Full Frame Cinema Camera Comparison - ARRI Alexa LF vs RED Monstro VV vs Canon C700 FF vs Sony Venice

August 11, 2018
Tips and Techniques
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Full-Frame cinema is officially here, ladies and gentlemen. Lenses are circulating, cameras are being manufactured, and demand has never been higher. RED, ARRI, Canon, and Sony all have planted their flags firmly in the fertile soil of Full-Frame cinematography. So for those of you itching to get into the game, you of course want to know: which camera is the best? Well…

Cinema Camera Capabilities?

The short answer is that these cameras are surprisingly close on paper. Just looking at a specs sheet (and we did), you would have a hard time picking them apart. Especially from the perspective of someone firmly in the mirrorless world, you would be hard-pressed to find any clear losers among this lot. But although these are all high-resolution, high-spec, full-frame cinema cameras, they are all aimed at very different kinds of people and productions. So that means it’s time for another camera comparison roundup!

Alexa LF Quick Take

Courtesy of The Camera Department

The ARRI name calls to mind a sort of dignified dedication to reliability and excellence. However, ARRI has also earned a reputation for providing exactly the features needed, and nothing more, in pursuit of a clean, straightforward, German sort of utility in their cameras. This is the highest-price and lowest-specced camera in the lineup, but I guarantee it will see tremendous mileage in the coming years, due largely to the respect and loyalty ARRI has cultivated among the highest echelon of cinematographers.

RED Monstro VV Quick Take

It has been about a decade now since RED came into the game and has been a consistent rival to ARRI’s throne, bringing a high-octane innovative approach to camera design. This is the second-most expensive camera on the list, and also by far the strongest on paper - nobody else can touch that 8K sensor. Some of the other cameras on this list can only reach their highest potential with a secondary recording unit attached to the back. RED, along with the ARRI Alexa LF, does it all internally without breaking a sweat. If the relentless pursuit of more pixels, wider color spaces, and higher bit depth calls to you, the Monstro VV may be the right fit. Its modularity and upgradeability will keep its users satisfied and relevant for years to come.

Canon C700 FF Quick Take

Courtesy of RedShark News

Canon is looking to reclaim its throne atop the Full-Frame world, having touched off the craze with its 5D Mark II in 2008. Like ARRI, its remarkable and unique color science may be one of its biggest assets. But unlike ARRI, it has set its sights on the more up-and-coming users, hoping to capture their imaginations (and rentals) before they ever make it to ARRI. The C700 FF brings its signature features from the cheaper C-series cameras (lightning fast autofocus, internal ND filters, and unbelievable low-light technology) straight to the top of the food chain. Users that know and love these features may not see any reason to leave an ecosystem that provides them so readily alongside the pro features they need (at least, I believe that’s Canon’s hope).

Sony Venice Quick Take

Courtesy of ProVideo Coalition

The Sony Venice is a strange beast. It appears to have been designed to be everything to everyone. It comes with a padded shoulder grip and internal NDs, yet is marketed as also being small enough for drone work. Its headline feature is the full-frame 6K sensor, but its 4K prowess is also prominent. The base price of the camera is low, but many of its biggest features can only be obtained by license, many of which can be “rented” by the week - in other words, this camera is really what you make of it. The Sony Venice may quickly become the unsung workhorse of Full-Frame cinema - flexible, affordable, and yet never quite commanding the same brand loyalty as its peers.

Post-Production Workflows

One of the most important aspects of a camera is the intended destination and handling of the footage coming off of it. The media it records to, the formats it captures, and the recommended image pipeline all shape and define the usefulness of the camera in different environments. 

ARRI Alexa LF- Upscaling for Everyone!

Detroit was shot at 1600x900, and it looked fine in theaters

ARRI has long been dismissive of the argument that more pixels are inherently better. The Alexa LF is their first 4K camera that isn’t an oversized brute (see: Alexa65), and they’ve been doing just fine with 3.2kL sensors up until now. Their ARRIRAW is a firehose of uncompressed data, which can then be upscaled, cropped, or manipulated as needed. Get it right in-camera and you can take it anywhere, they seem to say.

However, that’s not the only way to work. Like many of the cameras on this list, it also shoots multiple flavors of ProRes, creating a simple, fairly universal workaround for this whole problem. ProRes isn’t a small codec by any means, but it is still much simpler to work with than ARRIRAW. The Alexa LF also records lower resolutions through downsampling rather than sensor-cropping, making sharp full-frame 2K capture a real option in scenarios where the extra resolution would be wasted.

RED Monstro VV- Downscaling for Everyone!

 

RED cameras are at their best when they are recording the entire sensor readout. You may experiment with lower resolutions to achieve higher frame rates, but you will likely default to the maximum resolution of the camera. Unlike the Alexa, a 2K image shot on a RED Monstro VV will be approaching a 4x crop on the sensor- not much help at all. Maybe you can think about it as future-proofing your footage.

