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.


  1. Nice blog.

    Film will stay for at least 10 more years. Nowadays it is harder to spot the difference.

    I would still like to shoot 35mm before it goes away fully.

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  4. This is why 3D proliferation is an alarming trend for indie filmmakers as a new and costly barrier for quality competitive content will is being erected.

    (Miles Maker is a story author, content creator and Auteur whose dynamic media ventures encompass three current web/tech sector megatrends: mobile, social, and real-time @milesmaker on Twitter)

  5. Digital acquisition is here to stay but digital projection, IMHO, still s**ks pretty badly.

    I’ve yet to see digital projection, even in theatres that care about presentation like Arclight and Pacific, not crush all the details out of very dark greys. Once that grey hits a certain percentage, it’s black and there’s nothing digital projectors can do about it.

    Yes, technology improves but IMHO for now resolution and dynamic range are two entirely different things.

  6. Here is where I think this article falls short.

    Everyone is talking digital but really in the end there is very few digital features that one looks at and says wow the cinematography is gorgeous. I mean really blows your mind. In the case of film I think it is far easier for a production to achieve that great look. Film is just more inherently good to look at. My point being is as a producer if you want something to look really good you probably want to shoot on Film.

    Now digital is getting better everyday and some could argue it looks just as good. I don’t think that is the case yet and if I am spending millions making a movie I would go with film. I think in the case of Avatar you have a movie that is primarily digital and covered in CG effects so yes you can go digital. I think When you have a modest budget it actually serves you to shoot on film because it will up your production value. Stars look better captured on film, sets look better captured on film, and really there is a certain aesthetic when shooting on film.

    For those who wish to shoot on digital all the more power to you but if I had a few million dollars I would really try hard to shoot on film too get the best look possible. By doing nothing else but shooting super 35mm film you have upped the production value of your film. Sets, costumes, actors will have a look you just can’t get out of digital.


    • Heywood Jablome

      Great cinematography use to be ..” Get the shot”! Now , they say …” we`ll fix it in post”…Please…lets not kid ourselves…film is bye-bye….and by the time film gets to the low res projector in theatres….who cares. Stay home and watch HD on your HD screen. Video is here to stay and I just bought 2 Sony HD EX3`s for my studio. The future is fast and scary….and it`s here.

    • I agree that film has a certain aesthetic look, but cinematography is not based on filming formats, it’s the art, talent, skills and hard work that’s being put into production. I think a lot of fillmmakers shooting with digital cameras are getting kind of lazy. You upload the footage really fast to a laptop and see the product and say “Looks kind of dark but we could “fix in post” like Heywood Jablome mentioned. On the other hand, with film, you really have to know your craft to get the image you envision. I say you have to work as hard shooting digital as you would shooting on film. There shouldn’t be any excuse as digital image is becoming more and more like film, that the look of film is better than digital. I strongly believe, as a student filmmaker, we should stop worrying about film vs. digital and keep making art. My dream is to inspire and motivate with motion picture as art, not to have die hard film fans go see my films in the soon to be rare film venues just because it is film, or have millions of people go see my films on 3D because it looks pretty. Digital filmmaking is filmmaking nonetheless and times are changing. Let’s become the best filmmakers we could be and make the best films we could possible make.

  7. Sound Emperor

    Good insight. Film will not go away any time soon. Analog Audio Production still has not gone away. It is amazing how many are rediscovering Analog Audio Production. A major American band released an album last year which sounded so good that everyone was asking them how they did it. their reply was simply, “we upgraded to analog”. Digital Audio and Video both have a long way to go before they reach the quality of their analog counterparts–especially for live production–where latency and other processing issues still abound. While Digital Audio is basically there now, (depending on whose gear you use), Digital Video–with the extended bandwidth and thus processing required, is still a few years out. On the editing and production side however, the convenience and speed of editing and mastering has won over quality. Speed and Convenience seem to be the mantra of our society. I wonder what Michelangelo would think…

  8. The worst comments from digital vs. film measurbators always loses the final goal, which is to bring an artistic work to market at a reasonable cost with the best possible quality. Digital is allowing more people to enter the formerly expensive realm of cinematography. Film won’t go away permanently, but we’re experiencing the market migration from film to digital just as we saw the migration from still film photography to digital. The one’s who adapted to digital were those who were contrained by time and budget. The same goes for the broadcasting industry. they are the one’s who are pushing for digital, so it just goes to show that more cinematographers will adopt digital because in the future there will be fewer and fewer distributors of film for cinemas.

    Just like large format landscape/architecture photographers will stick with film when using 4×5/5×7/8×10, so will die hard artistic cinematographers stick to film. The only problem will be fewer and fewer films available for cinematographers to use because the film companies will be producing much less of it in 5 years.

  9. Nice! I completely agree.

    You know…I’d like to add that digital streaming cinemas will also take over — watch you’ll see (no pun intended).

