ARRI AMIRA and Master Prime lenses down under

Cinematographer Dale Bremner puts ARRI AMIRA and Master Primes through their paces in Australia’s Red Centre.

Multi-award-winning cinematographer Dale Bremner knows a thing or two about cameras and has had a long association with ARRI. Since being presented with the Australian Cinematographers Society award for “Emerging Cinematographer of the Year” back in 2013, Dale has been busy picking up industry accolades. Just a few weeks ago, the New Zealand Cinematographer’s Society bestowed multiple awards on Dale, one of which being the Gold NZCS award for his work on CAVE HILL. Filming this piece took Dale to Australia’s Red Centre on one of his toughest shoots to date. For this production, he chose the ARRI AMIRA and a set of ARRI Master Primes.

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia.

Bremner explained, “The AMIRA was primarily chosen based on the shoot’s deliverables, requirements, and predicted hurdles which included having 4K output integrated into a 3D dome experience for the Seven Sisters Uluru exhibition in the National Museum of Australia.”

Plates were shot for the dome along with a short 2D narrative film, narrated by an indigenous elder, to accompany the story. According to Bremner the AMIRA was an obvious choice for the project.

The project featured a story narrated by an indigenous elder.

He continued, “Firstly, the camera’s reliability factor played a big part as the fact that we were shooting seven hours out of Alice Springs in such a remote and harsh environment gave us no backup should the camera fail or suffer media corruption. In other words, camera reliability was paramount – there was no plan B in case something went wrong. I had taken the AMIRA on previous long form jobs before and it has never skipped a beat, even in scorching temperatures.”

Bremner also highlighted the camera’s features and usability adding, “The AMIRA’s internal NDs are a big plus as the Australian sun is harsh and unforgiving, especially in the desert. Dust and filters are not always the best combination and keeping the filtering inside the camera was not only completely logical it was extremely practical under those exposed conditions. Some of our setups were on the side of cliffs and on uneven terrain, places where you don't want to be swapping out filters.”

“AMIRA … never skipped a beat, even in scorching temperatures.”

The AMIRA’s form factor also played a big part in the shoot as did its power consumption and ease of use as Bremner continued, “The weight and balance of handheld solo operation with the AMIRA was excellent. Considering we were hiking and climbing to obtain shots, the camera was often carried and shot straight from the shoulder and the weight and balance of the camera was perfect for long hours in such conditions. Also, next to reliability, power was key. Along with the standard ALEXA and ALEXA Mini, the AMIRA is the best in terms of power consumption. With base camp only having generator power, every battery had to count. Finally having Chris Braga as my one and only trusted and experienced AC and such a huge scale I was often operating completely on my own and the AMIRA dominates as the doco solo op setup camera.”

To pay homage to the vastness of the outback and tranquility of such a spiritual realm the majority of the project was shot using the ARRI 12mm Master Prime lens. 

The vastness and tranquility of the outback was captured using Master Prime lenses

Bremner explained, “A lot of 100mm macro shots were integrated into the project as well, dancing at both ends of the spectrum. The spiritual indigenous dreamtime stories are told through the land and history of the indigenous arts and I wanted the camera to be as unobtrusive and to have as little influence on the look as possible. I didn't feel it was right to add an artistic style or visual signature of my own to the story and the footage conveys results we got as the proof is in the pudding.”

Outside of the plates to be integrated into the project dome piece, the narrative was shot at varied frame rates – predominantly 60 fps. off a 4 ft. slider.  Bremner and his small crew shot in a multitude of conditions at dusk, dawn, night and direct daylight both inside and outside a sacred cave. 

DP Dale Bremner and his small crew shot in a multitude of conditions both inside and outside.

He added, “Magic hour is predictable and safe, however through the intense daytime, the contrast from the cave and the full blooded indigenous elders’ skin tone against the desert sun was unlike anything I had faced before. This presented some fascinating challenges and gave the AMIRA a chance to ultimately flex its dynamic range. I’m delighted to say it passed with flying colors.”

It wasn’t just the AMIRA that impressed Bremner on this shoot, he was also full of praise for his lenses adding, “In my opinion, Master Primes are without a doubt the pinnacle of technical achievement in modern optics, especially when pushed to the extremities in environmental conditions and the radical and opposing spectrum of focal ranges i.e. the 12 mm and 100 mm macro. I’m not saying they always offer the correct aesthetic but I chose the Master Primes for this specific project, primarily due to project’s requirement of integration into a multiple 4K-projected 3D dome experience. The lack of fringing and chromatic abrasions make these lenses a preference for many VFX and 3D integration situations.”

Dale Bremner with his ARRI AMIRA and Master Primes in Australia’s Red Centre.

All in all, Dale Bremner was delighted with his choice of AMIRA and ARRI Master Prime lenses for what was undoubtedly one of his most challenging shoots as he concluded, “Given this project, from my perspective, there was no better camera in existence for this job. That said, many elements, outside of a brand name or high-end sensor, exist to create what can be commonly referred to as a pleasing image. This of course is subjective and ignores the basic fundamental rules and laws of photography - laws that once learned can and should be broken and bent - palette, texture, tone, light quality, reference, and psychology equally play their roles. The AMIRA performed as expected, like the tried and tested, premium digital camera it is.”

Dale Bremner receiving his GOLD NZCS awards for CAVE HILL from former NZCS vice president and Gold award winner in 2016, Dave Cameron NZCS ACS.

To get a sneak peek of CAVE HILL, please follow this link:

Photos: © 2017 Dale Bremner