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By Doug Gritzmacher

Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado Google+

It is with great fanfare that the Arri’s latest digital cinema camera lands on the market. Arri’s previous camera, the Alexa, was released a few years ago and has quickly become the go-to machine for commercial advertising and political productions. Aside from Hollywood, these were the circles that had been the last holdouts for 35mm film. Of those who had switched to digital, the RED One or RED Epic was the best camera available for approximating the quality of 35mm film. But the RED cameras are also incredibly over-complicated. And that’s just on the front end. The back end? Forget about it.

When the Alexa arrived, it came as a stripped down gray box with minimal buttons. I had an AC tell me once it takes five minutes to learn. He proceeded to show me and, indeed, it took five minutes. Now wonder it has become so popular.

Now Arri is positioning itself to make a similar splash in the ENG and documentary film production pools. One of the biggest handicaps with the recent crop digital cinema cameras with 35mm-sized sensors is their inability to be used handheld. Sure, you can buy no shortage of gizmos and gadgets to convert your Canon C300 or Sony F5 to a handheld device, but now you’ve just added a ton of weight to your camera and even then it’s hardly ideal. Like it did with the Alexa, Arri aims to simply things with the Amira and bring back comfort for docu-style filmmaking.

I have seen the Amira and it was love at first sight. But, I’m guessing it makes a somewhat smaller dent in the filmmaking community that what the Alexa has made.

While the Amira body is docu-friendly, the price point is most certainly not. The body starts at $40k. But keep your checkbook out, you’re not done yet. You need lenses. Forget about using your affordable Canon still camera glass—it’ll just defeat the handheld friendly intention of the camera. Instead, you will want to have both of the Fujinon Cabrio lenses. Get ready to write another check … for $80k.

Well, you say, for $120k at least I can get a 4k image, right? Nope. Well, sorta, if you are ok with in-camera up-resing.

But wait, before the full-frame sensor craze, which is to say, pre-2008, weren’t we all using $100k camera packages in the form of Varicams and CineAltas? Yes. But the Canon 5D, released in 2008, has completely altered the landscape in terms of expectations for the money (and pre-2008 many docs and reality TV productions were still shooting on DV or HDV). Additionally, the 5D lowered the barrier to entry, which led to a massive infusion of new filmmaking talent. Many of those filmmakers are still making films and have already invested in a set of Canon still camera glass. Their expectations—and budgets—are not likely to change any time soon.

With similar-quality images available via less-expensive cameras, such as the C300 and F5, my guess is all but the richest docu-filmmakers will continue to work around the cumbersomeness of these more affordable camera bodies until a more docu-friendly priced handheld solution becomes available.

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