Digital Cinematography vs Film: Tides are Turning
As I embark on a long creative, exciting journey on Need for Speed with DreamWorks, I wanted to share some of my most recent findings from a five day camera test that pushed every camera to its breaking point. Our final choice was a three camera collaborative for the look and feel of this film.
“The Ultimate Camera Test”
The Director, Scotty Waugh, wanted to test all of the latest digital cameras that have come out recently as well as some that have been around for four years, which is rare. He wanted to find his emulsion. I am camera tested out, so we are going to take a break from tests for a while. Stay tuned for four upcoming posts that will start with the Blackmagic camera in a few weeks.
GoPro Hero 3
What was immediately clear was that film was not the right choice for this project. We could not mold it and shape it into our vision. I sat blown away in the Technicolor DI suite with Mike Sowa, our colorist at the wheel. The digital file had more data, more information, more latitude, and more color depth. I am not sure if the film scanners are keeping up with the latest technology because of the impending demise of 35mm film. That is very sad. I have lensed 17 features through an eyepiece, not an electronic viewfinder. In those 17 features, my light meter, not a wave form, guided me through my quest.
It was the name of one of my favorite bars when I went to Emerson, right down the street from my dorm at Fensgate. Crossroads was a place I visited to talk about film, the art of the medium, how organic it is, the structure, the gauze that it lays over the image, whether it be grain or just plain magic. It has fueled incredible Oscar performances and brought so many great films to life.
I sat looking at the image on the screen and I cannot get the look that I like with my go to tool for 20 years. So, I second guess myself, which is not a good thing to do. I must be pushing it to a place that I should not go. Yet, when I view the ultimate tool that we have chosen to be our A camera, it looks exactly how I want it to look. It took two turns to the right, one to the left and BAM!!!! Our vision screamed off the screen.
When I lensed Deadfall in the winter of 2010 after just finishing Act of Valor, I went back to film. We were shooting snow in the wintertime and I wanted the latitude of film to deal with all of the extreme conditions we would be under. The Alexa had just come out and was not really tested, so the Director Stefan Ruzowitzky and I decided to go with film. I have to say that the speed at which I was able to move was incredible. Light meter in hand, no cables, monitors, black tents, etc.
I trusted my instinct on film and its emulsion attributes. This is exactly what our digital cameras are, another film emulsion. You have to pick your emulsions, not singular, because specific cameras have their unique benefits, their unique emulsion. So trying to use their best aspects and not being locked to one emulsion to shoot your movie is paramount. I would never do that if I were shooting film. I would use daylight balanced film outside, then use faster daylight for dusk, dawn, and day interiors, as well as tungsten for night interior and exteriors.
If there is one thing that I am, it is a risk taker. My wife, Lydia, always asks me, why do you have to always push the limits? I respond that it is in my DNA. My parents wondered the same thing. My son practices this every day. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. By the way, GOD has a sick sense of humor. I took many risks on my features and music videos. I remember on Crazy/Beautiful, the studio could not understand why I was rating a stock at 32 ISO when it read 320 ISO on the can. Technicolor had never pulled a film three stops before but that is what I did on Deadfall. I love trying new things and testing myself as an artist. Will this work? I really have no idea sometimes and that is the exciting part.
When Act of Valor came along and we decided to shoot 70% of the film on an untested still camera made by Canon, we never missed a beat because it was right for the movie, right for the SEALS, right for the emotions, and right for the budget. This is the fearless nature that I talk about. When you can see it on a monitor exactly how it will look, when you are in the DI suite on set, you can BE ABSOLUTELY FEARLESS!!!
As a cinematographer, many of you have been in this situation, whether you choose to talk about it or not. Standing there with your director and discussing the look of the scene is one of the most important conversations. Our creative collective agreed that our actor would be silhouette. I expose it that way, dailies come back and everyone is blown away on the day. They love it. It feels right, and the feedback is amazing.
Six months later, I am in the DI suite with the director and he asks me if we can bring some detail up in his face. Ouch! “I thought you were going to go semi-silhouette,” he said. I know in the back of my mind we said silhouette, which to me means absolutely no detail. I had a close up, but there was nothing there. We tried a power window here and there, but all of it felt mushy.
