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Alexa Classic worth it in 2021?


Matthew W. Phillips
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I have been looking into making a big camera purchase and I had my eyes on the Ursa 12k but many of the tests I have seen come out of that camera don't look like what I would have hoped. Not a bad image at all but just not my "flavor" I guess.

Since it has been around for a while, there are a ton of tests from the Alexa Classic and, on eBay, those cameras can be had for not too much more than a new Ursa 12k. My question is if it is still a safe bet in 2021? I am doing this for shooting my own projects and maybe for some friends/colleagues in education if they need corp. videos or whatnot. I have never worked with one so it would be nice if the more professional among you can tell me:

  1. Is the Alexa pretty easy to learn for someone who has never used one?
  2. Will the camera still hold up after thousands of hours of use? I know dead pixels can be an issue for other cameras but I know Arri makes great stuff...will it last me a long time even purchased used?
  3. I realize it is a massive camera. I probably need to get a big camera to find something I like the image on if I cannot afford tens of thousands of dollars. How much does this camera weigh rigged out?
  4. Is the post workflow easy to deal with? I use Resolve for pretty much everything these days (with Audition to edit spoken word).
  5. What is a fair price to purchase one for these days (assume 4-6k hours on the sensor)
  6. Are there any competitors in the <$10k price range that you would consider first for those that like the Alexa look without going the Ursa 12k route?

Thanks in advance to any who take the time to help me. 

Edited by Matthew W. Phillips
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Many more modern cameras beat it by a significant margin in more or less every department. An Ursa Mini 4.6K G2 is smaller, lighter, less power hungry, starts faster and has higher resolution, higher frame rates, around a stop more sensitivity, better sound, onboard raw, arguably has a better viewfinder and can control EF lenses.

Alexa has the name and to some extent the look, but I'm not convinced how identifiable that look really is. Possibly the rolling shutter is less visible.

You might want to get the optional aftermarket OLPF to go in the Ursa, and Wooden Camera have a couple of breakout boxes that add features which will be useful to people on high end single camera sets, but beyond that, I think Alexa is an increasingly difficult choice unless you can get one for next to nothing.

Personally I'd wait for wider reactions to the Ursa Broadcast G2, which is basically the Ursa Mini 6K from what I can see of it. That might be a very welcome development.

P

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I might be in the minority here, but I don't consider the Alexa to be a great owner/op camera. I might also eat my words and use one on my next project but people I know who own Alexas use a P6K or something instead when there's no crew to support it.

Mind you, that's due to weight and battery life. The interface and post workflows are just about the easiest thing short of an iPhone. I've found them to be very reliable but repairs are very expensive unfortunately. 😞 

Edit: I don't entirely agree with the above though but also don't entirely disagree. I have found the 4.6K to have a lot of issues with moire, IR pollution, etc. and it doesn't look as good or have the highlight dynamic range. The only thing with similar highlight detail to Alexa (other than film) I've seen is the P6K with braw highlight recovery enabled and the texture of it still feels more digital and color is very very good but not as good imo. To me the Alexa still has the best overall color, best "texture" to the image, least skew, best UI, etc. etc. and I think that's why it's still used on major productions. But without the crew to support it, is it worth it?  It might or might not be. Actually curious what others have found shooting Alexa with no crew as I'm deciding between that and a P4K for an upcoming project. Amira is a little easier from what I have seen.

 

Edited by M Joel W
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the Alexa's technology is about 12 years old now and it has always been a little heavy and awkward camera with the accessories. The camera is basically a giant metal heatsink with a large fan inside and small bit of electronics. Everything enclosed into a large-ish metal body.

The first impression when testing the Alexa Classic at the rental house some 10 years ago was "OMG this thing is so freaking heavy!"  I tested the Arri BL2 and some other cameras after the Alexa and the 35BL was so light after the Alexa that I could lift it with two fingers. What a relief after hauling around the Alexa with both hands.

The thing with the old digital cinema cameras is that they have much less efficient signal processing than the modern cameras. The low efficiency of the signal processing causes the old style camera to consume tons of power and that power is fully converted to heat in the process. One needs to remove the heat some way so one needs a large heatsink and a huge fan to remove all the excess heat from the inefficient processing. This makes the old camera inevidently pretty large sized and heavy as well as power hungry which means lots of expensive and heavy batteries to run it for the full day.

Compare to a modern cinema camera with efficient signal processing which can be run many hours with a single battery in the best case. But if wanting truly efficient high performance signal processing, one can compare the cinema cameras to a mirrorless camera which can often outperform the digital cinema camera easily in signal processing efficiency meaning that one can get a tiny camera body which weights next to nothing but is able to shoot 6k or 8k raw at reasonable framerates and can run two hours with a tiny dslr battery which only lasts 20 or 30 minutes on a low level cinema camera like the pocket6k or similar.

The difference is that if one is allowed to do large production batches of cameras for larger market than the niche digital cinema use, one has the resources to design application specific integrated circuits (asic) instead of using power hungry generic fpga for signal processing like most cinema cameras do. It is the difference of the relatively large sized Scarlet MX and the almost similarly spec'd  baseball sized Z-cam cameras which can outperform the Scarlet in some aspects and produce so little heat that they can manage with passive cooling and can be run many hours by a single np-f970 battery

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9 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

the Alexa's technology is about 12 years old now and it has always been a little heavy and awkward camera with the accessories. The camera is basically a giant metal heatsink with a large fan inside and small bit of electronics. Everything enclosed into a large-ish metal body.

The first impression when testing the Alexa Classic at the rental house some 10 years ago was "OMG this thing is so freaking heavy!"  I tested the Arri BL2 and some other cameras after the Alexa and the 35BL was so light after the Alexa that I could lift it with two fingers. What a relief after hauling around the Alexa with both hands.

