Thursday, January 30, 2014

Arri Amira - Canon C500 Killer?


When I was in film school in the 1970s, I read magazines such as American Cinematographer, AFI's American Film and Filmmaker.  I spent hours poring over articles with pictures of Arri 16 and 35mm cameras on set with my heroes - Stanley Kubrick, John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese and others.

John Cassavetes with Arri 16ST

I remember looking at pictures of the fabulous Arri 16 and 35BL shoulder mounted cameras and thinking - "These are the perfect cameras for independent filmmakers.  Pick one up, load it with film and just go out and shoot.  Maybe, someday, I'll rent one of these, put it up on my shoulder, go out on the street and shoot my movie..."

Kubrick on the set of A Clockwork Orange with Arri IIc

But, then reality would set in.  Even after buying expensive film stock, shooting guerrilla on the street and convincing your friends to act in your movie for free, there were still huge processing and duplication costs and let's not get into editing and coloring.

Martin Scorsese with Arri 35BL

Fast forward 40 years.  A few days ago, Arri turned all that on its head when they announced the European prices for the new, shoulder-mounter, 2K 200fps Arri Amira ProRes camera  - prices aimed squarely at cameras such as the Canon Cinema EOS C500.

AMIRA Showreel from ARRI Channel on Vimeo.

At €25,980, the Amira is likely to come in right around $30,000 when its price is announced in the States. This was the list price for the C500 - until its recent markdown to $19,999 (perhaps Canon knows something?)

Independent filmmakers and DSLR shooters stepping up to the next level have so far gravitated toward the Cinema EOS cameras because they overcame many of the challenges presented by DSLRs - but these "cinema" cameras still require a shoulder rig and an external viewfinder for handheld shooting.

And, if you want the Amira's ability to shoot ProRes straight to the camera, you have to put up with Blackmagic Production Camera's lack of XLR inputs, ND filters and overall poor design (offset somewhat, but not completely, by its amazingly low price).

Or, if you want high speed frame rates comparable to the Amira's 200fps slow motion, you have to buy a Sony FS700 - with its ridiculous top mounted LCD/viewfinder.

Straight out of the box, none of these are handheld, self-contained cinema cameras, by any stretch of the imagination.

As Andrew Reid over at eoshd says in his thoughtful piece on the Amira, "[Canon Cinema EOS]...ergonomics have garnered praise only because the competition has been even worse."

That said, the shoulder mount is very cool, but what has me really excited about this camera is the 2K, 14-stop dynamic range, ProRes output to a CF card.  Straight from a 14-stop DR camera to an inexpensive card reader and into any NLE.  Heck, even my little laptop can handle that.

I have had a tiny taste of what that means for easy, high quality workflow with my little Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.  One of the best things about this $995 marvel is its ProRes 422 output to a relatively inexpensive, fast SDXC card.  Many people started out clamoring for RAW with this camera, and ended up, as I have, shooting primarily to ProRes.  It's just that easy.

For me, this workflow advantage is just as important as the camera's ergonomic superiority and wide dynamic range.  Shooters won't need to go to post-production houses to edit and color their high quality images - they won't even need to buy expensive SSDs or computers capable of processing RAW.

Forty years ago, post-production costs were the barrier that kept many people from making the movies they wanted to make.  This camera breaks that barrier down, in a big way, and may save enough time and money in post to be worth the ~$1500 a week it will cost to rent it (based on the C500 rental price at Borrowlenses).

For me, this is more important than either 4K or internally recorder lossless RAW, and makes this camera revolutionary.

Without buying a shoulder rig, follow focus, SSDs, an external EVF or loupe, an external recorder, screw-on NDs, or the time and expense of complex post-production workflow, filmmakers can, as the Arri tagline says, just "pick up and shoot".

So this morning, for the first time in a few decades, I found myself looking at pictures of a new Arri shoulder mounted camera, and thinking - "maybe..."

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