Alexa Mini & Movi M15
Yesterday the day that we’d been waiting for finally came: we partnered up our Movi M15 with the eagerly awaited Arri Alexa Mini. As we all know in the production industry every couple of weeks there are rumours of the latest and greatest camera: even lighter, smaller, faster and more sensitive but when the Alexa Mini was announced at this years BVE it was the dream combination all of us gimbal operators had been waiting for!
Gone are the days where gimbals are labelled as ‘toys’ and the old-schoolers mocked them being used on professional shoots. Arri specifically designed the Alexa Mini for Gimbal and Drone use working closely alongside Freefly to ensure that every base was covered . So expectations were high, could this be the perfect camera ergonomically for Freefly Movi M15?
The Arri Look
The Alexa is the camera of choice amongst the majority of film, drama and commercial DOPs across the globe for good reason with its gorgeous image quality and instantly recognisable look, yet it’s size and weight meant that no gimbal on the market could handle it! So for the passed two years since the original M10 gimbal was released crews have had to settle for ‘second best’ pairing up their Alexa A Cam with a RED Epic, Sony 55 or C500 rather than a second Alexa. Here at Movi-Hire we’re still big fans of the Red Epic and Movi combination, but surely now with the Alexa Mini on the scene, all of these Alexa productions will be on the hunt for the elusive Alexa Mini!
But what was our first impression of the Arri Alexa Mini & Movi M15 combo?
We got a call last week from DOP Graeme Dunn, who wanted to combine the Alexa Mini with the Movi M15 for his upcoming shoot for ITN. Graeme is huge fan of small rigged, hand held camera systems and Movi is something he was interested in using to gain a more polished handheld look to his films. He had managed to get his hands on the new Alexa Mini for the shoot, so it was time for our crew to finally get this little beauty balanced up.
Before we continue, it’s important to note that although the Alexa Mini has been released and can be found in a handful of few rental companies already, there is still some work that still needs to be done by Arri. I’m sure over the next few months it will ‘do what it says on the tin’ but at present it’s not quite there.
First things first, lets talk about weight. As any gimbal operator will tell you, weight is possibly the most important factor. The Alexa may be carbon fibre with a body weighing just 5lbs (2.3kgs), just slightly heavier than that of carbon Red Dragon 4lbs (1.8kgs).
Possibly the most exciting feature of the Alexa Mini is it’s internal lens control system. This built in phenomenon; means a focus puller needs only one cable to connect their motor to a lens without the need of a brain. The Arri WCU-4 hand unit accessory enables the control of all 3 lens motors as well as camera settings. In theory this is an incredible option, an all in one remote controller, however in practice it’s not there yet. The lens control system isn’t yet incorporated internally in the Alexa Mini so we needed to attach a brain and this came with some downfalls.
First of all it meant more weight and more cables and secondly it made balancing slightly more tricky. We attached the brain to the side of the Alexa, which made the overall size wider than we’d have liked. There was only 5/6mm free space between camera and the Movi cage, this made balancing slightly tricky and Movi’s quick releases hard to open and close. In hindsight, we probably should have mounted the brain at the back of camera, but it’s not always that easy on set, is it? We were worried that if we did mount it at the back, once we included of a focus gear, Mattebox and filters, the set up may become too front heavy and we’d need the room at the back to counteract this. Hopefully Arri or Freefly also have plans to make slightly thinner cables for lens control system as well. The current ones are manageable but in an ideal world they’d be more a little inconspicuous.
Graeme’s preference was to operate the Movi rig in inverted mode to capture eye-level shots. This meant we built the entire rig to facilitate this way of shooting. First we flipped the Movi Handles upside down, this helps to support an operators hands during inverted use, especially with the heavier set ups. Shooting inverted often means that workflow can be slowed down in postproduction, as the footage needs to be flipped. Graeme opted against this and one of the Alexa Mini’s great new features came in to play. The camera has a symmetrical optical centre, meaning the camera can be mounted in any orientation. This was perfect for this job as we could easily mount the Alexa upside down without any changes in balance what so ever. One issue that we often have when switching from normal shooting orientation to inverted mode is monitor placement: we used a Noga arm on this occasion as Graeme wanted his TV Logic monitor placed a lot higher, so we wouldn’t need to constantly be looking down at his frame. This wasn’t very practical, the Noga arm become loose on several occasions. We’re a big fan of the RED LCD clamp that can be easily tilted forward and backwards without the need of loosening and tightening a joint to do so.
