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Super 16mm vs 16mm Sensor


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#1 Shawn Sagady

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Posted 07 June 2016 - 06:28 PM

I am in the development phase of short film project (approximately 20m running time based on the current script) and I really want to shoot film, for the process and longevity and the look.  But doing research I am frankly very worried about the final quality of the film.  A lot of samples of Super 16mm tend to have washed out or bad colors, the grain is huge and very visible and registration seems to not quite be tight, but then you look at a high budget film like Carol which has just beautiful images, and honestly (possibly due to internet compression) I can not tell it was shot on 16, for all I can tell it could be 35.  Did they do a lot of processing to remove grain and get the colors right, or am I just unfortunate enough to see a lot of really bad examples of super 16mm.

 

I have shot with BMPCC's primarily, and I love the camera.  It gives me amazing colors and motion and even though it can exhibit some grain/noise the patterns feel more organic than digital.  If I rent cameras and lenses, purchase media and hard drives it will probably break about even with film if I get a good deal from Kodak shooting 6:1.  If I shoot with my own camera (which is always riskier if there is a problem) I obviously could save quite a bit there but hate the idea of not having a backup etc.

 

So does it come down to finding a DP who is a real artist with film and light to get the quality you want out of Super 16mm?  I'm quite happy with my abilities to DP with a digital sensor, but that's because I have the security blanket of the monitor and scopes.  I will also be directing the project so would like to find a DP instead of wearing all the hats myself.


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#2 Jeff L'Heureux

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Posted 07 June 2016 - 06:43 PM

Getting 16mm to look "more like 35mm" as you say comes down to the camera, lenses, film stock, and lighting.  Your best chance would be to use a professional grade super16 camera like an Arri or Aaton, a good set of lenses, and proper lighting.  The great thing about 16mm is that its looks can vary wildly across the same overall format.  You can have an image that looks more like super8 home footage all the way up to an image that can be mistaken for 35mm by general audiences.


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#3 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 07 June 2016 - 09:41 PM

Making Super 16 look good is actually pretty easy, you just have to light properly and scan the original negative with a decent scanner at a reasonable resolution. I use tricks like blasting 12k lights into windows and bouncing light around a location with mirrors, to help light faster and get more over-all brightness in a given shot. The trick is to make the lighting as flat as you can, then in post production, you can make it all work. The best stuff shot on film and finished digitally is done this way, it's how you keep the film noise to a minimal because the dark sections are actually only a stop or two below the highlights. A lot of people even over-expose the highlights by a stop to help push it even further. Since film has MUCH more latitude then most digital cameras, you can get away with that kind of manipulation and it also helps reduce noise.

Another trick I've tried to use, though I will admit unsuccessfully sometimes, is to run the lowest ASA/finest grain stock you can for a given scene. Don't buy a bunch of 500T and expect it to look good. Try to shoot with 50D on ALL exteriors, try to shoot with 250T on all interiors. If you need that one or two shots with 500, then you've got it, but don't use it as a go-to stock for everything. This in my view is the BIGGEST mistake filmmakers make when shooting on motion picture film. They simply shoot everything interior on 500T and the grain gets annoying very fast. For those quick cutaway's, it works fine, but if all you see is grain central, it's a problem. Carol has a very grainy scene in the house which is 500T pushed I believe and it's very noisy on the big screen. I really like the DP Ed Lachman, but I personally think his choice to go that noisy on such a soft and quiet scene, wasn't very good. It was only one scene though and they may have run out of time for lighting and had to move on, which happens.

Unfortunately, it's easier to make 35mm look like 16mm then it is for 16 to look like 35. The biggest things you can do outside of the major one's Jeff listed above, is to make the composition and shooting style very cinematic. Cranes, dollies, jib's, steadicam, move away from the shoulder mount and onto the hard mount.
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