Arri Alexa LF Review (vs Red Monstro vs Nikon Z6)

This is my comprehensive review of the Arri Alexa LF:

Exclusive Bonus: Download my camera settings and 7 cinematic custom picture controls for the Nikon Z6. Setup your camera for cinematography, ready to shoot.

And, get bonus videos - How to expose and grade N-log, and How I have tweaked my favorite picture control for video - delivered to your inbox!

Arri Alexa LF Specs and Features

For an overview of the features and specifications of the Arri Alexa LF, check out this video I made:

Lenses for the Arri Alexa LF

Here are the lenses that cover the full frame sensor:

  • Arri Signature Primes*
  • Zeiss Supreme Primes – this is what I ended up using. Probably won’t use them again. Nothing technically wrong, but with breathing and uninspiring image quality it just doesn’t move me.
  • Cooke S7/i Primes – looks nice, good flare control. I could only test it in a small cramped space so couldn’t study it for the Cooke look, but it does look more interesting than the Zeiss Supreme Primes, and no breathing.
  • Leica Thalia – designed for 65mm, but they look amazing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Thalias in Mumbai. Starts at 24mm and not as wide-apertured as the others on this list.
  • Arri Master Primes above 50mm or so (I did use a 100mm Macro for this project)
  • Sigma Cine lenses – they look great and go as wide as 14mm, though the breathing is very high and inconsistent across the focal range.
  • Tokina Cine lenses – very interesting set with no breathing, but I can’t find one anywhere. Heavy lenses, though!
  • Celere HS
  • GECKO-CAM Genesis G35
  • Schneider Xenon FF
  • Rokinon Xeen

The Angenieux Optimo doesn’t cover full frame until about 100mm or so. For zooms, I believe the best bet at the moment are:

*I tried using my contacts with the Arri dealer to find Signature Primes and rental houses with the LF, and they were hardly helpful. The only number I got was for a middle man. It is shameful that Arri doesn’t have an official list of owners on their website that others can use. Please help stop this middleman business, Arri!

Arri Alexa LF vs Red Monstro

Why I picked the Arri Alexa LF over the Red Monstro for this project:

  1. The electronic view finder. The EVF-2 on the Alexa LF is a joy to use. I wish it had better mounting supports or longer extensions, though – and a customizable false color tool.
  2. I could shoot Prores 4444 in open gate, though only up to 60 fps. Later in the project I decided to jump to 90 fps so recorded Arriraw instead.
  3. Size wasn’t a concern since I was using a dolly.
  4. The LF has a built in wireless output for the Teradek and we used that to power an Atomos Shogun and Sony OLED monitor. It is as seamless as pairing an iPhone with its wireless speakers.
  5. There wasn’t a true backup option to the Monstro in Mumbai. If it were not available, I would had to settle for a Dragon. If I can settle for a Dragon, I might as well have picked that instead, because the rental on the Dragon is half of the Monstro. For the Alexas though it’s not that different.

However, this is in no way a put down on the Monstro. I considered it because of its unique qualities:

  • 8K full frame at 60 fps!! Image quality that’s as good as you’re going to get if you know how to grade.
  • Super light-weight carbon fiber body.
  • Nice new 7″ LCD (though poor EVF – I wanted to use the Monstro as a DSLR, but it wasn’t practical).

For general advice on when to pick Red cameras over the Alexa, watch this video:

Arri Alexa LF vs Arri Alexa SXT/XT

Here are the important differences between the new full frame Alexa LF and Alexa SXT:

  • Full frame sensor. The LF has a sensor size of 36.70 x 25.54 mm (44.71 mm circle) , while the SXT has a sensor size of 28.25 x 18.17 mm (33.59 mm circle).
  • Maximum frame rate on the LF is 0.75-90 fps in 4448 x 3096, while on the SXT is 0.75-90 fps in 3424 x 2202, in Arriraw.
  • Data rate for maximum resolution at maximum frame rate in Arriraw is 1,879 MB/s for the LF, and 925 MB/s for the SXT. That’s twice the data! You can use Arri’s online calculator for more details on other resolutions and frame rates.
  • SXT can record on SXR Capture Drives, XR Capture Drives, SxS PRO+ Cards and CFast 2.0 Cards. The LF can only record on SXR Capture Drives and SxS PRO+ Cards.
  • EVF-2 is definitely better than EVF-1. OLED screen and full 1080p resolution.
  • The LF can accept LPL lenses as well as PL-mount lenses.
  • The battery used for the LF is rated at 18.5-34 V, while on the SXT it’s 10.5-34 V. Power consumption on the LF is 10%-35% more, depending on the frame rate, codec and resolution. You can’t use the regular 14.4V batteries with the LF.
  • The camera does get warmer but the sound levels on both are next to nil (20 dbA), so operationally if you’re used to shooting the SXT, you won’t find any difference with the LF.
  • Due to a larger sensor focusing at open apertures is more challenging, similar to anamorphic lenses.
  • You can shoot anamorphic with the LF, but you need to use a crop and that defeats the purpose of using the LF in the first place.
  • And finally, a big plus to the SXT is that it has a Mini sidekick for gimbal and drone use, while the LF doesn’t have an equivalent mini model.

