Having dilemmas with the ARRI Alexa Mini audio? Are you struggling with having Line level input as your only audio option? The Beachtek DXA-Alexa is an audio module designed specifically for the Alexa Mini that converts dual XLR to Line level output. I was sent a pre-production unit to check out. Anyone who’s used an ARRI Alexa Mini intending on also recording sound will know its limitations: it has a single Lemo input on the front, and some gain settings buried in the menu. Not to worry, though. Wooden Camera do the cool little A-Box that converts that Lemo input into dual XLR. Sorted, right? Not so fast. You still need to feed it a Line level input, and here’s where many will struggle. Few audio sources provide this level output, which is why you usually have to go through another sound device, such as your soundperson’s mixer. Having a soundperson plus mixer may not always be an option, and that’s then your options are limited without your rig getting pretty hefty. Beachtek saw the need for a product to fill this need and recently announced the DXA-Alexa audio module, a sleek little box that receives XLR audio (mic level or providing phantom power) and outputs Line level via 5 pin XLR. Beachtek sent over a pre-production DXA-Alexa, which I put through its paces during a recent shoot abroad that required a single op camera and sound. Features of the DXA-Alexa The DXA-Alexa receives 2 channels of audio via standard 3 pin XLR. Both can be powered independently by 48v phantom power and both have a high and low gain switch (60db and 40db modes respectively). Neither channels have a metering display, but instead offer a tri-colour LED that works in the form of a traffic light system (green/amber/red) to meter audio. More on this later. There are three physical pots on the top of the module for adjusting the gain of each channel, as well as the volume of the monitoring output. The headphone output is a 3.5mm jack on the side, but there is also a 3.5mm jack for audio return from the camera. You can select whether you listen to the output or return via a switch. Additionally there’s a stereo and mono mode for choosing your headphones output options. Lastly, it offers a 3.5mm unbalanced auxiliary stereo out which I unfortunately didn’t have time to test this. Power is received by 2 pin lemo that has a voltage range of 11-18. Physical Features The module is well built, and is clad in a carbon-fibre-look to match the aesthetics of the Alexa Mini. It weighs 374g (0.89lbs). Full spec card here. All buttons and knobs have a satisfying feel to them, the power button recesses nicely and the pots on top have a half click resistance to them. The gain switches feel solid too. Connectivity The DXA-Alexa comes with no cables, so you must spec it for power and output yourself. The 11-18V range on the power input is useful, placing a standard V-lock battery system right in the middle. It means a straight 2-pin Lemo to D-tap will get you going. I bought a Hawk-woods LA-69A, and here’s a US non right-angle equivalent. The thin and slinky cable with a right angle connector provides a nice setup, as this way your cables will pop out of the dumb side of the camera, which is why the right-angle connector was important. The next consideration is audio output from the module to the camera. Wooden Camera has made a specific cable from 5-pin XLR to Alexa lemo. Unfortunately, this wasn’t available for my trip, so I picked up an off-the-shelf 5-pin XLR to dual 3-pin XLR tail, then went through a Wooden Camera A-Box to get the XLRs into lemo for the camera body. Both will do the job, but the former is a more concise way of doing it. Mounting It The Beachtek DXA-Alexa has three ¼” 20 threads on the bottom for mounting only. I found the best way of adding it to the Alexa Mini rig without things getting too bulky was to simply thread a 15mm mount on the bottom, and stack the module between the v-lock plate and the camera body. The rig becomes a little longer, but I felt this was more streamlined that side or top mounting. The included cradle makes use of two of the threads on the bottom. It gives you a couple of 3/8” screws on the side, as well a few ¼” 20 threads on the same side and one on the bottom. Additionally, on the opposite side is an array of smaller threads that adhere to the quad pin array that ARRI uses on the top and bottom of the camera. This means you can use the cradle with any existing ARRI accessories, mounting it between your camera body and handle as pictured, for example. Operation The Beachtek DXA-Alexa works exactly as one would hope. At first glance, you may ponder over the lack of metering displays and primitive traffic light system for audio levels. However, the camera itself displays audio level info, so you won’t miss anything more substantial in terms of on-board meters. To set it up you simply send a tone through the Beachtek DXA-Alexa (or consistent audio level if you don’t have access to a tone generator) set the gain level in the camera menu to your desired level (I went with a gain level that provided -18db on the meters), and you’re set. To then make any further level tweaks you then adjust the pots on the module itself. I found that I was using the least amount of gain from the camera itself by doing it this way, but as a result you require more gain from the Beachtek DXA-Alexa, and often the LED meter reaches red. You could counter this red light by increasing the level of gain in camera and reducing the level on the Beachtek module. However, I trust the amplifiers on a dedicated audio device more than those on a camera that are usually added as an afterthought, so I didn’t worry too much about seeing a few red blinks. The tri-colour LED scales operates at: Green -40dBu to 16dBu Yellow -16dBu to +4dBu Red Over +4dBu Summary I feel the DXA-Alexa is a must-have accessory for those who regularly record sound on their Alexa Mini and work without a soundperson. Could it be smaller? Perhaps. Half the depth with outputs and pots on opposite ends could be nice, a form factor that would have me consider a top mounted option far more seriously. The size of XLR ports is restricting here, substantially smaller would require specific breakout cables that can be less ideal. Could it be cheaper? Only Beachtek could tell you, but it does seem like the typical ARRI tax applies here. