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After 123 Years, Motion Picture Film Cameras Go Out of Production

10.19.11 @ 10:09AM Tags : , , , ,

Film is beautiful. It’s going to be around for years to come. Plenty of feature films and TV shows are still being shot on film, and used film cameras will remain a viable rental market for a long time. But in the last several months, the major manufacturers of motion picture cameras — ARRI, Panavision and Aaton — have all ceased production of film cameras. Celluloid, you’ve had a great 123-year run. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Here, then, one last ad for film from Kodak, for nostalgic purposes:

You could pick apart so many quotes here, from Brett Ratner talking up film even though his latest, Tower Heist, was partially shot on the ARRI ALEXA, to anyone who says film has greater dynamic range (the ALEXA has the same DR, and RED’s HDRx exceeds it). Not to mention that 4K cameras meet or exceed film’s resolution, which is not to say that digital cameras are objectively better in terms of pure aesthetics — the texture and highlight detail of film are still magical — but cost and workflow-wise, digital has come a long way and will continue to improve to the point where it’s not just a matter of meeting film’s image capture capabilities but exceeding it. Here’s the word from Aaton and Panavision:

[Aaton founder Jean-Pierre] Beauviala believes that that stereoscopic 3D has “accelerated the demise of film.” He says, “It’s a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras.” Three years ago, Aaton introduced a new 35mm film camera, Penelope, but sold only 50 to 60 of them. As a result, Beauviala turned to creating a digital Penelope, which will be on the market by NAB 2012. “It’s a 4K camera and very, very quiet,” he tells us. “We tried to give a digital camera the same ease of handling as the film camera.”

Panavision is also hard at work on a new digital camera, says Phil Radin, Executive VP, Worldwide Marketing, who notes that Panavision built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009.

One thing I don’t buy at all is people saying that the best way to archive digital material is on film. Sure, there are plenty of concerns about codecs going in and out of use, but you’re telling me that physical celluloid, which is subject to the ravages of time, temperature, fire, mishandling, and accidents, is a better archival material than 1s and 0s which can be stored as exact lossless copies in many locations? If you’re worried about future-proofing your codec choices, output your archival file in several formats. Not to mention that you can keep the NLE timeline and source files in the digital realm, though good luck opening that FCP7 timeline in Final Cut Pro X! Point for film, I guess.

Anyway, we’re going to see plenty of films shot on celluloid for years to come, but for all intents and purposes the last motion picture film camera has already been manufactured. Check out both articles below for more. Onward and upward!



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  • As far as the archival part – yes, it still is, however with the “cloud” push that claim will be debated, but properly stored film will last so far, forever. I interned at NFL Films where they keep a massive locker of all the film they have ever shot, including some historical reels, such as a football game Edison himself shot (between Princeton and Penn maybe? can’t recall).

  • Good article however I have a problem with your belief on film not being a good archival source. When film is handled properly and stored properly, it can last for a very very long time. Read up on how film works before publishing an article like this.

    • CraftyClown on 10.19.11 @ 10:38AM

      He didn’t say it’s not a good archival format, he just said digital is better as it can be losslesly reproduced an infinite amount of times

    • Okay, so let’s say you’ve stored that reel of film under perfect conditions for 75 years. Now what? The entire world has gone digital so what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you drag up those reels from the archive? Find a 35mm projector, hope it’s in good working condition, and watch it with the risk that you’ll damage the fragile celluloid? No, the first thing you’re going to do is find a scanner and scan it digitally anyway… And if you shot digitally all you will have done is gone from D-A-D needlessly.

      Anyone want to argue that we should archive music on vinyl? Instead of 24bit/96kHz digital? Say what you will about the sound of vinyl or the look of film, but it’s physical media. It’s going to degrade eventually in some way, and there’s just as much risk that the mechanism of playback will be lost or damaged in 75 years as there is that there are NO computers available to read Quicktime or CinemaDNG or DPX. Yes, we need a standard digital archival format, but I just don’t buy the luddite’s argument that physical media is somehow safer than digital. Even if there is a Terminator-like apocalypse.

