Why film?

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Howkins
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Joined: Oct 9 1999

I understand that in pro television, studio dramas are shot with electronic cameras while when out on location, (e.g. a stately home)the bigger productions use film cameras and convert this to video for editing/mixing with footage taken with electronic cameras.

Is the film footage that much better than the electronic and if so why isn't it used in the studio?

I appreciate that this does not apply to low budget productions.

howki.

Unicorn
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Joined: Apr 12 1999

There are many reasons for prefering film to video; two of the most important reasons in the past have been that you can easily support both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios by framing carefully and just doing two telecines at the different aspect ratios (with the 16:9 version cropping off top and bottom with no real quality loss), and that if it's stored properly film lasts a long time and won't be going obsolete any time soon, unlike twenty-year old video formats.

Film has also traditionally looked better than video (but video cameras are catching up fast) and the film cameras used for these shoots are much smaller than the video cameras used in studios, though a similar size to a Betacam. The drawback is: it's expensive and post-production is complex, expensive and slow.

The reason it's not used in the studio, I would imagine, is that the budgets of studio productions are lower, they don't really care about longevity since few people will want to see many of them in fifty years time, they shoot with multiple cameras in long takes rather than one camera on short takes, and they don't want to have to spend weeks or months editing the results.

It's always interesting to watch TV shows from the 60s or 70s ('Dads Army' and 'Fawlty Towers' spring to mind, though I may be wrong as I haven't seen them in years), where you can instantly see where they were shooting in a studio with video cameras and then switched to film for outdoor shots; the look of the show changes significantly when they do so. What's also interesting is that often the film sections arguably look *worse* than the video, probably because they used the negative or a normal film print for the telecine to save money, rather than getting a low contrast print.

[This message has been edited by Unicorn (edited 26 November 2000).]

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Alan Roberts at work
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This is an interesting one.

Video performance has shot way past that of film, but producesr still want to make drama on film. So, quality isn't the issue. If you ask them "why film?" you'll get an answer like "because it has a veil of mystery, it distances the viewer from the drama".

There are two effects.

Motion portrayal on film is jerky. It judders because each frame is shown on tv twice (thrice in NTSC) and the eye cannot resolve the resulting change of motion direction. So it sees motion as two (or 2.5) seperate time-lines, judder. Shooting on interlaced video means each image in the output stream is in the right place in the time-line, so there's no judder. There are boxs of electronics that can wreck that to mimic film judder, Snell & Wilcox are at the front of the queue of suppliers both in quality and cost.

Contrast handling is different on film. Film is logarithmic, light falling on the film causes density in the developed negative, a linear relationship. Making a print from the negative does that again, and we get back to linear. Log ranges tend to be huge, so film has a large exposure latitude, film DoPs (Director of Photography) will routinely claime 7 stops overexposure and 3 stops under, from which useable images can be dragged by processing. However, they all use very expesive light meters and take great care in slighting the set, thereby ensuring that they never have to justify those beliefs. Video has a much lower latitude, basically, once the image is on tape, there isn't much you can do with it. However, now that broadcast cameras have 16 bit ADCs and process at 22 bits (that's in each of RGB, but only in a few cameras), the story's changing, we can now routinely under- or over-expose by two stops and get good results in post-production. So video performs just as well as film, it only needs the gamma corrector, knee and stretch controls to be set with care in a lab.

These days, it can be quite hard to tell, just from the image, whether video was shot on film or tape, if the DoP has got the controls right and the "colourist" has worked his magic well (he's what used to be called the "colour grader", and has a profound effect on image quality).

However, one effect remains. Noise/grain. Video has (or can have when handled well) much lower noise levels than film, and that's the usual give-away sign. In Europe, it's common to use 16mm or super16 for 625 production, whereas the Americans almost exclusively use 35mm, which has lower grain. It's a culture difference.

If that sounded like a lot of rambling, sorry, but it's only the tip of the iceberg, I can go on like this for days.