Smash cut to on set dailies, on set color and you are now seeing a very close representation of the image that will be in your DI suite in six months. Right then and there, you can talk about it. The director’s idea of silhouette might be a little different than yours. It might be a semi-silhouette feel. However, you can have the discussion and immediately plot a creative course. When the director wants it dark and moody, you can be really daring because what you see is what you get. So I light it where you have to squint to see them. The director immediately says, “But maybe not that dark, I want to see their faces, their emotions.” Ha! Ha!
The mystery is gone, the organic process removed. Is this a good thing? I have to say I was pretty fearless with film, but I do take things more to the edge with the digital medium because of this one fact.
Roger Deakins said that he felt very much the same way, that he is much more of a risk taker with digital and that he felt that the Alexa was taking his creativity to new heights because of it. This man is one of my most trusted mentors. I look at each frame that he creates in shock and awe. He has inspired me my whole career.
“What to make of all of this”
I have to say that with technology changing faster than most of us can keep up, I view it as believing in yourself. Trust your instincts and go for it; throw it out there. Make mistakes. That is how you grow as an artist. Push yourself to be uncomfortable. I hate comfort. I need to feel that I am on the edge of a cliff and the wrong exposure or the wrong execution will send me off, into the deep abyss, and then I do it to see what that deep abyss looks like.
Thanks for your consistent sharing of knowledge. Your post are one of the few that I really look forward to reading!
Greg Fiske, that really means so much. Thank you for those kind words and continued support. Wait till next week, big one.
One thing I’ve come to admire about you is articles like this. That you recognize that the landscape is changing and your willingness to embrace it instead of run away from it. And then write about it! Makes us all better. Thanks so much.
Hi Shane – just wanted to say thanks! You are always so open and giving with your knowledge and experiences and it is fascinating to hear your thoughts on digital and film. We shot our first feature on a 5D Mark II and you were a massive inspiration to us! Really enjoy your blog and newsletters! So thank you!
Patrick O’Shea, these are the comments that keep me going. Thank you for these gracious words. I am so glad that I could have a little part in bringing your film to life
Thanks for sharing, Shane! Can’t wait to see the actual camera tests. Maybe my Black Magic camera will ship in 2013, I’ve been waiting for it forever now.
Daniel Lowe, you are welcome, yes more coming in hot
Hell of a teaser. Can’t what to read about the results. Thanks for all you do.
Cj, ha ha. You are very welcome. More coming in hot
I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but I just wanted to say thank you and let you know how much of an inspiration you’ve been to my own work. Perhaps any success I achieve throughout my career is mostly credited to passionate professionals like you who decide to impart their knowledge and experience. You rock!
I must admit I’ve never commented particularly my question is usually already asked but I’ve been following your blog closely now, especially you’re most recent camera tests. So I’m compelled to comment! I’m interested in seeing your results with the Black Magic Camera. I recently shot a web series with ours in Chicago and was curious as to your low light tests shooting RAW and your post workflow. Of course, I don’t want to get ahead of what you have already thought to share, but I was hoping that you could share your experience in that regard!
Thanks for sharing!
Love the shot of the Gopro hero 3!
Thanks for sharing….like all the others, can’t wait to see the results…very interesting how one’s eye changes as the technology changes….
Alan Austin, you are welcome, not changing, creatively evolving
Great post! Loved the image of the GoPro HERO3 on that massive tripod! And of course, generally speaking, the reference to Crossroads brought me back to my BU days! Thanks again!!
Kevin Bourke, ha ha, You are welcome, I thought I would nail many Bostonians with that little reference.
Can’t wait for the test videos. Thanks a ton Shane.
N.K.Osborne, you are very welcome, thank you for the support
Great, yet another attempt to “bury film.” This must have been the 299th piece I read that sort declares motion picture film to be D-E-A-D and placed all digital cameras on a pedestal. I guess 20 years from now we will still be hearing stuff about how film is dead or soon will be.
Re. the “Black Magic,” so amazing that everyone from here to Timbuktu is testing it and using it and is raving about it — wile the rest of us proverbial little people could not find one to purchase for our hard-earned $3,000 if our very lives had depended on it.
Yes, and here is yet ANOTHER ingrate with a chip on his shoulder littering up an otherwise informative blog with his vitriol. Are you oblivious to the fact that Shane has been a proponent of the “digital revolution” since this blog’s inception? It seems as though you are also unable to read between the lines… Shane has stated many times that the “right tool for the job” quite often IS film.