With only four customizable function buttons on the camera to toggle through settings using an external monitor, the Alexa’s built in wifi connectivity seems pretty essential for an operator if a focus puller isn’t using the WCU-4 hand unit for settings. This function is also not yet incorporated. We had to rely on manually plugging in the viewfinder from the Amira to dial in settings. This became tedious during the shoot as we where constantly on the move and always needed it near by. The plugging in and out of the viewfinder also added unnecessary strain on Movi’s motors, which really isn’t ideal. We hope this is next to be rectified with the Alexa mini, and that the eventual interactive software won’t be to gruelling on a Smartphone or tablets battery life!
Graeme had his concerns about the weight and operating with the load all day. Before opting to use Movi he had tried out a DJI Ronin. The Ronin managed the set up in terms of balance but Graeme was left to abandon the aluminium gimbal due to the heavy weight. Of course Movi is a lot lighter, however Graeme still wanted as much weight taken off the rig as possible. To do this he opted to wear a Hawkwoods Vlock battery belt that he would tether to the camera. This has both pros and cons. The pro’s being that the rig was a great deal lighter for both the operator and the Movi itself: keeping fatigure to a minimum and extending the battery life of the Movi. However in our personal opinion the AC cable interfered far too often and restricts the movement that makes the Movi the Movi! The current cable is about the same thickness as a standard XLR cable – we’ll be hunting for a skinny version of this cable ASAP! It meant a cable basher was needed at all times to avoid any restrictions. Even with a cable basher there was still occasions when the cable jerked the rig slightly and second takes where needed. Arri are yet to make a Vlock plate for the Alexa Mini but we hear that Hawkwoods have started to produce them along with 4 Dtap slots for accessories. In an ideal world skinny Vlock batteries should slot in nicely on the back of the Alexa to keep the set up tidier.
Move much more freely
We were really impressed with the Arri Alexa Mini’s battery life during the shoot, we were getting between an 1.5-2 hours per battery. So a set of 4-6 skinny Vlocks in circulation would be a great addition to the set up, keep weight down yet maximising the movement flexibility. Of coarse this adds a little bit more weight but an experienced Movi op should be able to cope with this addition. Graeme also wanted his Teradeck attached to his belt, which meant another tethered cable. Personally we’d also opt to mount this to either the camera body or Movi handlebars so our operator could move much more freely.
A great addition from Arri is it’s new ALEXA MAP-1 Adapter Plate and side plate. These tiny brackets are compact and lightweight and help to achieve an easy setup on gimbals and mini shoulder rigs. They provide centred 1/4” and 3/8” accessory mounting points and interfaces to mount the RMB-3, MSB-1 and the CCH-2 handle making the transition from Gimbal to handheld mode a smooth and fast switch in a matter of minutes. The MAP-1 can be mounted on top or on bottom of the camera body for shooting in any orientation.
One accessory we fell in love with during the shoot was Tangerines Misfit ATOM clip on mattebox. This tiny little fella weighs just 98grams and was absolutely perfect for Movi use. It made balancing incredibly easy in comparison to other clip ons like the Arri LMB-25 which can seriously hinder an already front-heavy set-up.
The shoot itself went great. The tethered cables caused a few hiccups but this is easy rectifiable on a future shoot. The Movi was used to track horse riders through some woods over difficult terrain. The Alexa weight wasn’t too much of an issue at all and we achieved a great balance. This was definitely down to the shape of the Alexa mini. In hindsight this sort of shoot may have been benefited by our Armourman Gimbal support system. Graeme had a portion of the shoot where he filmed his subject on horse back for over an hour. He knew beforehand he would switch hand held for this section but Movi and Armour man definitely would have been a great combination for this. However Movi came to do a job and it did it well, but more importantly it worked along side the Alexa in harmony. This will surely take gimbals into a new realm of cinematography. One we can’t wait to be a part of.
We could sit hear all day and talk about how beautiful the image from the Alexa is, because it truly is. There was never a question about that, this blog however is strictly an introduction into the combination of the Alexa & the Movi, after all it was built specifically to suit our gimbal needs.
We’re pretty sure the introduction of the Alexa Mini will accelerate the uptake of gimbal use in a professional environments andRed have there work cut out to catch back up. In its current form the Alexa mini is clearly a distance from a full finished product but there are signs that it will dominate our niche for some time to come. It’s shape and build is clearly perfect for a Movi M15, when it’s lens control system is fully integrated it will be possibly the cleanest Movi set up available by quite some distance and this is crucial for Movi operators that strive to keep their rigs as clean as possible.
We’re sure that a range of gimbal themed accessories will follow in the coming months and we can’t wait to see what is released.
If you have any questions about using the Alexa Mini along with the Freefly Movi M15 please feel free to get in touch and we’ll be happy to give you advice. We offer full crew services along with Movi dry hire rental packages.