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16mm vs. digital


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#1 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 10:13 AM

Hey. I'm new to photography and film making. I have been involved in writing for theatre, that is the extent of my knowledge.

Anyway, I want to get into making short films and I'm very interested in shooting on film, as I have always been interested in the process, the challenge and of course, the aesthetics. I have no camera knowledge past the DV/Card handhelds that I played about with as a child. Of course, shooting on 35mm is not an option for me, but I believe 16mm is within my price range - after researching the format, I noticed many good films have been shot on 16mm.

My question is: as someone completely new to cinematography, and using film, do you think it is better to start off with a 35mm still film camera with interchangeable lens (probably pricey) to get used to using the format, adjusting for light, the process of printing etc, then go on to shoot on 16mm?
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#2 John Holland

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 12:06 PM

Yea shooting still neg is a good idea , but dont spend to long doing that because quite soon you wont be able to buy 16mm stock or get it processed. Sad days. Good Luck .
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#3 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 12:58 PM

Yea shooting still neg is a good idea , but dont spend to long doing that because quite soon you wont be able to buy 16mm stock or get it processed. Sad days. Good Luck .


Hopefully not for a while. I got decent results for searching "16mm processing uk", most labs around London.
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#4 John Holland

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 01:06 PM

I just googled what you did. Sorry most of those shown have gone !
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#5 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 01:14 PM

I just googled what you did. Sorry most of those shown have gone !


That's too bad. Still, my interest is in shooting with film, period. Even if that means getting it processed abroad at a larger cost. I don't buy into digital. I like to think even when the digital 'revolution' has come full circle - there will still be a small group of film makers who shot analog. There will always be people who value quality, the illusion of film over the convenience of digital. I hope.
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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 01:29 PM

You know, shooting 35mm stills is all well and good; but in truth, S16mm is a slightly different beast because of the grain. I find I need to be much more careful in my exposures of the same stock on S16mm -v-- 35mm, but that may just be me. That said, it might be a bit better to pick up a cheap 16mm camera, something like a Bolex, and shoot from 100' daylight spools. This way you can work with the actual stocks you'll eventually be shooting as well as get a feel for working with moving pictures -v- stills. It'll cost more-- of course, but I think it would be money better spend -v- a stills camera, though stills cameras work very well indeed as well for learning just the basics of shooting on film and figuring out how to do all of the "image making" in your mind before you shoot.
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#7 Tom Jensen

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:05 PM

Adrian pointed out S16 which is Super 16 which gives you a slightly larger negative. I say don't waste your time or money since the trend is towards digital. It might sound fun and romantic but it is expensive to learn. You can learn on a still camera, but, that's another dead art. Don't try to re-invent the wheel. Go with the trend or you will be pounding your head on the wall.
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#8 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:14 PM

You know, shooting 35mm stills is all well and good; but in truth, S16mm is a slightly different beast because of the grain. I find I need to be much more careful in my exposures of the same stock on S16mm -v-- 35mm, but that may just be me. That said, it might be a bit better to pick up a cheap 16mm camera, something like a Bolex, and shoot from 100' daylight spools. This way you can work with the actual stocks you'll eventually be shooting as well as get a feel for working with moving pictures -v- stills. It'll cost more-- of course, but I think it would be money better spend -v- a stills camera, though stills cameras work very well indeed as well for learning just the basics of shooting on film and figuring out how to do all of the "image making" in your mind before you shoot.


Thanks for reply. I was looking into 16mm cameras, narrowed it down to the Bolex or K-3.
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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:23 PM

K-3 can be a mixed back in terms of reliability-- but for the costs well worth it. Most recommend pulling off the loop formers on the camera to help you out a bit-- but again, it all depends on your K-3 and how well she works. They're also regular 16mm, not S16mm; but still, the rules apply albeit you're dealing with a 4x3 as opposed to a 16x9 aspect ratio (ok, 1.66:1, but we all crop anyway).
When in film school we got saddled with Plus X Reversal film, if I can recall. It was such a Pain to expose, really fussy when you're first starting out, and wonderful because of it. It forced you to really know what you're doing and didn't save your ass in the way neg would/does (i am constantly surprised with how horrible my 35mm flat scans look.. then i realize, that glorious flatness is all the information one could really want.)

