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Digital is just too complicated.....actually


Stephen Perera
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.....as an observer and reader of this forum and the UK one hosted by Geoff Boyle it seems you are all just too concerned with the whole world and complexity of shooting digital (those of you that don't touch film) and what a sensor does or doesn't do and what a camera does or doesn't do and whats connected to what and what the monitors show and the IREs and the false colour and the this that and the other and the post processing raw and the amount of GBs it takes up and all the drives you need and all the big time computers you need and the LUT here or there and the this and that and everything.....and then there's 2K 4K 6K 8K......em......ok.......it seems to me like there's the trees and there's the woods......I'm certainly not a DP to make such a sweeping statement but that's what it looks like to me.....yes I know...bit of a cheeky post but hey.....seems like I'm a generator of....drama these days haha

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Digital gear has lots of camera specific stuff you need to know. The good thing is that it generally works OK after you have went all the menus through once to setup it. And most of the time you will see in the monitors if there is something wrong with the camera.

With film cameras there is also camera specific stuff but they are generally much simpler gear with less adjustments you can touch and which can go wrong. The challenge is, you have to do everything by feel and by audatory clues, you don't necessarily SEE if there is something wrong with the camera but it sounds a little different and you need to know how it should sound like in different situations and how to troubleshoot it.

The nice thing about film cameras is that you can fix and service and customise them by yourself if you are handy enough and have the proper basic tools. If a digital camera has a malfunction you are totally screwed and helpless

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the essence of this thread is to sit back and question if you've all gone down the rabbit hole of the technology of digital or not....esp applicable to lower levels of people shooting moving images where you own a lot of cameras and computer stuff....its not another film v digital thread....personally as moving images is not what I do for a living but rather 'another skill' of what I do for a living and Im able to choose my medium I see this all the time around me......

Edited by Stephen Perera
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Digital gear is totally OK as long as you don't trust ANY of the marketing claims by the manufacturer.

Film gear is totally OK when you personally have tested it and you personally know that it works correctly. Otherwise it is probably faulty and you need to retest to make sure it works before shooting anything with it

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2 minutes ago, Stephen Perera said:

the essence of this thread is to sit back and question if you've all gone down the rabbit hole of the technology of digital or not....esp applicable to lower levels of people shooting moving images where you own a lot of cameras and computer stuff....its not another film v digital thread

The challenge is that digital changes very rapidly...like two or three times a year. With film the technology is more constant so that it does not take lots of energy away from the art...though alexa has been a digital constant for couple of years which is why dps like it

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Not sure what your trying to say in this thread .. as an amateur shooting film is easier ..?..  yes probably so TBH..  as a professional freelance camera person you have no choice but to learn and master the digital world.. I started on film and didn't know anything about video..   then I had to learn about log footage.. gamma curves ,Luts etc with the new age of digital cine camera,s...or just not work.. but its not that difficult ..it just seems so if you just list off a bunch of terms like you did .. you could learn that list in an afternoon.. and then it becomes quite interesting and you would get into studying it .. its just fear that holds people back.. and people will criticize what they fear and don't understand .. and have bad experiences with because they haven't put in the time to learn .. or not working on  bigger enough budgets where they have experienced crew to do all the "techie" stuff for them, and advise them.. don't be scared of all the jargon.. its not rocket science .. and alot of very high end DoP,s are embracing the added creativity it allows .. because they didn't fear the new..they embraced it.. 

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Digital cinematography is just like digital photography in that there are plenty of people who just want to create images, and there are plenty of others who want to pixel peep. Personally, I like to know just enough about technology to do my job properly, and no more. There will always be those for whom the equipment is almost more important than the images, just as there will always be those who concern themselves purely with pictures and rely on other to supply the technical knowledge. There's room for both groups, I think.

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film has challenging logistics if you need fast turnaround and shoot lots of it per day.

learning to use any camera is pretty easy and should take from 5 minutes to one day depending on what it is and how much experience the user has from similar systems. 

Post workflow needs to be known well no matter which format is used. For most modern uses the digital is a simpler choice and young people tend to expect the wysiwyg and unlimited undo buttons

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I guess I AM saying that Robin ....as a non-DP or 'amateur' in here but with a solid background of 34 years in film photography, using light metres and the zone system and all the rest of it......I've found it IS a lot easier and less work for me to shoot film (16mm) than digital.....but the thread is meant to be about people missing the word for the trees due to all the massive amount of extraneous kit and tech associated with digital

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This thread is a bit like saying you want to bake cakes but don't want to be bothered with recipes, and knocking folks who like getting down n dirty in a kitchen.