      • Well stated Koo. Completely agree with you!

      • Analog is better for storage than digital, i bet you more people have lost their photos in a HDD crash than in a fire. Sure, digital is better if it’s distributed, updated and so on. So for finished films it’s great because it’s on dvd’s and blurays all around the world and on millions of HDDs but for the original footage? The pieces of video that didn’t make it in to the final cut. Or maybe it’s simply the quality. You may have 1080p copies of your creation all around the world but how about the original +4k resolution files?

        Analog media only needs to be kept in good conditions, digital media has to be rewritten to the HDD to not be lost by the simple fact that the plates in the drive demagnetize over time. It has to be re-encoded to new formats because in just a couple of decades there might not be any standard equipment that can interface with either the physical technology or the encoding of the video it self. Not to mention that in a couple of hundreds of years a file on a computer would have completely vanished while there still might be something left of the physical media and no matter how advanced the technology is at that time, they can watch the pictures and with some simple technology, watch the moving images. Digital can never do that. It can never survive unsupervised.

      • Hey Koo,
        Do you know what format the Library of Congress uses to archive sound? 78rpm records. Do you know why? Because they’re rugged, they can hold up to the elements, and time, and most of all, if there’s a nuclear holocaust or worldwide EMP disaster, you can play them with a needle and still reproduce sound. Even without a projector or electricity, you can view a film shot on film. Can a magnet wipe out the existence of a digital movie or audio file? Absolutely. What will it do to A 78rpm record or filmstrip? Not a damn thing. Can you view that same film, or listen to that same audio file stored digitally with no power? No.
        There’s a good reason physical formats will ALWAYS be better for archival purposes.

      • There will be 35mm film scanners in 75 years, there will be working 35mm film projectors then too and
        I’ll bet even if stored in your basement that film print will play just fine. My grand parents 16mm films from the
        30s still projected great when i last transfered them to HD in 2008, and print stock has come along way since

  • I think film will have a gradual drop off like its latitude.

  • I’ll have to give this one to Koo, film is still very expensive and has to be “handled properly and stored properly;” another great expense. Therefore, it’s cost and costly workflow have hastened it’s demise as an attractive capture and storage medium.

  • OK, Koo, your site is all about not using film at all, and stuff. We get it. But I’ll give my two cents, anyway:

    1.) Archival: imagine using video from 30 years ago, and think of resolution, physical media standards, etc. now think of film the same age. Now imagine it 30 years from now. Hundreds of codecs, one heavier than the other, and one being deprecated sooner the other;

    2.) Seems like you didn’t watch the whole lot of shoot outs, like Zacuto. Because every single shoot out points to an stills unrivaled DR, no matter what the Alexa fans (like myself) or RED fans say. Period;

    3.) Rolling shutter is awful. The rotary shutter on the new Alexa Studio should solve most of it. But not 100%. And there’s film. And there’s CCD’s. And there’s no comparison between this two.

    4.) One frame of 35mm is above 8K. S35 is around 16MP. 65mm is way above anything you can think of in terms of resolution, and it’ll take decades to reach that level.

    The more “complicated” film shooting methods involve more care and attention, and there is no place for lazy guys. and that’s why there is no more memorable films like Chinatown or Blade Runner. Just a bunch of forgettable, unprofitable titles piling up.

    • 1. Why would I want to imagine using video from 30 years ago? We’re talking digital. Videotape from 30 years ago has no bearing.

      2. Wait, we’re talking about not watching Zacuto shootouts? Even though I link to those exact results as proof that the RED has the resolution of film and the ALEXA has the same dynamic range? Not to mention that digital is constantly improving?

      3. Mechanical shutters are coming out for several digital cameras. Or use a TESSIVE Time Filter. And CMOS readout speeds are always improving.