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you could consider the Beachtek DXA-SLR. This is a similar device originally designed to sit between your audio kit and DSLR. However, this doesn’t provide a true Line level (-26dBu at 0db on the VU meter, I’m told), so it would involve boosting the gain in-camera, and thus compromising the signal-to-noise ratio. It also can only be powered via 9v batteries, and would require a ¼” jack to lemo breakout (which doesn’t exist, to my knowledge) so generally a less than ideal system for the Alexa Mini. It’s a shame ARRI never made further efforts to offer more comprehensive audio solutions for the Alexa Mini. I’ve read it was never the intention to include anything at all, but with spare space on one of the boards they thought why not lob something in there for good measure. True or not, we’re left with a hurdle to jump in getting Mic level to Line level in a concise way, and I feel the Beachtek DXA-Alexa does a pretty good job of doing that.Read more
Freefly has released a lightweight Alexa Mini battery solution, the side mounted v-lock plate makes the perfect partner for the Movi M15. The Alexa Mini body is just the starting point when spec’ing the compact cinema camera. You’ll need glass, power, monitoring and control to get the thing shooting. Most existing battery solutions involve a rail-based plate riding off the back of the camera. You need the larger Arri MAP-2 baseplate with rod support for this, meaning things very quickly get big and heavy. Freefly’s solution keeps the camera profile slim and perhaps most important of all, light. Conventional rear-mounted battery with a heavy MAP-2 baseplate. The bracket is made from carbon fibre so it is very light but remains strong. It has a v-lock plate that mounts to the side of the camera, offering up a pass through 14.8V D-Tap and regulated 12v D-Tap port. The battery plate is placed towards the back of the camera body allowing for full use of the top cage on the M15, as well as providing mounting points on the top and bottom for both Movi slide plates. Included is a custom cable with a right-angle LEMO to D-Tap that connects from the back of the camera straight into the v-lock plate. I love the fact that it’s a right-angle LEMO, perfect for gimbal use when trying to keep the camera profile as short as possible. Being an ambidextrous camera, I can’t see any reason why you can use this on the reverse side of the camera. The Alexa Mini is designed in a way that you can shift accessories around the shell since the mounting points on the top and bottom are the same. I can certainly see a use for switching it to the dumb side of the camera as this would make a very compact setup for the Alexa Mini that would be just as useful outside of gimbal use. It would need clarifying from Freefly that the V-lock Adapter Kit for ALEXA Mini doesn’t clash with the vents on that side, however. Alexa Mini with FREEFLY V-Lock Handlebar Adapter Kit If you’re a Movi M10 operator, you may want to consider the FREEFLY V-Lock Handlebar Adapter Kit. This is what I’ve used up to now when shooting on the Alexa Mini/M15. Very simply, this moves the battery plate off the gimbal carriage and onto the handlebars. On the handlebar/ring there is no influence on the payload of the camera, meaning compatibility with the Alexa Mini in regards to weight is still possible of the lighter loaded Movi M10. The FREEFLY V-Lock Adapter Kit for ALEXA Mini is ready to ship, however as it is a special order item, you’ll be unable to get it directly off the shelf—it also carries a typical Arri Alexa taxed price at $850.Read more
Canon just announced a new lowlight camera they have been developing over the past years. The Canon ME20F-SH is a multi-purpose cinema camera that is rated at over 4 million ISO. Back in March of 2013 we reported about Canon’s efforts to develop an ultra lowlight camera sensor that could film virtually without any visible light. Today we see the Canon ME20F-SH as the result of this development. The Canon ME20F-SH is aimed at a number of different markets. While it is clearly capable to work as a cinema camera Canon also describes it as suitable for nighttime surveillance and security, reality television and nature/wildlife documentaries. The development of this unique lowlight camera certainly represents a new frontier in a saturated market of cameras and stands out. Lowlight cinematography is new and intriguing and as Canon’s press release states it makes things visible that might not be seen with the naked eye. In terms of technical specifications the Canon ME20F-SH is also quite unique. It features a resolution of only 1080p due to the required large pixel size on its super35 sensor. It is equipped with a positive-locking EF mount and outputs in Canon Log and Wide DR mode for maximum dynamic range. As can be seen on the press images this lowlight camera is tiny in size. With a width of only 10cm (4 inches) it’s more narrow than the Sony Alpha A7s and twice as heavy at 1kg. The Canon ME20F-SH has no internal recording capabilities and only outputs a signal via the SDI and hdmi outputs on the back. Considering the multi-purpose aspect of the camera this could be regarded as an obvious choice. In return the camera is small and lightweight and offers a lot of flexibility. It’s probably no coincidence that the camera body has a very close resemblance to the new Arri ALEXA Mini and comes at a very similar suggested retail price of $30,000, even though the purpose of the two cameras is quite different in many regards. The Canon ME20F-SH is scheduled to become available in December of 2015. See the original press release HERE. via nofilmschool.comRead more