    This will change the game of both the film industry AND distribution as we currently know it.

    Imagine — just “Upload” your digital film…and let’em enjoy. 😉

  10. Film or Digital the fact remains, what’s done with either medium is what makes the difference. Good story-telling, effective communication, artistic expression all comes down to the author behind the process. I wonder if there was a debate between oil paints and water colors? Who cares anymore? Why not focus on how best to tell your story than what you photograph it with? Maybe radio is the answer!

  11. I’m sorry, but this article is frighteningly ignorant, pretending to ‘love’ film while citing a mishmash of disinformation. On the one hand, saying that AVATAR, a 400 million dollar movie that spent several million in NOISE REDUCTION alone, somehow shows that film oppressed independent filmmakers can now have a chance. On the other, ignoring the real differences in quality between the two mediums. I have DP’ed two RED movies, as well as features shown on giant screens shot on a Sony Z-1. I have also shot millions of feet of film. The color range, depth of tonality, speed of shooting, archival storage, ISO speed (at least up to the present moment), failproof nature of film is FAR superior to what the RED can produce at this time. Whether or not the RED is the future remains to be seen, and when digital cinema cameras start to approach the speed of a Nikon D3S, that will change things. But even if digital is the future, we are living, and shooting our stories in the present. I find it entirely disingenuous that people seem to view ‘film’ as an impediment to telling their heartfelt stories. If you don’t have the money, then yes, shoot digitally. But if you do have the money, then YOU are the one who is technically obsessive, insisting on using an inferior medium so you can feel that you are riding the wave of the future, instead of trying to tell your story in the most beautiful way possible.

    Steven Fierberg, ASC

    • Hi Steven, I’d actually love to get in touch with you but I don’t even know if people who comment here get any notification when I respond with a comment of my own. Thanks for your insight. My comments and thoughts are my own opinion based on what I see going on around me. I work at South Africa’s premier post facility and the situation I present here is the situation I see happening before my eyes. I shoot film, I love film, but my job involves far more technically on the digital side of acquisition.

      I’m going to compile some thoughts and reply to you, maybe I can find your e-mail address somewhere.

      Best regards,

      Rich Lackey

    • Steven,

      I don’t think you are being fair. I agree with almost every point you have made, in principle at least and if you read some of my previous articles you would know that I have said similar things before myself.

      Digital acquisition is not where it needs to be yet to rival 35mm motion picture film, but if you are actually arguing that it will never reach that point, in fact, I believe within the next 5 to 10 years, then I disagree with you whole-heartedly.

      There is a huge buzz around ever since CES about 3D stereoscopic content, and this is different to the kind of meaningless fads that have come and gone before. Manufacturers are clambering to get on the 3D bandwagon, and most will be of the opinion that this is here to stay.

      For this reason, there is and will be an escalating demand for 3D content. Avatar was only the beginning, the number of upcoming major high budget movies to be shot 3D is growing by the week. This is to say nothing of the 3D animated features which will be re-released in 3D stereoscopic.

      It’s all about the almighty dollar. 3D is here to stay and it makes money. Avatar has proved that, it has also re-energized a tired and jaded mainstream cinema audience to go back to the movies.

      Budgets everywhere are on the decline. That cannot be argued.

      This means digital. Period.

      Steven, I have a huge respect for you as an artist. I hope one day to command the respect that you do. However, the film makers I work with day in, day out, cannot afford to shoot celluloid. It is your reality, it is not the reality of many.

      It’s certainly not a artistic choice, and I would never, ever argue to shoot digital over film for any reason than budget, or stereoscopy.

      I have a Mitchell R35MkII camera kit, some nice old Super Baltar T2.3 primes and a Cooke Panchro 20-60 zoom. I also have a Russian K3 16mm camera which is tons of fun. I have a freezer full of film stock. Is that not for a good reason?

      My last experimental short “Daydream” was super 35mm, I shot it myself.

      My next upcoming short “The Investigator” shooting March is… wait… super 35mm, and Kodak are sponsoring my stock.

      Another project currently on hold until after The Investigator, “Flame” is… super 35mm.

      The above are all zero, or near zero budget.

      Am I pretending to love film?

      I hope you read this, and I hope this says something to you. I do not like being accused publicly of being frighteningly ignorant or citing disinformation.

      I don’t do that. Ever. Period. I don’t post something unless I know it is true or feel so strongly about it that I’m willing to stick my neck on the line (as in the case of this article).

      Let’s revisit the situation in a couple years and see if anything I have predicted in my article has come to pass. You may not like it, but I feel you will be very surprised at how accurate my predictions are.

      Rich Lackey

    • This recently from NY Times:

      Every single day we hear of yet another movie that is planning to be released in 3D. Now it turns out that all these films are creating a traffic jam in 3D theaters.

      Cinema owners agreed to show “Avatar” on their 3D screens until March 5th, when Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” is supposed to take over. But since “Avatar” is still selling out most showings, exhibitors are unsure that they want to get rid of a winner for an uncertain new prospect.

