Arri adds monochrome sensors to its rental fleet – but why?

Arri Monochrome cameras
(Image credit: Arri)

World-renowned cinema camera manufacturer Arri has introduced new models to its ever-expanding fleet of rental cameras, but there is something very different about these three new editions. Each has a dedicated monochrome sensor that only records in Black and White... but why has Arri introduced these three new B&W cameras when Hollywood is built for color... isn't it?

• These are the best cinema cameras (in color)

(Image credit: Arri)

The three new additions to the Arri rental fleet are the Alexa 65 Monochrome, Alexa XT Monochrome, and Alexa Mini LF. The color variants of these black and white-only cameras have been used to shoot major Hollywood blockbusters for years, ranking up best movie of the year awards like they are going out of fashion. But is color going out of fashion now?

In an age where film photography has sky-rocketed in recent years over, and while RED has been producing monochrome cameras for a while, not many films have been released in B&W, so why does Arri think these cameras might bring back the black-and-white movies of yesteryear? It's all to do with tonality and definition.

At the heart of each of these black and white cameras is a modified sensor, which lacks the Bayer mask, allowing each photosite to capture the full spectrum of visible light. With no IR filter in place, monochrome cameras can capture the non-visible infrared light that renders white foliage, milky skin, black eye pupils, and moody skies, offering a look that really can't be replicated from a Color conversation.

The rental fleet comprises the Alexa 65, Alexa Mini LF, and Alexa XT monochrome cameras, covering the 65mm, full-frame, and Super 35 formats. So you are never going to run out of choices for your next feature.

While we have seen an influx of black and white films coming back to the big screen, such as The Lighthouse which was shot on the Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 35mm film cinema camera, it is incredibly expensive to keep shooting and using 35mm, 65mm or even IMAX film (around 75mm). Yet these new Arri monochrome cameras can be used at a fraction of the cost thanks to their digital sensor.

Arri even goes into this process on the Arri rental website stating:

"Offering a visually superior and more creatively committed approach than capturing in color and desaturating in post, the Alexa Monochrome cameras record black-and-white ARRIRAW with increased resolution, crisper blacks, and higher native ASA than regular Alexa's. The rich, high-contrast monochrome images are similar in look to analog panchromatic film".

While I can see the choice to use digital over film, even as a black-and-white photographer myself, I really can't see why you would want to shoot a film in monochrome.

What might not be to everyone's taste is the rather 30s-inspired jazz soundtrack that Arri has used to promote the new Monochrome sensor. I think a more upbeat score would have helped the cause a bit further, rather than suggesting "this is a new camera, that looks like an old one." At least, that's what I got from the promotion material.

Also read our guide to the best cinema cameras, and to the best cine lenses

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Sebastian Oakley
Ecommerce Editor

For nearly two decades Sebastian's work has been published internationally. Originally specializing in Equestrianism, his visuals have been used by the leading names in the equestrian industry such as The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), The Jockey Club, Horse & Hound, and many more for various advertising campaigns, books, and pre/post-event highlights.

He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, holds a Foundation Degree in Equitation Science, and is a Master of Arts in Publishing.  He is a member of Nikon NPS and has been a Nikon user since the film days using a Nikon F5 and saw the digital transition with Nikon's D series cameras and is still to this day the youngest member to be elected into BEWA, The British Equestrian Writers' Association. 

He is familiar with and shows great interest in street, medium, and large format photography with products by Leica, Phase One, Hasselblad, Alpa, and Sinar. Sebastian has also used many cinema cameras from the likes of Sony, RED, ARRI, and everything in between. He now spends his spare time using his trusted Leica M-E or Leica M2 shooting Street photography or general life as he sees it, usually in Black and White.