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bubblewrap
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Joined: Oct 30 2000

Good question. Trying to answer differently to Alan I'd say the issues are

horses for courses ,

quality vs costs,

film needs to be developed vs video = instant

e.g. Morse uses FILM but the morse budget per episode is more than some UK cinema films. The cost of the film stock is little versus the costs of wages for a massive 70 crew team wandering round Oxford

Film inherently has a higher resolution and better look than video which works great for costume dramas and epics but maybe overkill for Big Brother and Top of the pops

tom hardwick
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Joined: Apr 8 1999

Right. here's Alan saying Video performance has shot way past that of film, and bw saying: Film inherently has a higher resolution and better look than video. Who to believe? When will this ever go away? And if film has a resolution better than video yet nobody sees the "film" proper, isn't that wasting its resolution advantage? Ie if film is shown on PAL625 then the display medium redefines the definition and resolution standards.

I have a super8 Kodachrome40 frame printed onto a 14" wide sheet of glossy Cibachrome. Admittedly the Super8 frame has a diagonal measurement about 60% bigger than the 1/4" chip as used in modern Mini DV camcorders, but by time I enlarge one TRV900 frame to 4" across it's lost the race; the Super8 frame is streets ahead in sheer quality.

But as Alan says the 50 half resolution frames per sec are worth more than the 54 full (Kodachrome) fps, because the 54 is in reality only 18 different pictures flashed at you 54 times. What looks good is all that matters; how it gets there is of no consequence.

tom.

Alan Roberts at work
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Joined: May 6 1999

Film costs about £2/second through the camera, probably more now. Video tape is about £1/minute at Digibeta or HDCam level, 10p/minute for miniDV. Film cost is significant, even in a drama production that may have a budget of £1,000,000/hour because of the number of takes and rehearsal shots. So cost of footage is significant.

Film resolution is significantly higher than video only if you get it right. Scan film negative for video and you get the best, print for cinema and it instantly goes soft. Laser print video to film and you'll be amazed at what you see, far more resolution than the best of lenses can produce. But normal shooting doesn't do it that way (although Sony now routinely use a laser printer for putting HD onto film, the results are still limited by the lens and printing process for cinema). But anyway, the higher resolution of film over tv is largely unusable because the MTF curve is very low at high frequencies, maybe only 10% at 6MHz in 625, whereas video is usually 50% or better and only limited by lenses whereas film has it's characteristic. And you can get video to 100% at 6MHz with good lenses and judicious use of the aperture corrector.

Film doesn't keep for ever (ask the National Film Archive about that ), old stock goes bang if you drop it (and the building falls over as well).

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Unicorn
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quote:Originally posted by Alan Roberts at work:
Film costs about £2/second through the camera, probably more now.

Not true. I'm finishing off a 16mm short film at the moment, and it cost less than twenty pounds a minute for film, developing and initial telecine. As far as I'm aware, most TV film shoots are super-16, which would be basically the same price; still expensive, but not as expensive as you believe.

quote:Film doesn't keep for ever (ask the National Film Archive about that ), old stock goes bang if you drop it (and the building falls over as well).

Indeed, but if a film negative shot in 1900 *has* been stored properly you can still get a good print or video from it today; the odds of anyone being able to read a Digibeta or DV tape in the year 2100 are slim.

I was watching my DVD of 'The Time Machine' over the weekend and amazed at how good a forty-year old movie could look; I'd be surprised if a forty-year old video tape would even be readable.

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Unicorn
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quote:Originally posted by tom hardwick:
And if film has a resolution better than video yet nobody sees the "film" proper, isn't that wasting its resolution advantage? Ie if film is shown on PAL625 then the display medium redefines the definition and resolution standards.

Yes, but in a few years from now you can do another telecine from that film to HD video and you'll get the full resolution on screen; if you'd shot Digibeta instead, you'd just end up with fuzzy blown-up video.

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Guy M-W
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Joined: Nov 23 2000

Most of these comments relate to money & budgets & why people do NOT use film. The question was why DO people use Film. The answer is that it's a creative choice.

I direct music videos on Film. I would only use video in extreme low budget circumstances or if the look demands it. High Definition video & various other formats & techniques try to attract the film market, but for me film provides the ultimate in high level quality with masses of creative potential.