Whether in ProRes or Redcode RAW, you will be dealing with incredibly high-resolution images on a regular basis. However, their .r3d RAW files are compressed at various ratios of your choosing, which in many cases, balances out the editing workload incurred by the ridiculous resolution. Not only that, but they are natively supported by most editing software, skipping a step required by most other RAW formats. The ability to modulate your compression level and easy editing makes this the friendliest RAW experience around today - but it’s still a RAW workflow.

Canon C700 FF - Capture What You Need

 

Canon has chosen not to attach itself to a specific ideology or design principle, instead offering a myriad of options. While the C700 FF sports a 5.9K sensor, it downsamples that very well to a rich 4K experience that doesn’t crop. It records XF-AVC, a more compressed and broadcast-oriented codec, as well as trusty ProRes and, of course, Canon’s own RAW format. However, the RAW recording and the highest frame rates are available only with their custom Codex recorder, which attaches to the back of the camera.

Stripped down, the Canon C700 FF is comfortable in a run-and-gun or high-end broadcast environment. Its access to compressed codecs and ability to downsample to the resolution you need assure that. But it's uncompressed 5.9K RAW earns it a seat at the cinema table, where DITs are commonplace. 

Sony Venice - What do You Want it to Do?

Better question: where doesn't it fit?

Sony once described the Venice as “aspect ratio agnostic” - but I suspect it is more accurate to say that it is “workflow agnostic.” It records Sony’s superbly-compressed XAVC, workhorse ProRes, and a new compressed RAW format they call X-OCN (Original Camera Negative, don’t ask what the X stands for). X-OCN is promised to be as simple to work with as RED’s .r3d files. Adobe, Avid, and more have promised their support, and the multiple compression levels make playback a (relative) breeze.

But - like the Canon C700 FF, it too is expandable via a small detachable recorder. With this you get Sony’s 16-bit Linear RAW (more similar to ARRIRAW), higher frame rates, up to 6K recording, and more. Unfortunately, the 6K also requires a license - it is the first of many planned or rumored. Dual ISO is also said to be on the horizon, via a paid license or upgrade. Whatever workflow you need, there is a way to achieve it with the Sony Venice. And if there isn’t yet, there will be in the near future.

What Kind of Filmmaker Are You?

The post-production workflow isn’t the only place that these cameras differentiate themselves. Their build, the physical dimensions and layout, can tell you everything you need to know about their target demographic.

C700 FF on a Steadicam. Courtesy of Joseph Adams.

ARRI Alexa LF is a full-sized camera. It has a shoulder-groove, a dedicated EVF, physical buttons galore, and is shaped so as to be somewhat balanced on the shoulder. It is 17 pounds, far beyond what most reasonable operators would want to lug around all day in the field. Especially once lenses, batteries, and all the other accessories and bits are added, the Alexa LF becomes somewhat unwieldy. It is primarily a studio camera, meant to be at home in large productions.

Canon C700 FF? Similar build, very different story. This is a 7 pound camera that would be just as much at home on a shoulder as on a tripod. It is simply a medium-large rectangular block at its core, but ships with a shoulder mount and is laid out in a way that would be friendly to an ENG operator or a camera operator on location for long periods of time. The addition of internal ND filters seems to support this hypothesis as well. But despite its weight, the dimensions of this camera make it an awkward fit for gimbals and drones.

The Venice is a sort of in-betweeny camera. It weighs a solid 8 pounds (more than the C700FF), and can be equipped with a small shoulder mount for handheld work. It, too, comes equipped with internal ND filters that make it a strong do-it-all camera. But it is shorter and boxier than the Canon, which makes it significantly more friendly to drones and gimbals.

The RED Monstro VV is 3.2 pounds at its most stripped-down, making it both the highest-spec and lowest-weight camera on the list. It makes significant concessions to ergonomics, selling even the side grip as an add-on, but in the process becomes the single most mountable, placeable, flyable full-frame cinema camera.

Conclusions

To reiterate what was said at the top: we live in a golden era of digital cinematography. To shrug at the power and importance of any of these cameras is to ignore that fact. Four of the most prominent camera manufacturers have taken four very different swings at creating a full-frame cinema camera, and all four are valid, powerful, and worthy of our respect. And this is only the first generation! My god, can you imagine the state of full-frame cinema in 2025?

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Andrew Collings

I'm a filmmaker who sets up shop at the crossroads between a technician, a storyteller, and an artist. I enjoy reverse-engineering everything I see, whether that's a popular film, a vintage lens, or a rusty bicycle. I live for that moment when the solution to a once-unsolvable problem snaps into focus; when the purpose of a specific lever or edit or shot becomes clear.

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