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wide vs telephoto focal lengths in TV vs Movies


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#1 Josh Bass

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Posted 03 September 2010 - 10:47 PM

I posted another thread about finding a searchable database of stills for different movies. While searching through the ones I was pointed to, I noticed something while browsing the hundreds of stills for both TV shows and movies. . .movies seem to use more wide focal lengths than do TV shows, even for closeups.

Why is this? I don't even mean using wider lenses for some kind of disorientation effect, or anything like that. Just a plain old closeup. For some reason, in many TV show, almost all shots look telephoto, i.e. compressed on the Z axis. Even wide shots.

Is this a choice necessitated by hectic TV schedules vs a (comparatively) more relaxed movie schedule? Do the people in charge like it?

I ask because, browsing through those stills, the wider angle shots tend to look more "alive" than their flat telephoto counterparts.
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#2 Tom Jensen

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Posted 03 September 2010 - 11:37 PM

Movies generally have more money and you can show more. TV has a history of being low budget and talky. The tighter .you are the less you see and the less work needed to get the shot. Less work is less money. The size of a movie screen is (supposed to be) big and wider is easier to see detail on the big screen. On a smaller TV wide gets lost sometimes. You did notice something that is very common. Pay attention to different scenes in a movie and TV. Watch where the budget is spent. You will see a trend on how scripts are covered and where the budget goes. Sometimes we see a lot of dialogue indoors around tables and then we go outside at night and there you may see lots of movie lights and action. Or day exteriors covering dialogue with no action. Often less expensive to film. Anyway, I digress.
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#3 Josh Bass

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 05:07 AM

That makes sense for wide vs tight SHOTS, but I mean the actual focal lengths used to get the same shot. In movies you might have a chest to head close up covered with a slightly wide lens, where as the same composition on TV is often done with a longer lens, even though it's still a chest to head CU. I guess you see a little more with the wider lens even if the subject stays the same size in frame, but is the difference really that great? Or are you saying the exaggerated shallow DOF you get with the longer lenses vs wide for the same frame size/composition is an asset to the lower-budget world of TV?
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#4 Josh Mitchell Frey

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 06:03 AM

This most likely isn't a primary reason, but as TV content is necessarily subject to compression, reducing background information in the frame would lead to nicer results on TV. This especially applies in a standard definition context, where there simply aren't enough pixels to handle a complex wide shot nicely.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 06:55 AM

That makes sense for wide vs tight SHOTS, but I mean the actual focal lengths used to get the same shot. In movies you might have a chest to head close up covered with a slightly wide lens, where as the same composition on TV is often done with a longer lens, even though it's still a chest to head CU. I guess you see a little more with the wider lens even if the subject stays the same size in frame, but is the difference really that great? Or are you saying the exaggerated shallow DOF you get with the longer lenses vs wide for the same frame size/composition is an asset to the lower-budget world of TV?


There are likely a number of reasons for this, but one of the more prominent one's that I've seen frequently is simply a limitation on time. It takes far less time to have a zoom lens on the camera on a wide focal length to get the master, but then just "punch in" for the closeup instead of taking the time to move the camera and change the lens. On a feature, where the schedule allows for one scene a day, the DP has time to make every shot "special." An episodic doesn't have that luxury of time where the schedule may call for up to four scenes a day or more. So, you'd slap a 4-1 on the A-camera, an 11-1 on the B camera and start rolling as soon as rehearsal is done.
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#6 Josh Bass

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 04:37 PM

There are likely a number of reasons for this, but one of the more prominent one's that I've seen frequently is simply a limitation on time. It takes far less time to have a zoom lens on the camera on a wide focal length to get the master, but then just "punch in" for the closeup instead of taking the time to move the camera and change the lens. On a feature, where the schedule allows for one scene a day, the DP has time to make every shot "special." An episodic doesn't have that luxury of time where the schedule may call for up to four scenes a day or more. So, you'd slap a 4-1 on the A-camera, an 11-1 on the B camera and start rolling as soon as rehearsal is done.



Makes sense. But what about the exceptions? What makes them special? I recall more dynamic cinematography (maybe my imagination) in the first season of Dexter than in following seasons. Also the short lived "Pushing Daisies", which I was not really a fan of, was gorgeous. Daisies for sure was using the wider lenses for CUs and such.
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