      A similar battle is going on between Paramount Pictures’ “How to Train Your Dragon” and Warner Bros’ “Clash of the Titans,” which was recently converted to 3D. Looking at the release dates, “Dragon” will only have one week before making way for “Titans.” And Paramount is not happy about that, since 3D ticket prices are usually $3 to $5 more than for a 2D ticket.

      What’s worse is that this 3D bottleneck is likely to grow, since about sixty films are now set for 3D release over the next three years.

      The problem is that some theaters don’t have 3D screens at all. And the ones that do, only have one or two screens equipped with the new technology. The plan right now is to add about 5,100 3D screens by the end of 2010, but even that will not be enough to handle all the 3D films.

      Source: NY Times

    • Steve,

      No apologies from me; shooting on film to tell your story is no longer practical for a number of reasons – especially if you have the money to do so – since it’s all about telling your story with the largest ROI in mind.

      Back in 2005, I’ve posed this question to director Martin Scorsese during his filming of The Departed here in Boston. His response echoed the sentiments of this blog – digital is inevitable, while film would be used only for special applications. Now, keep in mind this was 5 years ago.

      The bottom line is that with all the competition today, I doubt shrewd studios really care about pledging their allegiance to a format, as long as it’s cost effective and makes them money, so if film works for you, and makes you and your studio bank, they shoot away.

      However, for the entrepreneurial-minded, there are options – seeing projector distribution is an obsolete format. (See previous post).

      • Peter, you hit the nail on the head, it’s all about ROI, and the trend I notice day in, day out at Waterfront Studios here in Cape Town is that budgets are decreasing but expectations and standards are not, and the technology is allowing that ratio to change in favour of digital acquisition.

        Personally I shoot film, for now, because I get stock for free, processing for free and telecine… for free. This could change at any point, but while I can, I will shoot film because it is absolutely beautiful.

        ROI is what it all comes down to, unless the film really is a privately funded art piece, but commercially this particular stand off has been won on the battlefield of economics.

        Artistically I love film, as I have said (please read my latest blog post today: ) but to be totally honest, when in the hands of the right D.P., the image from the Red One, Arri D21, Sony F35… even the far humbler Canon 5D can look absolutely stunning.

    • Btw — to clarify, when I say “projector distribution”, I actually mean film projector — not digital projector. 😉

  12. Willem Grobler

    When you read a book, does the quality of the paper or the font size affect the way in which you ingest the story? Surely, if the print is illegible and the book is falling apart, yes, but this is not the case when you compare film and digital. Bear in mind that I’m talking purely about filmmaking as a means to telling a story here.

    The answer to the above question is no. Why? Because future generations will watch movies streamed from Netflix on their Xboxes. They will watch them on the iPods, iPhones and iPads. Or they’ll just pirate it and watch it at a lower quality.

    The problem with film today, is not the medium – it’s storytelling. Hollywood has become stale and boring – it has turned its eyes to comic books and graphic novels for inspirations; to remakes of 80s action films and TV shows; the likes of Neill Blomkamp has shown how the status quo can be upset – for the benefit of an intelligent audience; Cameron has proven what can be done in 3D.

    Where does film fit into all of this, for me? Nowhere. Does it sound arrogant. Perhaps. But I’m trying to tell stories and I cannot be bothered with how I tell the story – as long as it is of a certain quality (production wise) I succeed, and digital cameras are, as previously stated, allowing a new breed of storytellers to tell stories that haven’t been heard before. And that scares everyone, because suddenly a kid can write, produce, direct and edit something amazing, while someone like Michael Bay routinely squeezes out commercial turds, and the Hollywood has to resort to the 3D (gimmick – remains to be seen) ‘revolution’ to make ends meet.

    We are entering a new global age, and digital is here to stay, whether anyone likes it or not, and as things go, it’ll probably surpass film within the next decade or two.

    In the 1900s, could the Lumiere brothers have foreseen 3D digital cinema to the extent that Cameron has realised it? How then can we presume to know what the future holds for digital cameras? For now though, there is enough going for it to cement it as the way forward for new, innovative voices.

    • Cinema is a visual artform first and foremost. Comparing it to books in the way that you do is completely wrongheaded. If you wish to focus your talents on storytelling that’s fine, but your seeming lack of interest in the visual aspect of filmmaking tells me that your films will likely be uninteresting visually are not elevated to what you may be capable of artistically.

      • Rich Lackey

        Thanks Nick, I appreciate your opinion. You may be right, I will find out soon enough. I’m shooting a short mid July and would appreciate your thoughts on the visuals when it’s done. Do you mind if I email you a link to the film in a month or two?

