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Biggest Noob-style questions ever!


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#1 Adam Norton

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Posted 24 August 2006 - 06:22 PM

Okay, I'm sure these are going to be the worst Noob-like questions many of you have ever seen on this forum, but here goes...
Let me start by saying that this seems to be a place with plenty of people who know exactly what they're talking about, so hopefully you can help me out.
I will admitt that I am not a cinematographer... don't boo me yet. I AM a PHOTOgrapher however. And ever since I started shooting pictures back in highschool I was always looking for that "something special".
One crazy idea I had was to try to cross-breed some things from cinematography over to photography.

So here are a few questions that hopefully some of you can answer for me.
1) How exactly does movie film, specifically the 35mm variety, differ from 35mm used in photography?
Are they more, or less, sensitive to light? Is the quality found on movie film higher than that of regular film? And would I have much trouble finding someone who would process 2 foot long, I guess snippets compared to batches made for movies, strips?
What I always wanted to do in highschool was to buy my own bulk 35mm movie film and recut it and spool it into a 35mm canister for my slr. Anyone ever seen this done?
2) While I don't know exactly how movie cameras work I know there is a great deal that is different from the SLR's I'm used to shooting on. Since the camera shoots X number of frames per second, usually 24 if memory serves me, I was assuming all the adjustment was done with the aperature on the lens... correct?
3) I also saw on another post here on the forum where the term "shutter angle" was mentioned. Can someone explain this to me? I'm pretty proffecient with the workings of photographic cameras but I'm wondering if this can be explained as to it's function?
4) The lenses, is there really any differences between the lenses made for movie cameras and those made for regular 35mm cameras? I know there would be a focal length difference... meaning the difference from the film plane to the lens, but is there anything else? Are they better? Higher quality?

So, I will thank in advance anyone out there who is nice enough to help out someone who knows absolutely nothing about what you do... but respects it and wants to incorporate it into his own work.
Thank you.
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#2 Michael Rizzi

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Posted 24 August 2006 - 08:46 PM

Okay, I'm sure these are going to be the worst Noob-like questions many of you have ever seen on this forum, but here goes...
Let me start by saying that this seems to be a place with plenty of people who know exactly what they're talking about, so hopefully you can help me out.
I will admitt that I am not a cinematographer... don't boo me yet. I AM a PHOTOgrapher however. And ever since I started shooting pictures back in highschool I was always looking for that "something special".
One crazy idea I had was to try to cross-breed some things from cinematography over to photography.

So here are a few questions that hopefully some of you can answer for me.
1) How exactly does movie film, specifically the 35mm variety, differ from 35mm used in photography?
Are they more, or less, sensitive to light? Is the quality found on movie film higher than that of regular film? And would I have much trouble finding someone who would process 2 foot long, I guess snippets compared to batches made for movies, strips?
What I always wanted to do in highschool was to buy my own bulk 35mm movie film and recut it and spool it into a 35mm canister for my slr. Anyone ever seen this done?
2) While I don't know exactly how movie cameras work I know there is a great deal that is different from the SLR's I'm used to shooting on. Since the camera shoots X number of frames per second, usually 24 if memory serves me, I was assuming all the adjustment was done with the aperature on the lens... correct?
3) I also saw on another post here on the forum where the term "shutter angle" was mentioned. Can someone explain this to me? I'm pretty proffecient with the workings of photographic cameras but I'm wondering if this can be explained as to it's function?
4) The lenses, is there really any differences between the lenses made for movie cameras and those made for regular 35mm cameras? I know there would be a focal length difference... meaning the difference from the film plane to the lens, but is there anything else? Are they better? Higher quality?

So, I will thank in advance anyone out there who is nice enough to help out someone who knows absolutely nothing about what you do... but respects it and wants to incorporate it into his own work.
Thank you.


