Film “And” Digital

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If digital cameras were omitted and film cameras were made the norm, I can bet that half the kids involved would quit. Film teaches discipline, patience, and most importantly, the ability to question. Question, because film is pricey and finite. If a shot goes wrong, or doesn’t make sense to the entirety of the film, that’s a whole lot of money, footage, and time gone to waste. Whenever you set those sprockets spinning, you better know you thought that shot through and though. With digital it’s all invisible, you lose none and only get more. It’s less a question of should I shoot this shot, than how can I get the shot we’re trying for. It’s a computational process for a computational tool. It’s the “More is better” idea, where you shoot everything you can and pick at it later. Of course digital can be used with the same discipline film requires, but as a tool digital does not demand it from you.   

 

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I see this new era of filmmakers and their ‘handicam‘ realist style that runs just like they were shot, by hitting the record button. I’d like to think film has evolved beyond actualities, (The very early use of film as a tool to document common going on’s) but even those sprung from the intricate eyes of photographers, and were at the very least composed well. To each their own of course, but I’d love to stick all the beginner digital filmmakers in a splicing room and see how many are up to the handy task.   

But most filmgoers will say who cares? I can’t tell the difference, hell I don’t even know what the difference is? And this is a sort of beautiful thing I think, because everything in a film is making a difference without them realizing. Part of me wishes I could unlearn the technicalities, to experience a film without knowing the inner workings behind it. I can recall feeling certain ways, knowing certain things were to come, all through some sort of pure language that I couldn’t pin words to. When Tarantino zooms up slow on a door, you know something’s going to come crashing through that door. When a shot is lit intricately with soft light, and in low contrast, one may feel the delicacy without knowing how or why. You feel as if you came to these short conclusions, or emotions, on your own, but you have been guided carefully without knowing. The magic of the film is in this mystery, the illusion. I’m less vulnerable to it now, but occasionally a film will catch me off guard and that sense will be recalledSo whether a film is shot on film, or on digital, and whether or not you’re aware of those differences, that difference is still madeThe visual nuances speak to your subconscious, and the more blatant happenings to your conscious. Never underestimate the unknown.  Where was I again?  

 

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So digital is here, and it’s going to stay. You can’t fight it, it can only be accepted. It’s the age of the computer for better or worse. But I can say as a camera geek, that the development of digital camera’s are as misguided as their methodology can be. What I mean is these camera companies keep pushing the “more is better” even in their idea of improvement. So the RED cameras will keep toting their ‘new 8k resolution’ (A resolution film has both matched and vastly outdone for decades) as a fact of their cameras quality. But resolution only goes so far to make an image, and digital projectors are only up to 4k. The power of the camera is defined by it’s latitude (depth of light), it’s colors, and it’s texture. Arri knows this, and their Arri Alexa digital camera remains at 2k resolution. It has a beautifully filmic look, with lively flesh tones, and impressive dynamic range. Arri refuses to up the resolution, because it comes at the cost of the cameras latitude. Depth of light over resolution any day; and yet the Arri Alexa is the exception to the rule.   

 

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(Shot on Digital)

 

Perhaps these companies should adopt the film ideology of should, rather than can. Though my bias is clear, these are simply two different types of tools to tell stories with, who am I to proclaim one or the other to doom?  So what are the differences in terms of the image each format produces? Digital handles darkness better, or rather, differently than film. More information is kept in the darker areas of the image, where film ‘falls off’ or often will show complete black when digital would maintain something. But put a light to it and film looks stellar. Film handles this light with more depth. There’s a higher ‘dynamic range’ as in more variation of light and shadow. Digital generally has lower latitude, and hence a flatter more simplistic handling of light.  

 

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Shot On Film 

 

When it comes to color, film offers more life. Watch a movie shot on film and take note of the fleshy skintones, the rich natural pallete… Digital is simply incapable of reproducing colors in the same way. It relies on heavy manipulation in post-production; hours on end ‘color grading’ which consists of someone boosting and altering the raw footage’s colors until the director/cinematographer find it satisfactory. But the more you manipulate, the more degradation occurs. You spend your time trying for film colors, and start losing even more on competing with it’s latitude.  Film does what it does on it’s own right out of the lab. Often filmmakers in a time crunch will use film stock as a way to carry the look of what their shooting. Take Breaking Bad, or True Detective for instance; two series noted for their cinematography and filmed on a tight shooting schedule. Digital has more opportunity when it comes to the same manipulation one can come to problem with. Look at Sin City, that’s a beautiful movie that could not have been done on film, period. New possibilities come from digital’s capacity for specific manipulation, and that alone is enough to say in it’s defense.  

So there, I love film, and it comes two-fold now. Lets hope the two remain.   

 

 

Here are some film/digital screens for comparison. The first stills are film, the latter are digital. One of the film stills is from 1975 and 1978 (and they still look great). See if you can pinpoint at which point the stills become digital!

 

 

Shot on Film

 

 

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960  autumn sonata moon blu-ray X02 Shot On Digital

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