From the Front Line: Arriflex D-21
On Sunday I finally had a chance to get my hands on the Arri D-21 (albeit long after its short-lived heyday) while firsting on a one-day reshoot of an NYU graduate thesis film. I checked out at CSC in Secaucus, NJ where I was walked through the camera’s features by Cecilia Chien and was impressed with the image quality. CSC was generous enough to donate the camera package for the project in their long tradition of supporting student and independent filmmakers.
The camera boasts several advantages:
optical shutter/viewing system
dual-link output for capturing ArriRaw at 2K resolution
simple mounting of offboard recording systems (e.g. AJA KiPro, S2, Codex)
4:3 sensor optimal for 2x anamorphic lenses
optional wireless lens control panel
The drawbacks though are substantial when compared to some of the latest market cameras such as the Alexa or Red cameras. For example, while Arri’s industry-dominating Alexa sensors are natively 800 ISO, the D-21 was designed with a 200 ISO, which can put a hit on your lighting budget. And even though it was explained to us that you can bump the ISO up in-camera to 400 before you start to notice noise, it comes away feeling somewhat archaic next to its younger, sexier competitors. It’s also a beast weighing in at a hefty 24 lbs (body and viewfinder) compared to the Alexa’s 16.9 lbs. Add on rods, lens, monitor, follow focus, and matte-box and handheld shots turn into “loose-head on sticks” pretty quickly. Another drawback is the necessity to run the shutter in order to activate the video output system, limiting the effectiveness of the optical viewfinder. This may serve as a red flag for fanboys of the Alexa Studio which CSC acquired only last week and boasts a similar optical viewing system.
The D-21 does NOT have any mode of recording onboard, so you are forced to invest in an offboard recording device. We opted for the AJA KiPro (pictured above mounted to the top-rear of the camera) recording to 1920×1080 Apple ProRes 422HQ files to simplify the post-production workflow. Along with a set of Ultra Primes and an Allura 45-250mm zoom, the package certainly served well to capture some gorgeous images comparable to anything on the market today.
The Arriflex D-21 would certainly be a smart option for an indie feature or spec commercial production with a reasonable lighting budget. And with the Alexa running the show, you can bet Arri will be happy to dust one off and get it off the shelf in hopes of forming a lasting relationship with what they hope will become a loyal customer.