NOTE: This post was published on Nov 5, 2009 and is a snapshot of views and opinions at that time.
I’m quite comfortable on the fence when it comes to the film vs digital debate. I’ve been shooting 35mm, lots of 16mm, and I’m glad that there is choice.
Even if I were forced to jump off to one side or the other, I don’t think I could. Film is beautiful, it’s organic, it’s ever so slightly unworldly, an unmatched creative medium. However, it’s prohibitively expensive for most, and the images I have seen from the Red One in the hands of a master DOP are nothing short of breathtaking. The same can be said of the new Canon DSLR’s.
The film vs digital debate is as hot as ever, and I have to say, all things considered they are running neck and neck at full pelt. Neither is giving the other any room to relax or lessen the pace. Where the race will end is anyone’s guess. It seems inevitable that digital should eventually take over, but this will be an economic win rather than a technical or artistic one.
I am of the opinion that the choice of acquisition format should be made based on the pros and cons of the mediums and the budget available. My first choice, budget aside would be 35mm for most all in-camera, traditional, cinematic or dramatic films, even intense action as long as it’s not too VFX intensive. Where digital solutions start having the edge is with intensive VFX needing quick turnaround and obviously on-set compositing with automated heads, cranes and so forth where backgrounds are keyed out and a 3D environment rendered on the fly as with “Atlantis”.
Digital acquisition is also most suitable for 3D stereoscopic applications where 35mm is arguably completely impractical.
We are in a very interesting transition in cinema where beautiful imagery can be created in more varied ways than ever before. In my opinion, my advise to anyone trying to decide between film and digital acquisition, is to rather spend your time on assembling the best lens package you can afford, and then move onto your lighting package. The question of camera and film vs pixels can be left purely to the accountants without much worry on your part about your picture.