Since I first launched this blog, one of my greatest missions has been to achieve the “Alexa look” on a budget. While most of my efforts have involved using a unique mix of color grading & carefully planned lighting with lower budget cameras, more recently I’ve been exploring another path – Making a true Arri Alexa more cost effective.
It all began when I caught wind of Arri’s CPO Program, which I spoke about in more detail in this article. In short, Arri’s original Alexa bodies have come down in price substantially over the years, and Arri’s new pre-owned platform has made it easy to buy them reliably.
But as we all know, the camera body itself is not the only expense to consider when investing in a camera system. The lenses are another huge consideration, particularly once you get into PL-mount territory, where even average lenses can run many thousands of dollars a pop.
Although I’ve never been much of a Canon shooter, I have invested in a lot of EF glass over the years… Largely because EF mounts have become standard on cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini (which I also own), and are adaptable to most mirrorless cameras.
When I first bought my Alexa Plus 4:3, I weighed whether I should keeping my Canon glass and simply swap the Alexa mount from PL to EF, or alternatively sell all of my EF glass and buy all new PL lenses.
In the end, I decided it would make more sense to convert the camera to EF using a Leitax mount (more on that below), which I could easily swap back to PL when needed for future projects.
I didn’t simply make this decision because I owned EF lenses – although that was part of it… The bigger factor was my discovery of the Leica R Mount lenses, which are not only beautiful optically, but also very affordable and easily adaptable to EF.
Had I gone the PL route, I would have likely wound up with a newer lens kit that was middle of the road (quality-wise), or a vintage kit that needed a lot of work. In effect, I would be paying for the housing more than the glass itself.
By taking the EF path, the door was opened to easily adapt vintage Leica R lenses, which offered superior quality and a smaller form factor.
I’ve shot with a lot of vintage lenses, and to me the Leica R’s offer the best bang for your buck in many ways. Not only are they extremely cost effective on the used market (my 50mm cost about $300), but they also deliver a truly stunning look. They are surprisingly sharp, and can easily match up to many modern lenses with respect to overall resolution. But because they are several decades old, they also have a unique quality to them (particularly in the bokeh) that gives them just a hint of vintage flare.
Another great benefit of the Leica R’s is that they cover full frame sensors. While I don’t need FF coverage with the Alexa, I can still benefit from the added coverage when using these lenses on some of my DSLRs or other larger sensors cameras.
In doing my research, I came across a company in Europe called Leitax. They make mounts and adapters for all sorts of cameras, and manufacture both the EF mount for Alexa cameras, as well as the EF adapter for Leica R lenses.
I decided to pull the trigger and purchase a single 50mm Leica R lens to start, as well as the Alexa kit from Leitax.
Installing the new mount was surprisingly easy, but also quite nerve wracking. Any time you do open heart surgery on an Alexa, your own heart starts to race… Below is a visual breakdown of how the mount was installed.
First, a picture of the camera mount beforehand –
The very first step is to remove the existing PL mount. If you have an Alexa and are attempting to do this, know that you will need a series of torx screwdrivers. I bought a multi-tool for $10 that covered all the different sizes, and was a lifesaver. Each component uses a slightly different torx size.
To start, you have to unscrew all 7 of the main torx screws that hold the mount in place. These screws will not come out all the way, they just need to be loosened. Once complete, you can pull the mount off very carefully, but will need to use some force – There is a suction system that keeps it stuck onto the camera body, even after the screws are loosened.
To fully remove the PL mount though, you also have to disconnect the electronic ribbon that runs from the camera into the mount. There are 4 screws on the side of the PL mount that when removed, open up a little flap where you can unhinge the electronic connection.
Once this step is complete, you can slide the mount off and the ribbon/wire will slip through the small opening on the circuit board.
Then, you wind up with something that looks like this –
In the picture above, I had already carefully pushed the ribbon cable back into the body where it is stored. You can make it out on the left side of the silver plate – the little rectangular opening.
The next step of course is to install the Leitax EF mount. This part is fairly quick and easy. You start by placing the Leitax coupling ring inside the Alexa – This is a black rubbery piece that serves as a buffer between the camera body and the mount.
Then, you screw the metal Leitax mount into the camera body using the screws provided.
The end result looks like this –
And just like that, the new mount is installed!
My last step was to convert my Leica R 50mm lens to EF so it could be used with the new camera mount. This simply involved screwing the Leitax EF ring on top of the existing 50mm lens back. Here is a quick before and after shot of the lens once the EF ring was added.
