ALEXA at high speed
"The ARRI ALEXA and Formula 1 cars were both built for speed; it's an ideal combination," says Jonathan Jones of Ember Films. The British DP had used an early beta version of ALEXA soon after its launch, but it wasn't until a recent project to shoot a Formula 1 motorsports season preview film for the Caterham F1 team that he had the chance to use the camera again.
DP Jonathan Jones of Ember Films in the UK recently shot a Formula 1 season-opening promotional film for the Caterham F1 team using the ARRI ALEXA's 120 fps high speed option.
"The brief was to cover the car at the Jerez circuit in Southern Spain, capturing iconic and dramatic shots of the racing scene," says Jones. "The nature of Formula 1 is obviously high speed, so I needed kit that would be extremely versatile, mobile and of the highest quality. Knowing the quality of the output of the camera and the fact that ARRI had enabled a 120 fps option, I selected the ALEXA to cover the action."
The distance of 1,000 miles from Ember's UK headquarters to the circuit meant that the crew of seven had to travel light; being free of film canisters, VTRs and tape stock was therefore a significant factor in the choice of camera. Moreover, life track-side also called for fast-paced camerawork throughout the shoot. Jones notes, "Our background is in nature films produced for the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic, so we're adept at working with equipment in tight and unusual places. However, the speed and frenetic activity around Formula 1 racing and the pit lanes is on another level."
With the car approaching at high speed, following the action, controlling the camera and maintaining a safe distance called for agile camerawork. "The ease of operation is wonderful on the ALEXA: buttons and dials rather than menus, and pocket-sized cards rather than bulky tapes are great features," continues the DP. "And being able to change the ISO on the run, quickly alter the shutter speed and instantly set the aperture: it's just all so fast."
For Jones, the choice of optics for this shoot was just as important as the choice of camera. "I'm a firm believer that picture quality comes down to the caliber of the glass, at the end of the day," he says. "The ARRI/FUJINON Alura Zoom 45-250 is fabulous in this respect, with excellent sharpness and fantastic colors."
Although not as lightweight as the more recently released Alura Zooms, the 45-250 still allowed Jones to handhold the ALEXA camera, even from the confines of the front seat of a pursuit car. He was particularly impressed by the lens' range, which allowed him to keep clear of the pit crew and yet follow the action closely. It also enabled him to shoot quickly for this very time-limited project.
Combining ALEXA with the Alura Zoom 45-250 delivered beautiful pictures at all shutter speeds and allowed us to deliver the finished piece to the client on time.
"We had a window of 20 laps in which to capture the shots we needed, so changing lenses and re-taking scenes was not an option," says Jones. "We had to get it right first time and not turn away for a second. Being able to use a single zoom lens for so much of the day was ideal, as was the ability to switch the camera fairly quickly to 120 fps mode and then handhold the unit without having to constantly mount it on a cumbersome support."
Speed of workflow was the final key consideration. Backing up to three external drives in a matter of minutes, the DP was able to cycle through his stock of 32 GB and 64 GB SxS PRO cards, and shoot constantly through the day. With a DIT / editor on hand to select shots for full editing and coloring in Final Cut Pro, the crew had an efficient and secure workflow in place.
Jones notes that the ingest of the Log C files was flawless and the files were painless to edit. He concludes, "This whole project was about speed, with the sheer pace of the action, the narrow time slot for production and the quick turnaround in postproduction. Combining ALEXA with the Alura Zoom 45-250 delivered beautiful pictures at all shutter speeds and allowed us to deliver the finished piece to the client on time."
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