Arri's New Alexa 65 Demands Medium Format Lenses

line_05 Cinec 2014 is underway and there quite a few new products hitting the show floor.  One of the most impressive and important is Arri's new Alexa 65. That's a 65mm sensor, which is absolutely huge when compared to Super 35, in a body not much larger than a regular Alexa. With the Amira taking care of the lighter run-n-gun style shooting, it looks like Arri is covering all the bases. Panavision has had their"top secret" medium format sensor in the works for several years but can't seem to release a final product. I digress. This post isn't about new cameras. If I was going to cover camera news, I'd be writing every day because let's face it - there's a new one just about every day. On to the lenses!line_11
line_06So here's the deal. The 65mm sensor requires lenses that produce a rather large image circle. With a physical size of 54.12 x 25.59 (2.1:1 aspect) an image circle of 59.87mm is required. Most cinema lenses are designed to cover a Super 35 sensor which requires about a 32mm image circle. Red's Dragon sensor is just slightly larger than Super 35 and requires lenses with a 34.5mm image circle. Beyond that you have 35mm Full Frame (8 perf, Vista Vision) that requires a 43mm image circle. Commanding an image circle of 60mm is a very tall order for a cinema camera. The only lenses that will provide such an image circle are currently only made by medium format manufacturers such as Hasselblad, Pentax, Mamiya and a handful of others. Obviously Arri couldn't release a new camera system without any lenses so they took it upon themselves to rehouse Hasselblad lenses with the help of IB/E Optics. The camera and lenses use a new mount Arri is calling XPL which is very similar, but larger than standard PL. At launch, the lenses available will include:  
  • 24mm T4.8
  • 28mm T4
  • 35mm T3.5
  • 50mm T3.5
  • 80mm T2.8
  • 100mm T2.2
  • 150mm T3.2
  • 300mm T4.5
  • 50-110mm T3.5-4.5
If you absolutely must shoot medium format you have a couple of other options from IMAX, Iwerks or Phantom. These alternatives also utilize Zeiss Hasselblad medium format lenses, among others. Then there are newer systems made by traditional photo camera companies such as Pentax with their 645Z and Leica with the S-System. The Leica seems like the perfect medium format sensor in a small(ish) body except for the fact that the 4k video mode crops back down to a Super 35 format. All of these systems, film or digital, use a medium format between 65 and 70mm. Several years back, Red released a road-map of future sensors that they have followed slowly but surely. I would think that if Red intends to stay innovative, they must be working on something in the medium format breed. The truly capable folks over at Sony have been the pioneers of just about any forward-thinking camera these days. Canon is close behind, but Sony provides it's technology for so many other brands, including several mentioned above, that I have to imagine they have all of this tech designed and ready to go - they're just waiting for market demand to flip the switch and manufacture whatever is necessary. Obviously a medium format stills camera that just so happens to shoot video isn't going to compare to a full-featured professional motion picture camera from Arri - but they're worth mentioning.
Don't worry too much about selling all your lenses.. and your house... and a kidney... The new Alexa 65 is only available as a rental directly from Arri. It wouldn't really make sense to own a personal set of XPL mount primes and the cost to convert  custom set of medium format lenses would simply be uneconomical. All of this is exciting news and you can find all the details over to the Arri Rental product page or if you want even more info with an abundance of excellent content, checkout the latest issue of Jon Fauer's Film and Digital Times: Cinec Munich Issue. While you're there, read everything that Jon writes. His publication is a wealth of knowledge and experience. I don't know what direction the motion picture industry is going, but I'd like to think that medium format cinematography will remain a niche option for special projects.


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