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Will digital ever be as good as film


Edward Butt
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One does so logarithmically, the other does so in a linear fashion up until a point on both ends where it has exceeded the ability to be recorded.

 

CCDs are somewhat linear-light devices, at the very lowest level. CMOS actually isn't, the difference being that the detectors on CMOS sensors are reverse-biased photodiodes, albeit usually in pinned mode which... oh dear this is getting technical. But you get the idea.

 

 

 

recorded on digital you'd get the same image 24 times

 

Well, no; noise. Modern cameras are very quiet, but you can always slap some grain on it if you'd like. Noise is a fault, isn't it?

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In theory, couldn't one achieve a classic film look by converting a a raw digital image to 35mm negative roll? That way you can shoot without the hassle of film (and the expense of wastage), while being able to take advantage of the subtle nuances which make film so stunning. After all, isn't a CMOS sensor just taking in pure images from the lens, whereas film passes its qualities on to the image?

What "hassle" of film?

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Certainly there are contemporary movies shot on film that don't feel "retro" -- such as "Star Trek Into Darkness" or "Dark Knight Returns" -- I was referring to when people really want that classic film look that has no hint of digital, such as for "American Hustle". The film look can vary from "retro" to "classic" or just "traditional", however you want to describe how movies have looked for a long time. Of course, one can manipulate digital to feel "retro" too such as "Rush" did... but my point is that if you really want it to look like film, especially a "traditional" film, then shoot film because it naturally gives you that look.

 

But as to the original question, I don't think digital is even going to try anymore to be more like 35mm film, it's drifted closer to that look in the past three years but now it will go its own way. On the other hand, I think post-processing of digital for a film look will also get more sophisticated over time.

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That makes sense Mr. Mullen. My personal opinion is that digital lacks the dimensionality of film. It looks sharp but there is some sort of veil that makes images flat in comparison to film. When I saw "Skyfall" sure it has nice photography but not the depth and richness of Deakins' previous works on film such as The Assassination of Jessie James."

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I'm talking about more than color-correction, but things like grain emulation and creation of certain classic film stocks.

 

As for the "depth" of film, I've seen it both ways -- film images that feel more 2D because of a lack of sharpness and/or having a lot of surface grain (particularly 16mm blow-ups but even some Super-35 movies) whereas the digital movie has more clarity and dimensionality, and I've seen digital movies that feel flat with dull blacks, colors, and highlights and film that looks more dimensional. Some of this is resolution -- certainly the IMAX stuff in the "Dark Knight" movies have a lot of detail and dimensionality, between the high resolution and the shallow focus, plus the richness of contact printing from o-neg to IMAX... which brings me to another point, that some of this issue of dullness is due to poor contrast / black level of some digital projectors and the fact that D.I.'s are recorded out to intermediate stock, and neither has the richness of blacks as a contact print from o-neg has.

 

I've seen tests projected in 4K comparing 35mm film (scanned at 6K) to various digital cameras, and in that scenario, one can argue that the clarity of images from a camera like the Sony F65 feel more like a "clear window" onto the scene compared to the film version.

 

I think when you compare some of the best-shot movies that were digital versus 35mm, what you see is a difference in texture and look, but it is hard for me to say one is superior to the other in all cases, that film always beats digital -- when digital is good, it starts to just be a matter of taste. I just watched "Skyfall" again on blu-ray and it looks amazing in my opinion.

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Well, no; noise. Modern cameras are very quiet, but you can always slap some grain on it if you'd like. Noise is a fault, isn't it?

 

I think you are confusing video noise and grain again. For starters grain actually carries information in film. Grain is more like the actual pixels, it's just that they don't stay in one place like they do on a video image. Video noise is just random electronic interference with the signal. Grain can also be considered as being a textured surface but in video there isn't really a surface it's just a representation of an image.

 

They aren't really very alike, and yes technically video noise is a fault whereas grain is an important part of the way that the film stock works. It's not a fault.

 

Having said that I can understand why sometimes people add noise to their video images to try and make them more interesting.

