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Why do the HD cameras used to shoot features look so bad?


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#1 Joe Riggs

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 10:07 AM

I know they're digital but the higher end cameras used to shoot feature films such as "21", "Public Enemies", look really "videoy", it is very noticeable, is there a reason? The way they handle motion? Lighting?
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 10:22 AM

Well they are video ;)

It's a mixture of reasons. I would say the most noticeable is the lack of latitude and the way in which they handle colors (natively linear and then a log curve is applied to 'em where as film is native log). A lot of it does, however, come down to lighting/sharpness. There is a feeling, often, that HD is "too sharp" to look filmic and sloppy lighting will make any format scream all its shortcomings (not to say that 21 or public are inherently badly lit, as I've seen neither).
Point is each tool you use has a certain look, you pick the right look for the project at hand. Sometimes the "look" of HD is appropriate, other times it's not. It's the same as why one shoots 16/S16/Spherical 35/Anamorphic 35 or IMAX. Each one has a slightly different aesthetic.
Or, look at it another way, given the choice between all the pro-sumer cameras, wouldn't you want to pick the one that inherently is closest to your desired final "look" (regardless of workflow)
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 10:34 AM

I know they're digital but the higher end cameras used to shoot feature films such as "21", "Public Enemies", look really "videoy", it is very noticeable, is there a reason? The way they handle motion? Lighting?


If you saw the ASC/PGA assessment series (35mm, Arri D21, F23, F35, Genesis, Red, Panasonic 3700) you'd be surprised at how closely they all came to 35mm, with the caveat that it all went through a 2K D.I. pipeline.

When these cameras drift away from a film look is when they do things that a film camera cannot do, like shoot with a 270, or worse, 360 degree shutter. They also still are unable to match film's dynamic range, they are still at least two-stops or more away from that.

So those are the two main culprits: smearing from longer shutter speeds, and clipping for a lack of dynamic range. Toss in the occasional digital artifact (noise, compression, etc.) There are also some color space issues.

But shot very conservatively -- sticking to a 180 degree shutter, exposing carefully, etc. -- you have a number of digital movies where most audiences don't notice that they are digital in origination. For example, the Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie "Forbidden Kingdom" or some Adam Sandler comedies like "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" or "Bedtime Stories" (all shot on the Genesis). Or "Rock-N-Rolla" (shot on the D20). The trailer for "Final Destination 4" looks fairly film-like (shot in 3D mostly on the F23). Or "Knowing" (shot on the Red.) Or "Benjamin Button" (shot on the Viper).

So current high-end digital cameras are coming close to 35mm, and I suspect the next generation will more or less close the gap even if they still end up a stop or so less in dynamic range (that's a hard target to hit, color negative's dynamic range.)

But this brings up another issue, the other two reasons why digital looks like digital:

#1. When things go wrong, they always show the inherent or underlying structure of the original. In other words, when you shoot film badly, it reacts like film, and when you shoot digital badly, it reacts like digital. And things always go wrong, as long as human beings make movies. So to some extent, audiences are just going to have to get used to the occasional digital artifact from a mistake just as they are currently comfortable with the occasional film artifact.

#2. Why shoot digital and then avoid certain features that only a digital camera allows? Is the goal to hide the fact that you are shooting digital and do everything in your power to ensure a film look? Or is the goal to tell a story on time and on budget, and any tool is fair game as long as you are aware of the consequences? Is it absolutely necessary to maintain a film look at all times?

Of course, as the next generation closes the gaps, some differences will remain -- we are talking about two radically different ways of acquiring images, photochemically and electronically. But a difference that makes no difference IS no difference. Eventually if the gap is closed enough, people will make the small leap over the small differences. Nothing ever completely matches another technology -- we never really replaced Kodachrome or 3-strip Technicolor with something equivalent, just things close enough but more practical to use.
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#4 John Sprung

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 01:34 PM

If you saw the ASC/PGA assessment series (35mm, Arri D21, F23, F35, Genesis, Red, Panasonic 3700) you'd be surprised at how closely they all came to 35mm, with the caveat that it all went through a 2K D.I. pipeline.


To my eye, the digital cameras fell into two very distinct groups: The first group is D21, F35, Genesis, and Red, which match the DOF of 35mm film, and the other is F23, Panasonic 3700, (and Viper was in the tests too, IIRC), which have the 2/3" DOF.