Fact is, if you find technology such a chore then maybe cinematography isn't for you. You can't divorce the two. That's just silly.

Or... Just leave all your settings on 'auto'. Then wonder why it doesn't look how you thought it would and blame the camera...

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karel.....its not a thread to knock anything or anyone and cinematography isn't for me cos there's no way at my age of 53 with my film mindset and where Im from Im going to work in this industry nor do I pretend to be one but I enjoy using my Aaton 16mm and I produce stuff both paid and personal on it using my chosen medium, film....
I'm just questioning whether its all become too thick with tech and whether cinematographers will be required to be more tech than art these days.....its a valid question to ask

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There was a time when I would walk into a trade show and understood everything there. Anton Wilson's articles in AC were my relaxation reading.

Then came computers. Now everything is a computer of some sort.

Just learn what you need to. I bought an FS5 and Odyssey 7Q+ a year ago for my own personal stuff. It works great, but there's stuff in there I haven't much idea about. And why bother?

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11 minutes ago, Karel Bata said:

Ah, cross posted.

I get your point. 😉

no problem man....you did say a valid thing.....but I will say about tech....I started using a Mac in 1988 in my final year of my degree course in Graphic Design at Harrow School of Art (now part of Westminster University) - with loads of darkroom and photography hours done..... and Ive used Photoshop since it was invented and then Lightroom and all the rest of it......so Im in a great position to comment on the fact I now find myself in front of a computer way more than back in the day when I scanned perfectly exposed, professional quality photography shot on e.g. Fuji Provia on my drum scanner for use in my brochure designs for clients......so I never left film and continue to use it now for the big jobs 'cos its just all so much easier if you have a patient client!!!!!! shoot, send the film to lab, get scans, done (although in my case I shoot, then develop all my BW or colour negative film and scan myself on my Hasselblad Flextight 646 scanner)....no hours spent trying to make the highlights look nice let alone skin tone hahaha

So I guess Im talking about the rabbit hole I find myself going down into cos of all the tech .....too many variations and options open...too many RAW versions and implementations etc....its frustrating

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Shooting film or video is as complex as you choose to make it.

While I agree we tend to get bogged down in technical details it is pretty important to understand the syntax of the technology we are using in order to consistently produce good results.  You can learn to make pictures with a modern digital camera in an hour or two. . .   producing really good results shot after shot might require more time... or hiring assistants who are expert with that equipment. 

In my opinion the biggest challenge applies to both video and film and that is understanding lenses.  If you take the time to master the technology of optics you will be far ahead of your peers who are excited by the picture-making-computers we are using.  For me the study of optics is the most challenging area of cinematography and ultimately the most rewarding.

Neal Norton
Cinematographer

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43 minutes ago, Neal Norton said:

Shooting film or video is as complex as you choose to make it.

While I agree we tend to get bogged down in technical details it is pretty important to understand the syntax of the technology we are using in order to consistently produce good results.  You can learn to make pictures with a modern digital camera in an hour or two. . .   producing really good results shot after shot might require more time... or hiring assistants who are expert with that equipment. 

In my opinion the biggest challenge applies to both video and film and that is understanding lenses.  If you take the time to master the technology of optics you will be far ahead of your peers who are excited by the picture-making-computers we are using.  For me the study of optics is the most challenging area of cinematography and ultimately the most rewarding.

Neal Norton
Cinematographer

now here's a man with real experience...thanks for coming in on this....

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4 hours ago, Stephen Perera said:

karel.....its not a thread to knock anything or anyone and cinematography isn't for me cos there's no way at my age of 53 with my film mindset and where Im from Im going to work in this industry nor do I pretend to be one but I enjoy using my Aaton 16mm and I produce stuff both paid and personal on it using my chosen medium, film....
I'm just questioning whether its all become too thick with tech and whether cinematographers will be required to be more tech than art these days.....its a valid question to ask

There's tech to learn in both film and digital. I've shot both formats, for movies and still photography.  I do find that I have more control over the process when shooting digital capture for movies.  I can see a pretty good representation of (a possible) final result live on the set and know that I've shot the image that I intended.  Also, this live representation is a huge time saver in that I don't need to review yesterdays work in great detail, as I've seen it live.  When working 14 hours or more shooting each day, I don't need to add another hour to the day reviewing all the dailies.

