Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Film vs. Digital Video

Okay so the debate has raged on for so long that there are converts on both sides. Coming from a film background I happen to like the digital video. Like I always said tape is cheap, film isn't. The other day I came across a article in Government video by Wayne Cole. The title of the article was "The impact of compact", and he had some things to say that I've been concerned about, and why I still haven't abandoned film.

To boil it all down the article dealt with resolution of DV cameras. This included DV, HDV and XD CAM HD. To quote the article:

"Video resolution is related to the luminance bandwidth in the recorded signal. Smaller imagers capture less light and therefore less resolution. Lossy compression formats like DV, HD, and XD CAM HD are based on throwing out high-frequency information that will be least noticed by the human eye. In other words resolution is sacrificed in the hopes that viewers will not notice."

This is what has always bothered me. Being a lover of cinematography, and it being my first love in filmmaking I've always been not happy with DV's compression. Many DV cameras use 1/3-inch imaging chips followed by 10:1 DCT compression with 4:1:1 sampling for NTSC.

"The reason that this high compression rate works is that smaller chips don't capture more resolution then the DV format can deliver"

That's where I see DV and even HDV flawed. The article goes on in more detail and should be required reading if you're looking to buy a camera. In the end even the HDV format is compressed, and offers no more clarity then what is out there now. Some people would disagree I know, but no matter what you do the image you are going to capture will be compressed, and therefore be degraded. How much that degradation is up to many different factors like chip size, digital signal processing and codecs that the camera uses.

When shooting film you get greater clarity and a better picture. Hands down. Of course your expense is driven up by film processing & digitizing to tape, which also can have its faults too if not done right. But I still think film is a wise decision to shoot on, and something that should be considered. Especially if you're spending ton's of money on actors, food, locations, etc. You can also always go back to your negative and scan it into the format which is at that moment in time the most popular and marketable.

The article was an interesting one, and something every indie producer should look at. I'm not advocating shooting film only, but if you have a film that you're doing, and that your putting a lot into it. It would make sense that you would want the best image possible, and something that will stand the test of time.

I'm told the "Once" didn't look all that great on screen and that was shot on HDV. I'm not saying that it was a bad decision, because actually the format works for the film, but the images would have been a lot more crisper then what they are. I'm also sure that Searchlight, the company that distributed the film put a lot of money into getting the film up to snuff technically for theaters. Just like "Blair Witch" got a $250,000 audio sweetening when it was distributed to theaters.

The way I look at it. Either you pay for it up front or wait until post, and pay there. That phrase "fix it in post" has always made me uncomfortable, and maybe that's what shooting in DV does for me. I'm not a big fan of fixing it in post, so I like the film route if I have the money. That being said I'm sure my next film will be in the digital arena, but you'll hear me more then once lament my love for film.

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