      4. One frame of S35 film is not above 8K. No way Jose. Again, see the very Zacuto results you mention.

      • Koo, I agree with all of your points. The point he tried to make with video is I think that technology changes all the time. I mean, video 30 years ago, was satisfying 30 years ago. Imagine 30 years ahead, How much changes there would actually be? No one keeps video now, even though it was the modern technology then.

  • I can’t agree with many points these dudes are talking about in the kodak short film.

    I think you can achieve every look with digital cameras and it’s post-production capabilities. There is so much more to it. Of course the quality of the equipment doesn’t speak for the quality of the end products itself. And if you are that type of person which thinks you can fix everything in post, you fail in the end. That’s the same for video, as for audio !

    I’m coming more from the audio industry and I am into filming. However, it was and still is the same in the world of audio like it is coming up in the last few years with digital cinematography. People (mostly dinosaurs in the business) claiming about analog audio recording on tape is much better, blabla. That’s simply not true, you can simulate every piece of dirt and grain in this digital world. If you are doing audio or movies, it doesn’t matter.
    In the world of audio, it might be much more far, because there are so many analog simulations out there, and so fort to GET what YOU WANT.

    The fact, that nowadays music is so much compressed and there is a lot of BS movies in Hollywood has nothing to do with it’s quality which it has been captured.

    In video and music, analog might be more fun, this is why many people keep with it. But I am 1000% sure, with digital, you get every grain and dirt and look into your video or song you want, if you just DO IT RIGHT.

    • I’m with you there. I think the distortion quality is what people like/liked about analog tape recording, but that’s been effectively modeled by UAD, and more software is coming out every day.

      No, the whole argument about film being magical just doesn’t hold water. It might be easier to get from zero to great-looking, but at what cost? I mean literally … film is expensive and unforgiving if you don’t know what you’re doing.

      Saying stuff like “using film is like composing a score”? Come on. That’s fanaticism to a medium. I can push RED footage REALLY far in post, and get any look I want. I’d be curious to see some double-blind tests on film vs. RED/Alexa — all graded and finished. I bet the differences would be so subtle as to be unnoticeable to anyone but the most film-loving cinematographers.

      And at the end of it … digital gives me way way more options on a low budget. Given a higher budget? I’d still shoot RED, and spend the rest on camera movement.

    • The give away word here is “Look” You can get the same look, it will look the same, you can get any look..etc..etc That suggests to me – imitation. Like when they make didigtal audio amps that sound like analogue for the connoisseur.

      When the audio industry both proffesional and domestic went digital everyone threw away their analogue equipment. (not me by the way – I still have my Garrard 301 turntable and Quad Valve amp – lovely sound) and with it the medium of records and to an extend CD’s. My children don’t have any music around the house – it’s all on some phone or ipod. One of them lost their ipod last month and with it their entire collection. You can’t leave 200 albums on a train! Where is the music? I still have my 200 albums. I can leave them to my children when I die – I am legally not allowed to leave my itunes to them. I don’t own them – just renting them from Apple!

      Give me a roll of film and a flat black disk any day.

      Having said that – I do embrace all the fantastic digital innovations in the film industry in which I work – but film is best, so there!

      • I’m with you 100% Vinyl is the only segment of the music industry thats expanding! It has a feel and sound all its own.

  • People always talk about codecs ceasing to exist like one day a codec will suddenly disappear and oh no we can’t view our video files anymore! We have software for pretty much everything these days – 50 years from now I can already see it – ‘Magic Bullet Old Codec’.

    • Ha! Not to mention open-source software like Perian.

      • I have video files from like 10 years ago on my HDD, with horrible old codecs. VLC can play them, and if VLC can play them then they can be converted to another format. Even if a codec does nearly die, there’ll be a select few people on some forum discussing how to recover the data. If the data is there, it’s there – 10010101010. There is no loss. And HDDs can last decades, plus we have SSDs now – they’ll last centuries, along with your video.