 

Freya

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To my eye, as well, at least, video noise doesn't seem nearly as randomly placed throughout the image-- instead, it seems to stick in certain areas of the image and brings far more attention to itself. I also wonder how really random video noise is-- or if anyone has actually measured the degrees of randomness between film grain and video noise.

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Grain is picture information which doesn't have anything to do with the pattern of light motivated by the original scene, and is therefore noise (as, from a perspective of strict information theory, are several other things, such as lens flare, which might be considered fixed-pattern noise). The edges of pixels are also picture information not motivated by the scene, and are also noise; the particular term is "quantisation noise", which you might reasonably apply to film grain too, although I'm not convinced that photochemical changes are always diffused entirely throughout each crystal.

 

Grain is noise, and attempts to claim otherwise smack of sophistry. Just 'cos it's non-digital and often historically acceptable don't make it "not noise". I've said this a lot before, but at one point I worked with original scans of Cold Mountain, which was shot super-35 on 500-speed stock, and to try and claim, even on the basis of a 2K Northlight scan, that it wasn't fairly low-res and really very noisy would be an exercise in standup comedy.

 

And it was nominated for the oscar, so apparently this doesn't matter much.

 

Most video noise is thermal noise, which is very high entropy (that is, extremely random). Fixed-pattern noise tends to be adjusted out by sensor calibration at manufacture. I'm sure the distribution of film grains is just as random, but I'm not sure what theory could be applied.

 

I actually quite like a bit of subtle fizz in HD video. Gives it some life.

 

P

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The swingeing expense of stock, processing and transfer, the not knowing what you've shot until three days later, the delays, to lm due the loading, etc.

 

Back to this argument, Phil? Its worked for thousands of people for over a hundred years. Are you seriously telling me you would avoid using film because you would have to load a magazine?

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Grain is picture information which doesn't have anything to do with the pattern of light motivated by the original scene, and is therefore noise (as, from a perspective of strict information theory, are several other things, such as lens flare, which might be considered fixed-pattern noise).

 

That's not true. Film grain has a lot to do with the pattern of light motivated by the original scene!

During the processing silver is removed from the film in relation to what has been exposed to the light.

Thus it fundamentally IS directly related to the pattern of light motivated by the original scene.

 

In film the grain is the information!

 

Noise is entirely non-informational stuff.

 

Freya

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Not to make this into a week-long back and forth, but - what?

 

Grain pattern is determined at manufacture.

 

Your reply does not refer to what I said which is that the film grains are directly affected by the processing of the film and thus they are directly related to the pattern of light as motivated by the original scene.

 

The grain is not noise. It is needed to make the image. If you take away the grains, there would be no image.

Grain is not like video noise, it is more like the pixels in video. Only in film the pixels aren't always in one place as they are in video. Perhaps you don't like the fact the "pixels" move in film, or the fact they aren't a fixed size like they are in video. Personally I think this makes things better. I don't like the fact that in video, pixels are a static uniform grid all the same size.

 

I agree that people are often keen to have finer grained stocks or smaller pixels in order to make them less visible but I think it can be interesting when film grain or video pixels are visible. It can add character to both. It depends on what you do with it.

 

I don't hear people saying that the pixels in video are noise. Perhaps it could be argued that they are? They are not a fault like you suggest film grain is. The pixels are needed as they are a fundamental part of the way the video system works. It is the same in film. The grain is not a fault, it is a necessary part of the way film works, the same way that the pixels are needed in the video system.

 

Film grain is obviously quite different to video noise in a considerable number of aspects however.

 

Freya

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The swingeing expense of stock, processing and transfer, the not knowing what you've shot until three days later, the delays, the loading, etc.

 

I'm sure people know what they have shot, they just don't get to see it till they get the film processed.

I never thought the cost of film was a problem. I used to shoot film and the biggest problems were Kodak and labs.

Kodak UK was just awful. The people were never in the office, they didn't return calls. They would refuse to sell you stocks sometimes. You would also plan to shoot something on a stock and it would then be discontinued. It was really difficult to buy anything from them. I remember discovering Fuji and being really excited at working with them. Well we all know how that turned out.