See if you can track down your Kodak Rep out there in the UK, be nice, be honest, and you should be able to score a few rolls of test film.
Your biggest cost won't really be in stock or processing, but always in the telecine-- or at least that's my experience. Try to get scans to hard drive, ProRes422HQ is normally an ok way to go, and really all you'd need for S16mm in my honest opinion (though it does look fantastic @ 2K .dpx as well...)
Make mistakes, keep notes, and learn all you can.
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#10 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:39 PM

K-3 can be a mixed back in terms of reliability-- but for the costs well worth it. Most recommend pulling off the loop formers on the camera to help you out a bit-- but again, it all depends on your K-3 and how well she works. They're also regular 16mm, not S16mm; but still, the rules apply albeit you're dealing with a 4x3 as opposed to a 16x9 aspect ratio (ok, 1.66:1, but we all crop anyway).
When in film school we got saddled with Plus X Reversal film, if I can recall. It was such a Pain to expose, really fussy when you're first starting out, and wonderful because of it. It forced you to really know what you're doing and didn't save your ass in the way neg would/does (i am constantly surprised with how horrible my 35mm flat scans look.. then i realize, that glorious flatness is all the information one could really want.)

See if you can track down your Kodak Rep out there in the UK, be nice, be honest, and you should be able to score a few rolls of test film.
Your biggest cost won't really be in stock or processing, but always in the telecine-- or at least that's my experience. Try to get scans to hard drive, ProRes422HQ is normally an ok way to go, and really all you'd need for S16mm in my honest opinion (though it does look fantastic @ 2K .dpx as well...)
Make mistakes, keep notes, and learn all you can.


I appreciate the advice, but what does removing the loop formers do?
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#11 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 02:41 PM

Helps to keep the camera from jamming as far as I understand. If you search for "loop formers' on this site, I recall there were many discussions of them before these DSLRs cluttered up the planet.
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#12 Geoff Howell

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Posted 25 September 2012 - 04:17 PM

would you consider shooting black and white?
If so these guys are your new best friends!

They're based in Bethnal Green, super friendly, will rent you a bolex and teach you how to use it, proses your film and make prints!

If you become a member (I think it's £100 for the year) their prices are very reasonable.

having said that, I'm not 100% sure if their cameras have been converted to super16, and their telecine doesn't really compare to what you would get in a big commercial lab.
On the plus side for someone on their first project with no prior experience it could be perfect!

Also, forget the K3, you could buy two cameras straight off the production-line; one would work perfectly and the other would be a complete dog, it's all a bit of a minefield!
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#13 Tom Sykes

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Posted 26 September 2012 - 08:05 PM

would you consider shooting black and white?
If so these guys are your new best friends!

They're based in Bethnal Green, super friendly, will rent you a bolex and teach you how to use it, proses your film and make prints!

If you become a member (I think it's £100 for the year) their prices are very reasonable.

having said that, I'm not 100% sure if their cameras have been converted to super16, and their telecine doesn't really compare to what you would get in a big commercial lab.
On the plus side for someone on their first project with no prior experience it could be perfect!

Also, forget the K3, you could buy two cameras straight off the production-line; one would work perfectly and the other would be a complete dog, it's all a bit of a minefield!



THANKYOU FOR THIS!!!

Edited by Tom Sykes, 26 September 2012 - 08:06 PM.

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#14 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 01:21 AM

Adrian pointed out S16 which is Super 16 which gives you a slightly larger negative. I say don't waste your time or money since the trend is towards digital. It might sound fun and romantic but it is expensive to learn. You can learn on a still camera, but, that's another dead art. Don't try to re-invent the wheel. Go with the trend or you will be pounding your head on the wall.


Tom,

History is full of people who bucked incoming new waves (whatever they may hve been.) Film is not expensive to learn. Hell, film is not even expensive to shoot on if you know how to budget your project properly. There will always be costs. With film it is stock and lab fees. With digital it is often the equipment and post work. If anyone is attempting to re-invent the wheel, it is the proponents of digital cinema (and that's an oxymoron.) Film IS the original wheel.

No filmmaker - especially a new one - should be forced to "go with the trend."
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#15 Simon Wyss

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 03:19 AM

Aiming at cinema, 35-mm. film ist still the cheapest way to have. Thorough planning, toughness during the shoot, and imagination in the (not very expensive) cutting room will take you farther than anything else. Forget video.
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#16 Brandon Arandt

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 03:25 AM

You need to learn on digital. Then move to film. Or your not going to figure out what your doing for a long time and after a lot of $$$!
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#17 Geoff Howell

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 11:50 AM

THANKYOU FOR THIS!!!


I've just had a look at their website and apparently they have some kind of arrangement with a larger lab where you can have your film scanned on their Spirit telecine machine at a discount!
Sounds pretty good to me!
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#18 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 11:52 AM

You need to learn on digital. Then move to film. Or your not going to figure out what your doing for a long time and after a lot of $$$!


