The very first large sensor digital cinema camera, the Dalsa Origin showed at NAB in 2003. It ignited the long running film vs digital debate, one of the hottest topics of discussion among both celluloid and digital imaging aficionados (and those of us who love both equally).


The fire was fuelled by an explosive mix of subjective opinion and objective scientific fact. Flames were fanned by high profile cinematographers, technologists, producers, Hollywood studios and almost anyone with an invested interest in the future and history of motion picture imaging.

I spent quite some time shooting film, both 16mm and 35mm. This began for me right at the turning point where digital acquisition started to take over on commercials that would otherwise have been 35mm. I was also using Red One and Alexa at the same time on a couple short films.

As a post production coordinator for a large facility (operating a Kodak Imagecare approved lab) I became very aware of the similarities and differences of both mediums. It is true that in the beginning the goal of large sensor digital imaging was to imitate celluloid film, but I don’t think that is the case anymore. In fact I think something else has happened that many may not have seen coming.

Lately I’ve been asking myself one question.

Digital Film.

What exactly is that supposed to mean?

I suppose I should start with a warning because my views might be deemed controversial to other perfectly well informed professionals. This is purely one person’s opinion who is… well, opinionated I guess.

To me, the term “digital film” as in “digital film camera”, as used by some manufacturers to market their digital imaging devices is the biggest oxymoron, a myth in fact that leads us all to believe that we are actually achieving a true digital equivalent of everything celluloid still holds over all of us pixel counting, spec sprouting, RAW obsessed nerds.

It’s simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong. I love digital imaging. I love RAW, and I don’t dislike the look at all.

But what we’re dealing with at best is as cold and soul-less as a “digital imaging device” can be, which I think is far more apt a term. I have no problem with “digital cinema” however, that’s a fine description of a technology that has progressed leaps and bounds from its digital video roots, and can totally now be considered cinematic.

Thanks to large sensors, high resolutions and high dynamic range, that’s exactly what we have created. We have created digital cinema.

Cinematic it may be, but it’s still cold and soul-less. The “film” look is more than a LUT.

Our images are clinically sharp, precise and perfected, shrink wrapped in shiny plastic, living only as electrons, or binary magnetic signatures on the surface of some spinning disk forever at risk of accidental annihilation or corruption.

The one digital image that comes close to having some life to it is perhaps that of the much loved Arri Alexa.

The product however, of this digital cinema revolution as a whole is not “digital film” but “digital cinema”.

I would simply like to table for open discussion the argument that what we have created and nurtured is the wide general acceptance of a totally new aesthetic in moving images. A totally legitimate, new and cinematic aesthetic that is neither film nor digital video, it is somewhere in between, far closer to film in all technical considerations than ever before, but different nevertheless.

Not worse, but different.

This new aesthetic belongs to a new medium, it is digital cinema, not film, and certainly not video.

I believe film, as in celluloid based motion picture imaging as a medium is and will continue to occupy it’s own unique place on our creative palette alongside the ever evolving and improving digital formats.

When all this started over a decade ago, the film vs digital debate raged and it was clear the goal was to replace film entirely.

Now, digital imaging technologies have matured, and I don’t see this happening. I see choice. I see both, similar in ways, but very different, and coexisting for the indefinite future.

I also think we are all much better off for it.

Long live Kodak.

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