Shooting film seems simpler, as there are only shutter speed, shutter angle, and iris settings on the camera to think about. No menus to learn!  But the real tech is in how to light and expose the film, and this requires a huge amount of experience and testing.  One actually needs to learn how to properly use a light meter, both incident and reflected and come to a judgement of how much light is desired and how to set the iris accordingly.

Sure, to learn a digital camera one also needs to learn the camera, menus, and take the footage through the color correction process to really see how the camera responds.  I guess what I'm saying is that digital and film require a pretty similar level of technical knowledge and that neither process is really simpler or easier than the other.

With a digital camera there are more buttons and menus on the camera, but the work learning the process to a professional level is pretty similar to film capture.

And today, with digital scanning of film, one needs to be familiar with both the film capture and the digital post process to really understand how to create the final image.  So you need to learn both digital and film technologies!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 

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Everyone can choose how many layers of the onion to peel back...

When it was all film, there were cinematographers who got deep in the minutiae of densitometry and LAD values, etc.  Didn't always mean that their images were any good but at least they were exposed well!

Everyone needs a practical working knowledge but beyond that, it goes beyond being absolutely necessary though it can be useful on select projects as a way to solve a problem.

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Hi Stephen, 

I think if you shoot motion pictures (and your film work that you’ve posted is beautiful), then you are a cinematographer. No need to qualify your opinion as ‘not a DP.’

Re: too much tech

There’s a lot of tech to learn in order to master making pictures with both film and digital camera and post production workflows. Maybe you have mastered and internalized the film tech so many years ago that you’ve forgotten how much there was to learn as a student? The question is always, how deep do you want to dive into the details? For example, if you want to go deep into custom processing and custom filters, as Jarin Blaschke has done recently on ‘The Lighthouse’, then that probably requires more specialized technical knowledge than getting a similar look digitally these days.

Sure, you can argue that the digital ecosystem has become far too complex these days compared to film - I agree with you somewhat but I think that is due in part to there being so many different camera systems available (with each one reinventing the wheel), and also because there are so many more tools these days to make different kinds of shots.

It’s also an issue with technology in our modern culture at large - the same tech that allows your aged parent to video call you anytime from a tiny device in their pocket also confuses the hell out of them when they just want to pay a bill. Again, you can choose how much tech you want to deal with to some degree. You can choose to simplify like Roger Deakins, use only a single camera system, avoid image-altering filters and LUTs, and light it more or less the same way as film. Or you can go wild like Emmanuel Lubezki and embrace digital compositing and color grading on location if that gets the look you want. How you use the tools is really up to you.

Personally, I find the most challenging aspect of filmmaking has not changed - staging, blocking, and shooting for the edit. That is, how to tell the story with the camera. What makes one shot work magically well, and another one just ok? Should we move the camera and how?  How quickly do the actors need to play the scene for the edit? How can we cheat this location, or imply it without showing it? These are all questions that interest me a lot more than which brand of camera, lens, LUT, lighting unit, etc. Those things are important as well, just in much smaller ways - they are the little touches and details that when used well in combination make the whole piece stick together.

And we have not even touched upon lighting yet, which I think still matters more than the tech stuff we’ve been discussing. 

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1 hour ago, Bruce Greene said:

And today, with digital scanning of film, one needs to be familiar with both the film capture and the digital post process to really understand how to create the final image.  So you need to learn both digital and film technologies!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 

true... digital post of film captured image can get very complicated on some projects whereas digital post can be very simple sometimes on a good day :) the film scanning technology affects the final image and post prod pipeline considerably and it needs to be planned carefully which stuff to correct where to maintain efficiency. For example if you need to expose differently, develop differently, scan differently or just grade differently to get the desired shadow or highlight result. Film has less correction headroom in post than current digital capturing if you want to maintain consistent look and texture. Yes film highlights can be surprisingly flexible when trying to get details out of them in scanning but the shadow correction range is minimal and you will affect the grain amount /texture of the image considerably more than when doing similar adjustment on current low noise digital raw materials

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There's also the fact that equipment manufacturers (of which there are many more today than ever before) have a vested interest in convincing their customers that technology is of paramount importance if you want to create great images. Pay a visit to Cinegear one year, or any of the other trade shows, and you'll see hundreds of manufacturers all offering the 'latest and greatest' technology, and all guaranteed to solve problems you never knew you had.

