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The current state of film scanners and telecines


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#1 Will Montgomery

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Posted 20 October 2010 - 11:50 AM

From "How much should I pay thread..."

Will Montgomery said:
I'm curious how different telecine houses work because where one place does something "all the time" another one might never work that way. It's kind of interesting how there isn't a standard.

To all those telecine guys out there: what is your standard workflow or your top 2 or 3?

It was my understanding that a DI system and telecine system are separate and distinct. A telecine like a Spirit or Millennium can feed a DI which is basically a large disk array OR the telecine can send directly to tape or to an Final Cut/Avid system. Is this true or is that only one example?

So unless the scanning machine can directly output DPX files (which I guess some can?) It would be a two-step process in outputting to a DI then outputting DPX or whatever files where requested. Which of course adds time and money so if ungraded DPX files are what is needed then using that machine that can directly output those would be the most efficient and least expensive right?

Paul? Robert? Am I misunderstanding how these work?

Elliot Rudmann Said:
I'll try to answer some questions for you, Will.

[[[I'm curious how different telecine houses work because where one place does something "all the time" another one might never work that way. It's kind of interesting how there isn't a standard.]]]


If all of the companies used the same standard and workflows, the one with the cheapest prices would probably win out :-) but seriously, the simplified workflow is pretty standard actually, it's what the client wants at the end that can change how things are done. Also, technology and newer systems/upgrades play a big part in determining workflow, as the equipment used in DI/telecine houses can vary greatly.

[[[It was my understanding that a DI system and telecine system are separate and distinct.]]]

Yes and no. A DI system typically involves a film scanner that generates files from each frame of film scanned, which is then color graded. Many places that use a spirit datacine for example, or other high end telecines that incorporate a file based workflow can also be called a DI system. Telecine, for the most part, has essentially been a heavily tape based workflow.

[[[So unless the scanning machine can directly output DPX files (which I guess some can?)]]]

No guess. Modern film scanners CAN. Arriscan I know for certain can also output tiff and cineon.

[[[It would be a two-step process in outputting to a DI then outputting DPX or whatever files where requested. Which of course adds time and money so if ungraded DPX files are what is needed then using that machine that can directly output those would be the most efficient and least expensive right?]]]


3 step more realistically: Scan film to dpx, color dpx, and render out dpx/file/layoff to tape. A post house could technically charge you for all three if they wanted. But then again, every company is different. If you are capable of handling dpx files, and know how to properly grade LOG files, then the most efficient (and cheapest route) would be to simply pay for film scanning. Sometimes what I do is literally hook up a clients hard drive and literally have the arriscan scan dpx files directly to that hard drive. No copying necessary.

Overall it's a confusing process because of the varying degree of what clients want and what workflows post houses like, which is largely determined by things such as their equipment/staff/company overhead. Personally, I think the production stage is a bit more unpredictable. :-)

Phil Rhodes Said:

Sometimes what I do is literally hook up a clients hard drive and literally have the arriscan scan dpx files directly to that hard drive. No copying necessary.


Works for a slow scanner, of course - not for a spirit. In my experience people are quite unwilling to do this sort of thing, and I perceive a lack of IT savvy as being responsible for it. Some places are extremely traditionalist and even view Clipsters as dangerously newfangled, so wandering in with a firewire drive (and in doing so, obviating their $150k tape decks) is often not very welcome. I applaud you for being willing to do this and I suspect this is how it will be more and more. Of course, given modern SSDs, you could do the same thing in realtime with a Spirit...


Will Montgomery said:

Thanks Elliot, that clears it up a little. So the workflow is determined by how their particular machines work as well as what the client wants.

So a Spirit or Millennium can act as a "scanner" for a separate DI system that is basically a big hard drive array that can then provide files in whatever format you want. OR you can use a machine like an Arriscan which is dedicated to scanning and outputting files by itself.

Usually what I'm doing is basically telecine with grading then instead of running it off to tape, they run it off to Final Cut Pro in a ProRes HQ codec. So that's not really DI, because the grading is done like standard telecine would be done just laid off to a computer instead of tape. Whereas DI would scan AND THEN be graded after the film has been put away. Correct?

