ARRI ALEXA LF: A Night Out in Sydney

When the ALEXA LF was launched in Australia, ARRI entrusted two local filmmakers with one of the precious new cameras to see what they’d do with it. Cinematographer Kieran Fowler NZSC ACS, and director Nik Kacevski took the ALEXA LF and Signature Primes on a night out, and made a film – Opia. Kieran spoke to ARRI about his experience with the new camera.

ALEXA LF and Signature Primes on Opia

When the ALEXA LF and Signature Primes were launched in Australia, ARRI entrusted the new camera and lenses to cinematographer Kieran Fowler NZSC, ACS and director Nik Kacevski. They took the ALEXA LF out into the dark heart of Sydney to tell an unsettling story that takes us from dusk to dawn.

Kieran Fowler:
Sean from ARRI Australia called me up a few days before they were about to announce the ALEXA LF and Signature Primes, and asked me if I'd be interested in taking them out for test run when the kit was in Sydney for its launch. They were only available to me for one night, and the short part of the next morning before they had to move onto Melbourne to be shown there. So, I had to design something around this. I called up a director I work with a lot, Nik Kacevski, to see if he’d be keen to use the opportunity to design something and test the systems capabilities. I was keen to test the camera by putting it through more of a real-life production scenario rather than a typical test. 

ARRI:
What did you think would be the challenges of shooting with the new Large Format camera system before the shoot began? Did these challenges materialize?

KF:

I knew I was going to push the lenses and focus pulling on them to the extreme in terms of running them wide open at night, and doing some tracking shots with the Steadicam following our talent. Obviously with having to use longer focal lengths to achieve the field of view that we like when using S35 systems, this makes for a shallower depth of field. I think I really made Chris Braga sweat on this one, as it was very challenging but he did an amazing job. So, I would say if you plan on using this format in this way, that you would definitely require a very competent focus puller. 

ARRI:
Was there anything different about how you used the ALEXA LF and Signature Primes on set?

KF:
Not really, my process was still the same as using the other ARRI cameras, which was nice. It was great to have the inbuilt wireless transmission system, as it’s always good to have less clutter around the camera. Having the control to customize the display out on each SDI was handy as well. It meant I could feed the focus puller all the data he needed whilst keeping the directors monitor clean.

ARRI:
What were you looking for during the test shoot?

KF:
I wanted to push the low light capabilities, using the camera at 1600 ISO. I ended up having to use ND’s in some of the really low light scenarios which was crazy, the image is as clean as 800 ISO on the other Alexa models which is amazing. I was really interested to see how the lenses and format rendered close-ups and faces. This was one of the great things I found about this format, it has such a beautiful focus fall off on close-ups and these lenses have an interesting elliptical shape in the bokeh at the edges of the frame, which really draw your eye into the center. I guess I was keen to see the personality of the lenses as I know a lot of the previous ARRI glass have been super clean and tack sharp. These lenses seemed to hold that same precision and sharpness through all the stops but have great personality when it comes to the out of focus areas and the way they flare in direct light, which I was a big fan of.

ARRI:
Were there any moments during the production or postproduction process that surprised you?

KF:
I was surprised at how power hungry the camera was. The camera requires 24V batteries which means a lot of the batteries currently out there can’t be used with this system, but I believe ARRI are making an adapter to be able to use 12Vs.

I was mostly surprised by the quality of the lenses and how light they were, they capture the format beautifully. Throughout the color grade and post process it felt similar to working with the other ARRI cameras, except with the image quality of the larger format. So, there wasn’t really that many surprises.

ARRI:
Do you think that the Signature Primes left their mark on the images in Opia?

KF:
Definitely. I really enjoyed the way they reacted with the direct street lights in the shots of Jess walking along the street. We were wanting the image to mirror her disjointed state of being, and the extreme shallow focus along with the occasional ‘red orb' type flare really added to this idea, it was a kind of a chaotic beauty. I’ll be repeating what I was mentioning above but they do look beautiful on capturing the face and in mids/close ups, and have a really nice amount of sharpness.

ARRI:

What type of projects do you think the camera would be well suited for?

KF:
I think this camera will work best in the Film/TV genre, that’s not to say it doesn’t have place in all other genres of filmmaking that the current ARRI cameras thrive in. But now that the LF captures true 4K I think it’ll now be able to get adopted by Netflix and other platforms that require a true 4K acquisition. The format also requires the appropriate size crew and schedule in my eyes as it is more data intensive, so you’ll need more storage than the current ARRI cameras (Depending on the format you shoot) and also time for the focus pullers if you plan on shooting a lot near the open end of the lens. I think the image quality of the larger format is definitely suited to the larger screen, where you want to play with the creative choices of shallow focus and how that could tie in with story and narrative. Especially since the resolution of this system will have more of an impact on larger screens.