  13. One moot point is you can store film in a controlled environment for a LOOOONG time. Digital aquisition and storage changes are in unending flux. I totally embrace digital and own a Canon 7D. What a way to produce a demo reel in no time anywhere in the world and be inconspicuous to the extreme.! I’m also a film guy and couldn’t possibly shoot anything with such convenience and speed as digital. Kodak film sales actually went up last year. Alot of people are saving their worthwhile(?) digital productions to film just because of the storage factor! Electronic storage is fickle and frightening. How many backups are enough? Perhaps a form of holographic film based storage will come about which will let one store a production on much less stock. This whole 3D upsurgence is very scary, but they have ways of converting 2D to 3D and I think JVC just introduced a $50K system to do just that. If film is doomed better shoot it now before it’s too late. You’ll be a hero in the eyes of future unborn as yet digital filmmakers. BTW,have you seen what 2-5 year olds are shooting with digital cameras? The eyes of the innocent are forming the future of this medium…and what a future that will be!

  14. Why are you digihead aficionados so arrogant!! Digital is the future so what? Who gives a frick about film. Ha ha ha you film fools…die die die. Have any of you seen how great 2-perf looks on modern filmstocks? Anamorphic aspect ratio using spherical lenses for about the price of 16mm…unaffordable? We should post a pole of how many here shooting digital have shot film and vice versa. Jeez guys,come off your high horses!

    • I’ve actually been very interested in 2-perf but it’s tough to find cameras. Kodak sent me a great 2-perf demo reel on HDCAM SR and it looked fantastic. A good deal more exposure area than super 16mm.

      I’d be quite interested in converting my Mitchell R35 MkII to 2-perf movement.

      Look, it seems to me you are taking things somewhat out of context here. Nobody is on a high horse, its a simple discussion.

      I know no-one who would choose to shoot digital if they could afford 35mm…. and I’ve had the conversation with a large number of DP’s.

      2-perf is a fantastic way to save on costs and stay shooting film. It’s enjoying quite a revival.

    • Remember, the color blind (deficient) – a meaningful % of the movie going public – can’t see anaglyph as intended and need the crossed polaroid lenses.

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  16. Dear Rich,
    Sorry to take so long to reply, haven’t gone to this page since I wrote in. Please don’t think that I meant any personal affront, I very much appreciate your passion and intelligent discussions. I just feel that we, as the creators of these visual stories, need to tell OUR truth about what we see. If there are people, like Willem Grobler above, who do not value visual aesthetics, then they can certainly make a movie on DVCAM and try to get people to visit their webpage. Part of my ire is that I am being dictated to by producers who often read articles on digital cinematography and believe some of the many distorted and sometimes outright falsehoods being promoted there. Even in some of the comments above, there are people promoting high production values while dissing the film medium. it’s okay to spend money on sets and wardrobe, but not on the recording medium? Or to pay an actor a million dollars, and then save $50K to shoot them with a digital system that makes them look 10 years older? There’s just a lot of chaos, and in my opinion, confused thinking going on in format selection. I’m speaking at the ASC open house this Saturday on the topic, if you’re going to be there I’d love to meet you!


    • Rich Lackey

      Hi Steven,

      Thanks so much for the reply, really I appreciate you taking the time. No offence was taken, you are 100% correct.

      I’ve got a great DVD from Kodak, I’m sure you have it, or have seen it, called “Film, No Compromise”, and its fantastic. It points out logically and coherently why film is still the gold standard, and why going digital isn’t necessarily cheaper in the end.

      I’ve seen this play out this week with the start of “Death Race” shooting in our largest sound stage, with three Sony F35’s. The first day they overshot by something like 250%, and the problem is, when we send them our invoice for sync’ing their sound and making clones of all those HDCAM SR tapes (which are damn expensive as it is), they might as well have been more disciplined and shot 35mm.

      Myths abound, as I have tried to explain just about myself (I can’t speak for anyone else who has joined in this conversation), I try my absolute best to be as objective as possible.

      I also try to stay up to date and informed technically with the latest digital tools, because that’s what feeds my family at the end of the day. So I’ve got to have a foot in each camp.

      It certainly keeps things interesting!

      I live and work in Cape Town, but it would be great to meet you one day. I’d love to have your email address or something just to connect sometime, maybe you could shoot me a mail to rich (at), then I’ll have it in my contacts list.

      Do you know James Mathers at all? Of the Digital Cinema Society? A colleague of mine and myself are getting a South African chapter set up now. It’s mostly dedicated to post, so we cater for film originated digital intermediate post just as much as digital acquisition.

      Anyway, I have the utmost respect for you and as I said, I very much appreciate your reply.

      All the best! I hope to run into you one of these days!


    • Hi Steven,

      I’d like to chime in — if you don’t mind; I suppose that the real issue being debated isn’t merely regarding the quality of Film vs. Digital Cinema — being that film will inevitably look better on a film projector. Instead, it’s more of a debate about the future of cinema distribution.

      Don’t be amazed if you begin to see 4K – perhaps even 32K– digital projectors replacing good o’ fashion film in the very near future, since this would alleviate some of today’s digital cinema woes you’ve addressed.

