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High Def, Standard Def and reg/super 16


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#1 Robert Edge

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 03:20 PM

I'm appreciate views, somehwat speculative though they may be, on whether developments in HD and SD equipment will soon make regular and super 16 obsolete as a medium for projects intended for television broadcast and, if so, how soon this is likely to occur. In other words, is the so-called "revival" of 16mm real or, instead, either a figment of people's imagination or a short-term bubble that is about to burst?

The question is of some importance to me because I am thinking very seriously about buying a 16mm camera. However, continued improvements in digital imaging and the rapid erosion of film as a medium make me very nervous about doing this.

For example, this is what is happening in still photography. Digital 35mm cameras have all but buried 35mm film cameras and it appears that medium and large format cameras are living on borrowed time. This week, Kodak announced that it has completed its acquisition of Creo, an important digital imaging company, and that it has ended production of ALL of its papers for black and white printing. This means that one can buy Kodak B&W film, but can't buy Kodak paper to make prints from the negatives (once current stocks run out). That is a pretty sobbering development. Ilford is struggling to overcome its recent brush with bankruptcy, an event avoided only by an employee buy-out. Agfa has just announced that it is in very serious financial trouble and may not survive.

I can see that there is still a future for 35mm motion picture film, but I wonder if the future is much more bleak for 16mm.

I also wonder whether we are at a point where, for much of what is broadcast on television, video actually looks more "normal" than film. About a week ago, David Mullen made the following interesting comment in another thread:

"By the way, the other day I caught this cooking show on TV Food Network called "Everyday Italian", hosted by Giada De Laurentiis. For a moment, I thought it looked odd, like it was shot in Super-16. Then I realized that it was probably a 24P shoot, which is rare for a cooking show. Just felt different, instead of a live video cooking show, it felt like a film commercial was running. It almost felt like it was something from the past rather than something happening right then."

Mr. Mullen's comments indirectly raise the interesting question of whether film may actually be less appropriate than video, taking into account viewer expectations, for certain kinds of television programmes. If so, what are the kinds of programmes for which video might be considered more appropriate?

Edited by R. Edge, 16 June 2005 - 03:23 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 03:41 PM

Well, whether or not you believe that shooting 35mm for TV isn't really necessary for anything but high-end commercial work, 35mm is sort of the standard against which everything alternative is judged (unless for programming traditionally shot in interlaced-scan video.)

So Super-16 and 24P HD are considered acceptable alternatives to 35mm for TV work, and as long as both are cheaper to shoot than 35mm, Super-16 has a long life ahead of it for TV work. With the improved stocks, Super-16 looks closer to 35mm than ever on a TV set.

The jump in popularity of Super-16 for TV is quite real, not imaginary. And it presents a real alternative to digital for people who want to save money over 35mm and don't like digital for whatever reasons, real or imagined. So the question is whether you think those people uncomfortable with digital will go away soon -- I don't think so. Maybe in another generation, but not in a few years.

Remember that a lot of the people who produce TV series are middle-aged and grew up in a film world, and they are the ones making the decisions even more than the DP. In fact, I was just talking to a DP who shoots dramatic TV work and even though he would prefer to shoot 24P HD over Super-16, the producer he has been talking to just cannot stand the thought of shooting digitally and is insistent on using Super-16. And of course, there are many DP's who prefer Super-16 over 24P HD.

Look, there is simply a LOT of production for TV (broadcast and cable) going on, some dramatic, some reality, etc. shot in a HUGE variety of formats these days, so certainly digital cameras will take over more and more over time, but as long as 35mm is considered the benchmark, Super-16 will be a popular alternative since it is film as well.

It's not the same marketforces that pushed still shooters (like me) to switch over to digital still cameras, where convenience and ability to immediately download the images into one's computer outweighed the advantages of a 35mm still camera. If TV production was all made by one-man bands of shooters editing their own material, I can see a similar transition. But that's not how all TV shows are produced.

Interlaced-scan video has a "live" and somewhat raw look, an immediacy that gives the impression that what you are seeing is happening right then, not in the past. Therefore sporting events (which also benefit because how the higher sampling rate handles fast motion), live music concerts, news, reality shows, etc. probably will continue to be shot interlaced-scan for the most part, although there could be a slow transition to the film-look of 24P. Afterall, sitcoms moved from interlaced-scan video to 35mm then to 24P HD and people got used to that. I'm not sure why soap operas are still shot in interlaced-scan though.
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#3 John Pytlak RIP

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 05:51 PM

The other thing to remember is that with all the "legacy" of productions archived on film, there will always be telecine/datacine/scanner technology in place to convert those film images to whatever new display format comes along. That's the beauty of an image you can see, and don't have to "decode". So films shot today, or in twenty years, will still be easily displayed, whatever the format used in theatres or for video. Go for what gives you the best quality you can afford today. With film, the future will take care of itself, as it has for over 100 years.

Now go watch a DVD of "Citizen Kane", "Casablanca" or "Gone With the Wind", who's creators never even dreamed of having a DVD release when those films were shot over sixty years ago. :)
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#4 Robert Edge

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 06:48 PM

I would go digital rather than super 16mm film if there was a digital camera on the market that was similar in price, size and weight to a current Aaton or Arriflex and that exhibited similar tonal range (i.e. detail in highlights and shadows) to super 16 film when used outdoors in natural light.

