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A Review of the ARRI Alexa XT professional production camera

by on May 17, 2015
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Overview

The ARRI ALEXA family of cameras of cameras is well known and well regarded by many professional and even amateur cinematographers and the ALEXA XT model in the line adds a number of unique features to this mix that combine together to make a video production camera which delivers on flexibility reliability and efficient workflow procedures.

Featuring a Super 35 sensor with Open Gate and 4:3 sensor modes, ProRes 4444 XQ, ProRes 3.2K, Internal ND filter and in-camera ARRIRAW for up to 120 fps, the ALEXA XT also delivers a Lens Data System, integrated CDL capture, ARRIRAW checksum, high speed licenses, anamorphic de-squeeze and anew viewfinder mounting bracket.

These are just some of the features of the ALEXA XT and they come as part of a comprehensive package that includes many more that built on top of a series of specs which have already done their part to make the original ALEXA camera such a popular camera.

The net result is a superb overall image quality that manages to achieve its caliber with reliably efficient production workflow at low cost.

The Good

The quality specs and features of the ARRI ALEXA XT are almost too numerous to list easily but a few of the most crucial ones include characteristics and specs such as an excellent overall image quality that’s one of the best at this level of the video production camera market, the capacity to deliver an efficient and highly versatile workflow process, simple, easy to learn operational procedure and a highly open, flexible and ultimately future-proof technical architecture.

Two features that are particular to the ALEXA XT are the fact that it is the smallest and lightest of the XT family of cameras and that it is also the most affordable in the line. Thus with both of these characteristics at play, interested cinematographers can get the benefit of a camera that delivers professional results while being easy to use in the field and easy on the wallet at the same time.

Additionally, the ARRI ALEXA XT, like all of the other (but more expensive) cameras in the XT family, comes with an XR module and new processing hardware built into it, includes the above-mentioned 4:3 sensor that’s capable of 2880 x 2160 for anamorphic 2X and comes with a new in-camera filter system called IFM that’s compatible with a whole line of high-end ARRI IRND filters.

Finally and most importantly, the ALEXA XT produces some truly beautiful imagery and video with both an overall quality and sharpness that definitely meet professional standards. Essentially, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of what the ALEXA XT is designed to offer from a competitor model of any kind in this range.

The Bad

Bad is a word that hardly fits in with descriptions of the ALEXA XT but because no camera or complex piece of electronic hardware is perfect, a couple of minor things are worth mentioning.

First of all, the ALEXA is definitely a complex piece of hardware despite it being labeled as the simplest to use of the ALEXA line and this results in some slightly lengthy set-up and disassembly times. This is a minor detail but it can get a bit annoying during field use or in hurried filming situations.

Furthermore, while the learning curve of the XT isn’t too steep, it does spread out a little further than what you might find with simpler cameras which offer a smaller amount of different variable settings and features.

Thus, the biggest defects of the ALEXA XT boil down to it offering almost too much for a videographer who isn’t well practiced with the ALEXA line of pro cameras.

Final Thoughts

For a professional videographer looking for a video production camera that really packs on the features and specs while remaining relatively light and easy to handle, the ARRI ALEXA XT is definitely one of the best choices available today. Image and video sharpness are beyond doubt by almost any professional standards and the overall build of the XT is a joy to behold.

Specs

•Camera Type: 35 format film-style digital camera with an electronic viewfinder
•Video Resolution/frame rates: ProRes HD 0.75 120 fps, ProRes 2K 0.75 60 fps, ProRes 3.2K 0.75 30 fps, DN X HD HD 075 120 fps, ARRIRAW 0.75 120 fps

•Photo Sites:
16:9
2880 x 1620 used for ARRIRAW 16:9
2880 x 1620 down sampled to 1920 x 1080 for HD-SDI, ProRes HD 16:9 and DNxHD HD 16:9
2868 x 1612 down sampled to 2048 x 1152 for ProRes 2K 16:9
3168 x 1778 used for ProRes 3.2K 16:9
4:3 Full
2880 x 2160 used for ARRIRAW 4:3 Full
2868 x 2150 down sampled to 2048 x 1536 for ProRes 2K 4:3
4:3 Cropped
2578 x 2160 used for ARRIRAW 4:3 Cropped
Open Gate
3414 x 2198 used for ARRIRAW Open Gate

•Sensor Type: 35 format ALEV III CMOS sensor with Bayer pattern color filter array
•File Formats: ARRIRAW, compressed and unencrypted QuickTime/ProRes, MXF/DNxHD
•Memory Card: SD Card
•Image Stabilization: yes
•Shutter: Electronic rolling shutter, 5.0º - 358.0º up to 60 fps; 5.0° to 356° above 60 fps. Shutter angle adjustable with 1/10 degree precision.
•Filters: Permanent filters in front of the sensor: optical low pass, UV, IR. with built-in Internal Filter Module (IFM-1) filter holder for one of eight Full Spectrum Neutral Density (FSND) filters (manual insertion/removal)
•Max Frame Rate: 120 fps
•Operating Modes: 16:9, 4:3 Full, 4:3 Cropped or Open Gate sensor modes. Switching takes approx. 60 seconds. 16:9 available for ARRIRAW, ProRes and DNxHD recording. 4:3 Full available for ARRIRAW and ProRes 2K recording. 4:3 Cropped and Open Gate available for ARRIRAW recording. Regular or High Speed mode. Switching takes approx. 20 seconds.

