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Trevor Komori

Is it a good idea to buy a Cinema Camera? (Alexa Classic)

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I was listening to Good. The Podcast and the interviewee is Sean Porter (Green Book, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter) and he mentions how in the past some cinematographers were able to get work because they own a cinema camera package. 

After listening to this my friend and I are interested in investing in a package. My friend wants to invest in an Alexa Classic - mainly due to budget - but is it really a good idea to buy one in today's market? 

I know that having work experience, lighting knowledge, networking etc really help to get opportunities but I'm wondering from other's experiences if owning a camera package vs not owning one has really affected work opportunities? 

Thanks in advance. 

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In simple terms, no it's not a good investment to buy a $5 - $7k 1080p camera in 2019. 

Here is why

1) If you're buying a "professional" camera to impress people, the only people who can afford it, are people who will be asking why their video isn't 4k. 

2) Arri's accessories are expensive and so is the Sony media they use. This includes the PL mount lenses they require. 

3) Any Arri Alexa Classic is going to be beat to shit by the rental houses. So you're buying a camera that on the surface, may seem ok hour wise, but to my 2nd point, may fail in a few months or a year and then you're dealing with the most expensive service to deal with. Remember, imagers do wear out, eventually the heat cycles will start generating dead pixels and the dead pixel mapping software won't be able to clean up the problem. So you will notice dead pixels and that sucks to spend so much money and have that happen. 

4) Alexa classic's don't even have a viable audio feature, so you're really screwed for low-end production. 

Those are just a few things but you can extrapolate a few others from these that would be an issue. 

With that said, even the Alexa XT Plus is dropping in price like a rock. It again, is not a 4k camera, but it's close enough. They still have all the same problems, but at least you can claim it's 4k. 

Honestly, with the way things are going, there are going to be a lot of very cool cameras hitting the market which are in that same price bracket as a used Alexa, but are 4 - 8k! The new Pocket from Blackmagic is a great example of the near future. So honestly, I would wait! 

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In the scheme of things, 5-7k is not a big risk.  But, after batteries and tripod, matte box, lenses, it will be more, maybe double.  But the accessories and lenses will work with your next camera.  If this 7k camera gets you 2 or 3 significant jobs you would not have gotten, it could well be worth the expense and further your career.  If not, you'll just be 7 to 15k poorer and you'll have a lifetime to catch up.

There will always be a reason to wait for the next generation of cameras...  It never ends.

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something like Ursa Mini Pro G2 could be more useful in that price range. I think one could benefit a little from the interchangeable lens mount as well and the framerates and raw would be a huge benefit. if the customer specifically asks for that Alexa model and you will get most of your investment back from that single job then it would be no risk but I would not purchase a HD camera nowadays unless having a specific use for it which would pay back the whole bill very quickly ( like a live streaming job or something similar) . 

As others mentioned one needs to calculate the other expenses as well. The tripod for full size Alexa can easily be 5 to 10k, a usable  quality lens set at least 8k or so (probably you would go with Xeens or with some kind of lower end zoom) . batteries and chargers maybe 3 or 4k . monitoring and follow focus (remote focus would be preferable) from 5k upwards. recoding media can cost anything but 2k would be more than enough for it if only shooting HD?

throw in couple of K's for great quality ND filters and usable quality mattebox as well. the filters can easily be 500 bucks a piece and you really can't cheap on them because it will show instantly in the final image.

the tripod and PL lenses and batteries are the biggest additional cost with the Alexa compared to more modern cameras. 

With other cameras it would be possible to use nice affordable vintage glass like spherical Lomos but I have understood most of them don't fit any Alexas or Amiras so one would need to stick with only couple of modern cheap PL glass options like Xeens or alternatively purchase the better ones which means 10 or 20k PER LENS.

 

Edited by aapo lettinen

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On 8/25/2019 at 8:46 AM, Bruce Greene said:

In the scheme of things, 5-7k is not a big risk.  But, after batteries and tripod, matte box, lenses, it will be more, maybe double.  But the accessories and lenses will work with your next camera. 

Here is the problem.. people who are buying a $7k camera, generally don't have the money to buy fancy accessories, that's why they're buying a $7k camera in the first place. The best investment would be to spend another $7k and buy a complete used Red Dragon setup, which is a true 6k cinema camera and will last quite a long time. Match it with some PL mount Sigma glass, which is pretty inexpensive and you're in business. You're not really in business with a 1080p camera in 2019. 

On 8/25/2019 at 8:46 AM, Bruce Greene said:

If this 7k camera gets you 2 or 3 significant jobs you would not have gotten, it could well be worth the expense and further your career.  If not, you'll just be 7 to 15k poorer and you'll have a lifetime to catch up.