Does the full frame format have a future?

That’s a great question, and I don’t think anyone has a clear answer. Most manufacturers believed in their own hype, and the false hype created by the internet about full frame 35mm.

Speaking to rental houses, it is clear full frame cameras like the Alexa LF, Red Monstro, Sony Venice, Canon C700, etc., are not in demand. At least considering the popularity of the Alexa XT/SXT/Mini, Red Helium/Dragon, Sony F55 and Canon C300 Mark II.

It is extremely risky for them to invest in whole new systems and lenses when demand doesn’t justify it. Most rental houses in Mumbai are buying lenses piecemeal. One house might buy Signature Primes while another buys Cooke S7s, and so on. So if you’re renting from Mumbai, beware of middlemen!

The general consensus amongst those whom I have spoken to is these cameras are a flop, and the sales are disappointing. However, the image quality from these cameras is stellar and possibly better than Super 35mm sensors.

But…the differences are too small for most people to make the jump. The law of diminishing returns!

Arri Alexa LF vs Nikon Z6

Okay, this isn’t a fair comparison by any means. As I showed in my review, the difference in image quality is striking.

I was shooting 8-bit 4:2:0 internally as opposed to Arriraw. However, I have also shot N-log and even then the differences are pretty obvious.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my camera settings and 7 cinematic custom picture controls for the Nikon Z6. Setup your camera for cinematography, ready to shoot.

And, get bonus videos - How to expose and grade N-log, and How I have tweaked my favorite picture control for video - delivered to your inbox!

If you want to see a comprehensive comparison with tests, check out this video comparing the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, Arri Alexa XT and Panasonic GH5:

The bottom line is, even though mirrorless and low end cameras are improving image quality every year, they are still far away from what the Alexa is able to deliver.

Simply put, the Arri Alexa LF can produce great image quality in any challenging situation – poor lighting, time of day, different skin tones, over and under exposure, etc. It produces a whopping 14+ stops of dynamic range over the entire ISO range. In its native or base ISO, it probably tops 16 stops of dynamic range – or at least gets close!

What is great and special about the Nikon Z6 (AmazonB&H) is, the RAW capability (not released yet) in a full frame form factor. That, and the amazing skin tones and colors from the Z6 make it a standout camera in 2019, as of this writing.

A good cinematographer will make a Z6 shine. A bad one will make an Alexa look like wrinkled laundry.

Arri Alexa LF Review

Summing up my experience with the Arri Alexa LF:

Usability: I can’t think of an easier camera for operability than the Alexa. If you have the support gear it works great, just as it should. The balance in all axes is fine, as is expected from Arri. The menus are simple and easy for anybody to learn quickly. You can also use the online menu simulator to get used to the camera.

Image quality: The best in the world. I haven’t tried the Alexa 65 but that’s in a different league, rental only, and very expensive. Having said that, image quality goes hand in hand with lenses. Since I haven’t tested the Arri Signature Primes, it’s hard for me to say whether it reaches Master Prime levels (covers full frame above 50mm).

Data rate: Be prepared for really high data rates in open gate. The LF in maximum frame rate is twice the data as the SXT/XT!

To be honest, I don’t see why anyone would want to not shoot open gate. That is the main USP of this camera! You have customizable frame guides so there is no excuse. You can create your own frame lines with the official Arri Frame Line Composer.

For a 25-setup per day fictional project at 24/25 fps, expect about 1 TB to 4 TB per day. Raise the frame rate and the data rates scale linearly. I shot 3.5 TB over a 14-hour shoot, Arriraw 90 fps and 60 fps.

How can Arri make the Alexa LF better?

Here are some suggestions from my experience shooting with the camera:

  • A more modern DGA system to deliver a stop or two more of DR. And better low light performance. After all, Arri needs to differentiate the LF in a substantial way. I understand this might require a redoing of the color science and a newer version of LogC perhaps. But use those profits from the Alexa!
  • Since the LPL mount can be adapted to other lenses, please introduce adapters that rental houses can buy directly. You could even create a high-quality focal reducer (a la Angenieux) for medium format lenses.
  • Adjustable false color tool for more accurate skin tone exposure.
  • Can we have playback separate from recording? So if I want to playback a recorded clip directly from camera, the AC can do it while the camera is recording. This way we don’t have to record on a separate recorder just for playback.
  • Built-in ND filters as part of your package. The problem with a country like India is there are very few high-quality IRND filters. People are still using the old Tiffen set. This would really help in such markets!
  • 120 fps in open gate!
  • More versatile EVF mounting options. I don’t know if was the problem with the gear the rental house had, but I would appreciate a longer extension as well as a ball head for unlimited angle control.
  • Simultaneous proxy or Prores recording to another media card.
  • Precise spot meter
  • Precise custom white balance circle (less than one degree) for fast and accurate white balance while shooting Prores.
  • Dissipate more heat from the right side.

That’s it for my review of the Arri Alexa LF! If you have any questions please feel to ask in the comments below.