The thing with the old digital cinema cameras is that they have much less efficient signal processing than the modern cameras. The low efficiency of the signal processing causes the old style camera to consume tons of power and that power is fully converted to heat in the process. One needs to remove the heat some way so one needs a large heatsink and a huge fan to remove all the excess heat from the inefficient processing. This makes the old camera inevidently pretty large sized and heavy as well as power hungry which means lots of expensive and heavy batteries to run it for the full day.

Compare to a modern cinema camera with efficient signal processing which can be run many hours with a single battery in the best case. But if wanting truly efficient high performance signal processing, one can compare the cinema cameras to a mirrorless camera which can often outperform the digital cinema camera easily in signal processing efficiency meaning that one can get a tiny camera body which weights next to nothing but is able to shoot 6k or 8k raw at reasonable framerates and can run two hours with a tiny dslr battery which only lasts 20 or 30 minutes on a low level cinema camera like the pocket6k or similar.

The difference is that if one is allowed to do large production batches of cameras for larger market than the niche digital cinema use, one has the resources to design application specific integrated circuits (asic) instead of using power hungry generic fpga for signal processing like most cinema cameras do. It is the difference of the relatively large sized Scarlet MX and the almost similarly spec'd  baseball sized Z-cam cameras which can outperform the Scarlet in some aspects and produce so little heat that they can manage with passive cooling and can be run many hours by a single np-f970 battery

So are you recommending a Z-cam instead?

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2 minutes ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

So are you recommending a Z-cam instead?

The Z-cams are fine for certain uses but I would recommend a modern Komodo or FX9 style camera from the 7 - 12k price range or upwards. The owner operator cameras are always most practical in fast moving productions where one would benefit from a lightweight and small camera body which is pretty sensitive and can do compressed codecs in addition to the raw formats so something which is relatively small and fast to use is the key I think.

I don't like z-cams as a main camera because of the passive cooling leading to higher sensor temperatures which generates bad pixels more easily, and the sensors being from the lower mid range of things (I think almost all the z-cam cameras are based on the same sensors used in Panasonic's mirrorless cameras. I think the e2f6 uses the same sensor than the panasonic s1h though the signal processing is different on z-cam which creates slightly different look.

The z-cams are great for any use where the camera needs to be rigged to something like cars, boats, people, over the table, inside a toilet seat, into the ventilation ducts, ultra low angle pickup shots, etc.  Rigging a dslr or a Pocket for similar use is awkward because the camera body is fragile and has only one mounting point and has the awkward handle portion which makes it difficult to mount in tight spots but the z-cams are symmetrical cubes with the optical axis at the centerline of the body which makes them easier to mount to certain places and they have metal body with many mounting points. Additionally they have pretty good remote control features which makes them perfect additional cameras to supplement the larger , heavier and more fragile main camera in movie shoots

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2 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

The Z-cams are fine for certain uses but I would recommend a modern Komodo or FX9 style camera from the 7 - 12k price range or upwards. The owner operator cameras are always most practical in fast moving productions where one would benefit from a lightweight and small camera body which is pretty sensitive and can do compressed codecs in addition to the raw formats so something which is relatively small and fast to use is the key I think.

I don't like z-cams as a main camera because of the passive cooling leading to higher sensor temperatures which generates bad pixels more easily, and the sensors being from the lower mid range of things (I think almost all the z-cam cameras are based on the same sensors used in Panasonic's mirrorless cameras. I think the e2f6 uses the same sensor than the panasonic s1h though the signal processing is different on z-cam which creates slightly different look.

The z-cams are great for any use where the camera needs to be rigged to something like cars, boats, people, over the table, inside a toilet seat, into the ventilation ducts, ultra low angle pickup shots, etc.  Rigging a dslr or a Pocket for similar use is awkward because the camera body is fragile and has only one mounting point and has the awkward handle portion which makes it difficult to mount in tight spots but the z-cams are symmetrical cubes with the optical axis at the centerline of the body which makes them easier to mount to certain places and they have metal body with many mounting points. Additionally they have pretty good remote control features which makes them perfect additional cameras to supplement the larger , heavier and more fragile main camera in movie shoots

Out of curiosity, what differentiates a high end sensor from a low end sensor? I've worked with Varicam, EVA1, and S1H footage and there is a difference with the Varicam having the best image/color imo, EVA1 being close, then S1H lacking something, but they're all good imo at their price points. Recently worked on my first Venice job and was surprised how much I liked the image given I didn't love the F5. It's surprising to me cameras from the same family have different color. So it must be the sensor?

I'm looking for a small camera for personal use but it needs to be something I can intercut with or use to composite into S16 film projects and Alexa projects, log scans and Log C. Looking at the P4K right now but curious if you have any insight I lack for a very affordable camera but also one that needn't have the amenities of a Komodo or FX9. I'd be carrying around IRND filters, probably Tokina Solas. 

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2 minutes ago, M Joel W said:

Out of curiosity, what differentiates a high end sensor from a low end sensor? I've worked with Varicam, EVA1, and S1H footage and there is a difference with the Varicam having the best image/color imo, EVA1 being close, then S1H lacking something, but they're all good imo at their price points. Recently worked on my first Venice job and was surprised how much I liked the image given I didn't love the F5. It's surprising to me cameras from the same family have different color. So it must be the sensor?

I'm looking for a small camera for personal use but it needs to be something I can intercut with or use to composite into S16 film projects and Alexa projects, log scans and Log C. Looking at the P4K right now but curious if you have any insight I lack for a very affordable camera but also one that needn't have the amenities of a Komodo or FX9. I'd be carrying around IRND filters, probably Tokina Solas. 

The main difference is exactly the "lack of something" in the image and signal processing. The image is technically perfect but aesthetically it is not very pleasing or interesting. It is just pure luck if one happens to actually like the image which comes out of the camera, most often it is just "perfectly OK" image but nothing special you would remember the rest of your life.