      Now, if this does happens, and it will, this would most definitely put the stake in the debate — so to speak — that digital cinema is here to stay – keeping mind that we’re already somewhat seeing this happening with high-end DLP technology.

      So, as a producer/studio, this is what you’re constantly weighing – alongside with other production costs – in order to position yourself for when this does happen.


  17. Tim Gasper

    This “debate” can go on forever. I see merit on both sides, but I really do prefer shooting film (slides). I shoot for 3 agencies who all will accept digital images of various qualities, but ALL of them prefer slides images scanned on to discs. I like the fact that i can see what i just shot and then decide if I want to keep it or not from digital, but when I do my quality, professional work, I use my digital camera like a Polaroid and view the image and exposure and then shoot my film camera(s) to record the images on slides. When I view a slide on a light table, it looks very clean and well defined. When I view a digital image on the computer, I never know what the true quality is or going to be when I develop it. The computer screen itself may not be so great a quality to know if that was the picture I truly took or not. With a slide, what I see is what I shot, period. I am sticking with my film cameras and use my digital as a back-up and/or like a Polaroid. If I want to send in digital instead of slides, I send in my RAW images to the agencies and let them play with them. For myself, I will keep the slides always and deliver them to the agencies via discs. That way we are both happy. For me, now, it’s film (slides). I will keep my options open for the future on digital.

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  20. Rusty Murphy

    Why is everybody acting like 3D is this big revolution? 3D movies have been around since the 50s and was first adopted as a gimmick to get people into theaters because the movie industry was afraid TV was killing it. The same thing is happening again. Studios are afraid of web streaming and on demand.
    I personally think the popularity of 3D has been over-hyped. People would have seen Avatar anyway, 3D or not. A lot of people don’t like 3D because it is fatiguing to the eye. While it seems to be working as a gimmick, I don’t believe we are going to see everything released in 3D in the future. It’s just not necessary or particularly desirable.
    As for the digital debate, it obviously makes sense for certain things to be made digitally. It’s perfectly acceptable for the latest Adam Sandler movie to be shot on digital; however, I would be very surprised to find serious filmmakers like Scorsese adopting digital anytime soon.
    Speaking from a non industry point of view, as an audience member I prefer film and film projection. My local theater switched several of its screens to digital projection, and I find it an inferior experience. I actually watched the same movie twice in two different theaters to compare, and the digital projection lost detail in the dynamic extremes of shadow and highlight. It also made the images seem tiring and repetitive, whereas in film the slightest evidence of strobing or dust and scratches here and there adds to the cinematic experience. I felt like I was watching a DVD.
    Finally, I am not going to live in the past and mourn the passing of the film era. At least we have a massive body of cinema shot on film to cherish.. more than one could ever get through in a lifetime. Hopefully there will exist for a while still a few old niche theaters around to screen the classics.

  21. I’d like to point out that most of the 3D and digital work is being pushed by guys like Lucas, Cameron and Scott….older guys (who have never had the ability to work with such technology). While younger guys like John Faverau, Chris Nolan, Darren Arronofksy, ect are still shooting film and not even bothering with 3D. So, are we going to kick the younger generations directors (and the top directors too) to the curb? Perhaps we need to focus on what is the main focus for each film. What is the main goal for it to reach. Perhaps we should have films that ONLY play in theaters and never go on DVD or TV. Those can be the ones on film, while the rest are shot digitally and put on the internet and TV. Perhaps there needs to be some more showmanship in terms of playing a film in a theater. Why am I going to go see a movie in a theater that’s just a DVD playing? Seems kinda ridiculous to me.

    As for 3D, well…I think a lot of the digital movement happens to be just made for people to buy product. I read an interview with a director once who said 3D can only be done digitally….yet we know that’s a croc. In fact in the 70’s Space Vision was PERFECT 3D and they just released a 35mm 3D camera called the Gemini, digital intermediates have gotten cheaper and now Super 16, 2 Perf and 3 Perf are considerations that also cut the costs. My lab bill for a completely photochemical edit (meaning no computers and all prints) was $10,000 now if I shot 2 perf it would have been $5000. That’s for a feature…and that’s black and white, if I shot color it would cost me less (as more people are doing it). Logic tells you if you shoot a million takes you’ll shoot more film and it will cost more…perhaps directors just don’t like planning anything anymore. Then again…if you need 50 takes to get a scene right maybe the problem isn’t with the camera.

    So if we had perfect 3D before, why do we need to buy special cameras? special TVs? Well….to buy…to pay money. End of story.

    Let’s take a look at the music world for a second.
    Before you needed a electric guitar and a 100 watt stack.

    Now you just need to use a computer program for the amp sounds…and hell you can even have a guitar that tunes itself, alternates between tunings and even emulates other instruments…so you don’t even need a full band.

