Cameras

The Arri Alexa Mini LF is one of the most anticipated cameras ever.  It’s a killer combination of Arri performance, true 4K+ resolution, and a price tag under $100,000. Getting started with the Alexa Mini LF can be intimidating, but here’s what I’ve learned shooting with mine so far.

In general, don’t plan to shoot something important with a camera the first day you use it. It will take you time to make sure all the pieces work together and get your on-set workflow figured out. A prep day is absolutely critical if you’re not already using the kit on a regular basis.

Mini LF Menus and Settings

If you’re not familiar with Arri camera menus, get started with the Mini LF simulator from Arri. This can help you get more comfortable finding settings, formatting media, and other everyday tasks. Be sure to check out the camera explorer, too. Until you can get your hands on the actual camera, learn the basics (or at least how to turn it on).

Essential MiLF Accessories

Next, get to know your accessories. The “ready-to-shoot” kits shipped by Arri include a lot of extras, but the name is a bit misleading. To get started, you’ll need to add some key items, unless you already have them from another camera.

Power

Every camera needs power, of course. Most Arri Alexa Mini LF camera kits will run on Gold Mount battery systems, but some run on V-mount batteries. Since the battery plate isn’t built in to the camera, it’s easy to swap between power methods depending on what works best for you. I run my camera with Gold Mount batteries, or on an AC adapter. So far, I’ve been getting 70-90 minutes out of standard 98wH batteries. These are the largest battery packs allowed on commercial airlines. If you’re not flying, I suggest higher capacity batteries, especially if you’ll be powering other external devices from the camera.

Most kits don’t include an AC power adapter, but I added one to my kit. For shoots on a tripod, it can be easier than feeding the camera batteries all day.

Media

If you can’t record with it, is it really a camera? The ready-to-shoot kit includes 2 1TB Codex Compact Drives. These are different than the Codex drives used in other Arri cameras. Depending on your camera settings, you may find that 2TB of storage isn’t nearly enough. Depending on your budget, you may find additional media is crazy expensive!

Strangely not included in the ready-to-shoot package: a Codex Compact reader. This connects the media to your computer via USB 3.

The Alexa Mini LF can fill up a 1TB mag in under 20 minutes. If you think you’re using a magnetic drive to catch all that data, you’re going to be waiting a looooong time. If you can’t pass the job off to a data manager/DIT, make an investment in large capacity SSD drives. I certainly won’t be shooting open gate ARRIRAW unless someone else is managing that huge data load.

Lenses and Mounts

Well, duh. If you’re using a top of the line cinema camera, I don’t have to remind you to BYO lenses. The camera comes with a native LPL lens mount and a PL adapter. Arri just released an EF lens mount, and there are third-party solutions shipping now. While the original Alexa Mini EF mount fits, it may vignette some lenses in some modes, as Arri designed it for a smaller sensor.

Of course, make sure your lenses will actually cover the image sensor. For some of the more popular lenses, this information is available in the Arri Lens Illumination Tool. A lot of less common lenses will also work in a lot of modes, but you’ll need to test them to be sure. Remember that you probably don’t even need to cover the full sensor, unless you’re somehow shooting in native 1.44:1 aspect.

Getting Started with the Alexa Mini LF

Functional Accessories

Cage and Rails

Many of the accessories designed for use with the Alexa Mini will work for the Alexa Mini LF. The operator side of the camera has changed from the mini, and some hardware won’t fit. Definitely plan on a day to prep your kit if you’re mixing accessories.

Filters

If you’re just getting started with the Alexa Mini LF, I suggest investing in a 15mm system and 4”x5.65” filters.  Going larger starts to sacrifice the advantages of a small camera! The built in FSND is in 2-stop increments, clear, 0.6, 1.2, and 1.8. If you’re looking for a basic filter set, I’d suggest 0.3, something 1.2-1.8, a polarizer, a 0.6 soft grad, and your preferred diffusion.

Most shooters will want to use the camera with the full cage and top handle. If you’re using a gimbal or trying to reduce weight, the camera can be used without the cage.

Camera Support

The size and weight of the Alexa Mini LF is very close to the Alexa Mini. Any nice cinema tripod rated for 15+ pounds should do well. The most popular pairing is probably the Sachtler V18 series. You can mount the camera  to nearly any support system, including jibs or dollies, using the classic Arri dovetail.

The ready-to-shoot kit also includes a shoulder mount with pad, compatible with 19mm rails. While I’m sure there will be plenty of aftermarket kits for customizing your rig, ARRI have done a great job making the camera shoot a variety of shooting styles out-of-the-box.

Audio

Good news! Arri added dual built-in mics for scratch audio. This will make it much easier to get a reference track, in case things go wrong with timecode, or you’re mixing with cameras without timecode in the same project. The built in mic volume levels are fixed and can’t be adjusted at all. You could add your own onboard mic, but I don’t recommend it.

If you want to monitor the audio inputs, the headphone jack is hidden under the MVF-2 viewfinder.

Cables

If you were an early user of the Arri Alexa Mini, you may remember the viewfinder cable was extremely easy to damage. Arri made an incremental improvement in the replacement cable. For the Mini LF, Arri completely redesigned the viewfinder and the cable. So far, it appears to be much more durable.