From the Sony cameras the F55 was much better colour wise than the F5 (I have worked in post in many documentaries using these cameras and seen the differences very closely). The F5 is very video-ish colours compared to the F55 which uses different sensor filters and signal processing in addition with the global shutter. So if wanting to purchase an old Sony camera for low budget cinema use, I would look for the F55 with raw recorder rather than the F5 which is mostly suited for spot and documentary use.

Differences are always from both the sensor and the signal processing and they can be affected by the post processing workflow and choises.

Personally I am shooting mostly documentary stuff and silent low budget art films which is why I am often using a mirrorless with a atomos recorder for this combo having the best lens adapting possibilities and can be used discreetly as a very lightweight and small system but can be kitted up with PL mount and other stuff whenever needed. Things like body stabilizer and internal heavily comprossed codecs are useful and I can still shoot 5.9k raw for plates and vfx stuff if needed. If needing a higher end system I will often choose a 16mm or 35mm film camera instead of a rented video camera system. This gives much better scheduling freedom because there is no need to drive to another town to pick up and return rental camera.

For your use I would rather look for a camera which is something completely different than you would normally rent or own. For my own use the Z-cam has been a great "out of the box thinking" camera which has allowed me to rethink my shooting style completely. Maybe you can consider something similar... not to purchase a dull and boring general purpose camera but to instead purchase a camera which is something completely different than you have ever used before and which allows you to try new shooting styles and creative rigging and new weird camera angles which are not possible with a regular boring Alexa or the everyone-owns-one  P6K or the expensive-but-not-great-enough FX9 or the small-but-not-small-enough-and-too-low-framerates-in-addition-with-the-boring-to-death-when-waiting-the-camera-to-be-delivered Komodo? 

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15 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

The main difference is exactly the "lack of something" in the image and signal processing. The image is technically perfect but aesthetically it is not very pleasing or interesting. It is just pure luck if one happens to actually like the image which comes out of the camera, most often it is just "perfectly OK" image but nothing special you would remember the rest of your life.

That makes sense. I kind of assumed it had mostly to do with sensor color filters, whether there's a preference for color or sensitivity etc. I worked on one show that I think was F55 raw and was not wild about its image either, but did prefer it to the F5 if I recall correctly. I liked the F3 okay and read there were more development issues with the F5. Also preferred the original C300’s image to the C300 MK II in many respects. On the other hand, I was not a Red fan but the latest stuff from Red looks better to me. So I don't know if it's high end vs low end so much as I like what I like. Or it could have been how things were lit too.

For sure I have considered that – an XC10 or hvx200 or something even. But I am basically purchasing a b camera for S16 and Alexa projects. For $1300 I don't think there's a lot of other options out there than the P4K anyway I guess. But I'm veering off topic. 😕

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51 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

The Z-cams are fine for certain uses but I would recommend a modern Komodo or FX9 style camera from the 7 - 12k price range or upwards.

I would like to keep everything < $10k and preferably no more than $8k for the body. And a Red Camera of any kind is completely off the table for me for personal reasons.

19 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

If needing a higher end system I will often choose a 16mm or 35mm film camera instead of a rented video camera system.

Yeah, here I just touted how I am done with a film workflow but yet the image is still so alluring to me. However, the prices of film cameras (at least on eBay) are otherworldly when I need to consider the additional support I would need (and the film stock, processing, scan). I think I even saw a CP16R on eBay for $7k; that is absolute madness to me.

Edited by Matthew W. Phillips
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12 minutes ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

I would like to keep everything < $10k and preferably no more than $8k for the body. And a Red Camera of any kind is completely off the table for me for personal reasons.

Yeah, here I just touted how I am done with a film workflow but yet the image is still so alluring to me. However, the prices of film cameras (at least on eBay) are otherworldly when I need to consider the additional support I would need (and the film stock, processing, scan). I think I even saw a CP16R on eBay for $7k; that is absolute madness to me.

There is the FX6 and the C70 in the <10k price range if Ursa Mini and Komodo are off the table.

Personally I love the film workflow especially because if it possible to collect many different camera bodies and still get similar style of image out of them by using the same film stock. Additionally the cameras are pretty cheap if one mainly shoots MOS or can repair sound cameras by oneself so that is possible to purchase a non-working sound camera for peanuts and then repair it to working condition to shoot short films with it.

Most of the CP16R cameras have broken electronics so the remaining working cameras are in high demand and overly priced. Personally I couldn't care less about the original electronics of these cameras because I know how to make crystal sync electronics out of scratch (see other threads) and I'm thus able to purchase non-working camera bodies and to throw my own electronics in to make them working again.  I just purchased my second non-working CP16R body because got if for peanuts (less than 200 usd) in pretty usable mechanical condition and I am sure I can repair the camera to full working condition using my own electronics and some mechanical work. That is pretty cheap for a sound capable 16mm crystal stabilized movie camera even if one calculates 1k worth of one's own time and work to the final price of the system

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2 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

There is the FX6 and the C70 in the <10k price range if Ursa Mini and Komodo are off the table.

Personally I love the film workflow especially because if it possible to collect many different camera bodies and still get similar style of image out of them by using the same film stock. Additionally the cameras are pretty cheap if one mainly shoots MOS or can repair sound cameras by oneself so that is possible to purchase a non-working sound camera for peanuts and then repair it to working condition to shoot short films with it.

Most of the CP16R cameras have broken electronics so the remaining working cameras are in high demand and overly priced. Personally I couldn't care less about the original electronics of these cameras because I know how to make crystal sync electronics out of scratch (see other threads) and I'm thus able to purchase non-working camera bodies and to throw my own electronics in to make them working again.  I just purchased my second non-working CP16R body because got if for peanuts (less than 200 usd) in pretty usable mechanical condition and I am sure I can repair the camera to full working condition using my own electronics and some mechanical work. That is pretty cheap for a sound capable 16mm crystal stabilized movie camera even if one calculates 1k worth of one's own time and work to the final price of the system

I have owned about 3 CP16s at different times and thought they were rather pleasant to deal with (once you make sure they work properly). I would consider owning another if it was converted to S16. If you are able to service one to reliable status and are interested in selling at a reasonable price, let me know.