This step took only a minute or two to complete, and with that I was able to fully secure the Leica 50mm to the camera body –
I was relieved to boot up the camera and see a crystal clear image in the viewfinder. No focusing issues or other problems, just a gorgeous image coming through that tiny 50mm lens onto the Alexa sensor.
The Leitax mount is great in that it rotates to really lock in your lens, much like a PL system. It doesn’t simply click in like a standard EF mount, which gives you some added confidence when using heavier lenses or follow focus systems.
If I ever want to use PL lenses on the camera, I can simply use a Leitax PL adapter, which will allow me to go from EF to PL on this camera without fully changing the mount again.
All-in, I spent about $300 on the lens and $500 for the Leitax kit. So for about $800 total I was able to convert the camera and have some awesome glass to go with it.
This setup may not be ideal for everyone, but for my specific needs it’s nearly perfect. I now have the flexibility to use more lenses with the Alexa than ever before, and have done so very cost effectively.
I’ll certainly still be shooting on my mirrorless cameras, Blackmagic’s and other lower-cost systems on many projects. Every camera is uniquely qualified for different types of shooting scenarios…
But this modification just opened the door for me to put the Alexa to use on even more productions, and it is more versatile than ever. And now I’ll definitely be investing in more Leica R glass to build out a full kit.
Hopefully this is helpful for those of you considering a similar path. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section below!
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LukeFebruary 3, 2022 at 3:24 pm
Great article. Inspired me to get a Leitax mount as well. I have having issues connecting the EVF cable in the camera body though, the mount is in the way for the cable to go all the way in. Did you have the same issue?j
HannahFebruary 3, 2022 at 12:13 am
Great review my friend. I’m looking at a used XT with 2,000 hours, serviced. How was your experience for shoulder mount filming? I’m sure the balance is great to help with the weight. Easy rig? Thank you!
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PeterNovember 25, 2019 at 6:44 pm
Hey Noam, thanks for the article. I’m considering getting a classic. Do you use yours with an Easyrig for handheld?
Noam KrollMarch 3, 2020 at 12:17 am
Sorry for the delay, Peter. I have used both with and without an easy rig, but certainly on longer shoots the rig helps!
SteveOctober 20, 2019 at 4:45 am
Still shooting on the Alexa? How’s it been?
Noam KrollNovember 22, 2019 at 9:28 pm
Yes – It’s been a treat. A year later and still loving this thing – not just for narrative, but even on commercial/corporate gigs too.
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LoJune 25, 2019 at 8:47 am
There is an alternative to Arri CPO. CVP is selling used Alexas which are checked by their services. They can also send them to Arri to get an Arri service certificate after a full inspection and calibration for less than 1000€/$. The CPO program offers a 1year warranty though, that you will have to pay for, after getting the certificate. It’s expensive: more than 4000€. But after having been checked by Arri (same inspection as CPO), if you’re not in the rental business and if you are behaving nice with your camera, I think you can get rid of the 1 year warranty. And you can get a XT Plus, which is future proof especially for those who think that the new Alexas (65 and LF) are less organic and too sharp, for just a bit more than a Classic 4/3 through CPO.
Noam KrollAugust 22, 2019 at 1:33 am
Thanks for sharing this!
Stevan MenaJune 21, 2019 at 2:41 pm
Admire your work, but I don’t quite understand the affection for the Alexa when the Blackmagic is only percentage points behind in quality, and I doubt anyone would pass the AB test who isn’t a cameraman. So why care? The top BM cam can be purchased for under 10k complete, and I’ll put it up against anything. I shot my last film on the BM pocket (the original), and the colorist at Duart Labs was sure I shot on film.
And considering the need to cut costs in todays reality of piracy and diminishing returns, why advocate for spending money where you don’t need to? I’ll take a new BM over an old Alexa any day. Feels like an ego thing more than anything, like envy over the guys who get paid to do this work by studios – I want what they have kind of thing. The point of what BM is doing is to negate that argument and level the playing field. And they have. It’s all fun, sure, but I think this reinforces a stereotype that we are only as good as our gear. It deviates from what’s important, and thats cast and script. No one will ever buy your film because it had great dynamic range.
I shot all of my films on film, until I got the BM pocket. I’ve never looked back.
This is all just my opinion, hope I didn’t offend anyone. Just my worthless 2 cents.
Noam KrollAugust 22, 2019 at 1:29 am
I love Blackmagic and continue to use their products to this day. I just also love the Alexa-look, not for technical reasons, but just as an aesthetic choice. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a first and only camera for a new filmmaker, but it’s great to have the option to purchase a CPO body for those of us who love the Alexa look.