Accessories

Being an absolute premium camera, the ARRI ALEXA XT comes with a whole load of accessories as part of its 70 thousand+ price tag. These are too numerous to describe individually line by line, so instead, here is a list of things you can expect:

1x ALEXA XT camera body
1x SXR Adapter
1x XR Adapter
1x SD Card
1x Electronic Viewfinder EVF-1
1x Viewfinder Mounting Bracket VMB-3
1x Viewfinder Cable Short (0.35m/1.2ft) KC 150-S
1x Center Camera Handle (CCH-1)
1x Wedge Adapter (WA-1)
1x FSND Filter Set (Full)
1x ALEXA Ethernet/RJ-45 Cable (3.00m/9.8ft) KC 153-S
1x Viewfinder Cable Medium (0.65m/2.1ft) KC 151-S
1x Shoulder Pad (SP-4)
1x ALEXA 12V Accessory Cable KC 154-SP-S
1x Handle Extension Block (HEB-2) K2.72017.0 1x Leveling Block (LB-1)
1x Viewfinder Extension Bracket VEB-3
1x Bridge Plate Adapter BPA-2

ALEXA 3D Cable Set: One ALEXA EXT to EXT Cable for sensor and HD outputs sync and one ALEXA Ethernet to Ethernet Cable for camera settings sync

Also included are: a 26V power supply, a Battery Adapter Back for the V mount, a Battery Adapter for the Gold Mount, Battery Adapter top for the V Mount and an adapter top for the Gold Mount

Highlights

Being a complete high-end video production camera, the ALEXA XT naturally comes with a number of highlights that are worth mentioning.

For starters, the XT is the smallest and most affordable of the ALEXA line of cameras. This of course doesn’t mean that it’s a highly affordable camera but it definitely delivers the most results for the lowest cost in its range and to boot you’re getting the support of technology that comes from one of the premier professional production camera manufacturers on the market today.

Additionally, the ALEXA XT offers a number of the same features that are found in all of the ALEXA XT line, among its more expensive cousins as well. These include a Super 35 sensor with Open Gate and 4:3 sensor modes, in-camera ARRIRAW at up to 120 fps, ProRes 4444 XQ, ProRes 3.2K shooting, an internal ND filter, a Lens Data System and a whole load of other particular specs we’d already mentioned above.

This camera is also ideal for people who need a camera that gives up some truly exceptional image performance, efficient workflow and a highly versatile operation that is both safe and (relatively) simple to use.

The OpenGate Sensor mode is particularly worth describing a bit more. It allows you to basically shoot everything you’d like and lets you do things like VFX shows, up-sampling to 4K resolution, image repositioning, resizing, stabilizing or rotating. Furthermore, you can switch between the Open Gate sensor mode and more restricted shooting ratios like 4:3 and 16:9.

And as for the 4:3 sensor mode, it too offers a whole range of flexible options. For starters, it’s particularly useful for anamorphic lenses and for these the ALEXA XT is built with an Open gate sensor of equal size and shape to a Super 35 mm film frame. This is a feature unique to the ALEXA digital camera line of which the XT is a part.

Furthermore, with the 4:3 sensor mode, you can deliver a truly unique cinematic widescreen video footage that originates with the CinemaScope movies of the 1950s. This may not be what you’re looking for in all of your filming, but for movie production, it’s a ratio that has long been loved by many directors, cinematographers and the viewing public in general.

Overall Performance

The ARRI ALEXA XT is without a doubt an absolutely top-notch performer among pro video production cameras. ARRI itself is renowned for developing some of the best professional recording technology in the world and the entire ALEXA line clearly demonstrates this with precision and an obvious dedication to craft.

For starters, the camera is actually quite lovely just to behold visually. While at the same time a very robust device that looks like it means business, the XT also manages to convey elegance while being easy to handle.

Producing video footage under the right settings for the environment at hand takes a bit of getting used to but once you’ve practiced a bit and are ready to roll, the XT is right there with you and ready for any changes in lighting or other factors.

With the XT, you really get what you paid for and the imagery it produces is simply beautiful. Shooting through the viewfinder while using the Super 35 mm sensor and particularly doing it at the Open Gate setting produces some truly spectacular, classical film-quality results that are worth at least experimenting with.

There are some problems with keeping this powerful, versatile camera running on pure battery power so this might be problematic in field situations. However, if you’re working in a studio environment and have plenty of extension cord length to make use of, you should be just fine.