Thanks again for helping me understand the process.

Paul Korver said:

Good Points all around. Especially Elliot. This past year I went on a worldwide search for the best film scanner in the world... had test films made up in Prague that went to 250 lp/mm (that could break a 12K scanner) and dynamic range charts that go from 0-4 density, and also registration charts.... The test took me from LA to NY to Sweden, Germany and Amsterdam as I ran these test films through the ARRI, Northlight, and a whole slew of new scanning technology. As you can imagine I'm fairly obsessed with scanning film. So I figured I'd add a few thoughts.

I hear you Will... when I first got into this I was confused by the telecine/scanning terminology... here's a few key points:

The "Telecine" process creates an uncompressed video stream that must travel over SDI or HDSDI cables at whatever SMPTE standard you can send over those cables be it SD, HD, PAL etc. The image is recorded by anything that can record from SDI cables.... like Broadcast Video Decks to Tape or AJA/Blackmagic etc video cards that translate and the video to video files on hard drive. The latter is the workflow we started doing 3 years ago at Cinelicious and is 80% of what we do. Most old-school post houses are pre-wired to have to go to a deck first... then ingest from deck to video card if you want a quicktime on hard drive. I always thought that was dumb so we generally skip the deck and go straight to hard drive (as video quicktimes).

The DI process means "Scanning film to Data", and as Elliot pointed out, creates one uncompressed DPX file for each frame of film. "Data" in the DI world can technically means DPX, TIFF or Cineon files but 95% of all DIs are scanned to DPX. The data never touches HDSDI cable and normally travels over Infiniband or Fiber usually to Linux SAN volumes.

Hybrid Datacine machines (Spirit, Millennium, C-Reality) can do both video and data. Pin registered scanners (ARRI, Northlight, Ditto, Imagica etc) only output DPX (no video). The benefit of pin-registered systems is that they are steadier than non-pin registered systems. But just because a system is pin-registered doesn't mean that it's always steady. Most ARRIs perform really consistently from one machine to the next (as we would expect from the Germans) with most producing a fluctuation of about 6 microns (one 4K pixel width) from frame to frame. Northlights have a wider range of fluctuation across their product line with the very best outperforming ARRI at 5 microns but most coming in at about 8-9 microns.

But by definition mechanical pin registration slows the process down. What no one has not discussed is the speed of the scanning system and how that necessarily affects the price. The reason it affects price is not only operator / facility time... but the scanner manufactures charge huge amounts for what they call "speed upgrades". It's annoying because the machine you just paid $700K it totally capable of going faster.... but they want $100K more to unlock the software code that allows the post house to take advantage of it. Those costs necessarily trickle down to filmmakers.

The Northlight 2 and an Arri with a high speed package can scan 2K resolution at about 2-4 fps at their highest quality settings ("double flash" mode in the case of the Arri). The Arri has a faster 6-8 fps "single-flash" mode that has less dynamic range and is suggested by ARRI to be used for dailies only... however I know at least one big shop in LA that to all their DIs in single flash mode to save time.

So... the best film scanner in the world would not only have very good registration but also be very fast... it would also make amazing advancements in the currently somewhat limited (around 2.4) dynamic range achievable on high-end DI scanners ARRI and Northlight... (FYI motion picture negative has around 3.0-3.4 dynamic range depending on the stock). I'm not saying the DI scans from the features we've all seen for the past 10 years are bad... they're obviously not... but they could be better... because there is more information on the film stock that current scanners can't hold. So does such a scanner exist? I'll have to save that for another post.

Anyway... those are my thoughts on all. Hope it wasn't too long-winded.

-Paul

Adrian Sierkowski Said:
Paul you're like an x g/f of mine.. just getting me to the point of getting something new then pulling it away Do let us know when you post about that "better/faster" scanner.

Will Montgomery Said:
Hybrid Datacine machines (Spirit, Millennium, C-Reality) can do both video and data. Pin registered scanners (ARRI, Northlight, Ditto, Imagica etc) only output DPX (no video). The benefit of pin-registered systems is that they are steadier than non-pin registered systems.