I want to share with you 8 points to keep in mind when choosing a cinema camera. There is no such thing as the perfect camera, and today more than ever it’s about picking the right tool for the job according to the features you need and the budget you have. Survival of the Fittest The digital cinema revolution spans arguably over a decade of large sensor technological innovation and evolution. I fell in love the day I saw the first 4K DALSA Origin camera at NAB in 2003, so that’s already 12 years ago. There is much to be said about the history of the technology we have all come to know, love and rely on for our livelihoods, livelihoods many of us have thanks to the industrial upset and disruption these technologies have caused. What’s of even more interest to most of us is where the technology is headed. Those who apply a bit of strategic foresight can get ahead of the game, and ahead of the pack. While many of us envision ourselves as cinematic mastermind auteurs, just waiting for that breakthrough that will propel us into the limelight. The truth is most of us are battling each other every day for a edge that will win us run of the mill production work, corporate films and weddings. Disruptive technology has been, and will continue to erode the hourly or daily market value of the average working freelance or self-employed cameraman/editor. You are not your camera Let’s face it; there is a huge difference between the work the vast majority of us do to pay the bills, and the work of the Hollywood cinematographers that inspire us so much. This difference is a complex combination of experience, knowledge (think lighting knowledge especially), creativity, industry contacts, and also technology. Each one of these variables has the potential to give you an edge above your competition. While a camera does not define or guarantee success; it is a platform on which you can build. If you choose technology that is on a strategic and forward thinking trajectory, you’ll stay ahead of the curve when it comes to taking your experience and creativity to the edge and beyond no matter what you shoot. When it comes to deciding where to invest when it comes to camera equipment, it’s important to see beyond the shiny packaging and tech specs. It’s not enough to place your faith purely in the court of public opinion either. By all means, spend time on forums, read reviews and study specifications. But that alone is not enough. We all know who the players are. We follow the every move of Red, Arri, Blackmagic Design, Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and relative newcomers such as Kinefinity and AJA. There is more choice when it comes to large sensor cinema grade cameras now than ever before. Not all cameras are created equal, and not all who run the race will win. The fact is, these manufacturers are creating tools for us, and so we, and our work, our needs define the environment that determines their fate. Those best equipped to survive in our environment are more likely to survive and evolve. Beyond surviving, those who show true innovation can thrive, and in fact exert their own force on the environment itself. 1. Workflow A camera cannot be considered alone, it’s part of a bigger picture that exerts influence over, and is at times limited by post production processes, and so post workflow must also be taken into account. Manufacturers who acknowledge, and embrace this fact are already a step ahead of the others. 2. Gimmick vs Innovation Are three legs better than two? Or four? Clearly not if winning the race is the objective, and as an analogy, a camera built and brought to market with three legs is not going to last very long in the face of two, or four-legged competition. Gimmick should not be mistaken for innovation. A sure sign that a manufacturer has lost touch with the market is a camera that intends to change the tried, true and accepted norms for its use without good reason, or without following some other major change that is taking place. Innovation on the other hand is change introduced for good reason, or based on projected insight. Cameras do and should evolve, and while some new ideas may invoke resistance at first, good ideas will find acceptance even if it takes time. 3. Who’s at the head of the pack? One place where you can look to the industry at large is to answer the question who are the front runners? Quite often the answer is obvious, what are the biggest shows and films being shot with? The answer is Arri and Red, and to a certain extent 35mm film is still holding a spot at the top. So then ask yourself, what are they doing right? What are they up to? What are the trends at the top? 4. 4K and beyond. The age of 4K and above has well and truly arrived, that goes without saying. It’s been coming slowly but surely for many years now. Even if you are still delivering HD, I would argue your acquisition should be 4K at least, and there are viable options that fit all but the smallest budgets. 