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panagiotis agapitou

Is it really cheaper to shoot in digital ?

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Well the problem nowadays is the slower turnaround for most of us. There are fewer labs and the wait can induce anxiety. And then there's the individual situation of each filmmaker.

If it were up to me, I'd always shoot film. But it's not my current reality even though I have plenty of professional 16mm gear.

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I mean this discussion has taken place on this very forum at least 30 times since I've been here. 

As a semi-experienced "film"maker, I have done all sorts of graphs, charts and excel spreadsheets that are pretty accurate when discussing the film vs digital expense. The problem however, is that today there are so many high-end digital cameras in the hands of would-be cinematographers, that it's hard to justify the cost of film. Right now the next feature I'm going to edit, got a entire Alexa Mini package FOR FREE because the DP knew someone. They also scored a bunch of used drives to store the media on for free as well. So a movie that will probably wind up in a limited theatrical release, only had to rent lenses and support, you can't beat that! This is the digital age, where everything has become democratized and honestly it sucks. It's hard to make ANY money unless you're one of the very few lucky ones who work on larger shows. The 1 - 10 million dollar indy market is dead, today it's all sub 500k or > 10M, and getting on a 10M + show is nearly impossible, there are 50 top DP's sitting at home twiddling their thumbs with 50 IMDB feature film credits each. Why would anyone hire a would-be cinematographer on a 10M show?  I just don't think the issue is really about "film", but about how the budgets have evolved over the last 10 years due to distribution methods changing. Web doesn't have nearly the kind of money physical media had and TV isn't paying what they use to either. 

So where we do see some pretty high end shows being shot on film, it's very difficult for a low-end peeps to deal with film because their budgets are so tight. Even the added $40k or so, to shoot a movie on Super 16, can be a lot of money and a huge risk. Where shooting digital is not a risk as you see what you're getting right away AND you can spend that $40k on a decent colorist, composer and edit. 

Finally in terms of cost. Here is a breakdown I made that puts it into perspective. Yes the pricing is "student discount", but you can see how the numbers fluctuate. 

http://celluloiddreaming.com/documents/filmbudgetscombined.pdf

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It seems that shooting a feature on film was always an extremely expensive thing. Not much has changed - but actually, shooting on film is probably slightly more accessible now to someone new to it. The cameras became quite easy to pick up, for many years. Now it's not so easy to get a good one - unless maybe the older MOS ones. Even those seem to be rarer now than they were, on ebay. I think the digital revolution has actually helped film in many ways. The digital projection is slowly improving. It's fun to combine real film with digital work processes. Digital cameras are great as they let so many people learn high end cinematography as Tyler notes, but so many people now with cameras. I could have bought an UMP but decided to put my available budget into film gear. Don't know if it will ever pay for itself but I couldn't see much point trying to compete with all the other camera people out there with their digital cameras. As ever, I figured I may as well do what I'm interested in, which is film - even if it ended up being just 1 minute of Super 8 every year, and no more. But hopefully I will get more done in cinematography than that. But if not I don't mind, and if it doesn't work out I think I shouldn't have too many problems selling my gear. I've done a lot of research to ensure it's good gear. The digital revolution has made it affordable and I'm grateful for that.

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Posted (edited)

That would be a good experiment. Shoot a short 10 minute movie in digital and in film. Extrapolate the costs out and see what is the bottom line. 

With still photography, there is no question that I have to use digital for some work. Infrared is one example. The IR film being produced is ISO 400. I need ISO 2500 IR for my work. 

As far as cost comparison? 

It cost $9.29 for 36 exposures of 35mm IR film.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1139495-REG/rollei_agfa_81040123_infrared_400_black_and.html

Over the last 5 years I've shot about 13,000 IR photos. 13,000 photos = 361 rolls x $9.29 per roll = $3,354.00. I'd process the film myself. If you don't do wet processing then add on $12 x 361 rolls for $4332. Total cost for 13,000 film shots would be $7686.00

My used 16mp digital IR cam cost $600 - $800 with conversion. Later I added a used Sony 42mp IR cam and conversion. Don't remember the cost but it was under $2000. 

I could shoot IR film with a used Pentax 35mm and a used 50mm lens. They sell for $40 to $80 on eBay. 

Then there is the digital benefit of chimping to see a preview of exposure. And the con of having to carry mass amounts of film through airports X-rays if you travel. 

 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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I guess it depends really on the project. The articles talked about low budget productions, but if one did not even have those budgets, then film may not be an option.