So the ARRI and other Pin registered scanners only scan a few frames per second but are steadier than the Spirit? Is that the advantage of such a scanner over the Spirit? It seems like the Spirit being able to do realtime would be a major plus and cost saver unless those scanning machines are much less money to own.

Spirits make use of a pin in the gate though right? Yours is the only Spirit I know of that can see into the sprocket holes for Ultra16 (and another reason you should expect some film from me soon).

Thanks for the education on this.

Elliot Rudmann Said:
Yes, pin registered will produce more stability throughout, it's the advantage of having a less-than-real-time scan time. A Spirit's real time ability is excellent/efficient for HD dailies but for higher quality work and finishing a film scanner is really the best way to go, as it will produce scans with more sharpness and range (advantage of the arriscan's two-flash system). In terms of cost, I know the Arriscan, even with a 16mm+35mm gate is actually quite a bit cheaper than a Spirit Datacine, and I would guess requires less maintenance as well.

Paul Korver Said:

Yes, pin registered will produce more stability throughout, it's the advantage of having a less-than-real-time scan time. A Spirit's real time ability is excellent/efficient for HD dailies but for higher quality work and finishing a film scanner is really the best way to go, as it will produce scans with more sharpness and range (advantage of the arriscan's two-flash system). In terms of cost, I know the Arriscan, even with a 16mm+35mm gate is actually quite a bit cheaper than a Spirit Datacine, and I would guess requires less maintenance as well.


To all that read this know that Elliot (I think) is involved with a post house that uses an ARRI as their primary scanner... and we have a Spirit... so we're both probably slightly biased. In my tests with ARRI Scanners and Northlights the only difference was registration. And we're talking about registration issues that would never look unsteady to the eye when watching TV or a movie but might annoy a VFX artist when trying to pull keys across multiple frames on a locked off shot. As such a lot of feature DI work is scanned on a realtime machine like a Spirit for anything that is not going to be used for VFX (talking heads etc etc.)... with the VFX shot list scanned on and ARRI or Northlight. My only issue with what Elliot just said was that "A Spirit is great for HD Dailies" when Spirits are used for 90% of film originated material you see on primetime tv and commercials and a lot (not sure what percent) of what you see in the theater (Sony, Warner Bros, etc).

Sharpness across all scanners I tested was purely a function of pixel resolution (as long as there was no operator error or digital sharpening) with 2K scans resolving between 44-48 lp/mm (including our spirit) and 4K scans resolving right around 103-106 lp/mm. As for Dynamic range the Spirit, Northlight and ARRI in double flash mode all come in around 2.2-2.4 dynamic range so there was no significant difference there.

He is correct that a new Spirit is quite a bit more expensive than a new ARRI Scanner... but that's because of the rows and rows of hardware cards that allow it to output and manipulate video in realtime. We haven't had too many "maintenance issues" and I pray that remains the case as all the parts are terribly expensive.

Elliot Rudmann Said:
Definitely right Paul, we use an Arriscan and I would say that, if given the choice (and free accessibility to both), I'd rather have my own work scanned on the Arri vs the Spirit. The tests I've seen (not the ones that Arri showed us), from a SDC 2k vs Arriscan showed that the Arri held up better better in the highlights (less noise) and seemed to have more "real" sharpness, in other words, the scans from the SDC looked a bit oversharpened, maybe even grain reduced as the Arriscan consistently had more texture. Were these differences extremely significant? Not at all, and I don't think most clients would even notice, but I think the subtle advantages are worthy in the long term. But believe me, there are times when we get film and edl in at 4:45 on a Friday (with a 9 AM start on Monday) where I just wish we had a Spirit!

