Official Artist
Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
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Film vs. Digital

The difference between flm and video was commented on in one of my blogs, so I decided to write up a quick discussion topic for this.

There used to be a huge divide between film verses video as far as looks are concerned.  The primary difference people can see are:

1.  The Interlacing of Video

2.  The different in Depth of Field

3.  The lattitude differences.

4.  The color depth

5.  Grain/Texture

Let me put these into conversational terms.

1.  The Interlacing of Video.  something people don't realize about video often is that it is not 30 frames per second that is showing, it is actually 60 frames per second - but only a half frame each time creating an almost hypnotizing effect.  You are always watching 2 images (called "fields") at once.  If you ever stop a video and notice it seeming like it is flickering between two frames - that's why.  Film, on theother hand is progressive, like a photograph, one image per frame.  This is a major difference.

2.  Depth of field is why things look out of focus behind someone when you focus on their face.  Video has a very wide (long) depth of field so a face and a wall will both be in focus.  Film (35mm especially) does not.  This is a really important tool for filmmakers in order to enable them to help focus the audience's eye on where the story is happening.  Now 35mm has less depth of field than 16mm and 16 less than 8.  For video, it depends on the size of the chip - but even an HD camera only has the depth of 16mm usually.  That is to say, There is a story telling advantage to be had in 35mm film with the depth of field.  Anime uses depth of filed more and more as well for effect.

3.  Lattitude is the thing most people don't talk about.  They probably don't know what it means.  But it is easy to understand.  Latitude can be seen in gradients to white or black.  A hugely recognizable sign of video is whites blowing out very easy.  Or if you are shooting someone outside, the entire sky might blow out while on film, you might still have some information in the clouds.  Latitude in video and digital is dependent on the chip.  Still cameras will have more latitude than past video cameras have had.

4.  Color Depth is the range of colors over gradients which can be shown.  Similar to latitude but inside the color ranges, not at the extreme ends.  If you don't have a lot of color depth, you what is called "banding" across gradients - and when that gradient is a face it does not look good.  Film has a high color depth.  Video has a variety of color depths depending on the technology.

5.  Grain is unique to film.  Video has noise.  It looks very different.  Noise isn't pretty.  Grain is what most people probably associate with film - thus all the "add grain" "film look" filters.  Personally, I do not see grain as a valuable thing.  I do think it can add to the perception of clarity and I do not think you can mimic that with any filters, but I also don't personally like seeing a lot of grain on the image except in rare purposeful moments.

Now... most of this has focused on video.  Video is a limited tape format, but digital is the next evolution and has allowed for much more "film like" representations.

There does not have to be any interlacing in digital, some new cameras allow the same depth of field as film.  The latitude is still slightly in the advantage of film, but not by very much at all.  Color Depth is the same.  Grain is less in digital.

Recently, the RED camera www.red.com was released which is the closest system to closing the gap for non-millionaires.  it's not a cheap camera (a full package is about $25k), but it is cheap enough that it could be rented or bought by indies and that I think will mark a huge change in the industry.

More and more cameras will be coming out along these lines and I do believe over time the shooting of film will become more and more rare.

Why would someone shoot with digital instead?  Here are a few thoughts:

1.  It ends up being cheaper now that the cameras are cheaper.

2.  You know exactly what you are getting when you are shooting.

3.  It can (if done right) speed up the post production work flow.

4.  You have more flexibility with experimenting while the camera is rolling.  (Perhaps not an issue where you have a million dollars for film stock available, but when indies only have 2 shots at getting their shot right, it's nice to be on digital and have a lot more leeway - do it until it works.  This can lead to experimentation and improvisation which can lead to some very pleasing results.  Abused however, this leads to excessive post production time and a lot of headache.

I hope this has shed some light on the issue of film vs. digital.

about 17 years ago 0 likes  12 comments  0 shares
Mark moran in spokane 920x920
Excellent answers to questions I've always had in my head. Thanks! I have a Sony HDD camera that I really enjoy and use to do all my little video projects. But I'm not really making anything substantial (yet) and it's all for the web anyway, so it is perfect for me. Especially the intergrated hard drive ... 7 non-stop hours of filming and I end up with a DVD quality mpeg at the end. Very handy for quick editing.
about 17 years ago
01 04 andrew
Wow, that is good read. thanks for the info on film and video
about 17 years ago


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