There is no way that I would buy a 16mm camera at this time if such a product is likely to materialize in the next five years.

Anyone care to estimate when someone will come up with a digital motion picture camera, meeting the criteria mentione in the first paragraph above, that will match 16mm to the same degree that a digital 35mm still camera will currently match a film 35mm still camera?

John,

I've watched the DVD "The Difference" at least a dozen times, Unfortunately, the more I watched it, the less convincing I found it, including on the question of archivability, and I say that as someone who is favourably disposed to film and wanted to be convinced.

Edited by R. Edge, 16 June 2005 - 06:58 PM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 07:16 PM

The only cameras that come close to the exposure range of color negative are the high-end Panavision Genesis, Arri D20, or Dalsa.

Nothing with that image quality exists in the same price range of an Aaton or Arri-SR3, but you have to remember that the costs of shooting tape over film is where the cost savings are for HD, not the price of the camera.

I don't see all your criteria being met within a decade. You're basically asking for a smaller version of the Dalsa to come out for $20,000.

However, if you find the quality of current HD cameras like the Varicam or F900 acceptable ($60,000 to $100,000), cameras of similar quality but much cheaper will be coming out in the next few years. Already you have the Panasonic HVX200 coming out that records 720/24P and other frame rates, and only costs $6000 (not including the expensive P2 cards.)

You have to remember that the switch to digital won't necessarily happen when the technology perfectly matches film -- there are other factors as well than quality at work. While you hold out for an HD camera that matches Super-16 color negative exposure latitude (resolution is already matched), other people will be buying whatever they see as only a slight improvement if the cost is right.

In other words, I think it will take a decade to meet all your requirements but that doesn't mean that the switch from Super-16 to digital won't happen a little faster than that. But if you're shooting somewhat regularly, a Super-16 camera would probably be a better long-term investment than a video camera that will be replaced in two years by something better. In other words, you don't HAVE to predict what will be happening a decade from now, only what the trends will be in the next three years, and Super-16 won't be going away within that time definitely.

However, in the LOW end of production that traditionally used 16mm, like industrials, there has already been a switch to video. Super-16 is most popular in moderately budgeted TV series, medium-budget indie features, etc. It's no longer a low-end, no-budget production tool.
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#6 Robert Edge

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 10:03 PM

David,

A person can go around in circles on these issues and there is a point where one just has to make a decision.

I trust your opinion and, in my view, you just cut through an enormous amount of gobbledygook, just in time for a decision that I intend to make next week.

Thanks.

P.S. Do you share the view of the ASC Manual, a publication which, according to the introduction, you are implicated as one of the culprit readers/editors, that zoom lenses are now the equal, in terms of quality, to primes? Coming from a still photography background, I have an intuitive distrust of this view, and in any event I don't like using zoom lenses, but the author of the ASC article on lenses sounds like someone who knows his business.

PPS for whomever has a view:

Regardless of the advantages/disadvantages of zoom lenses over primes, I'm thinking of buying one prime and renting other lenses as needed. I think that it might work for what I'll be doing. I haven't decided what prime it would be, but if I go that route, my reference point would be that a normal angle of view for super 16 (i.e. 45 degrees) would be 14mm. I'll have a chance to test that, in practice, next week. However, even if it proves true, I get the sense that a lot of people who work with super 16mm use a longer focal length, whether in a zoom range or as a prime, as their normal view, regardless of what one might consider "normal" in still photography formats. Is that correct, and if so, why, or do I have this wrong?
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 June 2005 - 11:26 PM

Well, you have to take that ASC opinion in historical context, i.e. zoom lenses have traditionally SUCKED, quality-wise, until the last few decades.

So it isn't so much that all zooms are now the equal to all primes (although you might find that to be true if comparing a modern zoom to an old prime) but that modern zooms are now considered of high-enough quality to no longer be a detriment to the resolution or contrast of the image. They are within a range of quality that primes have if you consider the whole range of primes available to rent.

For example, I've shot features on the old Ultra-Speed Panavision primes and found the basic 5:1 Cooke zoom (which is not particularly new either) to be very comparable in quality, so shots intercut fine between them.

You see plenty of modern movies which may mix shots done on modern Cooke S4's, let's say, with a modern Angenieux zoom, and the quality difference does not jump out from the screen (although it's there if you look.)

In 35mm anamorphic, there is a bigger disparity in quality still between the zooms and primes.

Anyway, many cinematographers feel that modern zooms are now good enough to make them an acceptable replacement for primes, if they need the advantages of a zoom. But many cinematographers are not so fond of zooms for various reasons. Zooms in 35mm, in particular, are very large and not particularly fast compared to zooms in 16mm or HD.

So my answer may be, it depends on the quality of zoom you can get compared to the quality of primes you can get, and it depends on how you like to use lenses.

I've never really cared for the concept of "normal" lenses based on a mathematical calculation. Everyone defines "normal" differently. But a focal length in Super-16 that has a "neutral" perspective, not telephoto and not wide-angle, might be either a 16mm or 25mm depending on your tastes.
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