It's hard to get significant jobs with a 1080p camera, that's the issue. Ya may get little shoots here and there, but to get the jobs that you really get paid on, where it makes the entire package worth it,  people want 4k these days. 

On 8/25/2019 at 8:46 AM, Bruce Greene said:

There will always be a reason to wait for the next generation of cameras...  It never ends.

Well yea, there is always a huge generational shift. Right now we're starting the 8k wars, but in my opinion that's not the new tech we should be caring about. The newer imagers with double and triple preamp sections, that to me is the next big leap. 

I think right now, any camera over 4k (5k - 8k) is "safe" for a while.  There is a significant difference between 1080p and 4k. There is not a significant difference between 6k and 8k. So if you currently own a 6k camera like the Red Dragon or Blackmagic Pocket, then I think you're safe for a long ass time. Now obviously, if you got into the Red Dragon years ago when it first came out, holy crap, you've already amortized your initial investment anyway, so bravo. It's the people who are buying now which will struggle to find a happy balance. I just feel clients are becoming more and more savvy and they know what cameras they want more than ever before. 

 

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5 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Here is the problem.. people who are buying a $7k camera, generally don't have the money to buy fancy accessories, that's why they're buying a $7k camera in the first place. The best investment would be to spend another $7k and buy a complete used Red Dragon setup, which is a true 6k cinema camera and will last quite a long time. Match it with some PL mount Sigma glass, which is pretty inexpensive and you're in business. You're not really in business with a 1080p camera in 2019. 

It's hard to get significant jobs with a 1080p camera, that's the issue. Ya may get little shoots here and there, but to get the jobs that you really get paid on, where it makes the entire package worth it,  people want 4k these days. 

Well yea, there is always a huge generational shift. Right now we're starting the 8k wars, but in my opinion that's not the new tech we should be caring about. The newer imagers with double and triple preamp sections, that to me is the next big leap. 

I think right now, any camera over 4k (5k - 8k) is "safe" for a while.  There is a significant difference between 1080p and 4k. There is not a significant difference between 6k and 8k. So if you currently own a 6k camera like the Red Dragon or Blackmagic Pocket, then I think you're safe for a long ass time. Now obviously, if you got into the Red Dragon years ago when it first came out, holy crap, you've already amortized your initial investment anyway, so bravo. It's the people who are buying now which will struggle to find a happy balance. I just feel clients are becoming more and more savvy and they know what cameras they want more than ever before. 

 

Yes, the Red Dragon might not be a bad choice either. 🙂

I am starting a new film next week on Alexa mini, so it's not a dead format yet!  For me, the built in ND filters was the deciding factor though.

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31 minutes ago, Bruce Greene said:

Yes, the Red Dragon might not be a bad choice either. 🙂

I am starting a new film next week on Alexa mini, so it's not a dead format yet!  For me, the built in ND filters was the deciding factor though.

Ohh yea, there are GOBS of productions shot on the Alexa mini, but it's SO CLOSE to 4k, people just ignore the slight inconvenience of upscaling in post. Most of the time when I edit Alexa footage, I just throw it in a 4k timeline and it auto scales, so it's not a big deal. It's just a $48k camera used. It's gotta be on A LOT of shoots to justify purchasing one. 

Dragon is so much cheaper, all be it, far more fragile and with Red's software update bullshit, I'm surprised anyone owns one anymore. 

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14 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

Ohh yea, there are GOBS of productions shot on the Alexa mini, but it's SO CLOSE to 4k, people just ignore the slight inconvenience of upscaling in post. Most of the time when I edit Alexa footage, I just throw it in a 4k timeline and it auto scales, so it's not a big deal. It's just a $48k camera used. It's gotta be on A LOT of shoots to justify purchasing one. 

Dragon is so much cheaper, all be it, far more fragile and with Red's software update bullshit, I'm surprised anyone owns one anymore. 

I did have some Red Dragon footage cut into an Alexa short that I color graded.  I was very surprised by the good quality of the Red Camera clips.  Much improvement over 8 years ago!

Of course I still needed to manually match the Red clips to the Alexa clips 🙂  Good doesn't mean "the same"...

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If your going to shoot your own or others lower budget projects to build your reel an Alexa Classic can make sense. Its not a great financial investment in terms of pure business sense, but maybe it is the right thing for you if you think it will get you some work that you can build a reel with.

I would plan for at least 10-15k to get it up and running with all the AKS. 

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4 hours ago, Bruce Greene said:

I did have some Red Dragon footage cut into an Alexa short that I color graded.  I was very surprised by the good quality of the Red Camera clips.  Much improvement over 8 years ago!

Of course I still needed to manually match the Red clips to the Alexa clips 🙂  Good doesn't mean "the same"...

With a good DP like you? HA of course they matched. You could probably match an iPhone to Alexa. 🙂

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