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questions about the future of digital cinema


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#1 Shaun Joye

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 03:01 PM

Lately I've been thinking about the whole digital vs. film debate. I'm looking for input on some of my ideas.

Will digital projection replace film projection?
A few years ago the ITU and kodak did a test that determined that in an average movie theater you're really only seeing about 700-800 lines of resolution. From my own experience as a projectionist, it seems that digital projection could provide (and from what I've seen does provide) a much sharper image. There's no jitter or weave or other mechanical problems that plague film projectors. If the ungodly scope/flat lens turret is done away with it would also eliminate a lot of abuse to the lens. Has there been any testing done to try and objectively determine the resolving power of a digital system? Film prints also cost a tremendous amount of money and are easily scratched. So, in my opinion, digital projection will soon become the norm. The only thing that bothers me about the digital projection I've seen from the current Christie 2k projectors is that the black levels seem elevated. Christie states that their projectors have a contrast ratio of 2000:1. So I'm wondering what is the normal contrast ratio of film projection and why do the black levels on digital seem to look much worse.

What happens when digital origination matches the quality of film negative?
Given the progression of digital technologies it seems that in the next ten years originating on film will actually represent a technical loss in quality. There will be higher and higher resolution digital imaging systems and whatever problems they have now will be overcome. So then I think the question is: what's up with Vision 2 (or now Vision 3)? There won't be a technical reason to shoot film, only an artistic one, which makes having a whole bunch of stocks that are just low contrast and fine grain counterproductive for Kodak.

Will there be looks that you can't get digitally?
With digital intermediate and now the SI2K with speedgrade on set, are there still going to be any looks that require shooting film? Will the artistic freedom that comes with shooting digital become so appealing that people abandon film?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 06:36 PM

First of all, keep in mind that matching 35mm film's resolution is only one piece of the puzzle.

Yes, I think 2K DLP projection is fairly similar to good 35mm projection, and certainly better than bad 35mm projection. Black levels aren't as good (and the black levels of the 4K Sony projector are even worse).

The main problem that has been hard to solve, though people are working on it, is the cost of high-end digital projectors. It's hard for exhibitors, who bear the brunt of the costs, to justify spending $100,000 on a new digital projector that may be obsolete in five years -- thus saving print and distribution costs of distributors. Especially if the exhibitor already has 35mm projectors that have long paid for themselves. It's more in new theater construction where you are more likely to see some investment in making a few of the projectors digital.

As far as artistic reasons becoming one of the main reasons to shoot film, what's wrong with that? If you can afford to shoot either film or digital and you prefer film, then you're probably going to shoot on film. This is why the transition will be slower than some people think. New filmmakers have to want to shoot digital more and more, the technology has to get better (not just in resolution) and be more practical, costs for the best digital systems have to get lower, and long-term archiving issues have to be resolved in a manner that makes everyone comfortable.

But it will happen. However, we may still be seven to ten years away from the point where most high-end productions are shot digitally rather than on film (obviously a lot of the smaller productions are shooting digitally already).
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#3 Shaun Joye

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 07:12 PM

Just to clarify. I didn't mean to imply that there was something wrong with shooting film for just purely artistic reasons. I just meant to raise the question as to whether or not kodak has been pursuing a strategy thats counter productive by making a line of stocks that all look very similar (with the exception of "expression"), if the main reasons to shoot film are artisitc and not technical.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 November 2007 - 07:34 PM

Just to clarify. I didn't mean to imply that there was something wrong with shooting film for just purely artistic reasons. I just meant to raise the question as to whether or not kodak has been pursuing a strategy thats counter productive by making a line of stocks that all look very similar (with the exception of "expression"), if the main reasons to shoot film are artisitc and not technical.


Even before digital cameras and D.I.'s, Kodak & Fuji have traditionally has tried to make line of color neg stocks from slow to fast that match each other in terms of contrast and color saturation (just not speed/grain) so that one can shoot a movie on a mix of slow to fast stocks and have them intercut, maintain the same look.

In fact, it's a problem when you can't find a matching-look stock of a different speed -- for example, it bugs me that there is not a slow counterpart to Expression 500T or Fuji 400T, or a fast counterpart to Fuji Vivid 160T, or even that in the Fuji Eterna line-up, they stop at 250 ASA, don't go any slower, and F-64D doesn't match the look of Eterna 250D.

At least Kodak Vision-2 50D, 100T, 200T, 250D, and 500T all match each other in terms of contrast and color saturation.

The typical 35mm feature, not going for a stylized look, generally use two stocks that match each other, one 500T and one slower for day work or efx work, like 200T or 250T or 250D, if not slower.
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 08:33 PM

Well, you have to remember that the adoption of digital projection will most likely be the end of film. THe vast bulk of film made by Eastman Kodak is, in fact, motion picture print film. I forget the percentage of the ~9 billion feet of MP film Kodak sells yearly is print stock, but still film was, at its peak 1/3 that, about 3 billion feet a year. I doubt there are more than 3-4 billion feet of ECN-2 sold yearly, with the rest being print stock. C-41 stock sales are probably down to around 1 billion feet a year, or even less. If you lose another 5-6 billion feet of sales at Kodak, they are probalby going to have no choice but to significantly downsize or even pull the plug on the whole thing. So if things halve from the about 10 billion feet/year they currently sell, I think Kodak is going to probably jettison film altogether.

So artists just won't generate enough volume to keep production going. The only reason there is still money being pumped in to color negative and B&W negative stocks in still photography is trickle-down from improvements generated by the Vision line.

A lot of people criticize me for being anti-digital. I am not. I am a firm believer that color films should continue to be made, and that necessitates that there remain some sort of large support base that uses film. Such a large base almost certainly needs to be commercial. A few hobbyists that go out and shoot a cartridge of Super8 each year just won't do it for a gigantic corporation like Eastman Kodak. While film certainly won't last indefinitely, I want to do my part to keep it around as long as possible, by shooting as much of it as I can.
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#6 John Sprung

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 09:04 PM

Well, you have to remember that the adoption of digital projection will most likely be the end of film.

With something in the high tens of thousands of 35mm projectors in the installed base worldwide, maybe even over 100K, the inflection point of the "S" curve is a long way out in the future. Professional projectors are industrial machines that last for decades. Simplexes from the silent era are still quite usable, with the add-on sound head. Digital projectors are obsolete before you can get the styrofoam they came in to the dumpster. Cash strapped theater owners are in no hurry at all to make the switch.



-- J.S.
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#7 Luke Haywood

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Posted 21 November 2007 - 06:42 AM

With something in the high tens of thousands of 35mm projectors in the installed base worldwide, maybe even over 100K, the inflection point of the "S" curve is a long way out in the future. Professional projectors are industrial machines that last for decades. Simplexes from the silent era are still quite usable, with the add-on sound head. Digital projectors are obsolete before you can get the styrofoam they came in to the dumpster. Cash strapped theater owners are in no hurry at all to make the switch.



-- J.S.

Also....

Repairs to a mechanical projector can often be done by anyone with a reasonable degree of mechanical aptitude, with fairly basic hand tools. An electronic projector requires specialized technicians and equiment.

Most projectors' light modulating elements suffer from aging, whereas with film projection, the light modulating element is changed 24 times every second.

Because of the high light transmission efficiency of film, film projector lamps don't have to be as powerful as those used for electronic projectors, and so they're cheaper, and last much longer.

While some sort of disc based delivery format would undoubtedly be cheaper than film prints, the exhibitor does not normally pay for those, so it would be hard to convince him to foot the bill for an upgrade that only benefits the distribution companies.
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