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2 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

Most of the CP16R cameras have broken electronics so the remaining working cameras are in high demand and overly priced. Personally I couldn't care less about the original electronics of these cameras because I know how to make crystal sync electronics out of scratch (see other threads) and I'm thus able to purchase non-working camera bodies and to throw my own electronics in to make them working again.  I just purchased my second non-working CP16R body because got if for peanuts (less than 200 usd) in pretty usable mechanical condition and I am sure I can repair the camera to full working condition using my own electronics and some mechanical work. That is pretty cheap for a sound capable 16mm crystal stabilized movie camera even if one calculates 1k worth of one's own time and work to the final price of the system

if my Aaton would have meltdown of the original electronics I woudn't hesitate to replace the original electronics with my self designed ones just like that and then continue shooting movies with it. There seems to be lots of people who think that one should always try to maintain a film camera in its original form by repairing the old stuff and if the ancient spare parts run out, just retiring the whole thing. That is pretty much the exact opposite of how I'm thinking the cameras should be maintained and used. A good analogy would probably be a Mac guy who needs to buy a new computer if the Apple Authorized Repair Centre is not able to get the original parts and software to restore the broken thing to its original condition and no other parts are allowed to used.... compared to a PC guy who just cracks his darn computer open by himself, changes the broken part to a new off-the-shelf part which is from different manufacturer and after a little tweaking the thing works again for years but is not exactly the same anymore than 10 years ago when it was first purchased

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4 minutes ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

I have owned about 3 CP16s at different times and thought they were rather pleasant to deal with (once you make sure they work properly). I would consider owning another if it was converted to S16. If you are able to service one to reliable status and are interested in selling at a reasonable price, let me know.

I actually have a spare one which I will check at some point if the mechanics of it can be fully restored so that it could be sold in the Summer. But it is the older butterfly shutter version which as far as I know is harder to convert to S16.   The new crystal sync electronics are no problem and I will update them to that camera body anyway.

Would the camera be for shooting features or shorter projects?  If it would be mainly for features then a mechanically better camera body would probably be useful but for irregularly shooting short project my spare camera could be perfectly OK

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12 minutes ago, aapo lettinen said:

Would the camera be for shooting features or shorter projects?  If it would be mainly for features then a mechanically better camera body would probably be useful but for irregularly shooting short project my spare camera could be perfectly OK

It would be primarily for short projects but I do have one feature that I began camera tests for years ago on 16mm that I would likely shoot with it at some point.

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Here are the answers: 

 

  1. Is the Alexa pretty easy to learn for someone who has never used one?

Yes, they are pretty darn intuitive. I don't find them as "easy" as Red or BMD cameras, but they aren't tricky at all. 

  1. Will the camera still hold up after thousands of hours of use? I know dead pixels can be an issue for other cameras but I know Arri makes great stuff...will it last me a long time even purchased used?

Theoretically body wise it's a lot more robust, but the imager is a totally different issue. Where it's rare, we have been seeing more and more "classic" Alexa's suffer from imager damage. This is due to excessive heat, imagers just go bad and the pixel remapping just doesn't work anymore. Then your camera is totally worthless unless someone is willing to sell you a new imager for cheap, which is highly unlikely as that imager probably has similar issues. 

  1. I realize it is a massive camera. I probably need to get a big camera to find something I like the image on if I cannot afford tens of thousands of dollars. How much does this camera weigh rigged out?

A lot more than my Aaton 35III I'll say that much. I did a commercial with a "classic" all rigged out with wireless video, two motors,  cinetape, V mount battery and Ultra Primes. It was nearly unbearable hand held, even with the little pad, it was one heck of a heavy beast. Probably over 30lb, but set's generally don't have scales. I can only compare it to what I know well and it was MUCH heavier than my Aaton's. Even an Alexa Mini decked out is still very heavy when you add all the rigging. 

  1. Is the post workflow easy to deal with? I use Resolve for pretty much everything these days (with Audition to edit spoken word).

If you shoot 10 bit 422 pro res yep, but you're going backwards workflow wise. The Arri Raw files are crazy to deal with and the classic and plus Alexa's require a lot of accessories to record raw. So you're only getting a 1080p signal off the SXS cards in Pro Res and the moment you record in 444, you're dealing with much larger files than 6k BMD Raw. 

  1. What is a fair price to purchase one for these days (assume 4-6k hours on the sensor)

The pricing is nuts right now. These cameras have ZERO value because the market is about to be flooded with Alexa Mini's when the NEW 4k mini comes out. The Mini is a MUCH better camera as well, so once the mini drops down to the 15k range (which it will) the Classic, Plus, M, ST, SXT's will all be bottom of the barrel price wise. $6k for a 1080p camera of ANY kind is insane in my mind, remember you can't upgrade them. You buy it and it will have zero value in a few years. 

  1. Are there any competitors in the <$10k price range that you would consider first for those that like the Alexa look without going the Ursa 12k route?

If I had 10k to spend, Komodo would be #1 on my list. Small, light weight, easy to use, great codec, good post workflow and has pretty much anything ya need. Currently there isn't anything else in that price bracket that's worth exploring outside of the 12k which I know you don't want to play with. I think the 12k will hold it's value tho, as more and more people acquire in 8k, the UMP 12k will become more and more valuable. Obviously the price will never go up, but you won't lose your shirt if you didn't like it, you will lose your shirt on the Alexa's. I know, many of my friends have bought them and were unable to sell them for anywhere near what they bought them for. 

Now... this is my opinion, but it's important.  There are going to be a lot of "industry standard" sub 4k cameras hitting the market. We've already seen the D21 come and go, they're pretty worthless. Now it's the Alexa classic's turn to come and go. Next will be the XT and eventually the original Mini's as the new 4k mini will be half the price and more affordable. 