    Yet people are still playing 100 watt amps. Tube amps too even though Solid State amps are cheaper and more reliable. People are still tuning their own guitars and people are still playing with bands.

    I’d like to see the same thing happen in the movie world. It should be up to the creator of that product. If I can make a 35mm movie for less than $5000 for stock which isn’t even close to the price of a RED ONE camera ($25,000) which will probably change components and improve year after year anyway. People are kidding themselves.

    Look at the advances in fuel. Sure we could switch over to electric cars, but that seems like running away from a problem. The key is facing the problem head on and finding out ways to fix it. If there is a will, there is a way.

    It is really up to the creator of that film. I love being able to choose what amp, what guitar, what pickups to use for each musical project….I’d like the same choice in film making as well.

  22. Film is still superior and you can still spot the difference when watching a movie shot on digital or film.

  23. Luc Deschenes

    An important issue to take into consideration when talking film vs digital is how you’re going to distribute your final work.

    It doesn’t make much sense to shoot film in order to release a video online, which is happening more and more these days.
    Of course it’ll still end up looking better ,if you have the budget to do so, but that’s rarely the case if your destination is the net.
    that money you spent on film stock and conversion goes to waste when you could have spent it on lighting/set design etc…

    I think it’s important to properly examine each project before settling on a medium, in my experience digital is often the most obvious choice, but that won’t stop me from shooting on film if I believe the project is worth shooting on film.

    In my mind film is a luxury, one that shouldn’t be wasted.
    Many think I have a bone to pick with film, but it’s honestly more of a respect.
    if I’m going to shoot film, I want to do it justice.

  24. A Film Rant
    The argument that film is being beaten into extinction by an overtaking flood of digital capturing systems is reaching a climactic crescendo of sorts. More and more we are seeing the replacement of traditional film projection systems with new, state-of-the-art digital projectors and…

    …I’m sorry, this was going to be an eloquent and well researched piece that presented solid facts and reasoned opinions in an even-keeled manor but, quite frankly, I’m fed up with it. I do not apologize for what I am about to say, nor am I shy in stating my opinion of an industry that has seen a power shift in the last five years from the hands of the creative to the hands of the inept, the irresponsible, the ignorant, and the scared.

    Here we go.

    My name is Phillip Matarrese and I have been lighting movies since 2006. I have seen a lot, tried a lot, failed more times than I have kept track of and worked all around the globe. I love lighting. I love making a beautiful image. I have weighed in on the film vs digital debate many times, always on the side of film, and have voiced opinion to anyone who will listen.

    Sure there are a million technical reasons why film is superior to digital: the simplicity, the flexibility, the standardization, the ease of use, the image quality, etc. There are also many non-tangible factors that make film a superior medium such as the discipline it takes, the fast learning curve for the filmmaker to improve as an artist, and the one-to-one transference of information. You can see more about this here:

    What I’m really mad about is how far from quality and integrity we’ve come with our filmmaking. It’s fucking pathetic. In the past 6 years or so I’ve seen people go from shooting on film to shooting on digital; from drooling to shoot film because it was a raised bar to being replaced by a complacent, sheep-like blindness of taking whatever digital camera the manufacturers say is “hot” at the time. When did we become moron consumers who accepted whatever sales pitch some manufacturer gives us instead of leading industry professionals who tested the latest technology in comparison to the current industry standard? When did our standards get lowered?
    When did the art of cinematography become so convoluted that now any piss-ant kid with a camera has the nerve to call themself a “Director of Photography”. I had a DP once look at me like I was an alien from another planet when I asked him what f-stop he wanted to shoot at. What f-stop he wanted to shoot at!?!?! I have lost faith in the art of the cinematographer because it seems that they are a dime-a-dozen now and nothing separates one from the other. What happened to being bold?

    And, I’m sorry, but when did it become acceptable that when an inferior product breaks on set that we can explain it away with phrases like, “well, you know… it’s the RED…” or, “what do you expect when you shoot a movie with a DSLR?” When did we loose our balls, crawl into a hole and give up rather then demand a quality product that has already gone through a complete R&D process?? We should never have to wait on set for a camera to boot up. We should never have to use ice packs to cool down a camera body when shooting a day exterior. We should never have to worry about an entire day of footage being lost when cards are swapped or hard drives are being transferred. So then why are all of these pitfalls so common place on an independent film set and worse, are now seen as normal, every-day occurrences.

    Fuck that!

    So this begs the question: how did we get to this point? How did this happen? There are a lot of contributing factors involved: the economy, the shift in the consumer markets for home box office sales, less people going to the theaters so films are less profitable and the cost of production has to be lowered… etc, etc, etc. At this point it doesn’t really matter; what’s happened has happened.
    Now the real question is what are WE going to do about it… and yes, when I say we I also include you.

    I, for one, am going to start demanding more… more from the manufactures who provide me the equipment I use, more from the decision makers in the industry who ultimately dictate where the money is spent, more from the creative artists in the tools they choose, and more from the technicians and workers who handle the tools and equipment on a day-to-day basis.

