Arri Alexa and RED1 MX


Breaking Beauty

Finally - after much waiting, project finishing and Arris “soon to be out of beta with the DTE” waiting, I was able to do a comparative test between Arri Alexa and the RED1 MX. After all, these are the best cameras we’ll encounter in numbers for a while. The “Transformers” (Alexa) vs the “Pirates of the Caribbean” (R1 MX) cameras.

It’s been fun reading the first reviews on the Alexa. Nearly all have “love” in them, and constantly refers to it as a “she”. The Alexa sure seems to make a good first impression with photographers.

The R1 MX has been hailed as a wide latitude low noise camera for almost a year now. But this was my first real encounter with it. “Social Network” and a bunch of other Oscar candidates and winners stands to prove its virtues.

I happily arrived the first day of shooting, planning to measure “stuff”. Dynamic Range. Resolution. General camera-peeking fun. But early on it was clear to me that such a test wouldn’t be the most informative angle on these cameras- We all know what it is stated on the boxes.

Alexa has more dynamic range. The R1 MX has more pixels. One allows for RAW at an affordable price, the other records 12-bit prores 4444 @ logC and can record RAW to external devices..

When these images came up, from the same shot with the same light and at the same aperture on a couple of Master Primes....

I decided to re-think the whole writeup, and spend a bit more time on the analysis.

What is really strange here?

The fact that one camera clips while the other doesn’t in this example, really isn’t that much of a surprise. Even if they had the same DR, one could have more highlight tolerance than the other.

What I find strange is the diffused look of first - totally taking out the background, and the highlight ringing and the way the deep shadow behaves on the other.

How do I compare inconsistent and individual factors?

There are more things distinguishing these cameras from each other than dynamic-range and resolution. They’re a philosophical and practical world apart. And that’s what I’ll have to try to dive into. But to dig into it, it felt a bit like Breaking Beauty.

About files for this test.

There are a lot of files connected to this test. After trying out a multitude of ways to organize them, I decided to make a .zip package at the bottom of each page containing the files discussed on that same page.

For many examples, I have converted both the R1MX and Alexa files to DPXs. The actual DPXs I am discussing are in the packages.

I created the DPXs from the Alexa with Shake.

Quickgrades have been done in Color from DPXs.

For some of the Alexa examples, I have supplied a media-managed .mov file.

I hope you will enjoy this.

I did.

Short preface...

I started to write this article back in September -10, when the Alexa was just out, and as an initial prep for some productions in 2010 and 2011.

While working on the test, it became apparent to me that the fanboys on either side of the fence probably would be upset with what I saw. On the other hand: I had learned what I needed, and off I went into production having better things to do than defend what I saw in the files.

The point for me in doing this, was not to find a “winner” but to learn about the differences between the cameras and how to work with them, as these were the two cameras I expected to see the most over the next year or so. It was a preparational study, not a world-championship. Please read it as such...

And the controversial findings?

I liked both. Both have strong points where the other is not as strong. Already after day 1 of shooting them, my feeling was that I’d have liked a mix of these cameras the most, but I would not feel lost with either. If I had to choose, it would be project-dependent which one I would take out.

The second opinion I made, that I didn’t feel like I had to fight for, was that I found it rather easy to match the cameras, if I needed to do that. Due to one recording RAW and the other recording prores, that means: I found it not very hard to make the image from RED1MX to match the Alexa. I would in other words not feel at loss if I had  to work on a mixed project.

Since I started writing on this article, RED has come out with RedlogFilm/RedGamma2/RedColor2 and (apparently) better calibration of the sensor. Thus, on some instances the RED images look better now than when I recorded them. Where I think that might be of importance for the result, I have reprocessed images with these options.

The navigation is admittedly a bit clumsy. For quite a few chapters, there are sub-pages with links at the bottom of the page to the next. The top-menu only points to the chapters.

The downloadable material is to be found at the bottom of each page. So here goes...