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Mini But Mighty: Life With ARRI’s ALEXA Mini LF

“It’s incredible how so much technology, with such a big sensor, can find its place in such a small, but still robust, camera body.”

The R&D for the new ALEXA Mini LF from ARRI probably sounded something like this, “Okay, let’s take something people already love, like the ALEXA Mini, and do that, but better.” 

The results of that speculative brainstorming session are the ALEXA Mini LF, which marries the compact size of the ALEXA Mini with the large format sensor of the ALEXA LF. “The large format picture quality is absolutely stunning, just like the original LF,” Cinematographer Simon Ozolins (ACS) tells ARRI, “but the small form factor makes it the ideal companion for all my handheld work. The new viewfinder also needs a mention, it’s [the] clearest and most accurate EVF I’ve ever used.” 

Read more: “Full Frame” Sensors: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

ARRI gathered feedback from owners and users of the MINI and built them what they asked for, a small camera for making big films. “With the ALEXA LF, you have everything you need in one body, including higher frame rate,” says cinematographer Tom Faehrmann (BVK). “The ALEXA Mini LF would be my first choice regarding flexibility and versatility. It’s incredible how so much technology, with such a big sensor, can find its place in such a small, but still robust, camera body.”

The LF is essentially the same size and shape as the Mini, weighing in at just 11 ounces (300 grams) more than its predecessor.  The trick was how to get a much larger sensor, as well as its cooling needs, into that small, carbon fiber body.

The sensor in the Mini LF is the same as the one in the full-size ALEXA LF. It is a little larger than full frame, measuring 36.7mm x 25.54mm.  It is the second largest sensor currently available in a digital cinema camera, after ARRI’s ALEXA 65. The LF sensor is based on two of the company’s ALEV-III sensors turned vertical and spliced together.

Download This: Jon Fauer’s ARRI Alexa Mini LF Special Report

The aspect ratio agnostic sensor in the Mini LF can shoot in three different modes:

• LF Open Gate  Full aperture 4448 x 3096 (4.5K), 36.70 x 25.54 mm, up to 90 fps

• LF 16:9 – 4K UHD 3840 x 2160, 31.68 x 17.82 mm, up to 90 fps

• LF 2.39:1 – Full width spherical widescreen 4448 x 1856, 36.70 x 15.31 mm, up to 150 fps

ARRI already has announced that a set of Super 35 modes will be available in an upcoming Software Update Package (SUP).

The LF 16:9 mode has been approved for production by Netflix.

Also crammed into that Mini LF body are three, internal, motorized, full-spectrum, neutral density (FSND) filters: 0.6,1.2, and 1.8.  The camera also comes with a 4×5.65 FSND 0.3, which matches the internal filters and enables you to hit every stop from .03 to 2.1.

Just like its big sister, the ALEXA Mini LF is outfitted with an LPL lens mount, optimized for large format sensors. The LPL mount accommodates all of the ARRI Signature Primes, as well as all future, large format lenses.

The camera can record four channels of audio, 1 and 2 always being Line-in from the 6-pin audio connector and 3 and 4 always for the pair of internal scratch mics.

The Mini LF comes with a new viewfinder, the MVF-2. Like the ALEXA Mini’s viewfinder, the MVF-2 is a combination of EVF and flip-out LCD. Similar looking to the ALEXA Mini’s viewfinder, the MVF-2 is higher quality product, with a 4” LCD rather than the 3” of the earlier viewfinder.

The eyepiece, which offers low distortion, high contrast, and is evenly illuminated, is based on the ARRICAM design. 

Battery mounts are for standard 12V V-Lock and Gold Mount batteries. The voltage input ranges from 11 V to 34 V, which can easily be satisfied with any 14.4 V or 24 V on-board battery.

Read Matthew Allard’s ARRI ALEXA Mini LF Review

No camera is perfect for everyone or every job, but working from user input and based on feedback from the field, the ALEXA Mini LF comes close for a lot of people and situations. “Mini LF fills a very important gap,” says Drunk History and Gentefied DP, Logan Schneider. “There are a lot of jobs who want the image quality of the LF but need at least one small camera and so they forced to use different platforms. And now finally there is a way to kind of fit all the different production challenges with the LF model. It opens up a lot of doors for different types of production.”

Roger Deakins (BSC, ASC) was the first to receive a working prototype of the Mini LF and went on to win the Academy Award for Cinematography having used it to shoot 1917. Deakins says, “The image that the Mini LF and the Signature Primes produce seems, to me, more like what my eyes see than anything else I have experienced so far.”

Read more: 1917: How Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins Made Their “One-Shot” War Epic