    I’ll start at the top, since that is where a lot of the pressures and problems are coming from: the producers. First of all, grow your balls back and demand quality equipment for the price you are paying. You’re always looking at the bottom line and asking, “how much will it cost me?” and there is no changing that. So why are you now content with half-assed, half tested products coming into your market that solve one problem but cause 10 more? Why do you sit silently and complacent when a company shoves advertising of “the hottest” or the “newest” digital camera system down your throat and you swallow? There was a time once when producers factored in the “value” of what they were budgeting for along with the price and that idea of “value” has seemed to be forgotten. Don’t let yourself be pushed around or strung along by a company promoting a product until that product has been proven.

    I challenge you, the producer, to change your way of thinking from the short term to the long term… consider the long term effects of the medium for which your project will live on and ask yourself “will this film be watchable in 20, 50 or 100 years?” instead of just looking at the bottom line. And when you think of the bottom line, ask yourself, “what am I really paying for? Is this worth it for the lifespan of this project?”

    Ok directors… remember when you were in film school, or maybe when you saw that one movie in the theater, or saw that video or dvd at the video store and rented it and something clicked? Remember when you discovered that someone actually made a movie and they didn’t just appear out of thin air? Do you remember the feeling of amazement, the thrill of discovery and the beautiful excitement when you decided that you wanted to make movies? You wanted to tell stories to share with people; you wanted an audience to entertain. Well imagine that your audience can’t watch your movie because of a hard drive failure. Now imagine that you’ve shot all day at the Los Angeles port and the camera grazes the sand as the crane shot rests on its final mark and the slight bump causes all the footage on the card to disappear. Also imagine that you are shooting a day exterior on a normal street in normal town USA and your DSLR keeps overheating so you need to put icepacks on the camera to keep it from shutting off. I have personally seen each of these scenarios first hand.

    I challenge every director to really think about their audience. Directors don’t think about their audience the way they used to. How will your audience see your art? Art is worthless if there is no audience to see it, so why are so many directors enamored by a medium that adds so many more hurtles between their art and the audience? Why not choose a medium that you can watch with literally a light bulb and a darkened room? Why not choose a medium that is harder to pirate illegally? Why not choose a medium that can last for over 100 years if properly maintained AND costs less to maintain for that 100+ years? And why not choose a medium that will separate you from the growing sea of mediocrity of digital filmmaking and embrace something that the movies you saw that got you into film were all captured on?

    And as for you, the cinematographer… shame on you. Yes, the decisions start at the top but the greatest challenge and the greatest responsibility rests with you. I challenge you as a cinematographer to shoot film on your next project. I dare you to have the F-ing guts to stand up for your integrity as an artist in choosing a quality canvas and medium on which you work. You want to be a cinematographer that embodies the definition of the craft that you claim- then shoot film. If a producer says it’s too expensive then crunch the numbers yourself. I’ve seen cinematographers do that and prove that it was the same price(or sometimes even cheaper) than getting the new top-of-the-line digital camera.

    Telling an artist to shoot on digital is like telling Michelangelo to make his statues out of clay. “Hey, Mike, why are you still carving marble? Why don’t you just make David out of clay, it’s easier, cheaper, a lot faster and it’s all the rage down in Rome I hear.” Anyone who makes art simply because it’s easy in no artist at all.
    Stop whining and using the excuse, “if I COULD shoot film I WOULD.” That’s bullshit… you CAN shoot film, it just takes a few extra hours of research and something that seems to be lost these days in the industry professionals, building solid relationships with companies like Kodak, Panavision, Deluxe, Technicolor, Fotokem and others. Get out there and be the cinematographer you want to be, someone who is an artist who continually challenges him or herself to do better and someone who is proud of their work.

    And as far as the quality of the work coming out of cinematographers these days, the greats like Freddie Young, Nestor Almendros and Laszlo Kovacs would turn off the TV or walk out of the theater. There is no excuse for black tones that look green, unintentional blooming highlights due to lack of dynamic range, or pixilated movement when an actor takes a step or you pan the camera. Demand more from yourself and from your peers AND from your tools and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest contemporaries of today like Wally Pfister, Emmanual Lubezki and Robert Elswit.

    I am disappointed in some of the leading cinematographers for pandering to hype rather then sticking to their integrity.

    And finally the everyday workers who use the equipment: the camera assistants. In any other industry if a worker was provided the latest, state-of-the-art tool to work with and the tools had flaws that made it hard to work with then the people using those tools would stop using it and they would demand a better tool. It’s very simple logic- demand quality tools and don’t use a tool that’s hard to use and adds to your workload. So why aren’t camera assistants demanding for better tools? In the hierarchy of a film set, complaints travel up but the decisions travel down. I, for one, am perfectly fine with complaining to the people above me if a piece of equipment that was forced upon me doesn’t work. There is a reason that I ask for the lights, the cable, the boxes and the stands that I do- so I can do the best job that I can with tools that are reliable. Don’t be afraid to demand quality, especially in a time where quality seems to be an undervalued commodity in independent filmmaking.