So what's so bad about the original Alexa classic? It has a great imager, it has great color science as well. The biggest problem is actually the fact the cameras only write 1080p internally to Pro Res. The only way to get the full 2.8k is to record in Arri Raw, which has much larger file sizes than modern compressed raw formats. Plus, not all cameras have the Arri Raw recording license and XR drive. So if you're going to be shooting 1080p, there are A LOT of other inexpensive cameras that don't look half bad. 

The XT (upgraded to SXT) AT LEAST has a 3.4k imager, so you're at minimum able to "blow up" to 4k if you need to. At least it records internally to Pro Res 3.2k, which ain't half bad. Very little different from the Alexa Mini's in the long run. You can also do internal Raw recording if you need it for some reason and get the full 3.4k imager. 

Another thing to think about is the Alexa's don't have easy manual adjustments for audio input. So you are nearly always going to have to use an external recorder for audio. They do have a little adaptor that will give you XLR inputs, but it's shit. This is a huge hindrance for low budget production, when you're constantly having to do everything yourself and you have no controls over the audio. The Komodo is easier to deal with, but even that is all touch screen to get to settings and it sucks. Arri does make the more ENG friendly Amira, but it's a beast, super heavy and large. Reminds me of the old betacam cameras of past. 

The way I look at it is simple. Every one of these Alexa cameras is a very used camera, they've been through the battlefield of professional production and survived. Arri does support them still, but at an extremely high cost. Very soon, the original Alexa cameras repairs will cost more then the value of the camera. Unlike film cameras, which deliver an entirely different look, at an arguable higher resolution, AN Alexa Plus is going to be 1080p forever. So the value will eventually plummet to zero. People will collect them to put them on shelves because "HD" will become next years "standard definition" and eventually 4k will be the lowest acceptable quality, which is kind of already here. 

So yea, this conundrum doesn't have a happy ending sadly. I wish it did, but you're talking about old tech that really needs to be laid to rest. Save your money, buy a used Komodo or something that isn't out yet, that at least is 6k or greater, so you can actually shoot higher quality images. I know you don't do it professionally, but there are only positive things that can come from a higher resolution image. 

 

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1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Here are the answers: 

 

  1. Is the Alexa pretty easy to learn for someone who has never used one?

Yes, they are pretty darn intuitive. I don't find them as "easy" as Red or BMD cameras, but they aren't tricky at all. 

  1. Will the camera still hold up after thousands of hours of use? I know dead pixels can be an issue for other cameras but I know Arri makes great stuff...will it last me a long time even purchased used?

Theoretically body wise it's a lot more robust, but the imager is a totally different issue. Where it's rare, we have been seeing more and more "classic" Alexa's suffer from imager damage. This is due to excessive heat, imagers just go bad and the pixel remapping just doesn't work anymore. Then your camera is totally worthless unless someone is willing to sell you a new imager for cheap, which is highly unlikely as that imager probably has similar issues. 

  1. I realize it is a massive camera. I probably need to get a big camera to find something I like the image on if I cannot afford tens of thousands of dollars. How much does this camera weigh rigged out?

A lot more than my Aaton 35III I'll say that much. I did a commercial with a "classic" all rigged out with wireless video, two motors,  cinetape, V mount battery and Ultra Primes. It was nearly unbearable hand held, even with the little pad, it was one heck of a heavy beast. Probably over 30lb, but set's generally don't have scales. I can only compare it to what I know well and it was MUCH heavier than my Aaton's. Even an Alexa Mini decked out is still very heavy when you add all the rigging. 

  1. Is the post workflow easy to deal with? I use Resolve for pretty much everything these days (with Audition to edit spoken word).

If you shoot 10 bit 422 pro res yep, but you're going backwards workflow wise. The Arri Raw files are crazy to deal with and the classic and plus Alexa's require a lot of accessories to record raw. So you're only getting a 1080p signal off the SXS cards in Pro Res and the moment you record in 444, you're dealing with much larger files than 6k BMD Raw. 

  1. What is a fair price to purchase one for these days (assume 4-6k hours on the sensor)

The pricing is nuts right now. These cameras have ZERO value because the market is about to be flooded with Alexa Mini's when the NEW 4k mini comes out. The Mini is a MUCH better camera as well, so once the mini drops down to the 15k range (which it will) the Classic, Plus, M, ST, SXT's will all be bottom of the barrel price wise. $6k for a 1080p camera of ANY kind is insane in my mind, remember you can't upgrade them. You buy it and it will have zero value in a few years. 

  1. Are there any competitors in the <$10k price range that you would consider first for those that like the Alexa look without going the Ursa 12k route?

If I had 10k to spend, Komodo would be #1 on my list. Small, light weight, easy to use, great codec, good post workflow and has pretty much anything ya need. Currently there isn't anything else in that price bracket that's worth exploring outside of the 12k which I know you don't want to play with. I think the 12k will hold it's value tho, as more and more people acquire in 8k, the UMP 12k will become more and more valuable. Obviously the price will never go up, but you won't lose your shirt if you didn't like it, you will lose your shirt on the Alexa's. I know, many of my friends have bought them and were unable to sell them for anywhere near what they bought them for. 

Now... this is my opinion, but it's important.  There are going to be a lot of "industry standard" sub 4k cameras hitting the market. We've already seen the D21 come and go, they're pretty worthless. Now it's the Alexa classic's turn to come and go. Next will be the XT and eventually the original Mini's as the new 4k mini will be half the price and more affordable. 

So what's so bad about the original Alexa classic? It has a great imager, it has great color science as well. The biggest problem is actually the fact the cameras only write 1080p internally to Pro Res. The only way to get the full 2.8k is to record in Arri Raw, which has much larger file sizes than modern compressed raw formats. Plus, not all cameras have the Arri Raw recording license and XR drive. So if you're going to be shooting 1080p, there are A LOT of other inexpensive cameras that don't look half bad. 