        Needless to say, I render out my masters in a couple of formats just to be sure – including a high bit-rate H264 file, which will be around for a very long time.

  • film defenders’ arguments are rooted in romanticism and nostalgia. i understand that romanticism completely, but it just isnt a rational argument in this debate! the undeniable truth is that film is not a logical choice for virtually ANY production outside of the major studio system. and even those… you have to wonder why they’re so committed to an archaic workflow. probably more a nostalgia thing than kodak would like you to believe.

    that kodak video is basically just film buffs REMINDING us why film is so good. and its funny – we really DO need to be reminded. film hardly makes a blip on the radar of indie filmmakers anymore because its obsolete.

    and thats really how you boil all this down… film is nice, but its obsolete. debate over.

  • That was the perfect movie to post for this.

  • Film’s resolution exceeds anything that we have digitally today. If you archived your camera originals on film, 30 years from now, you could take that archived film, scan it into a computer, and convert it to any digital format without any loss in resolution or any need to upconvert.

    If you shoot digitally, you’re limited to a certain resolution. Archive that footage today and 30 years from now, you will likely have a need to upconvert and your 4K footage will probably not stand up to the resolution of the current technology. If you had originated on film, you would never have a problem with that. Not to mention the fact that hard drives will fail over time and your footage will be lost. If you’re using a SSD, it’s limited to a certain amount of read/write cycles.

    Properly archived film (or even improperly archived film; see “Restoring Melies Marvel” in the Post Focus section of the October 2011 issue of American Cinematographer for a good example of this) can still be restored to a watchable state. Try that with a digital file that’s been lost…oh wait…you can’t. I feel that film acquisition coupled with digital post is a perfect blend of the two.

    Digital may be the future, but there is still a need for respect for the technology that has brought us here. Film is better than digital and quite frankly, probably will be for many years to come. When you convert light to 1s and 0s, there will always be things that will be lost in translation. That probably won’t ever change. Since film sees like your eyes do, you don’t have that loss.

    There seems to be a sentiment among the members of this generation that we need to throw everything old away and do everything digitally. I find that most of the people who feel this way don’t have a real understanding of the thing they’re trying to get rid of. We’ve been oversaturated with the digital revolution and it’s destroyed our respect for film. Film is a discipline…much more than digital ever will be. One thing we’ve lost in the revolution is that discipline and that dedication to thoughtful and meticulous lens language. It has been replaced by a thirst for “cool” camera angles. While it’s great that we can “go anywhere” with the new digital cameras, we need not forget the principles of storytelling and lens language that have established cinema from the beginning. Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it has a place in the story or helps establish the subtext.

    I’m not against digital film making. It has definitely made it easier for indie filmmakers to realize their visions within their budgets. In many ways it has revolutionized film making. However, I am against the complete ousting of film, especially for the sake of getting rid of the old and bringing in the new. Let us remember that digital was built on the shoulders of the giant of film. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s still the best acquisition format out there…that’s not just nostalgia…it’s fact. As someone said before, its true resolution exceeds any digital acquisition format we have.

