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A possible jump to larger formats in digital cinematography?


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#1 Tom Lowe

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 01:48 PM

Some very interesting things going on in the world of digital cinematography. Some believe that the new Canon 5Dm2 might be a wakeup call. Along with Red's forthcoming DSMC, these cameras could herald a move toward larger formats.

In still photography, S35mm (aka "cropped" APS-C) sensors are considered to be a compromise in quality compared to full-frame (aka Vista Vision-sized) 35mm sensors. How long can S35mm remain the gold standard for cinema? The only thing S35mm really has going for it, at this point, is a legacy of lenses & supporting equipment, the fact that people are simply accustomed to that format, and possibly more manageable DOF than FF35mm. But other than that, why stay with such a relatively small sensor?

What is going to happen, for example, if Red's DSMC is released with a FF35mm "Vista Vision" sized sensor that records (onboard downsampled) 4K REDCODE RAW at 100fps? That would be a game-changer, my friends. One only need look to old Vista Vision films like The Searchers or Veritgo to see how wonderful that larger format can be. Now granted, many films will not benefit from such a large format, and will be perfectly fine shot at S35mm. But many films might.

The real issue, though, is lenses. In terms of image quality, existing 35mm still glass (like Canon EF L series) has compared favorably in recent tests against top cinema 35mm glass. So the question is, how quickly could full-frame 35mm glass be adapted for cinema use? How quickly could FF35mm (aka Vista Vision) lenses be produced? What would hinder the production and use of such glass?

What are the downsides to shooting on such a large format?

And what about a FF35mm sensor at 4:3 for anamorphic shooting? :)
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 01:59 PM

Hopefully if enough people started shooting with digital cine formats larger than S35, some lenses would start to appear on the market tailored for those cameras. Until then, you'd be using adapted still camera lenses.

You have to decide how the extra quality will get transmitted into what viewers will see. In the old days of VistaVision, 65mm, etc. you had 70mm release prints to show off the quality, or Tech I.B. prints, etc. Now you've got 35mm projection, 2K digital projection, and IMAX, which may go to a form of 4K projection unfortunately.

So what are your projection options? If you shoot in this VistaVision-size digital cine camera and release it in 2K projection, will it look significantly better than something shot with a 4K S35 digital cine camera? Remember that with large format film, you get less grain compared to the smaller formats, but grain isn't really a factor in digital cinematography, so what you'd be hoping to see, if you go through the effort to use this VistaVision-size sensor, is more visible resolution. So would that show up in the ways you will likely release it, short of IMAX? Maybe, but maybe the improvement would not seem significant enough to be worth the bother.

Otherwise, the main problems are lack of cine-style optics and the lower depth of field, similar to shooting in anamorphic. But it might produce a nice clean, smooth image where noise and other sensor artifacts are less visible due to a lower degree of enlargement.

But if image detail is your main concern, just remember that there are a number of factors that go beyond pixel resolution, like MTF of the system and fine detail vs. aliasing artifacts.

I'm just not sure the quality improvement of jumping from an S35 sensor to a VistaVision-size sensor will be as visible as it is in film when you jump from 4-perf to 8-perf.

Rehousing still camera lenses for cine use is not a big deal, there are specialty companies that do it, just that it adds significantly to the cost of the lens. If there was a market for such lenses, I'm sure you'd see more of them being built. The particular quality of cine lenses us not just an issue of the glass, it's the mechanics since some lens artifacts are only visible in real time as you pull focus, etc., not in a single still frame.

As for 2X anamorphic lenses being built for a double-size 4x3 sensor, that is less likely to happen. It would be a niche of a niche of a niche in the cine lens market.
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#3 Tom Lowe

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 02:11 PM

Hmm... good points about end-display formats. Perhaps once the theater world moves toward 4K projection the larger format size could be of benefit?
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 02:20 PM

4K projection may open up more options.

A decade ago, you had 35mm 1.85, 35mm scope, and 5-perf 70mm as release print options, so you could still make the case for large format photography. Nowadays you basically have 35mm projection, plus 2K, and IMAX as your options, which is fine except that there are fewer IMAX theaters available to release your large-format movie in than there were 70mm venues back in the previous decade.