When these cameras drift away from a film look is when they do things that a film camera cannot do, like shoot with a 270, or worse, 360 degree shutter. They also still are unable to match film's dynamic range, they are still at least two-stops or more away from that.


Certainly you wouldn't want to shoot a whole picture with a 360 degree shutter, but it is an interesting little addition to the DP's tool kit. It lets you go from sharp to total motion blur without the skipping (strobe) effect. Dave Stump used it for that fast accelerating circular dolly shot in "What Love Is", for which it was perfect.

All the digital cameras are lacking in dynamic range, one quite a bit more so than the rest.

There are also some color space issues.


True, and unfortunately nothing in the tests really stressed the gamut all that much. The dichroics in three chip cameras are inherently capable of more saturated primaries than the dyes applied to the surfaces of big single chips, so the three chip cameras can capture a wider gamut. But nothing in the tests revealed that. There was the "plum" colored shirt which revealed the weakness in the blue primary of one of the big chip cameras. It came out purple, though a different purple, in all the tests except this one, in which it's a surprisingly dark brown.

That being said, camera color gamut really isn't all that important for us as cinematographers. Your colorist in post can take whatever you hand them and push it to any place you want in the display system's gamut. You'd only be in trouble if two objects were supposed to be different colors, and the camera gave you the same color for both. But if it was that important, you'd test it and nail it.

One other thing about the shirts -- on film, they all look like cotton, but all the digital cameras made them look to me like polyester..... Go figure.... ;-)




-- J.S.
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#5 Thomas Dobbie

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 08:25 PM

Hi,

Perhaps of interest,is that the BSC are presenting the results of their camera test,tomorrow at the NFT in London.
It involved,I believe, all the cameras, HD & film, that were currently being used in productions at the time (Spring 09),from the Canon 5D MkIIthrough 435's,Pani's etc ,Phantom HD,D21.Genesis,Red,Viper and lots of others.
I also understand that it also involves all the current film stocks available,although I'm not clear if that includes 16mm.
Although it's not too long a day by DP standards,starting at 10.30 until 6.30,my only problem is going to be staying awake.
Day off,darkened film theatre,lunch etc,I'll be in the land of nod,unless the presentation is compelling.
Further information can be found at http://www.bscine.com/. Worth coming along to,if you're in London with a free day.

Tom.
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#6 John Sprung

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 10:26 PM

Be sure to bring plenty of pencils and paper. There's sure to be way too much to remember.



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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 10:31 PM

[. . .]with the caveat that it all went through a 2K D.I. pipeline.


Considering that with a stock like 5201 and 4-perf., you are easily throwing out 2/3 of the image resolution, isn't that a pretty big caveat David?

4-perf. is easily 10MP (nearly 4K) of information. 2K is 3MP or so.


And that is only spatial resolution, not bit-depth, which is an area not measured by the chip companies because 35mm veritably destroys digital imaging in this arena.
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#8 Alan Halfhill

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Posted 08 July 2009 - 12:10 PM

I know they're digital but the higher end cameras used to shoot feature films such as "21", "Public Enemies", look really "videoy", it is very noticeable, is there a reason? The way they handle motion? Lighting?


Depth of field, lighting and shutter. I started with 16mm and have shot 35mm as well. So I light like film when I am looking for that look. Now that I have access to RED and have a 35mm lens adapter for my 1/4 chip video camera, I pays to light like film because of the depth of focus. We are creating motion pictures either with film or digital.

Now shutter angle is a different matter. I did not like the shutter angle on "Public Enenies". WAY too much motion blur. I prefer film motion blur which can be done on a digital cinema camera. I use motion blur for effects but not story telling.
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#9 timHealy

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Posted 08 July 2009 - 08:50 PM

If you saw the ASC/PGA assessment series (35mm, Arri D21, F23, F35, Genesis, Red, Panasonic 3700) you'd be surprised at how closely they all came to 35mm, with the caveat that it all went through a 2K D.I. pipeline.


I would love to see that if it is available.

Best

Tim
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#10 Tom Lowe

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Posted 09 July 2009 - 05:41 PM

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Edited by Tom Lowe, 09 July 2009 - 05:45 PM.

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