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Storytelling With Large Format Cameras

There are a lot of advantages in using large format cameras for cinematic storytelling which by now are pretty clear, better closeups, better view angles, a beautiful separation between actor and background, and overall a camera that has better attention to detail.

Cameras like ARRI’s ALEXA Mini LF, that takes large format sensors to a whole new level by making it available in a more compact version.

A more compact camera means DP’s can get more creative in the way they choose to use and move the camera around while on set.

Not too long ago large format cameras where thought to be a fad, with some raising questions like would the increase in data be worth it financially and artistically?

But now with such a track record of successful movies being film either partially or entirely with cameras made with full-frame sensors there no doubt large format had made it’s place in both large commercials shoots and cinema.

What are Large Format Cameras?

When talking about cameras in cinema and photography, the term ‘large format’ refers to a camera that records images in a format larger than 4 x 5 inches.

The main advantage of large format cameras is their incredible image resolution.

A 4 X 5 inch image has roughly 16 times the image area of that produced by a 35mm camera and therefore 16 times the total image resolution.

4 x 5 inches is the most common large format but cameras have been produced which capture images anywhere up to 20 x 24 inches and beyond.

Capturing significantly detailed images is what large format cameras are all about. Using a 50mm lens on a 65mm format camera producing a shallow depth and crispier picture equivalent to a 25mm lens on 35mm format.

Not having to use a wide-angle lens to shoot more detailed wide shots and to see more of the frame is the characteristics and optics maintained when using the tighter 50mm lens and shooting it that way.

Using the Large Format Cinema Camera ARRI Alexa Mini LF and the 50mm lenses created a more natural lovely feel with a better image focus with additional details in the shadowing and highlights which cinematographers have been looking for in digital camera cinematography.

DP’s have been using workarounds to achieve a similar effect by using older lenses, using anamorphics, getting flaring in and even adding atmospherics but to no avail. Before seeing the amazing results of the large format cameras, DP’s had fears and worries that the cinematic experience would turn out to be too clean and sharp as with early digital cameras.


Large Format Cinema Cameras Raise in Trend 





It’s believed that the trend started in 2015 with “The Revenant,” a movie for which DP Emmanuel Lubezki won his third Oscar. Around 40% of the movie was shot with the Arri Alexa 65 which is a large format camera.

When the Alexa 65 debuted in 2014, a big question among DPs was whether such a high-resolution, data-rich image was necessary or even wanted by the audience consuming the content.

The camera’s sensor has larger than usual active-imaging area, even larger than the film gate in the original ARRI 65mm film camera, and drastically larger than a 35mm film frame, a standard in the industry for many years.

Today, those concerns appear to have dissolved away. Advocates of large format cameras say that it has been successful due to the fact that large-format images are more immersive and subconsciously perceived as closer to human vision.


Large Format Gives Actors More Room For Expression 




During an ARRI masterclass on Large Format Cinematography, The DP James Laxton guides his audiences through a bar scene while he explains the unique advantages of large format cameras on a typical scene.

According to Laxton, there has been talk that actors don’t like high-resolution cameras, especially older actors who may be a bit more self-conscientious of their weathered features. But in his opinion, high-resolution cameras actually give actors more room to express themselves.

Laxton continues on saying, If you set a Super 35 camera in the exact spot as a large format camera, with identical lenses and same distance from the actor, the Super 35 frame will box in the actor and limit their movement. Laxton feels it’s a shame that we ask actors to sit in a chair or at a precise spot, and tell them not to move.

In comparison, when you’re shooting with an Large Format Camera like the ALEXA 65, for example, you open up the space around the actor and give them more room to move and express themselves freely. All while keeping the desired focal length and perspective.

But why not just move the camera forward or backward in order to match the frame, while using the same lens? Laxton suggests that the distance to the subject is extremely important.

He says there’s something unique about having a certain distance from the camera and lens to a subject, it provides a perspective, that you may not want to change by physically moving closer or farther away.

Large format cameras allow cinematographers to create the same feeling they’re after, with the same depth, but while the actor maintaining more room in the frame to tell a bigger story.


ARRI’s Large Format Cinema Cameras



The ALEXA Mini LF is the newest from LF camera from ARRI and features the same large 25.54 x 36.70 mm size sensor as the ALEXA LF.

The sensor is a bit larger than the traditional 24 x 36 full-frame sensors. In terms of specs, the maximum resolution available is 4.5K (4448 x 3096 ) at up to 40 frames per second.

If you need higher frame rates, you can go up to 90 frames per second in 2K resolution.

You get all this in a very compact case, as the mini LF has about the same size and dimensions as the ALEXA mini with the exception of the media bay on the left side of the camera.

As always with ARRI cameras the colors are natural, skin tones look beautiful and the highlights roll-off is smooth. You can even use the Mini LF for High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut scenarios.

Shot With ALEXA Mini LF:

  • 1917 (2019) First movie shot entirely with the ALEXA Mini LF








The ALEXA LF camera system ARRI Signature Prime lenses, LPL lens mount and PL-to-LPL Adapter.

Using a sensor slightly larger than full frame, the ALEXA LF camera records native 4.5K with ARRI’s best overall image quality.

This camera gives filmmakers the highly desired large-format look while retaining the sensor’s natural colorimetry, pleasing skin tones and stunning capability for HDR workflows.

Shot With ALEXA LF:

  • Joker (2019)
  • Designated Survivor (2016-2019)

ALEXA LF Footage:


The ALEXA 65 Camera is available exclusively through ARRI Rental. Offering a complete large-format solution for high-end motion pictures, television productions and commercials, the system comprises a 65 mm digital cinema camera, custom-designed prime and zoom lenses, and fast, efficient workflow tools.

Before the resent burst in Large format camera releases, the ALEXA 65 was the go to camera for DP’s that disliked digital and where loyal to film cameras because of it’s large sensor giving this digital camera a large format film look.


Shot with ALEXA 65:

  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
  • Joker (2019)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) …
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) …
  • Live by Night (2016) …
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) …
  • The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) …
  • Dogs of Berlin (2018)
  • Passengers (2016)
  • Dark (2017)
  • Altered Carbon (2018)
  • Bright (2017)
  • Doctor Strange (2016)
  • Assassin’s Creed (2016)
  • The Boss (2016)
  • The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  • Allegiant (2016)
  • Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • How to Be Single (2016)
  • Snowden (2016)
  • The Revenant (2015)
  • Spectre (2015)
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)


ALEXA 65 Footage:



ARRI Large Format Camera Specifications


Sensor size: 36.7 x 25.54

Max Resolution: 4448 x 3096

Media: Codex Compact Drive

Codec: ARRIRAW, ProRes, 4444 XQ

Max FPS: 40 (in Max Res)

DR: 14.5 stops

Data Rate: 500 MB/s


Sensor size: 36.7 x 25.54

Max Resolution: 4448 x 3096

Media: SXR Drive

Codec: ARRIRAW, ProRes, 4444 XQ

Max FPS: 90 (in Max Res)

DR:14.5 stops

Data Rate: 500 MB/s


Sensor size: 54.12 x 25.58

Max Resolution: 6560 x 3102

Media: XR Drive


Max FPS: 60 (in Max Res)

DR: 14 Stops

Data Rate: 740 MB/s



The large format revolution is here, killing many of the arguments and questions of it being profitable or if even desired by audiences.

With such success coming from projects created with the frame size it’s had to argue against it.

As technological advances increase the data captured on each frame the viewing experience one the big screen will naturally only become more and more immersive giving us an ever-improving form of entertainment.