NOTE: This post was published on Jan 29, 2010 and is a snapshot of views and opinions at that time.
I’ve purposely avoided the film vs digital topic for some time now. People are usually unashamedly subjective and biased. Any given conversation typically goes something like this.
Did you know that HD is only about a quarter the resolution of 35mm film? That’s why digital will never match it.
Well, it all depends… there’s so much resolution loss from the original camera negative through to the release prints, and then there the loss in projection… it ends up only about 1.5K by the time it hits the big screen.
Besides, I can shoot 4.5K on my Red One, most 35mm lenses won’t even resolve that detail…
It’s not just resolution, or even exposure latitude, although your Red One won’t give you anything close to 11 stops. Film has three dimensions, it’s a suspension of silver halide crystals, it has depth… it’s beautiful… and if you think your really getting 4K out of that sensor, you’re kidding yourself… a Beyer sensor is fatally flawed, it’s not true 4K, it’s chroma sub sampling and that compression… you’ll only get true 4K with a 4K scan from film negative. And don’t even let me start with CMOS imagers…
You videots are all the same… young upstarts with no discipline and all the toys… back in my day…
and it continues… and turns perfectly respectable professionals into bickering children.
The fact is that film is being replaced by digital acquisition for commercials and a lot of mainstream commercial cinema, and the process has just been expediated by the recent success of Avatar, a huge win for 3D stereoscopic digital domination. It’s going to happen, it is happening, it has in fact happened. We all need to accept this.
What are the effects we are seeing in the film industry globally?
1. A new generation of previously disempowered film makers now have a chance to rise to the top.
Digital aqcuisition, and post production require a complete and total paradigm shift in the minds of almost everyone involved. The young DV generation that have come up over past 10 years are in prime position already to run with this while the older, slower but more established players struggle to play catch up, many of whom in fact are still in a state of denial.
2. Huge power shifts in an established industry.
We are seeing household names, companies that a few years ago were front runners, now struggling to keep up. Some didn’t see it coming, some did but denied it for too long to adapt, some simply were not able to adapt quickly enough. Big names associated with film are facing an uncertain future… they will have to adapt and change their product or risk a dinosaur like extinction.
3. A record number of digital start ups.
I believe that more new production entities, and digital cinema focused service companies, empowered by the digital cinema revolution are appearing everywhere. These companies are started by everyone from film school graduates, former IT industry specialists that now find their skill-set in high demand, cross-overs from web, design, photography… and other associated industries, and dreamers from any number of other related and unrelated backgrounds. Anyone who has a story now has access to the tools to make a movie.
4. Massive competition.
We are entering a time of massive competition in a worldwide global marketplace, hopefully in the next decade the dust will settle and survival of the fittest will kill off the weakest, and leave a new order to the film industry, some new names, some old names re-invented… a fresh landscape.
5. Major Innovation, from the ground up.
The next decade will see more innovation around the new tools we have begun to see than any other time in the history of cinema. We have literally seen only the tip of the iceberg. New products and designs are more likely to come from underground innovators than the big names we have previously relied on for cutting edge technology.
So what will happen to film?
Film is not going anywhere. I believe it’s use will shift from the commercial mainstream to the artistic niche. There is already a backlash by some against the digital revolution, and I would argue this may produce some of the best work that has ever been shot on film. So I do not believe film will die, I love the medium, and there are far too many who will refuse to let it go. This is fantastic news. The masses will go digital, creating an artistic elite who will love and cherish film more than ever.
I believe we will see a real resurgence in super 8mm, and both 16mm and 35mm will settle and adapt to enjoy a much smaller but stable and highly dedicated market.
While film is on the decline, there exists a window of opportunity to shoot film at a lower cost than ever before. Gear rental houses want to extract the last bit of profit from their film equipment, and the film stock manufacturers will give massive discounts on stock and packages. For those who want to own their own film camera equipment, in the coming years you will find 16mm and 35mm camera bodies at very affordable prices to own.
I believe that once things settle however, film will become even more expensive as less raw stock is manufactured and fewer processing labs worldwide will be in operation.
The writing is on the wall… or if you go see Avatar… is on the big screen. It’s time to get real and deal with the implications this new reality has on your career, business, productions and strategies in 2010 and beyond.