 

With labs it was more that they didn't want to deal with you unless your face fitted so you had to find a lab you could have a good relationship with. In my experience I would just be getting on with a lab and then someone would shut them down, usually before I got anything processed. I think thankfully things are starting to stabalise a bit, so that kind of thing should fade away.

 

The labs were also really badly backwards. They didn't do email. It wouldn't surprise me if they still had a fax machine. Perhaps that would be too modern. I bet there were labs that liked to be paid by cheque! In some ways the shake up at labs is a good thing because it is bringing change and a more modern approach to things.

 

With digital cinema you don't have to deal with any of this kind of nonsense and that's not to be underestimated.

 

Freya

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I just did. It's quantisation noise. As, arguably, is film grain.

 

Fair enough, perhaps you could even compare grain patterns to beyer patterns although they are obviously very different.

 

I'm not sure you can really call pixels a fault tho, and in the same way grain is not really a fault, it's just a fact of the way it works and it's supposed to work that way. Something like scratches or hairs in the gate could be described as a fault but not really pixels or film grain.

 

There has obviously always been a push for smaller pixels and finer grain in some parts of the cinematography community tho.

 

Freya

Edited by Freya Black
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When 200+ million dollar movies choose the Alexa over 35mm I guess that tells us something. They are choosing the Alexa for its quality, not to save money.

 

I still love the look of film. The Alexa certainly provides a beautiful image for a super low cost. I was particularly impressed with what I got out of the Alexa in low light situations. Kids in a cave at night with just a camp fire to light their faces...perfect and not a hint of video noise, truly amazing. The embers that passed through the flame streaked as if the camera was rolling film through at 24fps.

 

Now I have a GoPro Hero 3 for my quad copter and that is impressing me as well!

 

R,

You mean 200+ million dollar productions like Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Star Wars: Episode 7? Edited by Reuel Gomez
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I think nowadays, unless you're shooting a period piece and using older lenses and grading to match some sort of older film stock or film, it makes no sense to say you're shooting film for that "retro" look which I feel doesn't exist. It's grain. It's the color rendition. It's the roll off into the highlights. That's the "film look" that I feel in a couple of years will be surpassed by digital systems, at least the last two things I mentioned. Maybe some film emulation technology will find some way to match film exactly, even going to far to exactly match specific film stocks like those from Kodak and Fuji. But for now, if you want that true film look...film is the way to go.

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If you think about it, it'd be kinda cool if you could shoot digital on a big VFX show like "Man of Steel" and then in post after all the VFX shots and color grading are completed, you could just throw in some grain after the fact. And who knows, maybe Arri will eventually come out with a camera with a mirror shutter with the ability to change between an optical and electronic viewfinder like the Studio but light enough to handhold.

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Mirror shutter cameras like the Panaflex are already light enough to be handhold able -- "Man of Steel" was shot on film and handheld after all! -- it's just that a non-mirror electronic shutter is even lighter and smaller. A digital camera with a mirror shutter already has a way to be operated with an onboard video image instead since they all have HD-out signals going to monitors.

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If you can handhold a Panaflex with a 500' mag, you can handhold an Alexa Studio...

 

Look, people have handheld IMAX cameras, though it's not preferable -- it's not really a question of being able to handhold the camera, it's more a question of how comfortable you want to be doing it all day long. It's also a question of weight balance and center of gravity, a mirror shutter close to the chest/shoulder area is better than a heavy lens out in front, for example.

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If you can handhold a Panaflex with a 500' mag, you can handhold an Alexa Studio...

 

Look, people have handheld IMAX cameras, though it's not preferable -- it's not really a question of being able to handhold the camera, it's more a question of how comfortable you want to be doing it all day long. It's also a question of weight balance and center of gravity, a mirror shutter close to the chest/shoulder area is better than a heavy lens out in front, for example.

Then I wonder why Roger Deakins and many other people had such a problem with handholding the studio to the point where they opted for the original Alexa/Plus/Plus 4:3 and/or M cameras.
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