1) 35mm motion picture film is the very same film used in still cameras. The difference is in the type of film stock you have to choose from. There are certain film stocks that are made to serve the motion picture industry specifically (the Kodak vision and vision2 series). Another difference is the way the film is exposed. In a still camera the picture is composed with the top and bottom of the frame parallel to the perforations while in motion picture cameras the perforations are on the left and right of the frame. (Except VistaVision cameras used for special effects work where the film is exposed horizontally like a still camera). As far as spooling motion picture stock into still film canisters, it has been done. There was a place in LA called RGB that used to offer that service but they are no longer in business. There is actually a current discussion on the forum that you may want to check out.

2) By adjustment I assume you mean adjusting the amount of light that exposes the film.
Yes the aperture on a motion picture camera is similar to your still camera aperture in regards to letting light through, but that's not the only way to control your exposure. On most cameras you can adjust the frame rate, which is basically how fast the film runs through the gate. "Normal" is 24 frames per second. Any frame rate higher than 24 (i.e. 25, 30, 48, 1200, etc) will result in slow motion, assuming the film is played back at the rate of 24 frames per second. With each double of frame rate, your light loss is 1/2. So if you are shooting at a f/5.6 at 24 frames per second and decided you want to shoot at 48 frames per second for a slow motion effect, you would then have to compensate on your lens and open up the aperture to a f/4 in order to keep correct exposure (assuming you want to keep correct exposure). The same ratio can be used when shooting at a frame rate below 24 fps only you would reverse it (i.e. 12 fps would result in a GAIN of a stop of light) Another way to adjust exposure is the adjust the shutter angle...which brings be to question 3...

3) The shutter angle is similar but not exactly the same as your shutter speed on a still camera. "Normal" shutter angle is 180 degrees. Motion picture film is exposed in a similar way to still cameras where a mirror moves out of the way to expose a frame. Instead of the mirror flipping up on a hinge, the mirror is circular and rotates around it's axis exposing each frame as the mirror moves out of the way (at the same time, the film is advanced one frame with the help of pull-down claws and registration pins) The mirror is only half of a circle though. Imagine looking at a pizza with exactly half of it gone, the part that's left is the mirror, 180 degrees of a full circle. As the mirror spins the film is exposed for 1/48 of a second (when the camera runs at 24 frames per second) because the other 1/48 of the second is the part of the spinning mirror that is not letting light through (or the already eaten pizza). The shutter angle is adjusted in the same way that you would adjust your shutter speed on your still camera. If you are shooting sports photography, you may want a sharp, crisp action picture so you would set your shutter speed to 1/500 or 1/1000. A similar adjustment is made on a motion picture camera by narrowing the shutter angle to a degree less than 180. Essentially you are reducing the amount of time a frame is exposed resulting in less of a chance for motion blur to occur. The half/double ratio can be used for exposure for this as well (90 degree shutter requires twice as much light as 180 degree shutter.)

4) The lenses are basically the same but like film stocks, they are specially tailored for motion picture cameras. They have special mounts on the back that make them universally accepted on most motion picture cameras and the focus and iris rings are outfitted with gears to accept a follow focus allowing some one to focus the camera without actually grabbing the lens.

Hopefully this will answer your questions. I'm sure there is more that I left out and I would appreciate if anyone would fill in the blanks.

Rizzi
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#3 Adam Norton

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Posted 24 August 2006 - 09:29 PM

That answers ALOT of my questions! Thank you so much!
Here's a little background into the workings of my highschool photographic mind. I remember seeing behind the scenes photos of movie sets and they always appear to be overly lit... bright bright lights!
Then you see the same scene in the movie and it's so under control, seeming dim in all the right places while the highlights stand out perfectly.
THAT'S the look I wanted. So I thought that shooting movie film through my camera would give me that same control. Blacked out shadows and vivid highlights.

So when you say the film stock is tailored to movie camera needs... what exactly do you mean? And when you say they are essentially the same... are they exactly, or do you get different response to light, shadow, etc? Is my daydream correct?
Or would I just be wasting my time with this?

