But in the case of the ARRI Alexa, you only have five customizable buttons with different options. With limited real estate, choosing which functions you customize can speed you up — or slow you down.
So how do you decide what functions make the cut?
There is no hard and fast rule for this, it will depend entirely on how you work with the director of photography and/or camera operator. There are, however, a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when setting up your custom buttons:
1. Put the Needs of the Camera Operator First
It’s no accident that the Alexa mirrors three of the custom user buttons on the operator’s side of the camera. It’s so you have access to them when on the smart side of the camera, but also so the operator can utilize them at their conveinence.
As a camera assistant, you are only one-half of a team that operates the camera.
When you’re setting up the buttons, if you have to make a choice between a function you need and one the camera operator needs, always choose what they need. They may not have the time nor the know-how to navigate the menus like you do.
Plus they’re your boss — make their life easy and you’ll be happier for it.
2. Something Cool Isn’t Always Necessary
It’s nice that ARRI enables things like switching frame line colors as a custom button, but is it really necessary? I’d say 98% of the time it really isn’t important to have that setting on the limited real-estate of the custom user menu.
Be extremely prudent about what you put on those buttons and make sure each one is serving its purpose to the fullest extent.
Just because an option is cool or nice to have doesn’t mean you should have it available.
3. Prioritize According to Frequency
How I normally set up custom user buttons is by thinking about which settings I need to access the most — not necessarily which ones are the most important.
This often leads to tough choices: Do you use a button to format the SxS cards or do you use a button to do a false exposure check?
Well if you’re only formatting cards once every two hours, but checking exposure multiple times per setup, the choice is obvious even though formatting cards is, technically, a more important function.
During prep, think back to previous shoots and which functions you used the most. Those are the ones that will go on the user buttons.
Also, don’t be afraid to adapt as the shoot goes on and you develop a better working relationship with the rest of your team.
How Do You Choose to Assign Custom Buttons?
By utilizing the customization options of the ARRI Alexa, you’re able to take further control of an already powerful camera. If programmed correctly, it makes you that much more efficient and a faster camera assistant.
So, how do you customize your buttons? Do you assign them according to your needs or the camera operator’s? If you share them, how do you split them up?
I’d love for you to expand on what I started in the post and share what advice you have for customizing a camera in the comments!
Want better control of the Alexa? Download your free copy of the ARRI Alexa Pocket Guide.