5. RAW To RAW or not to RAW? While RAW is certainly not right for every job, I would argue it is something you want at your disposal. Again, money is not an excuse anymore to be buying a camera that can’t shoot RAW in camera, or accommodate RAW in an external recorder. When considering cameras that don’t come standard with in-camera RAW recording, ask yourself why? Why am I being required to buy an extra piece of kit? Or look higher up the model line-up for features that should now be standard across the board? The answer is you shouldn’t and you don’t have to. 6. Look closely at the model line-up The manufacturers that have a long model line-up to maintain should be asking themselves serious questions. That worked when choices were few and prices were high, but the reality now is quite the opposite. As an example look at the situation Sony is in with the FS7, F5 and F55. As firmware updates bring the capabilities and features of the “lower-end” cameras closer to their more expensive brothers, the case for shelling out a lot more of your hard earned cash on the F55 instead of the F5, or the F5 instead of the FS7 starts to look thinner. 7. Bleeding edge trends Looking beyond the cutting edge to what’s really pushing boundaries right now can tell you where things may well be headed for all of us in the future. Sensors are getting bigger. I believe a trend we will see starting now from the players right at the top is a move well beyond super 35mm, beyond full frame, to 65mm. I know DP’s that are already starting to buy up medium format glass and have it re-housed for cinema use. Arri broke ground with the announcement of the Alexa65, and we’ve recently seen that there is a new range of Hawk 65mm anamorphic lenses announced. This is right at the cutting edge, and will not trickle down from the top overnight, but I believe it will happen in time. 8. Ergonomics and Upgradability More than just counting pixels, the demand today is for modularity and ergonomics. These are important aspects to keep in mind when weighing up performance and price of a cinema camera. Is there an upgrade path for the camera? If so does it require sending the camera back to the manufacturer in the case of Red, or can you upgrade the camera yourself like the URSA? Are you locked into the camera as it is, or are there modules that can be added or removed to build the camera for different situations? A camera should work well for you the way you want to work, and this is where things get subjective. Be realistic about your needs, will a larger, heavier camera body suit you, where the laws of physics and inertia give you some extra stability and smooth out vibrations in your shots. Do you work mostly on a head and legs, or do you work far more handheld? Do you work alone or have a camera assistant and focus puller on most of your shoots? A larger camera that suits a larger crew may not work so well for you alone. Of course this is not always the case. Each camera is different, menus and screens are in different places with different levels of accessibility. There is no one-size fits all solution We all have different needs, and thankfully no two cameras I can think of are the same. Each has unique pros and cons, but the important thing is that it’s not just about what’s hot right now. When choosing a cinema camera it’s about seeing beyond… where is all this headed, not only where the demand is right now in terms of the services you provide, but where will the demand be in two years time. What creative opportunities will this technology open up? How can I get in there first? The answers are right there between the lines for anyone willing to dig just a little deeper behind what’s making the news headlines. Look for patterns and notice trends. The next time you find yourself blindly comparing specs, or being swayed by opinion on camera forums, try to keep in mind a clear picture of where the technology is headed, and which manufacturers are truly, honestly innovating, moving in a forward trajectory to bring you better tools in the long run.Read more
We are here at BVE 2015 in London and together with our UK man Tim Fok I had a chance to have a hands-on with the super lightweight Alexa Mini, and an extended chat with Arri product manager for cameras, Michael Jonas. As might already have read in our news post about the new Alexa camera, the new “baby” Alexa is targeted at gimbal (like on a MoVi M15) and multicopter shooters. However, when holding it in our hands we realized that this camera will also be very popular with “normal” shooters who want to stay extremely small without sacrificing the legendary Alexa quality – but they must also have the money (to either rent or buy body-only for €32,500), and the camera quite clearly isn’t a bargain. It’s tinier than I thought it would be – it feels considerably smaller than a Red Epic, but they are similar in size. It’s very lightweight and according to Michael Jonas, it comes in at roughly 300 grams less than the Red Dragon / Epic. The Alexa Mini features a set of mounting screw holes that haven’t been seen on other cameras before. Mounting it on a normal tripod isn’t its main intended purpose, but surely a lot of people will want to do just that – and Arri will sell them a cage for that. It won’t take long until other accessory makers will provide solutions for that. Due to the fact that the body is made out of carbon fibre, the mounting screw holes were put onto the metal front part which holds the lens mount – the carbon fibre would break under too much force. Be sure to watch the full video to see some of the first footage of the Arri Alexa Mini which we were able to shoot at the Arri stand at BVE, and of course also to hear all the technical details about the camera from Michael Jonas. Arri plans to start taking orders in March and the body-only price (as mentioned above) will be EUR 32,500. We are planning to shoot a review film with a pre production model as soon as possible.Read more
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