If one owns the film equipment, but must rent top of the line digital equipment, then digital may be more expensive. If one owned all the equipment they needed, film and digital, and wanted to make a 10 minute film, I think digital would be cheaper. Of course the real question is,  what digital are we talking about?

My last 3 films were shot in Hi-def, which is digital, and they were certainly cheaper to make than if I had shot film.

If some younger person was just starting out, and had the equipment for any format, than again digital would be cheaper, maybe not better, but cheaper.

1 roll of B/W 8mm equaling 4 minutes and 10 seconds at 16 fps costs $73.99

1 roll of B/W Super 8 equaling 3 minutes and 20 seconds at 18fps costs $81.99

1 roll of B/W 16mm equaling 4 minutes and 10 seconds at 16fps costs $96.00

1 hour of digital say costs $10.00

I am talking micro-budget here, not extremely low budget like the film in the article. Again, if he did not raise that money, he would not have been able to shoot on film either. So a lot of equations must be factored into the final answer, and all films are different. In a high budget film, it is probably directors choice or workflow choice that will determine the format.

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And digital is "free" if you own the equipment already. You can own as many film cameras as you want, but it's never free to shoot film. 

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I just know that the digital equipment is far more expensive than a super 16 or 2 perf package, and then it depends on how much you shoot. If you're disciplined, film becomes less expensive. There are several indie films out there in the 1-10 million range that shot on film and were clear it worked out cheaper than digital. Fruitvale Station is in the 500 K range and is super 16, James Ponsoldt shot The Spectacular Now on ana 35mm on a 3.5 M budget, he had to give up one position I think on the crew but it worked out beautifully. 

 

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In the production fraternity, 95% + people feel or believe that

1.         Film is expensive than digital. Digital is free to shoot.

2.        They look at at an Arri 435/BL4 and it doesn't inspire confidence in them when they compare it to more modern looking digital cameras .

3.        In India it was the senior lot who threw in their towels in favour of digital. Surprisingly lot of younger DPs were in favour of Film. but then precedent once set by established DPs is quoted by all production personnel to shoot digital.

4.       Asia is totally digital. Shooting on Film is considered inferior. They love the plastic feel of the digital.

5.        Established Actors hated digital initially because takes seem to be free and they kept rolling. Camera Rehearsal culture faded away.

6.       Shooting on full fledged digital package is not cheap either. Costs almost same money. Too much time in post experimenting and tweaking. Editors lose patience finding 'OK' takes out of 12 or 17 takes.

7.       This 'anxiety' of producers/directors to see the footage right away did not exist a decade back. Footage/Rushes for medium level productions were made available  sometimes a week or 10 days later depending how busy the labs were. Today people won't wait even an hour to see the footage. 

8.       With the democratisation of Digital cameras and colouring/grading tools there are tons of such very low cost rental gears. As some DPs have already pointed this out earlier  - yes it is cheap to shoot digital (in this reference).

Hard to make money on such gears. 

 

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21 minutes ago, Prashantt Rai said:

3.        In India it was the senior lot who threw in their towels in favour of digital.

 

I think point 3. was a major factor everywhere. It was the experienced DPs and directors who'd known too many sleepless nights on location worrying about the day's footage getting lost or damaged in transit, or whatever, or obsessing over whether that particular shot worked out and will they have to shoot it again. When digital came along it was an easier life for these very experienced people. And yes, some people prefer the look of digital: that clean, clinical, plastic, glassy, metallic perfection. They want a world that is like that. It's their aesthetic preference. Go to their homes and see what art is on their walls.

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I don't think many DPs like the digital look overall, so many articles in AC or British Cinematographer or whatever you can find where anamorphic lenses are super in demand for digital shows to break the image apart a little, or grain is added in post or the ASA setting is pushed in order to get some kind of texture. And digital just isn't special, that's the thing, so many things shot on the Alexa or Red and it just becomes this shapeless, homogenized blob, nothing or very few things stand out. And those who shoot on film stand out and it is special. 

But the labs coming back is just a great thing, and more and more things (still a tiny number) films, indie films and TV shows are being shot on film these days. 

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Posted (edited)

Yes, film has a nice look.

Over time, the less people that shoot film, the less film knowledgeable DP's will be available. If they can ever get digital grain treatments to look organic, like film, then they may have something. 

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Jon O'Brien said:

I think point 3. was a major factor everywhere. It was the experienced DPs and directors who'd known too many sleepless nights on location worrying about the day's footage getting lost or damaged in transit, or whatever, or obsessing over whether that particular shot worked out and will they have to shoot it again. When digital came along it was an easier life for these very experienced people. And yes, some people prefer the look of digital: that clean, clinical, plastic, glassy, metallic perfection. They want a world that is like that. It's their aesthetic preference. Go to their homes and see what art is on their walls.