The XT (upgraded to SXT) AT LEAST has a 3.4k imager, so you're at minimum able to "blow up" to 4k if you need to. At least it records internally to Pro Res 3.2k, which ain't half bad. Very little different from the Alexa Mini's in the long run. You can also do internal Raw recording if you need it for some reason and get the full 3.4k imager. 

Another thing to think about is the Alexa's don't have easy manual adjustments for audio input. So you are nearly always going to have to use an external recorder for audio. They do have a little adaptor that will give you XLR inputs, but it's shit. This is a huge hindrance for low budget production, when you're constantly having to do everything yourself and you have no controls over the audio. The Komodo is easier to deal with, but even that is all touch screen to get to settings and it sucks. Arri does make the more ENG friendly Amira, but it's a beast, super heavy and large. Reminds me of the old betacam cameras of past. 

The way I look at it is simple. Every one of these Alexa cameras is a very used camera, they've been through the battlefield of professional production and survived. Arri does support them still, but at an extremely high cost. Very soon, the original Alexa cameras repairs will cost more then the value of the camera. Unlike film cameras, which deliver an entirely different look, at an arguable higher resolution, AN Alexa Plus is going to be 1080p forever. So the value will eventually plummet to zero. People will collect them to put them on shelves because "HD" will become next years "standard definition" and eventually 4k will be the lowest acceptable quality, which is kind of already here. 

So yea, this conundrum doesn't have a happy ending sadly. I wish it did, but you're talking about old tech that really needs to be laid to rest. Save your money, buy a used Komodo or something that isn't out yet, that at least is 6k or greater, so you can actually shoot higher quality images. I know you don't do it professionally, but there are only positive things that can come from a higher resolution image. 

 

Despite our previous differences, I really do appreciate this well thought out reply that directly answers all of my questions.

I did mention (although I guess you missed it) that any Red product is off the table for me for personal reasons. I do not wish to start drama so I will leave it at choosing not to support their company regardless of value or quality.

According to your post, that doesn't leave me with much of an option. I really wanted to like the Ursa 12k but I haven't seen even a single test anywhere that gives me hope of being satisfied with the image. The 6k pro has some footage I have liked but then you and others here have pointed out the issues with that one. Whatever the purchase, I want it to be the last for me for a good while. If I cannot be happy shooting content on it the next 5-10 years, I would rather save my money and wait until I find something where this is the case.

You keep mentioning your Aaton. I know I was "over the film workflow" but I still love film and could be lured back if the prices on cameras were not so crazy. I know that processing and scan can be doable for me by dealing with Rob from Cinelab as he took care of me in the past and has been fair. The stock is a bit pricey but I'll just be careful what I shoot. Still it comes back to the cost to get a film camera in decent repair. I am not a camera tech and do not wish to become on. I just want to shoot the thing. Therefore, if you have the inside track on a film camera package within that range that allows me to shoot sound with stable image then I am all ears as well.

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Some of the RED olpf's have really nasty diffusion/softening effect, I have seen this on nature documentary footage where one can't cheat any resolution loss or technical compromises (the image is supposed to be "a clear window to the world the viewer could not otherwise explore") unlike in drama productions where upscaled decade old technology like Alexa works always without issues. 

I haven't heard the Komodo having this issue but just something to test by yourself or finding info about if purchasing a RED camera. 

The biggest moral issue with RED is to me that they have sabotaged the development of internal compressed RAW codecs of other manufacturers for about 15 years now and that has damaged the film industry a great deal (the compressed internal RAW patents of them are used to prevent other manufacturers from developing better cameras.) . It is not about the RED cameras being some kind of Holy Grail for them being more inventive and clever in their design... they are just holding everyone else down with their patents so that the other manufacturers can't develop better technology which would compete with them.

 

The issue with Blackmagic Design is that their cameras and other hardware, being very innovative and nice designs, are very poorly made for a "professional product" and it is thus just pure luck if you happen to get a reliable one or whether the camera even wants to turn on at all when you take it out of the original package (I have seen one Ursa Mini G2 which was straight from the factory and did not even turn on at all and had to be sent back immediately). The BMD does not have much of a quality control on their products, they just mash up something together without looking if they did it right and then put it in the package and let the end user to find out if the product is even turning on or not 😮  

If you happen to find a specimen which actually IS reliable and properly assembled, then the BMD's can be pretty good cameras. But it is kind of Russian Roulette with a  little more rounds in the gun than just one 

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I'll be the first to accept that I'm a reviewer and I'm likely to be getting cameras that they know work, but I've not seen huge problems with Ursas. I have two here right now (A G1 Pro and an original 4.6K) and both have seen quite a bit of action. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the ability of the modern internet to concentrate certain types of information is making failures seem more common than they are. Yes, some more IR filtering is probably a good idea; some of the aftermarket OLPFs have included it.

I would second the commentary on Red. In my view, the company has behaved questionably ever since its earliest claims of performance and release dates, which were quite clearly impossible and which it failed to achieve, then congratulated itself for achieving. All of that is quite apart from its interaction with the patent system. I view the way patents are being issued and used at the moment as largely broken and anti-useful and I think several companies, particularly including Red, are profoundly abusing the situation to the detriment of film and TV workers worldwide. For a long time I avoided criticising Red on the basis of its pictures but it was always clear that much was being sacrificed in pursuit of easily-marketable resolution figures, and let's not forget that the company managed to redefine a major piece of industry terminology to its advantage. What surprises me is that those resolution figures are not special anymore, and it's not even particularly affordable equipment. I have no idea why the company and its products are taken so seriously.

That said, you can exchange my advice on Ursa for something like FS7 or FX9, EVA-1 or any other midrange camera, all of which will very significantly outperform an Alexa EV (that is, the original Alexa) on more or less every technical basis.