The back of the camera has many ports. You might want to keep the following cables in your kit:

  • 5-pin Lemo timecode cable
  • 6-pin Lemo audio input cable (your 5-pin cable from the original Alexa Mini won’t work)
  • 8-pin Lemo power cable to 3-pin or 4-pin XLR

Monitoring

The Alexa Mini LF includes an incredible viewfinder and flip out display. If you’ll be pulling focus from the operator side, you might not need an additional monitor. However, if your AC will be pulling focus, you’ll want to mount a small SDI monitor on the assistant side.

The camera includes anamorphic support built in. If you’re shooting with anamorphic lenses, you don’t need a special license, and your SDI outputs can de-squeeze automatically.

The camera can output Log-C footage or use Arri’s custom LUT over SDI. It ONLY records in log or raw, so if you want to leave set with a LUT applied, you’ll need to use an external recorder.

Summary

Getting started with the ARRI Alexa Mini LF will take some time and accessories. Plan a day to prep your kit and get your basic accessories figured out. Hopefully this overview helps you feel a little more prepared.

If you need to hire an Alexa Mini LF owner operator, please reach out. And if you have opinions on getting started with the Arri Alexa Mini LF, leave them in the comments below!


When you’ve been a director of photography for as long as I have, you end up with a lot of stuff! Here’s an abbreviated list of equipment I own and operate regularly.

Cameras

Arri Alexa Plus Camera

  • Arri Alexa Mini LF Camera Kit
  • Sony FS7 Camera Kit
  • Sony A7s II Camera Kit (2)
  • Sony A7r II Camera Kit
  • Sony a6500 Camera Kit
  • GoPro Omni 360-degree VR Camera Kit (2)
  • Sony EX3 Camera Kit
  • Arri Alexa Plus Camera Kit
  • Red Scarlet Camera Kit
  • Custom BulletTime 24-Camera Rig
  • GoPro Hero 7 Black Camera Kit (2)
  • Canon 5D mark III Camera Kit

Lenses

  • Zeiss CP.2 Super-Speed Compact Cinema Prime Lens Set in PL and EF
  • SLR Magic Anamorphot 1.33x PL Lens Set
  • SLR Magic APO Hyperprime Cine Lens Set in PL and EF
  • Zeiss ZE Super Speed Set in EF
  • Fujinon MK series zoom lenses in E
  • Canon Photo Zoom Lenses (including 16-35, 24-70, 24-105, 70-200, and 100-400mm)

Camera Support

  • Sachtler V18 Tripod System
  • Sachtler FSB 8 Carbon Fiber Tripod System
  • Sachtler 7+7 Tripod System
  • Dana Dolly with Speedrail
  • Kessler CineSlider Dolly
  • iFootage Lightweight Camera Jib
  • 100mm Hi Hat
  • 75mm Hi Hat

Lighting, Grip, and Electric

  • Quasar X-Fade 4′ LED tubes (8)
  • Litepanels Astra 6x Panels with Bluetooth (2)
  • 1.2K HMI (PARs and Fresnels, with magnetic ballasts) (4)
  • 8-inch and 6-inch Mole Richardson Daylight Fresnels (4)
  • Flag Kits, Reflectors, and Floppies in Various Sizes
  • Junior, Baby, and C-Stands
  • Electrical Cables (Stingers)
  • Clamps, Sandbags, Apple Boxes, and Everything Else

Other Stuff

  • 17″ Teleprompter
  • Ford Transit Connect Van
  • Laptop Computer with Windows 10, MacDrive, and ShotPut Pro

I have a valid drivers license and US passport. In addition to working as a freelance cinematographer, I often work as a fixer; arranging for rentals, providing insurance, finding crew, and payroll services.

I carry my own liability, workers’ compensation, equipment rental, and umbrella insurance. It’s easy for me to get most video production equipment with a few days’ notice. I am also comfortable and experienced operating cameras from Panasonic , JVC, Blackmagic Design and others.

This equipment can travel with me to set in Chicago, Milwaukee, or the surrounding areas, or be rented separately.


*Note* – Lytro was purchased by Google and subsequently disabled their web viewer and gallery. Unfortunately, it’s no longer easy to post and share light field images, and the images included in this post have been removed.

Looking to photography for the future of video

As a cinematographer, it’s my job to stay on the leading edge of camera technology. Light field photography and video have the potential to change the way we tell stories. Consumer light field video is a long way off, but light field still photography gets more accessible every day. I’ve been experimenting with the Lytro Illum camera, and finally have enough experience to share some of what I’ve learned.

Click or touch around and get a sense for what is possible with light field photography. 

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The Canon 5D mark III has been one of the most popular cameras for shooting video in low-budget applications ever. In 2012, it was the camera to use for reality, corporate, interviews, B-roll, and even some commercials.

Since 2012, it’s been completely outclassed, eclipsed, and out-priced.  It’s always been a great stills camera, but it’s time to send that dinosaur back to the still photographers.  In 2015 so far, I would guess I’ve been asked to use the 5D mark III as an A or B camera more than a dozen times. Whenever I can convince a producer/editor to make the move to something newer, I do.

Here’s a few reasons why producers are still shooting video on the Canon 5D mark III, and why they don’t make sense any more.
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Once your project has a director, producer, cinematographer, and post-production supervisor/editor on board, it’s time to choose the right video camera that makes the most sense for your production. Here’s what you should consider before you pick your camera kit. Read More