’re using small / lightweight lenses).
Overall the AMIRA is in my opinion the perfect handheld camera.
It’s obvious that TV stations, documentary shooters and independent movie makers who mostly work with a handlheld, documentary shooting style will benefit most from the strengths of the Arri AMIRA. But also everyone looking for high quality results and a fast and efficient shooting experience will be happy working with this camera and adequate support accessories.

As mentioned the camera sits pleasantly on the shoulder. This is also due to the ergonomic body design. The shoulder pad and top handle can be adapter to your camera setup easily and they never have to be taken off. Basically you open the case, attach your lens and battery and you start shooting. There’s nothing more to it.

No fiddling with gear and no preparation time. Just make sure you don’t forget to bring enough batteries, because the AMIRA does need a lot of power and even more so when shooting in 200fps which is when the fans kick in to cool the sensor.
Last but not least one of the strengths of the AMIRA is also the weather proof design. Basically all electronics are sealed and the whole device is made very rugged and strong. I haven’t shot in icy weather on a 5000 meters high mountain yet, but I’ve heard stories and it looks like the AMIRA would not let you down in any weather condition.

I was very happy about the workflow. When you are familiar with the convenience of shooting directly to ProRes you know what the AMIRA has in store. The CFast cards are very quick. You will find your footage transferred via USB 3 in just a few minutes.

CFast may become the new standard soon, but unfortunately at the moment these cards are still surprisingly expensive. One of the 120GB San Disk CFast card I used costs $1200. 2 of those will be a good starting point to get through a day with the AMIRA. Together these will hold about 1,5 hours of ProRes 4444 footage in 24p.

What I didn’t like

amira_09• What I didn’t like as mentioned in the video was the flip-out LCD. While the internal OLED EVF is extremely nice with its 1240×1080 pixels, the flip-out LCD is far inferior and it’s really more of a menu controlling device than a reference screen. The colours seemed off and it had heavy ghosting, meaning that, holding the camera in my hands for low shots for example, all sharp lines would smear due to camera handheld shake and it was impossible to judge focus without using peaking (which will not work in all situations). That comes from someone who for years has been used to work with Canon 7D and 5D screens for focusing only.
So if you plan on working with the camera OFF your shoulder, I recommend you bring a field monitor.

amira_11• The other thing I mentioned is the indication for ND stages in the viewfinder. Several times I accidentally shot with the ND filters engaged without noticing. I’m sure though that Arri will take care of things like that with firmware updates. In all communication with them I felt they were extremely dedicated to get the camera right and they are already working on implementing new functions, histograms, wireless iPhone controls and monitoring and many other useful enhancements.

• As mentioned earlier the weight could be a problem for some people who are not used to working with heavy cameras. While the camera is lighter than any Arri camera before, some of us including myself, have been spoiled with lightweight plastic cameras (good to have them). For some of us an FS700 might be a better solution.

amira_10• As with many other EVF’s, when using the EVF you must be in the center of the glass eyepiece, otherwise the screen will not seem in focus. This is irritating at the beginning, but I got used to positioning my eye correctly quickly.
The OLED itself, as mentioned is stunning and sharp.

• Battery. V-mount batteries are heavy and need to be charged. I worked with 4 batteries, but could charge them while shooting. Smaller cameras nowadays use less power and last longer than the Arri AMIRA. With the AMIRA I started to think twice about leaving the camera switched on between shots. I only remember this notion from working with the RED Scarlet.

Things I liked but didn’t mention

• Rolling shutter has been a concern for many people. The internet is full of voices of disappointment about that the AMIRA uses the same CMOS sensor as the ALEXA which reads out the image via a rolling shutter. I was very surprised when I could find no trace of this. Only with extreme methods will you be able to reveal the slight rolling of the shutter. I would say the camera can be compared to a global shutter camera. The electronics and read-out speed I have been told have been improved and the rolling shutter should only be visible in very unique situations.

• Currently the AMIRA works only with a PL mount, but soon there will be an optional interchangeable EF mount as well. I think it makes most sense to use this camera with lightweight lenses. In terms of PL the new Canon 17-120mm zoom will probably be the absolute perfect match for the Amira. There is currently no comparable lens in PL that covers this zoom range.

• There are numerous ways in which the camera helps you get your shots easily and quickly. Too many things to mention here. All in all I can only say Arri has obviously put all their efforts in making the camera’s ergonomics perfect, in visible and invisible ways. It’s a complex machine, that seems so simple and easy to use on the surface.