You have it reversed. The best way to START is on film. It is much more of a discipline and there is only ONE way to do it. With digital, every different camera has different kinds of functionality and I can't even count how many different codecs there are these days. Film requires you to take greater care with that $60.00/400' roll of 16mm. You often have no video-playback so you need to pre-visualize everything. A skill that is getting lost with digital (at least on the low-budget end) and leading to low-quality work.

And the myth of film being SO expensive is exactly that: a myth that is often used by people who have only used digital. Compare it to a RED camera body without a lens. I made an entire film on 16mm for less than that (including festival costs.)

But I do agree that everyone needs to learn both.
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#19 Joseph Dudek

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 12:52 PM

Reading over this has given me the reassurance that film-making, on the 16mm format, is not dead.
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#20 Pavan Deep

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Posted 27 September 2012 - 06:08 PM

There are still quite a few choices with 16mm here in England. Fuji Film is easier to buy and cheaper than Kodak. Fuji has a clearance section, where they sell short-dated stock cheaply too. Although this will change in the middle of next year, but I'm sure Fuji stock will be available throughout next year and even well into 2014. Then there's 'That's a Wrap', they sell Fuji and Kodak Re-cans and Short Ends. There are other places too like Panavision, Stanley's Productions and many others that sell stock, I think Stanley's have the best deals. As for processing I know of Technicolor, Deluxe and both of these offer good service and price, there are others too and then there's specialist labs and individuals that process E6 and black and white film.

While television use of 16mm is decreasing it seems that for first time independent filmmakers feel they can to now realistically afford buy professional 16mm cameras that were out of their reach a few years ago and shoot their films on 16mm and get to work with real film before it's gone. It's an interesting time as more independent filmmakers are seeing Super 16mm as a viable choice. In an odd way it seems that 16mm is returning to its humble origins – to the amateur and the independent filmmaker who is working on a small budget.

The role of 16mm has changed dramatically as we see a huge shift in the broadcasting industry to produce work on digital. I feel that in British broadcasting even 35mm isn't safe. The simple fact is that broadcasting is full of people who don't like film, they think it's messy, old fashioned and they don't understand it as easily as they can understand digital.

I feel I must say this, though I'm sure everyone here is well aware that until the late 1980's and early 1990's broadcasters in England had 'Film Units', almost everything that was shot on location was done on 16mm, from documentaries and dramas. Material was shot on film, processed, cutting copies were made and stuff was edited on editing tables such as Steenbecks and a final edited print would be made, which [in my opinion] was usually very badly telecined.

Many will recall the many programmes where when the characters walked outside, the look changed as the outdoor [location] work was filmed on 16mm. Even popular programmes like Coronation Street made use of Film Units for location work, documentaries like 'The South Bank Show' were filmed entirely on 16mm. Things changed as cheaper, better and more portable video equipment emerged by the end of the 1980's. This signalled the end of the Film Units and by the early 1990's they were gone and everyone started talking about the favourite 'old' subject - the end of film, this was a hot topic well before the Internet, one that had been discussed [to death] throughout the 1980's.

Film Units had an interesting culture - from experience they weren't a much liked bunch within broadcasting, they were seen as a group of elite middle class snobs and I remember people saying things like - 'the sooner they're gone the better…' I don't think broadcasters used film because they liked it or because of quality; the simple fact was the equipment was cheaper and far more portable than studio video equipment. In contrast to video working with 16mm was easy. As far as I remember the stock that was used a lot was Agfa [because it was cheap], when the Film Units disappeared they must have lost a lot of business. In a similar way I think Fuji is feeling the impact of the current changes within television and digital cinemas.

Agfa was gone, but new improved stocks and better workflows emerged and 16mm was once again in favour by the late 1990's, this time for high end dramas, this trend has continued with widescreen television and Super 16. In recent years 16mm's role has been challenged again as now digital is the buzzword and 16mm is once again not in favour. Is this the end of 16mm? In television I believe it is for a while anyway and as a result a lot of professional services for 16mm will be affected.

However something interesting is happening as independent and low budget filmmakers are now realising they can afford to shoot on 16mm. Incredibly sophisticated and professional 16mm equipment has devalued in price tremendously. Many are realising that when working with film they can change the look as they can change their sensors, [stock] to suite the mood and situation of what's needed. You can shoot daylight stock, or tungsten, low light etc. With digital you can't change your sensor, your stuck with the kit you have.


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