One other aspect of the ARRI ALEXA XT that can also be a bit troublesome is its learning curve. This is definitely no amateur piece of hardware and even seasoned professionals will likely have to learn the ropes of using it a bit. Assembly adds to this process and at least at first, these factors will possibly cause a bit of hassle.

Features

We’ve already pretty much covered the essential features of the ARRI ALEXA XT. However, to briefly summarize again, here are some of the most crucial and interesting aspects of the camera’s video recording abilities

The XT is a cinema production camera of a very professional caliber and is basically ideal for high quality video capture of nearly any event. While the camera is better for studio use due to its bulkiness, low battery endurance and frequent need for a number of accessories, it can also be applied to the field under controlled circumstances.

The multiple recording and output options of the ALEXA XT (covered in more detail above) make it a very flexible device for video production of digital footage in different formats which all capture stunning realism that closely follows how human eyes actually view the world. These formats include: QuickTime ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 (HQ), ProRes 422, ProRes 422 (LT) and ProRes 422 (Proxy); all of which can be captured on to in-camera XR Capture Drives or XR Pro modules.

Furthermore, the XT comes with a wide array of settings and aspect ratio modes for different types of video work.

16:9, 4:3 and Open Gate Modes combine together to allow a very wide array of possibilities when movies, documentaries or stock footage are being made and the Super 35 mm sensor works wonderfully for filming feature movies in the 4:3 aspect ratio that’s so popular with many theatrical release movies.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a 4K video production camera and to get your hands on ProRes 4K ultra HD shooting ability, you’ll need to upgrade to the upcoming ARRI ALEXA SXT production camera technology but the XT nonetheless does shoot fantastic cinema-grade video in the following HD and ultra HD settings that come close to full 4K: ProRes HD 0.75 120 fps, ProRes 2K 0.75 60 fps, ProRes 3.2K 0.75 30 fps, DN X HD HD 075 120 fps, ARRIRAW 0.75 120 fps. As you can see, the XT also offers some excellent, rapid frame rates for maximum smoothness.

Finally, all ALEXA XT cameras also come with new XR Module technology, which is a side panel developed with Codex and offers in-camera recording of uncompressed and unecrypted ARRIRAW footage at up to 120 fps with full image quality. The overall effect of this is a simpler and more manageable camera package that also costs less than other models in the ALEXA line.

Image Quality and Resolution

The ARRI ALEXA XT is not a 4K ultra HD video camera or a photo shooting camera per se but its video resolutions and photo sites resolutions are superb at creating crystal clear visuals at the following above-1080p HD resolutions:

16:9
2880 x 1620 used for ARRIRAW 16:9
2880 x 1620 down sampled to 1920 x 1080 for HD-SDI, ProRes HD 16:9 and DNxHD HD 16:9
2868 x 1612 down sampled to 2048 x 1152 for ProRes 2K 16:9
3168 x 1778 used for ProRes 3.2K 16:9
4:3 Full
2880 x 2160 used for ARRIRAW 4:3 Full
2868 x 2150 down sampled to 2048 x 1536 for ProRes 2K 4:3
4:3 Cropped
2578 x 2160 used for ARRIRAW 4:3 Cropped
Open Gate
3414 x 2198 used for ARRIRAW Open Gate

Pricing

The ARRI ALEXA XT is a professional video production camera and as such it is certainly not cheap. The basica camera package will cost you about $ 66,575. And with accessories, this price can easily reach the $100,000 dollar line with the addition of XR drives, remotes, licenses, cables and add-on hardware.

The Not So Great

The ARRI ALEXA XT is a superb piece of digital video production hardware that barely brooks any suggestion of deficiency with all of its flexible, varied and powerful pro production specs.

However, among the few things not to like about this camera are the fact that it has a low lasting power when operating purely on battery charge, its complexity when it comes to set-up and take-down (though this is to be expected with any serious pro studio-grade camera and the price of the XT given that it doesn’t quite offer 4K video production.

However, perhaps the most unpleasant deficiency of the XT is that it isn’t in fact a 4K ultra HD camera. It can manage 2K, 2.7K and 3.2K video shooting but if you want 4K, you’ll have to upgrade to the even pricier ARRI ALEXA SXT technology that is expected for release in the summer according to the latest news on the matter.

Positives

• Tough, highly complex pro camera
• Superb for cinema-grade video production
• Multiple HD and UHD video formats
• Lots of in-the-box accessories
• 4:3 and Open Gate aspect ratios
• Super 35 mm sensor
• Multiple video recording and output formats

Negatives

• Very expensive, especially with accessory parts
• Doesn’t offer 4K video shooting
• Complicated assembly & disassembly

Editor Rating
 
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Quality
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User Friendliness
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Price
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Bottom Line
 

The ARRI ALEXA XT is almost the perfect camera for an professional video production scenario in which you want highly versatile, realistc shooting. However, cheaper cameras with 4K resolution are probably a better deal in most non-film studio shooting scenarios.

 
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