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10 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

I did mention (although I guess you missed it) that any Red product is off the table for me for personal reasons. I do not wish to start drama so I will leave it at choosing not to support their company regardless of value or quality.

Yea, many people feel the same way.  The Komodo is a very different camera than their previous cameras. 

I just edited a feature shot with a Komodo and it looked great. I really had no major issues getting it to grade nicely and the workflow is great, just need a powerful computer to deal with the codec. It's also the only camera like it with a global shutter, which is a huge benefit. 

I think putting away hatred for Red, just because they finally did what they said they'd do (make a low-end camera that was good) is worth it because the Komodo is unbeatable at that price range. Puts it's competitors to shame honestly. 

10 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

According to your post, that doesn't leave me with much of an option. I really wanted to like the Ursa 12k but I haven't seen even a single test anywhere that gives me hope of being satisfied with the image. The 6k pro has some footage I have liked but then you and others here have pointed out the issues with that one. Whatever the purchase, I want it to be the last for me for a good while. If I cannot be happy shooting content on it the next 5-10 years, I would rather save my money and wait until I find something where this is the case.

I would wait for sure. BMD alone, will have 2 new cameras in 2022; Updated pocket and Updated UMP.  With the price reduction on the 12k, it's clear they are going to replace the UMP series of cameras. The rumors are an 8k pocket with a real S35mm imager, but I still doubt that one. I personally would like to see them stick the 12k imager into a different camera body, but they aren't in the market of making block cameras. So I doubt we'll see that. 

So what else is there that's unique, low cost and decent? People squawk about the Z-Cam and I've played with it. They've done a fantastic job incorporating decent codec's, pretty good imager and a package that's small and easy to use. I think the big problem still, is that they've really failed on the color science. They're 2 years behind the competition in that department, it's really all over the place. They also have their own Raw codec, which is troublesome if you want to shoot raw. At least with BMRaw, Arri Raw, Red Raw, Sony Raw, Cinema DNG and such, you can easily edit in all programs. Maybe not a big deal if you're on your own island and aren't handing people camera originals, but for everyone else, it's a problem. 

Both Sony and Canon have sub $10k cameras that are pretty decent, but neither one of them give you the same 12 bit (or 16 bit) raw codecs with a high resolution (over 6k) imager in that price range. They're all stuck in the 4k world, which is fine, but if you want to finish in 4k, ya better start shooting in 6k or above, that's just the golden rule. BMD nailed the 6k resolution, that's the perfect compromise because it will reduce nicely to 4k and blow up to 8k as well. You're never "screwed" with a 6k imager. 

I think with 4k, 6k, 8k cameras we have today, we can finally buy something and probably not need to replace it as quickly. I have the original pockets still and shot my entire new YouTube series on them because A) I don't care about 4k educational videos and B) They're the only digital cameras I own. They were great for 2 years, but by 2015 they were long in the tooth, everyone wanted 4k. So I've only used them for personal projects since then and they've done me well. Would I shoot a feature with them in 2021? No way, but many people have and the results can be good as the camera is still nice. So if you bought a 6k camera today, how long would it last? I think you'd get 5 years easily out of it, until some of the functions like rolling shutter, are solved in newer designs and you just want to upgrade to remove some of the downfalls of the earlier generation cameras. But will they still work for you? Yes! Which is why I kinda dig the 6k Pro, because it offers everything, it's just missing a faster refresh on the shutter. If that was fixed, I'd probably invest, but since I know they HAVE to fix that problem, I know they WILL fix that problem. So we wait for the next gen, crossing our fingers it's either global shutter and/or a very decent refresh rate. It has other issues like horrible auto focus control, but that's just a software thing.

All of that to say... I'd wait.   

10 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:

You keep mentioning your Aaton. I know I was "over the film workflow" but I still love film and could be lured back if the prices on cameras were not so crazy. I know that processing and scan can be doable for me by dealing with Rob from Cinelab as he took care of me in the past and has been fair. The stock is a bit pricey but I'll just be careful what I shoot. Still it comes back to the cost to get a film camera in decent repair. I am not a camera tech and do not wish to become on. I just want to shoot the thing. Therefore, if you have the inside track on a film camera package within that range that allows me to shoot sound with stable image then I am all ears as well.

If you want my honest opinion, I would not even try to buy a sync sound (expensive) film camera right now. Kodak is about to raise the price on film by 30%. I hate to be a Debbie downer, but this could be the first nail in the independent filmmakers "shooting on film" coffin IF it happens. It won't effect the bigger shows at all, they could care less. But If I those smaller guys who are just squeaking by now, are going to pay 30% more, they're going to not shoot film anymore. It's a real conundrum and honestly, I can't in good faith tell people they should be buying $18k film cameras until this price hike is figured out. Obviously digital camera pricing will go up as well, but I don't think it will be a whole heck of a lot higher. Plus of course, used digital cameras will be, well cheaper and easier to get as new ones release. 

On a side note... I mentioned in another post that I'm working on my first directorial feature, it's been 4 years in the process and usually on year 5 things go well, so maybe 2022 will be my year! Anyway, I have zero intentions on shooting film. First off, we won't have a lot of time, so we'll be shooting 2 cameras for every dialog scene. Second, we won't be able to afford pro actors, so I predict we will be shooting a lot of takes and that's costly on film. Third, as a narrative feature directorial debut, it has to be perfect. There are no if's and's or but's about it. Every single frame has to be flawless and it's hard to do that with film when you're on a super tight schedule and budget. I don't want to be constantly unable to shoot something because we need to be careful about budget. Fourth, it'll be pre-sold before being produced and the studio who is going to buy it, won't want the risk of film. To them, it's one more negative about a project they don't need to buy. They're only doing it due to connections my producer has. Guaranteed distribution is a requirement to get decent money AND decent actors. So yea, my hands are tied and I'm fine with it, I budgeted for two Alexa Mini LF's and Ultra Primes, that's fine with me. If this movie is done properly, it can springboard my entire career, risking all of that my obsession with film, just isn't worth it.

