Monday, February 27, 2012

Film Vs. Digital

I was surprised to learn that the 2004 version of Flower and Snake had been shot using a high definition digital camera, in this case a Sony CineAlta. I thought I had looked this up before and IMDb said it had been shot on 35mm film. Apparently not. There it is: Sony CineAlta HDW-F900R.

I'm assuming the subsequent versions made in 2005 and 2010 were also shot digitally.

I believe a similar camera system was used to shoot one or more of the Star Wars prequels.

When it comes to high-budget, Hollywood-level movies, I can't always tell if they were shot on film or electronically. I recently watched a trailer on YouTube of the Mark Wahlberg film Contraband. It looked nice but there was a scene there that I thought looked digital. So I checked it out on IMDb and it turns out it was shot on Fuji Eterna Super 35mm film stock.

MiniMiu in Shibuya
I'm no expert but I think the reason for this might be that Fuji and Kodak continue to make cleaner (less grainy) film stocks. Well, Fuji at least. Kodak seems to be on their last legs.

It's almost as if the big film manufacturers are saying, "Oh noes! The young punks are gettin' used to the super clean video look. They won't like our dirty, grainy film look. We've gotta make our stocks look more like video!"

Right. And Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now, they suck.

Digital doesn't have grain per se. The digital version of grain is referred to as noise. A lot of geeks think grain looks pretty cool whereas noise is just ugly.

Thing is, though, digital cameras are becoming less and less noisy and hold the edge over film when it comes to low light shooting.

Now I'm thinking, if I can't tell the difference between a high quality digitally-shot "film" and a 35mm real film, what's the point of using film anymore?

Super 8mm,  grainy but at least it looks like film
This might apply to Hollywood-level productions but the case for digital kind of breaks down when I look at stuff shot digitally that didn't have the benefit of a gazillion dollar production and post production budget. I've seen stuff shot by amateurs and seasoned professionals; stuff shot on the Alexa and the new Red Epic 5k digital cinema cameras. It still looked digital to me.

So, do you need a gazillion dollars to make your digital film look like a (modern) film stock? It sure seems like it. 

I've noticed this same thing with digital stills photography. I can usually tell the difference between a digital photo and one shot on film -- at least the bondage stuff I've looked at. So far, I have been unable to get my digital photos to look at all like film. Even the ones that are relatively well exposed with good skin tones and dynamic range.

A friend of mine lent me his old 35mm SLR camera and I popped a roll of two buck Kodak color negative film in it and snapped a few photos. I had got together with MiniMiu, a young lady whose acquaintance I made on the the adult social networking site FetLife. The photos at the top of this post are of her.

Where's Waldo?
We ran around Shibuya a bit. Tried to go to the fetish shop known as C'est Bien but it hadn't opened yet so we went to a similar place just down the street.

The above photo has the kind of colors I love about film. I haven't been able to make a picture like this with my DSLR (digital SLR) camera. And this was with a two dollar roll of film scanned on a cheap HP printer/scanner I had almost given away to the recycle guy. I might stay with this film and process but I'm also going to experiment with some Fuji Velvia color transparency film.

I think my days of shooting digital stills, at least the bondage stuff, might be numbered. I'll still use digital if I don't care about the film look.

And speaking of the film look, if you've seen anything shot on Super 8mm, you probably won't mistake it for digital! Software exists that attempts to emulate the Super 8 look on digitally shot footage but, to me, it just looks like digital footage trying to look like film.

See that photo of the Canon Super 8 film cam up there? I've bought a similar one -- and I've been shooting with it.

Stay tuned.

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