Major League Cinematography: Shooting With The Arri Amira

Okay, admittedly major league is a bit of stretch. Maybe AA? Regardless, I’ve had my sights set on this camera for while, so it was exciting to finally try one out. For this shoot, I was able to pair the Amira with Leica Summicrons, which were absolutely stunning and a huge component of the system. In this post, though, I’m going to focus on the Amira specifically (as there’s not much more than good things for me to say about Summicrons).

Right off the bat, I noticed was how intuitive the Amira is. You could throw one of these at a photography hobbyist and they’d be able to find their way around pretty easily (which is saying a lot for a camera with this many capabilities). It really is quite simple to use, which is a big plus. With the right baseplate, the camera sits on your shoulder quite comfortably, with all of the menus on the LCD which flips out from the EVF. This makes dialing in your settings a walk in the park, and a comfortable one at that.

Speaking of the camera being on your shoulder, it’s definitely not a lightweight camera. I had the world’s greatest AC/camera PA team working with me, Aidan Sëan McCarthy & Nathaneal Jarrett, who made my life easy by grabbing the camera right after each take. If they hadn’t been there though, the 14 hour commercial production days would have felt even longer. Having said that, because the cameras are so well designed, the balance is perfect for shoulder work. I got a kick out of being able to take my hands away from the grips with my eye up to the viewfinder and have the camera sit perfectly balanced (a word of caution: this is a good way to put your producer on edge).

It’s hard to pick out negative aspects as my experience with the camera on the whole was so positive. The one serious issue I came across was with the color balance in the EVF. I’m admittedly a little spoiled as I regularly use a Zacuto Gratical on my Canon C300 II, which is about as good of an EVF as you can get. However, the balance of the Arri EVF was dramatically warmer than the image it was outputting and recording. This had me consistently checking my white balance as something just seemed off. It didn’t really get any better with a LUT applied either (which I don’t like to use for my viewfinders as it tends to throw off my exposure a bit). I was told about this beforehand by a DP I know, so it didn’t bug me too much, but if it weren’t for that conversation ahead of time I definitely would’ve walked out of there with some blue footage.

The other two issues I came across are more small annoyances rather than actual issues with the Amira. The first is that it was tough to find the ND switch on the front of the camera while shooting. I kept fumbling around behind my mattebox and follow focus. This is something I’m certain that I could get used to, but it does seem a bit of an odd placement. The second issue was the battery life. For a doc-style camera, I found myself swapping out batteries every 40 minutes or so. This wasn’t a huge deal as I came prepared (and again I’m spoiled with the 3 hours I get from my BP-A60s) but it is definitely something to keep in mind for long jobs. I constantly had batteries on rotation.

Now for the good—literally everything else. The Amira just works. The menus are exceptionally easy to navigate. The user buttons are easily customizable—I had them all set with my preferred choices within 5 minutes. Getting time code to sync with the sound engineer was a breeze. Having the EI, white balance, and shutter switches all right there make dialing in your settings a mindless task.

Lastly (and quite importantly), this camera produces absolutely beautiful images. There’s other cameras on the market that compete—notably RED cameras. However, they don’t have the same intuitive menus and ergonomics that these Arris have. It’s clear that Arri developed these cameras with the shooter in mind, which has certainly helped them in setting the gold standard in the world of cinematography.

By David Stewart