My statement saying Spirits were good for HD dailies was a short winded and left out the bigger picture (long hours at work yesterday, damn scanner only scans at 1 frame a second! LOL), and I didn't mean to neglect how much their models in the late 90's set the stage for DI workflows. (Pleasantville, O Brother). It comes as no surprise to me, that the majority of 35mm material we see are finished from Spirits, as there are a plethora of them in the market (compared to film scanners). I mentioned maintenance because of 2 engineers I worked with in the past, who worked with Spirits, said that they often required servicing, like you said though Paul, replacement costs and maintenance fees for any system can put a severe dent in any business' bottom line. Overall, the trend I've noticed among film transfer companies getting into file-based workflows seems involve the acquisition of film scanners, Efilm has a few Arriscans and the hot shots at Company 3 purchased one back in June I think and Cinelab not too long ago grabbed a PS Technik scanner (is that right, Rob?) . Costs aside, as film scanners become faster and better, their appeal is hard to ignore

Paul Korver Said:
I couldn't agree more that a scanner is a great tool Elliot. And I'm actively looking to acquire a 2K and 4K capable film scanner to add flexibility to our our non-linear workflow. But if I'm spending my own money and not some big corporations I'm going to ask the world of it... I need high dynamic range, low noise, tack sharpness, registration comparable to the ARRI and realtime capability.

I would also say that until scanners are getting above 3.2 dynamic range (instead of 2.4 with current tech) that there is a real value in being able to shine light on the neg and get realtime feedback about what exactly is there... and this can currently only happen on a telecine machine because if questions about the state of the neg come up you're getting live feedback and you can just "take a look" at what's there by pumping more or less light through the optical path. I'm sure you've scanned some neg on the ARRI and had a filmmaker ask if there is any more information in the highlights or lowlights. Well... since the DPX files being referenced are a static image of a scan that was done hours or days before... there are only two options... you can tell them that "the Arri gets all the information that is on the neg so no... there isn't any more information to be had" which may not be correct since it only has a 2.4 density window it can capture.... or you can say "the only way we can find out would be to put the film back up on the scanner and take a look" which is obviously time consuming as the film would need to be re-cleaned and rescanned etc.... You're sort of stuck with whatever the scanning operator decided to do. To avoid this issue the DI industry tends to avoid discussing scanner dynamic ranges... and to be fair most of the relevant picture info you'd want to see would fall within the 2.4 density window. For this reason I think we both agree that in a perfect world we'd have both a Telecine for realtime feedback, dailies and broadcast deliverables (and some indie DI's) and also a film scanner for high end 4K DI work.

Enjoying this discussion but I have a feeling we may have lost interest and gotten sidetracked from the original post. This really should be posted as a new discussion on the current state of film scanners and telecines .
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#2 John Sprung

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Posted 20 October 2010 - 03:06 PM

Certainly, the current state of telecines here is that lots of them have been or are being pulled out. With digital cameras having taken over the TV show business, I happened to be at one of the big post houses just as they were taking down the big etched glass sign that said "Telecine". Where have all those Spirits gone?




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#3 Benjamin Rowland

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Posted 20 October 2010 - 03:21 PM

So who makes the best scanner in the world right now?
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#4 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 20 October 2010 - 03:48 PM

OK

Basically what Paul said...

Nobody wants to say that the scanner can't capture the full DR of the film but it can't, so sorry. The Arriscan probably has a better chance in 2-pass mode but no CCD or CMOS chip can capture the range even at slow speed. One thing I think is very poor about scanners is that they generally are one setting per roll so if the density changes you are screwed, and you know what, the density changes.

I had a P+S for six months on beta and sent it back, it did a few things well but ultimate image quality was not one, it had a color Bayer sensor which is a fundamentally flawed sensor.

I am buying a new scanner from a new LA based company which has an advanced LED light source, is both Pin-Reg and high speed capable and has a interchangeable sensor platform. The machine as delivered (shortly I am working with Rennie as Alpha tester) has software which allows for setting scan parameters scene to scene to try to fit the lighting to the 14bit sensors range. The sensor is Monochrome 4K at 14bits and can do 2 strikes like the arri.

The Cintel DataMill and Millenium Machine claim a 3.3 density range in scan mode and I have always been impressed with Millenium Machine pictures.

This is all why a direct contact print looks better than any digital scan route, there is just more there than those poor piddly little sensors can get.

-Rob-
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#5 Will Montgomery

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Posted 20 October 2010 - 03:49 PM

Where have all those Spirits gone?