    • Resolution requires having pixels. Film doesn’t have pixels, enough said.
      A Scan of film can only give you an “equivalent” of 8K at maximum,period.
      RED is still working on a 28K camera and considering the ever evolving quality of digital, we’ll get there soon. Film DOESN’T “see like my eyes do”, that’s why in the beginning of the film industry you had to use crazy amounts of light such as arc lights, that’s why today you have to use filters with bright sunlight, etc etc.
      Don’t misinterpret esthetical preferences from the current generations as an association with digital just because they are different. “It has been replaced by a thirst for “cool” camera angles”? Watch Inception.
      Principles of storytelling have NOTHING to do with the current equipment in use, period. “Just because it looks cool doesn’t mean it has a place in the story or helps establish the subtext.” And how many times was this already done before digital even existed? I’ll give you an hint, watch James Cameron movies.
      And finally the point people keep missing, you talk about losing the contents of “one” hard drive and forget that the true digital revolution as far as archiving footage goes, it’s how easy it is to create HUNDREDS of copies. So one hard drive is less dependable than well protected film? Fine, then i’ll create 50 copies of the footage at maximum “resolution” for 50 different Hard Drives and still i will waste less money doing it than passing the footage to kilometres of film. In 30 years i need to change the Hard Drives to avoid degradation? Fine, will still waste less money..
      And now the points I agree with you, we shouldn’t get rid of film for whatever reason, not yet anyway. And it being the best format to record? Still true, for now.
      Don’t take this post personally, people should stop putting film on a silver platter, it’s NOT a perfect format, and also stop attributting faults to digital based on the current use, that’s the people’s fault, not the format.

      PS.: I LOVE film. Worked with it more than once, including the laboratory process, how many of the people currently blindly defending film here can say the same?

      • Current scanning technology is limited in the amount of information it can pick up from the film. This doesn’t mean that film has a “maximum resolution of 8K” or that the film is limited in the amount of “information” it can contain. It simply means that the digital technology still isn’t at a place to where it can match the quality and resolution of film, or pull the full range of info from the medium.

        Yes, film does not have pixels…it is an optical format. Pixels are extremely limited in many ways and cannot stand up to the depth and quality of an optical format. Codecs and sensors are still way behind the optical formats of film and will be for some time. Scanning film is actually stepping down in terms of resolution.

        Let us also look to Hollywood where the bulk of features are still shot on film with a digital post workflow in mind. Most of the time they opt for a film print back for projection. However, digital projection is becoming bigger and bigger. All-in-all, this is a good compromise between the two formats. Film acquisition-DI-film and/or digital projection…with a film archive.

        • To clarify, in the post I say that I don’t see why film makes sense as an archive format for DIGITAL material. Meaning, if you originate on a RED or ALEXA, it makes no sense to me to archive any other way than digital. You are not magicially adding resolution or anything when you take a 2K or 4K output and print it to film. If you’re Wally Pfister and you’re originating on film and grading photochemically, on the other hand, by all means stash the reels.

        • Even though it doesn’t have “pixels,” that doesn’t mean that film stores an infinite amount of information. No matter how well you scan it, you’ll never be able to get data out of it that exceeds a certain resolution, and so there’s no innate reason why digital sensors couldn’t capture as much useful information (or indeed arbitrarily more) as 35mm film. Whether extant digital sensors are at that point is another matter, but there’s absolutely no question that they will be.

  • Just wanted to chime in here regarding archival. Sorry Koo, but trust the professionals that live and breathe this stuff. There is no comparison between the two.

    An optical medium will always be readable. Always Think of microfilm storage from decades and decades ago that you can still read. With a magnifying glass if necessary. Same thing applies to film. It’s basically completely platform or specific technology independent because it’s human-readable. You can easily build a device to read the medium with simple technology.

    Now think of a 5 1/4″ floppy disk from 30 years ago, or even 3 1/2″ floppies from 20 years ago. It’s getting pretty hard already to find a place to read any of those. Hard drives from 20 years ago? Different interfaces that are no longer made, that are not supported by current operating systems, with file formats that are no longer even known, much less documented. In other words, you’re basically screwed.

    These are the kinds of scenarios and time scales that archivists have to think about. The quote from the article about coming back in 99 years to see if that great 100 year archival medium is any good is really appropriate.

    The advantage that you described of digital being an exact copy of the original is only good as long as you can keep reading and interpreting the data that you have stored. Which means impractical amounts of work to keep transferring the data to new formats and new media every 10-20 years.