Yes, digital makes it a lot easier. I've screwed up plenty of times and was able to catch it with digital review.

Back in the day the studio photogs used to pay big bucks to shoot Polaroid backs on view cams. So instant review was even valued in the film era. Leica came out with a digital cam that had no screen on the back. Some die hard film shooters liked it so they could be 'surprised' and didn't know what they had until they got home. Personally I like all the help I can get. I like instant review options. If for nothing else, getting the exposure doable.

Edited by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

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Film is dead.. wise up you guys.. go digital or die.. I don't know how many times I have to say this.. only so long I can give my advise for free and save your careers .. 

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The Film Truthers are the same as Flat Earthers, it doesn't matter you can prove digital is cheaper using numbers and facts. They will still present some theory about shooting ratios and short ends that proves digital costs more.

Right gotta go measure the horizon 

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3 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

Yes, film has a nice look.

Over time, the less people that shoot film, the less film knowledgeable DP's will be available. If they can ever get digital grain treatments to look organic, like film, then they may have something. 

It's not just that though, you can't just throw a layer of film grain on or even use something like LiveGrain (which is more elaborate, but ends up looking not any different) and expect it to look like film. There's just a fundamental nature to film that is random, and the way faces are rendered, look and feel is so different. 

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5 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Film is dead.. wise up you guys.. go digital or die.. I don't know how many times I have to say this.. only so long I can give my advise for free and save your careers .. 

Do the same thing everyone else does = death too. 

Where I do think young filmmakers should be making content and not worrying about what's used to make that content, there is a certain satisfaction and look that film delivers, which digital has yet to achieve. Having the knowledge of what it's like to shoot film, it critical in my book. It's not like today's young filmmakers had ANY experiences with film at all, 99.5% of them probably never touched film before they made the leap TO film. Most will buy a still camera, but a few will buy movie cameras and it's that passion for the past, which will lead them to become great filmmakers in the future. Having the knowledge to shoot good film translates extremely will into the digital world and will make you a more efficient filmmaker. 

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9 hours ago, Prashantt Rai said:

Hard to make money on such gears. 

It's hard to make money on any equipment in an environment where there is no support. 

In Europe and the US, there is a lot of film being shot because the support still exists. 

Where I agree, it's hard to get kids interested in shooting with a BL, my Aaton's were not any bigger than a fully decked out Alexa, so my students were pretty happy with using them. 

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What possible advantage could there be at this point to originate on film? Even IF it cost the same as digital? People are shooting popular features and commercials on iPhones & cameras you can pick up at Best Buy now. Audiences don't care about film. People watch more video/motion picture work daily now than they used to watch in a year, and are really only interested in content.

I see work shot on film (stills or motion picture) these days by tech hipsters and for the life of me, I can't see anything different in terms of look from any other modern digital imagery. Film is more time consuming, offers more possible ways to ruin it (fog, dust, tears, scratches, crinkles, lab damage, etc.), and film is a one time use medium as opposed to thousands. 

I started out with film and I for one don't miss it. Clients don't ask for it and consumers/audiences don't either. 

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There are no easy answers here, but if you consider that sometimes movies are an art form, not just a product for mass consumption, then not every choice has to be determined by what the audience cares about or notices -- sometimes it is enough for the artist to care about something and then hope there is a receptive audience for their particular vision. I don't think when David Lynch or Andrei Tarkovsky made a movie, they spent much of their time wondering what clients and consumers were asking for.

It goes way beyond choice of shooting format, after all if you build a set and sew costumes, you have to make decisions on color schemes, textures, etc. that go way beyond a typical viewer's ability to care or notice.  I think to some extent, audiences don't care because they don't have to, they expect the filmmakers to care.  The skills needed to make any complex product are beyond the average consumer, but the consumer hopes that someone cares about the details.  So if you hire artists to make something, anything, then one shouldn't be surprised that these artists have certain tastes for how things are done.  And some artists are sensitive to the origination medium.  I mean, would anyone be surprised if painters had opinions about working in oils versus acrylics, or sculptors working in marble versus wood?