One went to Spectra to telecine Super 8 film. Didn't those start out at a million dollars? Now they list a refurbished 2k with 16mm and 35mm gates for $230k on the manufacturer's website.
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#6 Benjamin Rowland

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 08:53 AM

How does the Lasergraphics Director stack up against the other scanners? Anyone used one before?
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#7 georg lamshöft

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:33 AM

Isn't the dynamic range within negative film "compressed" - at least in still photography negative film is muss less demanding in terms of density than slide film!?

Maybe ARRI will implement the ALEV-III-sensor into the ARRISCAN as well but right now, they're busy putting it into enough ALEXAs...

In recent interviews, Mr. Kraus (ARRI CEO) was obviously disappointed because they offer a complete 4k system (scanner + recorder) but nobody wants to pay for it, what are all these scanners good for when producers only dream of digital aquisition!?
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#8 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 09:36 AM

If memories serves the chip in the arriscan is monochrome, and gets it's exposure by flashing 3 light sources on the film, for color. That said, they probably get a lot more bang for the sensor out of those than a bayer CMOS, at the expense of speed. And yes, film can be seen as a form of compression of what we see, but that said, still often holds more information than a scan can pick up. It's hard to quantify and we often get into that territory of diminishing returns.
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#9 georg lamshöft

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 10:34 AM

Well, the ARRISCAN takes up to 24 exposures for each frame (LED flashes in three different colors with two different intensities each and for four positions of the sensor due to micro-scanning) - that's by any means not comparable to the sensor with bayer-filter array used in cameras.
But I never had problems gaining full information (from Dmin to Dmax) from still negative film with conventional film-scanners (Nikon or Imacon) - only slides. But I know film stock has a wider latitude - maybe it's densities are different as well?
I thought the idea of the ARRISCAN was to lose less quality then from a direct contact print?
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#10 K Borowski

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 11:11 AM

That shouldn't be the case, Georg, unless film scanners are completely different than with stills.

ECN has a lower contrast than still negative, so should be *easier* to scan with the same calibre of scanner. . .
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#11 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 11:33 AM

Most real scanners have monochrome sensors in one way or another. The Northlight has a 3 line 8K array with color filters for each R,G,B line and a hot light source, similar to the Quantel Domino scanner that it was based on originally. The Arriscan has a 3K area cmos sensor which is monochrome and as others have said it flashes a set of LEDs R,G,B and IR for each color scan pass with the idea that each color gets a Dmin flash and a D-max flash.

I don't think there is really a scanner that can scan the full Dmin to Dmax of negative even in two pass and if that negative is bleach bypass then really forget it because density can be more than 3.3.

The buckets in sensors have a limited fill capacity.

-Rob-
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#12 Chris Burke

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 03:42 PM

Most real scanners have monochrome sensors in one way or another. The Northlight has a 3 line 8K array with color filters for each R,G,B line and a hot light source, similar to the Quantel Domino scanner that it was based on originally. The Arriscan has a 3K area cmos sensor which is monochrome and as others have said it flashes a set of LEDs R,G,B and IR for each color scan pass with the idea that each color gets a Dmin flash and a D-max flash.

I don't think there is really a scanner that can scan the full Dmin to Dmax of negative even in two pass and if that negative is bleach bypass then really forget it because density can be more than 3.3.

The buckets in sensors have a limited fill capacity.

-Rob-



what about a CRT based scanner? doesn't it "see" the most info of all scanners? Love the new avatar Rob.
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#13 Robert Houllahan

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Posted 21 October 2010 - 04:20 PM

what about a CRT based scanner? doesn't it "see" the most info of all scanners? Love the new avatar Rob.



The fact that the Y-Front and Millenium use PMT's for pickup with A/D at 14bits certainly may give the CRT machine a edge on DR. The Millenium uses 3 or 4" dia PMT's which is pretty impressive.

Avatar is a passport photo taken in Nairobi, Kenya a few days before I boarded an ElAl flight back to the US... when I was a secret agent for an alien race investigating this planet.. for something.... :blink:

My friend Judy said it was very David Lynch so put it on the film forum right?

-Rob-
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#14 Benjamin Rowland

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 08:37 AM

Paul Korver said:
So does such a scanner exist? I'll have to save that for another post.



I'm really curious as to what the answer is to that question. Looking forward to that post...
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