    One person once said that I can’t compare a RED camera or a Canon DSLR to an Arri or Panavision 35mm camera. Why the fuck not, since people seem to be equating them already and using them to try and make the same type of product? You’d use a different type of concrete to anchor the footing of your new backyard deck than if you were building a freeway interchange right? Different rope would be used to lace up your climbing shoes then would be used to tether you to the carabineer on the face of the mountain, correct? So then why are people trying to make theatrical motion pictures with cameras that are nowhere near the quality of the tried and true film camera? Once people stop using DSLRs to make a movie intended for theatrical release, I’ll stop preaching about how film will blow those cameras out of the water.

    Do the words “research and development” not hold any value to the technicians of this industry anymore? Shame on you, the camera assistant, for not voicing your concern and for not demanding quality tools to do your job.

    In closing… we can do better. We should hold these truths to be self-evident and hold ourselves, and in doing so we hold our peers, to a higher standard of quality filmmaking. From this point onward I am holding myself to the standard that I just laid out and promise to call out others on their lack of standards. It is the professional thing for me to do in an industry that is slipping closer and closer to verge of boringly low standards, idiot producers and web junkies. You will either meet these standards and prove me wrong or you will fail miserably and prove me right. I hope the former is the case.

    Yours forever,
    -Phillip Matarrese

    • Rich Lackey

      Phillip, wow! What an amazing and well written response. Thank you, I actually agree entirely… I would title your piece “Don’t take the lazy, easy way out” and I would argue those sentiments are universally true regardless of the medium.

  25. I love film. Way better look than digital, it’s more artistic.
    I wonder what Steven Spielberg opinion is, ’cause he uses film mostly.
    He is a master!

  26. I just have a couple of questions.

    1) No question, film has better dynamic range than digital. Admittedly the difference is increasingly becoming slimmer. My question is, when film is converted to digital for special effects purposes, does it not lose that dynamic range? I read that digital typically has 256 shades of grey (lol!) but film is infinite. When the film is captured by the digitising machine and all, doesn’t it lose that range, and maintain that loss through to when it is spewed back on to film and shipped to cinemas?

    • There’s a few things in play here; color bit depth, dynamic range, and whether the digital values are measured (recorded) and / or interpreted on a linear or logarithmic scale. Color bit depth in a digital file, whether is it a scan from negative or from a digital camera is determined by the number of bits of data that represent the values of R,G and B channels from back to white. If you imagine each channel separately as shades of grey from black to white, then a 8-bit per channel color bit depth would give you 256 increments or “steps”. However this is not a likely color bit depth you will come across in professional digital cinema acquisition or post production. The minimum bit depth considered adequate is 10-bits per channel, giving you 1024 increments per R, G, B channel. Above this is 12-bit, 16-bit per channel and 32 bit per channel.

      As you can imagine the file sizes per frame ramp up very quickly for any given image resolution with this increase in color bit depth. Dynamic range has nothing to do with color bit depth, it is purely a factor of a camera imaging sensor’s sensitivity limits. It’s typically referred to in “stops” which directly relate to how the dynamic range of film stocks is typically given, and also aperture “stops” on a lens. In both cases it is measuring the same thing. It’s the range between the darkest blacks and the brightest whites that a sensor is able to resolve and still capture incremental detail. Think about the difference in light levels between a shaded interior, and a exterior lit by full sunlight. There is a massive scale in play there, and typically digital imaging devices have been poor substitutes for silver halide when it comes to capturing a wide scale above or below any given exposure. This has changed and I would argue is no longer a factor.

      The last thing to keep in mind is how the image information is recorded and interpreted. Our eye’s sensitivity to light is not linear, and neither is photographic emulsion. Both perceive finer increments on the darker end than the brighter end, and this typically follows a more or less logarithmic curve. Imaging sensors are natively linear in their sensitivity to light but how the data is recorded can mimic a logarithmic scale assigning more of those “steps” I explained in color bit depth at the low end than at the higher end. This is one very good way to minimize wasted data with a form of “natural” compression as a digital image that has been captured in 10-bits per channel on a logarithmic scale can visually be very similar in fidelity to a 12-bit or more linear image at a much smaller file size.

      These three factors all come into play when comparing the performance of celluloid and digital in image acquisition.

  27. I just have a couple of questions.

    1) No question, film has better dynamic range than digital. Admittedly the difference is increasingly becoming slimmer. My question is, when film is converted to digital for special effects purposes, does it not lose that dynamic range? I read that digital typically has 256 shades of grey (lol!) but film is infinite. When the film is captured by the digitising machine and all, doesn’t it lose that range, and maintain that loss through to when it is spewed back on to film and shipped to cinemas?

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