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Posted (edited)

Yes looking purely as a film as a work of art.. be that from Chris Nolan or one person shooting super 8 in their shed.. of course do it anyway you want.. you can draw directly onto the actual film if you want.. don't even need a camera .. but unlike clay/ paint / wood/ pencils its expensive to make ,and just amateur or professional artists demand is never going to be enough.. it will only continue to be made if it makes money for the manufacturers which then means it has to make  money for the buyers.. so with out commercial use and a lot of it I dont see it being variable just in economic terms.. I agree totally with Chris above.. I started on film but for all the reason he says I,d much rather shoot on s35mm sensor video these days..even more so for documentaries .. where mags running out, hairs in gates, film scratches, the mere weight of all the film cans..getting to the labs.. made  film a real pain to work with.. yes video was crap for decades .. but those days are over.. the "video look" thing is dead in the water.. I mean if R. Deakins can't tell I dont know how the film disciples can at 100 yards.. I know who I would.put my money on.. there seems to be some idea from the film disciples that if you shoot video you somehow don't care .. or are not a true devotee of movies .. and lack flannel  shirts in your wardrobe and have never eaten an avocado..

Content is of course 99.9% more important than anything.. and competent HOD,s on any production will make it pretty much immaterial what a movie /show is originated on.. on a massive budget of course the extra price of film /labs/ blah blah .. pales into insignificance .. but the whole rest of the industry .. digital is cheaper.. I have 5 x 128GB SxS cards .. each one can shoot 1 hr of 4K XAVC I  480Mbps @23.98p..  more than 2hrs in HD..and each card Ive used say a hundred times over 6 years..  each card cost about $1,500... imagine the cost of that same amount of footage over the last 6 years I ve been shooting with this camera .. if I have shot on 35mm film..6000ft for about 1 hr (and thats 4K res ).instead of $7,500.. and a couple of thousand on HDD,s.. which are as cheap as chips these days.. it would be hundreds of thousands of dollars , and some percentage of lost footage non doubt considering the environments  I sometimes have to shoot in..and a huge hassle lugging said heavy film cans around the world.. 

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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I think also that the two articles were not totally fair. They compared top of the line Alexa camera with Super 16. Not exactly a fair comparison, and the Red cam they compared came in cheaper than the Super 16.

The filmmaker article also said the total film cost was $16,000.00, when the camera equipment alone cost him just over $7,000.00, and failed to mention film to digital transfer.

The other article mentioned that on a digital shoot you need technicians for color correction and all that, while if you shoot film you just need the camera and the cameraman. Whenever I see behind the scenes shots of big movies being made, the director is always watching a TV to see the shots, so they use them for films shoots as well. Again, a little unfair.

Unless I missed something in the articles.

As far as what the director wants to shoot on, that is a different story altogether.

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7 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

I started on film but for all the reason he says I,d much rather shoot on s35mm sensor video these days..even more so for documentaries .. where mags running out, hairs in gates, film scratches, the mere weight of all the film cans..getting to the labs.. made  film a real pain to work with.. yes video was crap for decades .. but those days are over.. the "video look" thing is dead in the water..  I mean if R. Deakins can't tell I dont know how the film disciples can at 100 yards.. I know who I would.put my money on.. there seems to be some idea from the film disciples that if you shoot video you somehow don't care .. or are not a true devotee of movies .. and lack flannel  shirts in your wardrobe and have never eaten an avocado..

Yea but remember Robin, you're the cinematographer, not the writer, producer, director or distributor. It's not your job to take what you've been thinking about for years and get millions of people to watch it. So there is a slight disconnect between the value of the shooting medium vs "doing a job" to which most DP's are hired and once the show is over, are onto the next one. I mean heck, isn't Red nearly dead? Arri has nearly completely taken over the digital market for long form. The medium does make a difference, even in the world of digital. 

Now in terms of Roger Deakins, his style of filmmaking does work very well for digital. Slow methodical camera moves, serious amount of treated lighting, either practical or rigs and the best camera/lensing combinations around. So yea, his movies still look very cinematic/filmic, even without the use of film. I think the experience he had on Hail Caesar, shooting 35 again and realizing how it looks like digital these days, was enough for him. However, that's Roger Deakin's we're talking about, one of the best DP's alive. That's a big studio film with heavy post treatments, projected in digital theaters only. Honestly, with the advancements in DNR and scanning technology, it's so easy to make film look like digital, plastic and boring. You can destroy film very easily by not taking advantage of it's strengths, filmmakers keep forgetting what they are. DP's today are so use to shooting digital, they push film in post production in ways that kinda destroy the look. 

I shoot a lot of film, my cameras are constantly on rental, the labs know my name and we've started our own post house because there is so much scanning work these days, it's a very profitable business if done right. I also edit and color for a living and frankly, even the best digital I've seen on my own bay, does not look like film. Does it matter? Well, to many filmmakers it does matter, there is a look with film that if shot properly, if colored properly, does look different than digital. Then of course, with projection it makes a big difference, night and day. 

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