And are you really surprised that a company launching its very first camera has managed to get its prototypes and earliest production models into the hands of those with some clout in the industry? Show some courtesy! Unless, of course, your underdeveloped ego needs to be stroked by ridiculous and uninformed online pissing matches…
Hey, Daniel — are you commenting on the article describing the camera comparison, or are you commenting on the commenters only?
I guess I must have missed the “revolution” part, anyhow — first, there were film cameras, and then later, digital cameras as well. When did the “revolution” happen in all of this, I wonder?
Regarding the Blackmagic-cam, yeah, story is that company managed to churn out some two dozen working models, after which the proverbial “oppise-doozie” had happened. Can’t hardly wait until going back to NAB show in April to see what are the latest stories were are going to be told at BMD stand. My money says, Sony will be shipping both their PMW-F5 and F55 cameras before you can easily lay your hands on a BCC. Yeah, to get reliability from a name-brand, reputable manufacturer, one would indeed need to pay more than just 3 grands for a D-film-cam.
Ordered my BMDCC on the 4th of July 2012 so I could go shoot fall foliage in September… Well I just got it Feb. 22, 2012. Guess what? Well worth the wait. In spite of all it’s short comings and loose ends to be cleaned up in the coming months it IS a spectacular imaging device. I look forward to doing the best work of my career with this AFFORDABLE instrument. Peace, haters…
Last month I was doing some research on using old Leica still lenses for cinema work and first discovered your blog, Shane. Then after watching a documentary on the unlikely origins of the SmallHD monitor company this morning (produced by Hurlbut Visuals), I find myself once again steered to your online resources. The fact that you not only invest the time to take the risks and push the limits but also choose to make the time to share your thoughts and experiences with others while they’re still fresh in your mind speaks volumes. For those out there who have not had the opportunity to see the recent documentary that focuses on the conversation about the transition from film to digital, it’s worth checking out: http://sidebysidethemovie.com/. Thanks, again, Shane, and I echo the others posting here in looking forward to reading details of your Need For Speed camera test discoveries.
Austin Alward, I cannot thank you enough for your kind words and support. I am so glad that you were lead to this blog. Hope to have many comments in the future.
Shane your a mad man haha. As always thanks for the wealth of knowledge you and your team share.
Also I have a question about how you mixed color temperatures in Terminator Salvation and how you accomplished the final look if you have time? Thanks.
Iain Trimble, You are very welcome. I am running a color temp blog next week, stay tuned all in there. Thanks for your support and kind words
Great read. I wish you the best of luck on Need For Speed.
Fraser West, thanks for the support.
Thanks Shane for sharing your expertise and experience , your awesome!!
Manoj Narula, you are very welcome, thank you for your support and the gracious words
Good stuff, Shane. But if you really were a risk taker, you’d shoot the whole film with the GoPro3 Black. Just sayin’ :)
Eric Diosay, ha ha, right!!!
That’s a great article article you’ve written. Loved especially your emphasis on “What you see is what you get”. Has been increasingly true for me as well always. And gives one more time to indulge in creative freedom than worrying about exposure inadequacies.
All the best for Need for Speed! Look forward to watching it. And keep those articles.coming in:)
Rituraj Devaang. Thanks so much for the kind words and support.
Oops. Missed the hack’d Gh2!
Sage. I’m not a big fan of that camera.
Its quite impressive – when you move the colors around in post (in general it needs adjustments to magenta and gamma). This is corrective work that you don’t need to do with a BMC or proper cinema cam. But when this is done well, it measures up very, very well against the best.
There is a lot of understandable vitriol against the camera because of this required effort to look presentable. It is a ‘disguised’ as a ugly video cam. I prefer a BMC for this reason – but it is technically the lowest cost option that can compete directly with the best (much better than the GoPro).
Thanks for giving such a remarkable trove of professional information to the emerging digital cinema scene. We really appreciate your contribution.
Can you tell me how the Panavision Primo (pl mount?) attaches to the 1DC?
Toni Dove. Thank you for the kind words and support. It’s a Eos to Panavision mount.
Hi Shane, one thing that really confuses me as I hear different experts comment on the subject is, are light meters obsolete with the take over of digital? I thought that was implied in your narration. On another note, thanks for making it possible for a newb to address a colossus like you : )
Fiftybob. Light meters are not obsolete. I always have mine on set, and use them a lot when lighting. Thanks for the comment and support.
Heya Shane… kudo’s as usual. Question: Why the vintage lens on the BMCC and the primo’s on everything else?