While I used to dream of shooting a movie in 65mm or VistaVision, it's become harder and harder to justify it without the option of showing it in 70mm -- the marginal improvements for a 35mm release hardly seem worth the extra cost and effort. You're almost better off just pushing to shoot in 35mm anamorphic, though 65mm would still look lovely in any release format. Just that it may not be such a radical improvement that you could justify the extra costs to the producer. I find it hard enough to get a producer to pay for 4-perf 35mm anamorphic. Nowadays they all want to shoot 3-perf or HD and do a 2K D.I.
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#5 Tom Lowe

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 03:09 PM

Aside from the possibility of a 70mm screening, what else appeals to you about shooting a feature in 65mm or Vista Vision, David?
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#6 Max Jacoby

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 04:13 PM

For one you get to handle a big-ass camera and that feels quite nice ;)
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#7 Tom Lowe

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Posted 04 October 2008 - 06:21 PM

Max, is this really the proper venue for airing your Freudian ruminations? :lol:
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#8 Max Jacoby

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 12:45 AM

Okay what really appeals to me that 65mm increases your stageing options. Because the neg is so much bigger you can do wider shots and still see the actors faces. Plus the colors are much cleaner.
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 11:53 AM

So in terms of dynamic range and all of that, is it true that the gradations are much smoother shooting on a larger format like 65mm or Vista Vision? Are there advantages in terms of perceivable DR?

I always marvel at how they were able to hold the blue sky so well against the hot, red desert floor in "The Searchers," for example. Did the larger format help in that respect? A lot of 65mm movies APPEAR (at least to my eyes) to benefit from more "dynamic range." Now, I know David has said that, basically, no, there is not really an increase in DR in 65mm vs 35mm, for example. But I don't think I have ever seen a definitive statement about the subject. I think David was talking about if you simply took a 3mm square crop of a 65mm frame vs a 3mm square crop of a S35mm frame, that, no, there would obviously be no increase in DR. But I wonder about overall, given the look of the entire frame, if there is a de facto increase in "DR"?
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 12:15 PM

There's no logical reason why a larger cut of the same negative stock would have increased dynamic range. However, it would have increased detail and resolution, and therefore there would be some impression of greater "range" since there is a visible increase in detail and color accuracy. But the point where the film burns out to white or falls to pure black should be the same whether it was chopped into Super-8 rolls or IMAX rolls.

But with increased detail, there may be some fuzziness in terms of that exact point where you stop seeing detail in hot whites and deep blacks. But I doubt it would be a significant factor. But maybe with more small and large grains in general, you may sense more detail on either end, so who knows... maybe there is some gain of a half-stop at either end, or one stop total. That's the only way I could see why there would be an increase in dynamic range. It's the sort of improvement -- if it even exits -- that would not show up on a grey scale chart (unless it had a lot of steps to it) but may show up in real world situations.

Ignoring the un-ignorable aspects of size, weight, cost, and inconvenience (not to mention distribution!)... large-format film photography is sort of the best of all worlds, the benefits of a silver-based photochemical imager using grains but with the results being fine-grained and highly detailed without any electronic sharpening or aliasing problems.

But I'm not sure if the same benefits apply to larger and larger digital sensors, at least, not as significantly.
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#11 James Mehr

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 03:00 PM

David, I was always told that when you shoot on small formats like 16mm or Super8, you lose latitude. For example, when you shoot on 16/Super16, you typically lose a stop in latitude. And in my experience, that's typically true. Am I confusing latitude with Dynamic Range? If so, what is the exact definition of both terms? Thanks!
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 03:17 PM

"Latitude" means your correctable range, whereas "dynamic range" means the total range of luminance values recorded. With a smaller negative, you have less range to correct for exposure mistakes because of graininess, plus perhaps other artifacts may be more visible as well.

Speaking of wider formats, by coincidence, my wife ran across this cartoon in "International Photographer" (now ICG Magazine):

Posted Image
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#13 Tom Lowe

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 03:20 PM

Hahaha.

So does your wife share your interest in cinematography, David?
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#14 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 03:21 PM

Hahaha.

So does your wife share your interest in cinematography, David?