Film is great and once my narrative feature career is launched, I will gladly shoot the rest of my career on film, but I think it's important for young narrative feature filmmakers to not be obsessed with the format and just make a great product. Once you have a 5 picture deal with a distributor, then you can shoot anything ya want on film. But my feeling is that, until that happens, little home brew narratives, should be shot digitally just for the sake of not knowing where they'll wind up. It's one thing to blow a few grand on a short, music video, commercial etc on film, it's another to risk your entire career on one project that may not come out as well on film. Ya get once chance in this industry if you want to actually become successful. 

 

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2 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I'll be the first to accept that I'm a reviewer and I'm likely to be getting cameras that they know work, but I've not seen huge problems with Ursas. I have two here right now (A G1 Pro and an original 4.6K) and both have seen quite a bit of action. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that the ability of the modern internet to concentrate certain types of information is making failures seem more common than they are. Yes, some more IR filtering is probably a good idea; some of the aftermarket OLPFs have included it.

We had two ursa mini g2 's on a show last Spring and one of them had to be immediately sent back because it was broken right out of the box (the one I talked about) . The other camera worked with minor faults like some kind of loose connection in the battery plate etc. but it worked otherwise pretty OK for all the shooting days except it switched of unexpectedly many times and had to be rebooted. The one we got as a replacement for the faulty-right-out-of-the-box camera was a bit unresponsive at times but after there was a theatre blood incident where the camera operator and the G2 got heavy splashback from a blood effect and were all dripping wet from the theatre blood, the G2 mystically improved and started to perform very reliably after the blood was wiped off! 

So if wanting to have a very reliable Ursa Mini G2 one seemingly needs to send the first one back and get a semi faulty replacement, then splash it with fake blood couple of times to repair the bad manufacturing quality and then it is a keeper! Never laughed as hard in my life after finding out that the camera actually got better when it got some blood all over it 😄 

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1 hour ago, aapo lettinen said:

We had two ursa mini g2 's on a show last Spring and one of them had to be immediately sent back because it was broken right out of the box (the one I talked about) . The other camera worked with minor faults like some kind of loose connection in the battery plate etc. but it worked otherwise pretty OK for all the shooting days except it switched of unexpectedly many times and had to be rebooted. The one we got as a replacement for the faulty-right-out-of-the-box camera was a bit unresponsive at times but after there was a theatre blood incident where the camera operator and the G2 got heavy splashback from a blood effect and were all dripping wet from the theatre blood, the G2 mystically improved and started to perform very reliably after the blood was wiped off! 

So if wanting to have a very reliable Ursa Mini G2 one seemingly needs to send the first one back and get a semi faulty replacement, then splash it with fake blood couple of times to repair the bad manufacturing quality and then it is a keeper! Never laughed as hard in my life after finding out that the camera actually got better when it got some blood all over it 😄 

Likewise re G2 and G1

Once went through 3x UMP's in 3 months. Sadly - in search of a 'good deal' two years ago, all out of warranty (by about a week).

The third one, after a $3000 AUD PCB board replacement, still works today. However I nurture it and on bigger shoots I rent a more reliable camera.

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22 hours ago, Matthew W. Phillips said:
  • Is the Alexa pretty easy to learn for someone who has never used one?
  • Will the camera still hold up after thousands of hours of use? I know dead pixels can be an issue for other cameras but I know Arri makes great stuff...will it last me a long time even purchased used?
  • I realize it is a massive camera. I probably need to get a big camera to find something I like the image on if I cannot afford tens of thousands of dollars. How much does this camera weigh rigged out?
  • Is the post workflow easy to deal with? I use Resolve for pretty much everything these days (with Audition to edit spoken word).
  • What is a fair price to purchase one for these days (assume 4-6k hours on the sensor)
  • Are there any competitors in the <$10k price range that you would consider first for those that like the Alexa look without going the Ursa 12k route?

Bought one in 2019 and sold it in 2021

1. Yes, the only time it gets tricky is if you want to do a custom frame rate or coordinate monitors and even then you figure it out quick. 

2. Mine had nearly 9000 hours and still had a perfect image to my eyes.

3. In the ballpark of 30 pounds but can feel heavier due to poor ergonomics, though it will never quite feel portable because it eats through batteries like it's nothing so you'll usually have it plugged in.

4. Absolutely amazing in Resolve, one of the easiest cameras I have ever worked with. Though I was using ProRes4444 from the SxS internal.

5. Do not spend a cent over $6500 no matter what the hours are. In the $4000s you are getting a good deal, that's a full pack with high speed license I mean.

6. I gotta be honest the Pocket 6K is so damn close and miles easier than Alexa in terms of workflow. Visually it's just a bit worse than Arri ALEV sensor though it seems to follow a similar philosophy from the side-by-side tests I've seen. I personally have been looking to replace my sold Alexa Classic with a Sony F55, which are also in that $5k range.

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  • 1 month later...

I have the Ursa G2 and have hardly used it. I prefer the look of the 4k with a Speedbooster,  or the 6k. Until.....Komodo that is! (Side note - I have had no issues with Blackmagic at all and Grant Petty deserves an award for sure!). Of course ArriCam or Alexa would be ideal. I wrote to Arri recently (as I was looking at their pre-owned line up) to ask them about the Alexa Classic and whether it truly has the same sensor as every other Alexa and they confirmed that it did. That being said they did advise that shooting on any Alexa before the Mini, would be a challenge mainly with the cost and availability of recording media, and hence they advise that Mini would be ideal (more expensive I know, but I don't think they needed to upsell me). I got very detailed reply from 2 technicians there, who clearly love their work, resulting in me having (even more) respect for Arri.

 

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