I was interested in that too! As always, you are doing an invaluable service to those that follow you and are inspired by your candid and well informed insights.
Kudos and stay blessed.
Actually that is a FINE piece of glass and quality never goes out of style. Plus it mounts on the BMDCC so…
My god I cracked up laughing at your last still!!! Your blogs are like crack to an addict, I simply can’t get enough. Just a couple of days ago I setup my first book light because of you, it came out great. I also tried variations and mixing of things just to see what it would do. Thank you for opening my mind to new things and I wish you the best success you could have in all your endeavors. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to aid you on set.
All the best,
Tyler Dixon. Yeah baby! That’s how we roll out a camera test. Glad to hear you are experimenting with the book light. Thanks for the kind words and support.
Gopro Hero 3! Wow that’s all I can say Shane.
Molefi Clive Mohale. That’s how I roll out a camera test, all formats. Thanks for the comment and support.
I don’t know… That head looks a little flimsy to trust such an investment to… Better get a crab dolly and some rails…
Appreciate the post Shane, we are really fortunate to have this level of info out there from your work. Really close to a 1DC purchase. Cheers. Nigel.
Nigel. Thanks for the comment and support.
Thanks for the great post! What are you inital thoughts on the Blackmagic Cinema camera?
Ansel. I just wrote up a huge post on the BMCC. Check it out https://www.filmmakersacademy.com/director-of-photography-blackmagic-cinema-camera/. Thanks for the comment and support.
Do any experience with the Sony Nex fs100??
Marcelo. No I have not used the FS100, but have shot with the F65 and F5 instead.
Great feel good post Shane, I’ll have to quote a few lines during my Getting Started a with the BMCC preso
Next week. Shot a few projects with the BMCC this past week and loving it. Will be my main camera no, but it’s part of my Digital tool kit. Look forward to bringing it in 2013.
George E. Kennedy Jr. Thanks for the kind words and support.
I have a question. On one of the pics above you are using an 8-64 mm glass on the bmcc. This is a super16 pl lens right? Does it really work with the sensor size of the bmcc? I had the chance to get such a peace on ebay.de vor 900€ but i was not sure if this can cover the sensor.
Patrick L. Yes it is a super16 pl lens and it works great with the BMCC. Covers the sensor without vignetting.
Thanks Shane. Exploring the unknown is what it’s all about. Great read.
Oli Kember. Thanks for the kind words and support my friend.
Thank you for sharing all these valuable information to our generation. You are an inspiration to us.
Vinny. Thank you for the kind words and support.
Thanks for sharing shane .all your posts are so insightful and helpful not only for dps but for indie filmmakers.cant thank you enough for what you have shared through this blog.
Abhishek Krishnkant. Thank you for the kind words and support.
I’m really sad film is dying. It’s such a beautiful medium.
Ok, 4 months have past, was the result of this “The Ultimate Camera Test” ever posted anywhere?
Nomi. The test was done for me as a cinematographer to learn which digital emulsion would be the best tool to tell the story of “Need for Speed”. This is personal to me as a cinematographer not to the masses. I think I give enough without anything in return.
Using the scanning of film to digital and comparing that to digital cameras seems a bit retarded to say digital cameras are the future because of greater quality in relation to “scanned film.” When was the last time anyone actually viewed a projected 35mm movie? It’s this “forgetting” of what film looks like that makes it possible to sell digital. It’s using the comparison of scanners to digital cameras and calling it “film compared to digital” that really makes me wonder who’s kidding themselves and who’s getting paid to play the game?
Craig Janeway, no one is getting paid here. I love the look and feel of film and will be shooting it on my next feature with Dreamworks, not color timing it and releasing on film, those days are over, but embracing the future is part of my job and it needs to be done. Cannot walk around with horse blinders on. So to speak
would of be nice to see some final samples and the end result after shooting with that big of a arsenal in cameras.
mike, many of them are available on the HurlBlog right now, BMCC, C500, Alexa, and the Red Epic
En realidad no se Ingles tube que traducir la pagina para leer su articulo, me encanta el cine y pero sobretodo el arte de crear con la luz, para mi Act of Valor, fue el inicio de un nuevo rostro para el Cine no solo por la camara utilizada para rodarla, sino por el gran desafio de lograr esas escenas con una camara nunca probada antes, soy un gran seguidor de sus articulos y un saludo desde Ecuador.