  • The film guys are right on both counts. One aspect that has not been mentioned is grain, which is what gives film that very desirable look that everyone wants. Analog static storage methods are superior to digital. The only way to ensure recoverability of digital media is to turn it over before current media failure, as biological systems do with DNA. That said, as an independent filmmaker, current digital media are a dream. I made home movies on Super 8 Sound film thirty years ago. The only thing I miss about that experience is the tactile sensation of editing original film and moving it frame by frame in the viewer. The whole process was crude compared to FCPX, but it was a very satisfying experience.

  • I’ve never had the opportunity to work with film myself. I DO madly admire the look of super 16 film. So I can understand where the cinematographers and directors are coming from completely.

    However at this point, if digital has equaled/surpassed film in latitude and equaled/surpassed film in resolution, then where is the argument anymore? After that, we’re only speaking about aesthetics and those can be easily emulated. Thanks to so many post filters, or companies like Cinegrain who give us real film grain to our digital workflows.

    Now, it just seems to be about nostalgia and “that feeling” and less about technical advantages in any way.

    • This is not true. Digital acquisition currently is not equal to the resolution or latitude of film. Period.

      • “Period,” eh? Don’t take my word for it, look at Rober Primes, ASC’s results:

        Okay now, in that test the 4K RED ONE exceeded one Kodak film stock and fell slightly short of another. Do you think the 5K EPIC might best film in terms of resolution? And if you think there is some magical “extra” resolution to film that we can’t yet measure, I’m talking about the real world here. You’re probably going through a DI that might only be at 2K, so what mythical world is there in which film has more resolution than we can currently access? They stopped making film cameras. For all practical purposes the RED EPIC exceeds film’s resolution. “Period.”

        Listen, I’m a huge fan of the AESTHETIC of film and taken as a whole (as I say in the post numerous times) I love the look of it. But it seems there will always be people who claim that film is the best in terms of measurable numbers, and as someone who has watching hundreds of films in the theater, projected on film, I will say that these days I’d much rather have a 4K digital projector. Arguments about some ideal world where a virgin film print is projected by the world’s best projectionist don’t apply, because I find that to never be the case.

        On the other hand, if we start talking about (as you do below) alien races coming down and watching our films, fine. But I’m talking about humans here!

        • I appreciate your attempt to let two separate comments cannibalize each other. Well played.

          I don’t doubt that digital rules. I made the comment in film school back in 2005 that film will surrender to digital, and my instructors laughed at me.

          However, I will submit that film still has a very firm place in the industry, and will for some time. There are no illusions of “magic” when it comes to film. It has its limitations. But regarding a permanent archival solution to moving pictures, I have yet to be convinced that there is a better solution.

  • It always amazes me how some people hang on to old technology and find ways to rationalize that it is better than new methods. It’s like everyone’s love of 24fps, or even some people’s like of interlace (I’ll never understand that one). Hopefully, when Jackson releases his new Hobbit films shot at 48fps, people will begin to realize that maybe 24fps isn’t so great. I’m sure film will always be around, if nothing more than a hobby for people who like antique things. But as a new filmmaker, I love the digital direction filmmaking is heading in. It enables me to do so many things that were not possible with film. Keep your 16mm camera, pay for your stock, pay for the transfer to digital for effects… I’ll start and stay digital…. I’ll shoot faster, edit faster, pay less, and produce more ‘films’.

    • Without talking about the great advantages of digital in NLE’s, the freedom to create and the low cost, I want to address the ‘FILM EFFECT’.

      You know, there is something magical about 24 fps. Sure, I have seen the 30 fps and better and it looks so ‘clean’. But is clean really the ‘way’? Take a pipe organ. There are thousands of pipes and they are always just a bit off pitch – almost imperceptible – a few cents maybe. But when played with these built in errors, the effect is astounding, warm, grand, moving – great stuff. There are beats, like a big WW2 plane flying overhead as the motors are not synchronized perfectly – but boy, does it sound cool! But put a pip organ against a digital organ, the digital does not cut it – the sound just is not there.