There are very few video cameras that allow shooting for slow-mo, most of them not easily portable. There are to my knowledge no brodcast video cameras that can shoot above 250fps, whereas with a photosonics film camera you can reach in excess of 10,000 fps.

Because film is expensive to operate , it demands a strong disipline with regards to the preparation in pre-production. It prevents you from over shooting and encourages a high level of perfection.

As a director, the choice is not based upon budgets, that's the producer. In my opinion there's no substitute to film, yet.

Unicorn
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quote:Originally posted by Guy M-W:
There are to my knowledge no brodcast video cameras that can shoot above 250fps, whereas with a photosonics film camera you can reach in excess of 10,000 fps.

A very good point, of course; though there's no fundamental reason why you can't put a few gigabytes of RAM in a camera, record to that at very high frame rates, then write it out to tape at 24fps or 25fps at the end of the shot... it would be big and expensive, but, CCDs permitting, it would work.

I have to say I was rather amazed to read in the New York Times yesterday that we may well be seeing 'Digital IMAX' in three or four years; still shot sideways on 70mm film, but distributed digitally and shown using a very high resolution video projector. Now when are we going to get that picture quality in a TRV900-sized camcorder, I wonder 8-) ?

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Alan Roberts at work
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Unicorn, don't hold your bretah, but, what you've desribed in cameras is exactly what's being developed right now. Launches expected at NAB next year, cameras with hard drives rather than tape.

Just a warning though, HD footage comes at 1.438Gb/s, so the hard drives will have to be many terrabytes (and removeable) to be of any use, even if heavily compressed.

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Alan Roberts at work
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By the way, when I was at University way back in the 60s, a colleague got a job at NASA as a structural engineer for the space programme. They were shooting film at over 10,000fps even then. Shutter control was via a spinning prism rather than any form of gate, and the slightest unevenness caused explosions in the hardware.

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pcwells
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Joined: Jun 10 1999

quote:Originally posted by Alan Roberts at work:
Video tape is about... 10p/minute for miniDV.

I bought a stack of MiniDV tapes yesterday.

The 60 minute Panasonic tapes were £3.65 each. That makes them 6p per minute.

Alan Roberts at work
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That's a very good price for DV. Who did you get them from? But it doesn't invalidate any of the comparisons, bulk buying/selling will always distort market prices, and it makes film look even more expensive.

Mind you, in the total budget for a big-spend programme, the media costs are always a relatively low proportion despite all my comments earlier. The real cost is in the care, attention, time taken on set to get each shot right. That's where the money shows most.

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pcwells
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I got them from KVJ Fairdeal on Whitechapel High Street - right next to Aldgate East Station. There's a huge selection of tapes there, at different prices, so I went in armed with a copy of Camcorder User - in which they advertised a price of £3.75 for the tapes I wanted - and asked for 35 of them. I got them for £3.65 apiece.

Not bad at all!

Pete

Alan Roberts at work
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Not bad? It's bloody brilliant.

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StevenBagley at Uni
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Pricebusters (pricebuster.org.uk) also do tapes at reasonable price and have the added advantage of taking credit cards for mail order orders... Used them several times and the service is excellent...

Panasonic DVM60s are currently at 3.79ukp...

See you earlier,

Steven

bubblewrap
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Joined: Oct 30 2000

Talking of quality

Why have I never seen anyone complaining about the poor representation of movement on miniDv.

There is massive flickering on sharp movement of either the camera or subject. This manifests itself as a kind of strobing look. You really notice if there's fast movement like a hand strumming a guitar or the camera swings violently..Its the instant giveaway when I watch TV that it was shot on miniDV rather than say betacam.

My guess is that the miniDv compression tech specs where designed more for NTSC where the 30fps would give more coverage for movement as opposed to the 25 fps of PAL.

To me it's the single biggest drawback to miniDv.

Does it bug anyone else?

Alan Roberts at work
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I think you're noticing defects in the camera rather than the DV compression. It's normal for consumer (and some pro) cameras to have too much aperture correction, to make the pictures look sharper than they should. That causes the compressor to spend too much effort coding the artefacts and not enough on the real image.