And thanks again!
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 August 2006 - 12:47 AM

Motion picture color negative and still camera color negative are similar in that they are both color negative stocks; they differ in the types offered -- for example, most still camera film is daylight-balanced for flash photography; most motion picture film is balanced for tungsten lighting -- and there are different speeds of stock on the market.

But the main difference is physical, since movie film has to run at high speeds through a movie camera, so it has a better anti-static / anti-halation backing called "remjet", it uses a different shape perf, the perfs are more precisely punched out, etc.

http://en.wikipedia....lm_perforations
http://en.wikipedia....e_vs_still_film
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#5 Michael Rizzi

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Posted 25 August 2006 - 02:23 AM

I remember seeing behind the scenes photos of movie sets and they always appear to be overly lit... bright bright lights!
Then you see the same scene in the movie and it's so under control, seeming dim in all the right places while the highlights stand out perfectly.



That's most likely the result of the behind the scenes videographer not exposing his or her camera at the same level as the cinematographer of whatever movie is being shot. The video camera may be on auto exposure or the operator may have opened up the aperture in order to let more light in to see the crew working therefore making the surrounding lights seem too bright.

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#6 Hal Smith

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Posted 25 August 2006 - 08:37 AM

Then you see the same scene in the movie and it's so under control, seeming dim in all the right places while the highlights stand out perfectly.
THAT'S the look I wanted. So I thought that shooting movie film through my camera would give me that same control. Blacked out shadows and vivid highlights.

The art of lighting in motion pictures is crucial to what a given shot looks like on film. The films themselves used in still photography aren't all that different than motion photography films, the main difference in what movies look like is the lighting. Movie lighting is highly controlled (one might say "designed") to emphasize the meaning of a scene, very dramatic scenes often have striking differences between light and dark areas on the screen, romantic scenes are often very softly lit, etc.

There are two books you might look into: "Cinematography" written by Kris Malkiewicz and M. David Mullen, ASC (yes, the same David Mullen, ASC who is a member of this forum and replied to your post) and "Set Lighting Technicians Handbook" by Harry C. Box. "Cinematography" is a good survey of all of the techniques and equipment a working Cinematographer uses and Harry Box's book is the most comprehensive book on movie lighting equipment and onset technical work I'm aware of.

Another area of photographic technique that is emphasized in Cinematography is Depth of Field (DOF). Movie scenes are often shot with wide apertures like f2 and longer lenses like 75mm so that the DOF is very shallow. The artistic effect is that perhaps only one actor's face is in sharp focus, everything else in the frame is out of focus. This helps to focus the audiences attention on what is important in the scene. Cinematographers even worry about what things like out-of-focus bright lights in the scene look like (the "fuzziness" of out-of-focus objects is called "bokeh" by Cinematographers).

Practice is a very good way of learning film lighting technique. There are low-budget film-makers doing good work with cheap Home Depot worklights, etc. used creatively. Bouncing light off white reflectors and using diffusion in front of lights is one of the ways cheap lights can be fooled into performing like professional gear. Chinese lantern shades are dirt cheap at places like Pier One and hanging a bright bulb inside of one is a great way of improvising a soft light for actor's faces.

Have fun! Sooner or later you'll get the itch to make your pictures move, that's when you'll want to start lurking the Super-8 forum here - there's some atonishingly good movies being made on ultra-low budgets by the Super-8 troops.
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#7 Adam Norton

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Posted 25 August 2006 - 07:30 PM

Have fun! Sooner or later you'll get the itch to make your pictures move, that's when you'll want to start lurking the Super-8 forum here - there's some atonishingly good movies being made on ultra-low budgets by the Super-8 troops.


You know... I just started thinking about it last night! Kinda funny.
And I gotta say I am very happily suprised how helpful everyone here was! I kind of half expected to be treated as an "outsider". As this is a very proffesional looking site and I haven't even used a film movie camera in my life. But I thank everyone for helping to answer my questions! You've all been very helpful... and I'll probably check out some of those books. I might not wind up making movies but if nothing else it can't hurt to know a little more about something that is so related to what I love.
Thanks again!
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