From a historical standpoint... she's been researching any crew members who worked with Buster Keaton.
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#15 Walter Graff

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 04:02 PM

"What is going to happen, for example, if Red's DSMC is released with a FF35mm "Vista Vision" sized sensor that records (onboard downsampled) 4K REDCODE RAW at 100fps? That would be a game-changer, my friends."

Well so far, nothing RED has done has been a 'game changer" so I doubt what you speak of would either. RED like all other cameras is a tool. Pick your tool for your job. Why everyone is so obsessed with "bigger means better" is quite interesting. Most of what folks shoot today ends up being so far beyond the capabilities of the final viewing medium that it's kind of funny that even so they still think bigger is going to do more. It seems the new generation of filmmakers all want nirvana and think that comes from a bigger target to shoot to. Sort of like the male prowess saying that goes around but now translated into cameras. I personally don't believe bigger is necessary right now. This subculture of internet filmmakers is the only group to bring it up and really care as I see it.
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#16 Thomas James

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 04:19 PM

I think the future is compound curved spherical movie screens with an aspect ratio of 150 degrees horizontally by 120 degrees vertically for the total immersive expereince. While this may not seem like widescreen because it would have the full screen aspect ratio is 1.25 to one it would probably have the appearance of being widescreen because it would actually be a hybrid of widescreen and fullscreen offering the best of both worlds. Cinerama was famous for using curved screens but I am proposing a much more advanced technology because Cinerama limits the vertical field of view
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#17 Walter Graff

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 04:44 PM

I think the future is compound curved spherical movie screens with an aspect ratio of 150 degrees horizontally by 120 degrees vertically for the total immersive expereince.



Eventually they will need something to keep theater goers coming. Cinerama was a gimmick that tried to refresh moviegoers as TV started to take over consumers viewing habits. But keeping it alive was difficult as it was complex. Right now, while grosses are up, attendance is slowly fading away theater's importance. With the new methods of entertainment including DVDs, the industry itself is seeing a ever changing landscape which could one day foster the basic elimination of theaters as they exist now. Yea, some will say the theater system will never disappear but ten years ago they said the record industry would never disappear either. I certainly enjoy the theater experience but as a dad, I reserve my theatergoing to being a rare experience that includes only the 'best' pictures or pictures that offer me something more than I could experience at home each year. And most folks I talk to say the same thing. I see formats futures being more what they are and more tweaking for the small screen experience rather than the big screen.
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#18 Tom Lowe

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 05:50 PM

"What is going to happen, for example, if Red's DSMC is released with a FF35mm "Vista Vision" sized sensor that records (onboard downsampled) 4K REDCODE RAW at 100fps? That would be a game-changer, my friends."

Well so far, nothing RED has done has been a 'game changer" so I doubt what you speak of would either. RED like all other cameras is a tool. Pick your tool for your job. Why everyone is so obsessed with "bigger means better" is quite interesting. Most of what folks shoot today ends up being so far beyond the capabilities of the final viewing medium that it's kind of funny that even so they still think bigger is going to do more. It seems the new generation of filmmakers all want nirvana and think that comes from a bigger target to shoot to. Sort of like the male prowess saying that goes around but now translated into cameras. I personally don't believe bigger is necessary right now. This subculture of internet filmmakers is the only group to bring it up and really care as I see it.


I wonder if you even realize how condescending this is, Walter? So I guess Ron Fricke was just some sized-obsessed fanboy when he shot Baraka on 65mm? I guess John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock must have been a couple of pimple-faced "internet filmmakers" to have wanted to shoot their masterpieces on the "bigger target" of Vista Vision? Every time a post is made here related to new technology, you swoop in and lecture all of us about how "new cameras will not make you a better filmmaker." Walter, we all understood that lecture the first 200 times we saw it posted here.

No offense to you personally. It's just getting tiresome.

Edited by Tom Lowe, 05 October 2008 - 05:52 PM.

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#19 Walter Graff

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 06:31 PM

I didn't realize it was condescending. Just stating facts as I see them. As for your Directors references, I wouldn't put them in the same league as today's niche of internet filmmakers who I describe as budgets under $500k. They were making movies for a big screen. Other than that, large formats are useless.

And you can always skip what I post if it bothers you.
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#20 Tom Lowe

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Posted 05 October 2008 - 06:34 PM

You're right. I think I was a little out of line with that post. Sorry, Walter.
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