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Describing Digital over Film to a lay person


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#1 Scott Copeland

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:04 PM

Hey all,

Caught a few minutes of the movie "2012" with my lady friend last night and I commented to her that it was shot on digital. She asked me "how can you tell?" All I had was "It's obvious during movement". But that was really it. I was stumped at how to explain to her that we were looking at an inferior image. I'm not a cinematographer by any stretch and I was unable to explain to her how to spot digital over film. Without a side by side comparison at least. How would anyone here describe to a regular movie-goer how to spot when it's digital on the TV monitor and not film? This is excluding key words like contrast, latitude and the like.

Any ideas?

Thanks.

P.S. We didn't finish the movie ;)

'cause it was awful! Get your head out of the gutter!
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#2 K Borowski

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:16 PM

Aren't you a little late to be catching "2012" in a theatrical run?
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#3 Tim Tyler

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:21 PM

Have a look at this thread: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=42490
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#4 Scott Copeland

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:26 PM

Aren't you a little late to be catching "2012" in a theatrical run?


Thanks for your help??

Edited by Scott Copeland, 19 December 2010 - 06:26 PM.

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#5 Tim Tyler

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 06:36 PM

Scott,

Most people can't tell the difference between a movie shot on film or digital, especially when they're watching it on a video monitor at home. What you probably noticed was the odd shutter angles they used, and motion blur, both are effects due to the way they setup the camera equipment.

The Genesis camera used for much of 2012 does have a certain look though. Skin tones look smooth and plastic-like. Eyes go dark.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 07:33 PM

How would anyone here describe to a regular movie-goer how to spot when it's digital on the TV monitor and not film?


Sorry, I thought you HAD seen it at a theatre (saying movie-goer), not a TV screen. I was curious if some film society had decided to show it, or how you'd seen it.


It's harder to tell on television the difference between the two. Film looses a lot of its advantage of resolution, and can fall prey to bad scanning, timing, etc.


In laymen's terms, digital, I feel, handles flesh tones very poorly. It can't handle huge ranges of brightness (like a blue sky and a character in the shade), or bright lights in the frame the way that film can.

It also suffers from artifacts like aliasing, moire, and you already are on to electronic shutter artifacts with certain frame rates used with digital to capture more light.


So, layman's answer, I'd say color, specifically flesh-tone rendition, and ability to see into bright areas that would just clip all-white in digital.
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#7 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 09:15 PM

[excerpt from What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood]


Film? Tape? What’s the difference?
Film and tape are distinctly different ways of capturing an image for later viewing. Without being overly technical, film, which comes in a small canister, is the stuff you put into your (non-digital) still camera at home. It’s generally a long, black, plastic-like strip that you wind every time you want to take another picture. A movie camera uses very long strips of film, usually 1,000-foot rolls, that move through the camera to capture movement instead of still action. Film undergoes a photochemical process that turns light into actual images you can see when you look at the strip itself.

Videotape uses an electronic process to store image information magnetically. Instead of converting light into an actual picture you can see, a video camera converts light into electronic information that is stored on the videotape, also a long strip of black material. If you hold a piece of shot videotape up to a light, you’ll never see any pictures.

In both cases, an image is being saved, but there’s a pretty big difference between the two. Traditional standard-definition video has a definitive sharpness and looks “real,” like you’d see the action as if you were actually standing there. Film has a softer, almost more ethereal look. It does not capture reality per se but a more romantic and hyper-real version of what happened in front of the lens. Generally, fictional narrative and dramatic programs are shot using film stock with film cameras while nonfiction or live events are shot using video cameras.

The advent of high-definition video has allowed filmmakers to take advantage of the immediacy of electronic image acquisition while enjoying a near film-like quality.

This is all very important to you because the working protocols can be very different when choosing a type of project that uses film versus one that is shot on tape. In other words, the way that feature films, one-hour episodics, commercials, and music videos are made is very similar. Someone who works regularly in one of those could transition very easily to another. On the other hand, news programs, talk shows, sitcoms, soap operas, reality shows, and documentaries have their own distinct ways of being made, so moving from one type of show to another isn’t as easy a transition.

When you’re just starting out in the business, it’s important to learn the fundamental difference between film and video because it will have an impact on the types of work you choose to take and whether your career goes in the direction you desire.


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#8 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 08:06 PM

Most people can't tell the difference between a movie shot on film or digital, especially when they're watching it on a video monitor at home. What you probably noticed was the odd shutter angles they used, and motion blur, both are effects due to the way they setup the camera equipment.


A shutter slower than 180 degrees is a very noticeable giveaway of digital.
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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 12:10 AM

clipped whites are the easiest way to tell, as well as flesh tones. Look for pores on skin, too.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 12:19 AM

Digital clues tend to be:

#1 Longer shutter times than 180 degrees would allow, especially when a 360 degree shutter is used. There are a number of shots in "2012" with this look, some compounded by being slowed-down in post.

#2 Clippy highlights

#3 Excessive edge enhancement / depth of field (this happens more when small-sensor prosumer gear is used).

#4 Vertical flares (with the Genesis / F35 striped sensor)

Other aspects, like skintones and compression artifacts, are hard to tell with an HD channel broadcast, which can screw around even with film-shot images. Electronic noise is sometimes a clue but underexposed film brightened digitally can also pick-up electronic noise.
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#11 John Sprung

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 01:35 PM

It's harder to tell on television the difference between the two.


Very true. I just watched "The King's Speech" on DVD, and thought for sure it was digital -- until I saw Fuji film in the end credits.





-- J.S.
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#12 Brian Rose

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 02:24 PM

I have trouble getting people to understand what those black bars are when they're watching a movie. To explain film versus digital is bordering on Sisyphean.
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#13 Marcus Joseph

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 01:04 AM

You have that increase in chromatic abberation too, but does that have more to do with the lens? Saw a bad case of it in this low-budget film 'The Man From Earth', then again that was shot on HDV, great movie,but poor shooting.
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#14 John Sprung

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 01:33 AM

You have that increase in chromatic abberation too, but does that have more to do with the lens?


Yes, chromatic abberation is a lens issue. Different wavelengths, and therefore colors, focus at different distances.





-- J.S.
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