Motion picture equipment manufacturer ARRI is set to release its new high-end digital movie camera, known as the Alexa, and some people in the industry are calling it the final nail in film cinematography’s coffin. Sure, we’ve heard that prediction before but early hands-on reports of the Alexa seem to back it up. Final details have not been officially released, but so far we know the Alexa platform will have a 35mm-size 3.5k pixel sensor with 800ASA sensitivity, onboard HD recording, and shooting speeds up to 60fps.

ARRI held the “world premiere” of the Alexa prototype in February at the AFC (Association of French Cinematographers) event held in Paris. More than 200 professional Directors of Photography had the opportunity to get a hands-on demonstration of the new digital camera system.

ARRI is certainly no stranger to the motion picture industry. The Munich, Germany, based company already offers another digital camera, the Arriflex D-21. The company also makes film cameras, lighting fixtures, and digital image processing systems.

ARRI is releasing three Alexa cameras over the course of 2010. The base model is the A-EV, which will shoot from 1 to 60fps and features a 16:9 aspect ratio, electronic viewfinder, and onboard HD recording. The A-EV Plus model adds uncompressed onboard HD recording as well as wireless remote control capability. The A-OV Plus has all that, but adds an optical viewfinder and shoots with a 4:3 aspect ratio.

All three models will feature the same ARRI Alev III CMOS sensor, which is a full-frame 35mm size and has a 3.5K pixel count. ARRI claims the chip’s sensitivity is 800EI (exposure index; comparable to an ASA or ISO speed rating). The low-noise sensor uses a dual-gain architecture (DGA) for extended range (up to 13 stops). ARRI’s electronic viewfinder is an LED-lit F-LCOS micro display with automatic calibration and high-quality coated glass optics.

Hands-on reports say the Alexa’s controls are similar to a film camera and include FPS, shutter, EI, and WB (white balance). Buttons control the functions and an LCD display shows all the camera settings at once.

The ARRI Alexa platform is aimed squarely at the RED ONE digital camera, itself already well established in the movie industry. RED digital cameras have been used by directors such as Steven Soderbergh, and on feature movies including Angels & Demons. ARRI has designed the Alexa for shooting feature movies, television dramas, and commercials.

The ARRI Alexa cameras will be officially launched at the NAB show in April 2010, and complete details are expected then. The A-EV will be available in June 2010, with the A-EV Plus available in September, and the A-OV Plus due in December. Prices are expected to start at US$69000.

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