Let’s look at the pricepoint now, which puts the Arri AMIRA out of reach for many filmmakers.
The basic Arri AMIRA including the viewfinder and top handle costs 25,980€ EU BUY LINK ($35,468 US BUY LINK). This version is only 1080p, and can only do 100 fps and records to ProRes 422 in rec709.
The premium version costs 32,980€ EU BUY LINK ($45,025 US BUY LINK) and includes 2K, 200fps and ProRes 4444 in Log C.
Comments about wether the basic version will suffice for most shooters aside (it will), fact is the camera isn’t cheap.
On the other hand you have to keep in mind where the camera can save you money, like in that it makes you and your team faster, in its robust and rugged design, and in that it most probably won’t be outdated after a year, but still deliver images that will even work on 4K monitors and that already beats many 4K cameras that are on the market. The detailed discussion and weighing about wether an investment like this will make sense I leave up to you. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Arri AMIRA features are based on licenses, so you will be ahle to fully upgrade your basic camera to an advanced version at a later time (via the Arri website).
Alternatively will also be able to use temporary upgrades. For example you will be able to “rent” the premium version license that unlocks 2K and ProRes 4444. This license will cost $667 per week (490€) if your camera is the basic version.

Personal words
When we received the camera I wasn’t sure the Arri AMIRA would be a feasible camera for my own applications and shooting style. I’m used to being quick and efficient and the camera’s weight had me doubt I could achieve what I had planned. But after having spent two weeks with the camera I felt it positively surprised me more than once. And having worked on a very tightly scheduled two day live music video (will be posted soon) I must say it’s hard to let the camera go. Thinking about my next shoot I’m already thinking about how to get my hands an the AMIRA again.
Having said that I’m also aware the camera is not for everyone. It’s nice to see camera that ticks most of the basic boxes a camera should tick (and nowadays most new cameras really don’t). At the end of the day though you will have to decide if the Arri AMIRA can match your requirements and isn’t too heavy for your purposes. Definitely think about the accessories for movement you already own.

If the Arri AMIRA is too heavy for you, or too expensive, my personal recommendation in terms of image quality goes to the Sony FS700 in combination with a Speedbooster the Odyssey 7Q. There is nothing that beats this package below $10,000 at the moment and with some accessory tinkering for ergonomics it will get you closer to the AMIRA than anything else. (FS700/Odyssey review coming soon)

Arri AMIRA review part 2
The second part of the review featuring the full length the live music video shot on the Arri AMIRA and more insights and shooting experience can be found HERE.

Where to buy?

In the US area you can get the Arri AMIRA at Abel Cine Tech:

Basic version: $35,468 US BUY LINK
ProRes 422, rec709, 100fps, HD
Advanced Version: $39,499 US BUY LINK
ProRes 422 (HQ), Log C, 200fps
Premium Version: $45,025 US BUY LINK
ProRes 4444 and 2K

In Europe you can get the Arri AMIRA at AF Marcotec:

Basic version: 25,980€ EU BUY LINK
ProRes 422, rec709, 100fps, HD
Advanced Version: 28,980€ EU BUY LINK
ProRes 422 (HQ), Log C, 200fps
Premium Version: 32,980€ EU BUY LINK
ProRes 4444 and 2K

The Arri AMIRA is shipping now.

More about the Arri AMIRA on the official website.

Music used in video licensed by
Louis – Particle

Watch it on Vimeo

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Sean mehen May 28, 2014

With push to 4k coming on now. I would love to see the Amira ProRes 4444 footage up res to 4k and what would be the possible cost of an hour show done.

Sebastian Wöber May 28, 2014

Not sure I understand the second part of the sentence.

Richard May 30, 2014

Could you do a comparison test with the FS700 and the AMIRA?

Sebastian Wöber June 8, 2014

That would be very interesting. We will have something similar in the near future, stay tuned. And a heads up: Neither camera is better. Amira exceeds in image quality and ergonomics and FS700 gets close, but is much lighter.

Peter Webster June 8, 2014

Sebastian, I interpret from your article that there is a commercially driven trend toward producing a cinema camera designed to be used by ever-smaller film crews. Whilst I achieve results for business-purpose video as a one-man unit, using an ENG camera, what do you foresee as the minimum number of crew feasible when shooting a feature film with high-end cinematic values(excluding makeup,continuity and those not directly involved in capturing images and sound)
Regards, Peter

Sebastian Wöber June 8, 2014

Hi Peter, that I cannot answer. It totally depends on the project. For a perfect cinematic project you need a typical crew to maintain all the things required to shoot a scene. Technically more and more is possible with less effort and crew and very high value productions are being shot in very small teams to save money. This will not go away anymore, competition is growing.