We start to believe that technology is the answer to every question, because we are constantly told that by the people who manufacture that technology.

There will always be people who want to delve deeper into the technical details. Take a look at some of the online stills film forums, and see the discussions about arcane processing techniques, and the relative merits of various film/developer combos. There are photographers who insist on knowing all about T grain technology and densitometer readings, but equally, there are photographers like Saul Leiter, who shot with expired Kodachrome because it was cheaper, or William Egglestone who bought drugstore film because that was sometimes all he could get when shooting in the middle of nowhere.

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I wrote a piece about this some time ago.

Film is conceptually simpler. You shoot it with whatever production design, lighting, filtration and lenses you can muster. You process it, potentially using special techniques but generally not. You colour time and you release. Nearly a century of (theatrical) filmmaking was done this way. Most of the best films ever made were done this way.

There are way, way more variables in digital workflows and that is not a good thing. Much of it is down to manufacturers trying to create saleable intellectual property; is it really necessary for every manufacturer to have at least one of its own special log encodings? Is it really necessary for every manufacturer to spin its own codec, especially when may of those codecs (H.264, AVC Intra, XAVC) are basically MPEG-4 with different settings, and many others (ProRes, MJPEG, DV(CPRO)(50)(HD), HDCAM, DnXHD) are technologically near-identical. There are really only two ways of doing lossy compression on video images and they are used by more or less everything. The endless patent fight over codecs is manifestly unhelpful and has made much good and well-intentioned work unusable (H.265.) Do we really need a flash card format per camera, or, as Red recently showed, a completely off the shelf flash card in a pretty and expensive hat?

Do we need every editor to have its own timeline description file format? Do we need an HDR distribution format for every manufacturer? Do we need five different ways of characterising the colour quality of white light?

I could go on, but no. No, we really, really don't. All of this is completely unnecessary and could trivially be standardised. There is no caveat to this. It should happen right now, and the fact that it's got this bad, in the face of a century of much less complicated filmmaking, is an absolute travesty. It creates extra work and constantly encourages serious, expensive mistakes to occur. A film-style workflow can be implemented with current tech, but generally isn't.

On the basis the one per cent need their ferraris, it is of course massively unlikely to happen.

P

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1 hour ago, Stuart Brereton said:

There's also the fact that equipment manufacturers (of which there are many more today than ever before) have a vested interest in convincing their customers that technology is of paramount importance if you want to create great images. Pay a visit to Cinegear one year, or any of the other trade shows, and you'll see hundreds of manufacturers all offering the 'latest and greatest' technology, and all guaranteed to solve problems you never knew you had.

We start to believe that technology is the answer to every question, because we are constantly told that by the people who manufacture that technology.

There will always be people who want to delve deeper into the technical details. Take a look at some of the online stills film forums, and see the discussions about arcane processing techniques, and the relative merits of various film/developer combos. There are photographers who insist on knowing all about T grain technology and densitometer readings, but equally, there are photographers like Saul Leiter, who shot with expired Kodachrome because it was cheaper, or William Egglestone who bought drugstore film because that was sometimes all he could get when shooting in the middle of nowhere.

This is the debate that never ends...is it the camera or photographer?

Some equipment has benefits over others. But just having a sharp pencil does not make you a great writer.

All my gear is old. But if I come into some $$ I may upgrade. And if I don't I produce fine with what I got. Sometimes the new is not as good as the old. Take touch screens on the cam. Sometimes you just blow on them and you settings get screwed up. Hate em.

Amazing how the old timers produced such iconic work with just a few manual controls.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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Sometimes with digital the industry come's together and compromises on a set of workable standards.

Audio CD's and DVD's were an example where every manufacturer worked on a compatible format. 

And cinema DCP's have an agreed standard.

But I agree, in camera town fomat wise, its crazy. Also the camera manufacturers don't always talk to edit software producers to attempt cross compatibility. I've encountered some weird camera formats that take really convoluted routes just to get the footage onto a bog standard Avid timeline. The panasonic 3D camcorder was particularly painful to post produce, I still have nightmares....

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