Try stepping through the tape a frame at a time, and look at the picture on a big tv, that should show where the compressor has failed (blocks left behind), and let us know aht happens.

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Howkins
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Joined: Oct 9 1999

Hi, remember me? I'm the guy that asked the original question.

I have been reading all the responses with great interest and thanks to you all for your help.

As the responses seem to be getting off the point, I thought it a good time to respond.

I would agree with Unicorn that it has largely to do with budget. I know that things like Peak Practice are very high budget and is shot in film, whereas there are a lot of smaller independants who do not have that sort of budget and shoot with video. (Like most amateurs too!) I think this was also supported by Bublewrap. (How did you come up with a name like that?)

I was very interested in 'Alan Roberts at works' point about film being logarithmic, I have always noted how much more tollerent the film was and now I begin to understand just why.(I wish I was educated!)

I don't think it is pertinent to the question but it is interesting that film, will still be the same in many years to come but there is no doubt that video standards will change. At my club we have a lot of 1930s cine film that has been copied onto Mini DV; if the standard changes then we can easily do it again onto whatever format is required. If we did that off the Mini DV it would not be as good.

i think Guy M-W has hit the nail on the head, it seems that film gives the DOP more options and will be used where the budget permits. I appreciate that sometime in the future there may be technical advances that will enable video to overhaul film in terms of quality and creative capability but it is not here yet. (Unless you like living at the bleeding edge of technology)

As an enthusiastic amateur, and I am sure most C.V. readers are, the budget is paramount. So, we will be using video and as far as anything that is likely to have a long term requirement(Eg,events in the town that are of historical interest) we just hope that some time there will be a technical solution that will enable the video to be kept for many years.

Howki

PS I see that the forum lists me as a junior member, as I am over 60 how long will it be before I can call myself a grown up member?

Unicorn
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Joined: Apr 12 1999

quote:Originally posted by Alan Roberts at work:
By the way, when I was at University way back in the 60s, a colleague got a job at NASA as a structural engineer for the space programme. They were shooting film at over 10,000fps even then.

According to Richard Rhodes ('Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb'), the cameras used to record the explosion of the first hydrogen bomb in 1952 were turbine powered and could shoot 3,500,000 frames per second. Lucky really that a hydrogen bomb is so bright, as otherwise they'd need one hell of an f-stop!

So it looks like filming nuclear explosions is another place where film is a better choice than video 8-). I've also heard that military radar on Navy ships interferes with video cameras, or at least with consumer models like the TRV900.

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Alan Roberts at work
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IIRC, those super-high-speed film cameras were "use once" devices. Load the film, spin the prism, start exposure then detonate a small charge to destroy the prism to effectively close the shutter. Not cheap, even by film standards.

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Alan Roberts at work
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Oh, one more thing, film doesn't last forever. The dyes oxidise and change colour, and they migrate in the gel powered by ion exchange, so the resolution goes down and "grain" gets worse. It takes years to happen, but happen it does.

And one final thing, you proceed from Junior upwards simply based on you number of postings. There used to be a class above "Member", that of "Contributor", but that classification seems to have died in the great crash of 1999.

p.s. I used to be a Contributor

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bubblewrap
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Film doesn't last forever but ....

I believe the French spent millions on transfering all there archive material in the eighties onto LaserDisc. Was that a wise decision? Will LaserDisc players be around in twenty years time. Would it be a wise decision to transfer archive material onto DVD now or would it be more sensible to copy onto new film stock?

I remember being blown away seing the restored version of Laurence of Arabia at the cinema a few years back. Fantasic.the best cinematography I'd ever seen . Even the restored version of Vertigo on TV really looked beautiful.

Unicorn
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Neither Laserdisc nor DVD are really good ideas for archival formats, and DVD less so because it's compressed. Most big movies today seem to be telecined to HD video and then down-converted to standard resolution for DVDs... so if nothing else, they'll be ready to go in a few years when HD-DVD arrives and you have to update your movie collection again!

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