      I think the mind can detect these subtle differences and it warms the soul somehow. Film does the same thing. It might be only a few imperceptible things, 24 fps, random grain, great latitude, grain in the darks, but alive somehow. The audience senses it and comes back for more. They go home refreshed, satisfied and relaxed better than digital films. 24 fps – it has a magic about it – that ‘error’ of juddering in a pan, the wagon wheels going ‘backwards’, the look that says – ya – that is film and I love it. The projector noise, the flashing on and off that the brain understands and comes back as ‘nice’.

      I always wondered why audiophiles wanted vinyl LP’s and tube amps. I think I am beginning to understand. There is something warm and nice in being ‘imperfect’ – like what film gives you. Who says you have to be perfect as in digital – quite honestly, we could use some less than perfect stuff in this sterile world that is driving us bonkers. Maybe we should film in digital for the ease and cost, and transfer to film for that lovely look. It could work!

  • This phenomenon has already occurred in the world of still photography, for capture, storage and display. Although the amount of date is far less than video/motion capture, the quandary is still the same: how to make the capture look its best, and how to store the image data so that 1,000 years from now it will still be accessible.

    Film capture is over 100 years old. Digital still image capture started, for actual paying jobs, around 1994 with the Kodak DCS420 (1.6Mp). The industry is now 17 years old and we’re getting still imagery that blows the doors off film capture. It’s cleaner, better tonal balance, and more adaptable to modifications in post production. The capture process (sensor, photosite, pixel processing) will only get better as the industry rolls on.

    Data storage requires the flexibility to migrate the data from one storage device to a newer one, over the lifetime of the archive. This costs money, even while no one accesses the data. Who pays for this? The studio? The producer & director? Someone will.

  • Russell Steen on 10.20.11 @ 5:14PM

    I am not sure much of my work needs to be archived. Here’s the thing about film I miss already. The process of getting correct exposure, then perfect exposure on film took a long time to evolve. It started with one guy hauling a camera around and ended up adding a camera operator, focus puller, loader, gaffer, lighting crew, grips, hair make-up wardrobe, props. . . you get the point. Even the no budget film documentaries I worked on would have a skeleton crew (sound, camera assist. grip/elect ). Film stock was expensive and you couldn’t waste it if you were in a remote location. So much work went into everything before you rolled the camera, and when you cut, you checked to make sure your “print it” takes had no surprises. The “you can’t relax until it’s developed” aspect of filmaking sold a lot of antacids, but it also helped create a culture of expertise that I’m not sure digital production is hanging on to. As a DP my expertise on film stocks, camera and lighting equipment was highly valued when so many things could go wrong. Many I talk to today believe they could be a professional DP right now if they just had the right equipment. My generation never imagined a Panavision Gold package would make us better cinematographers if we couldn’t get a watchable image out of a GSMO. I know film is on the way out, but the next generation will miss out not knowing what “okay the gate!” means.

  • Regarding codec, I still have problem trying to find a solution to my archived short film using AVR77 codec by Avid. It wouldn’t play on anything i have throw at it on my newest 12core Mac.

    Regarding film, was involved recently in a project, home 8mm film shot in the 1950s, still can be projected and transferred (although send to Australia to do that) and the film scratch looks nice. Now my other shorts archived in SVHS format got moudy and I don’t want to think about it anymore….

    I’m just grad I did not archive any stuff in Umatic format 20 odd years ago!!

  • Koo, are you aware of maxivision 48? I think their style of updated film projection is worth looking at, and by their estimates exceeds 6k digital. I also spoke with a kodak representative this summer in Cannes and he hinted that they might be developing new projector technologies. I think that film could still have a significant role in our future, considering that the floundering kodak’s biggest source of income used to be film prints for feature distribution, as well as the fact that some theatres are sending digital projectors back and putting back their 35mm projectors (I also read somewhere that film projectors fail less often than digital ones)

  • It sure is a good thing those Egyptions created that Rosetta Stone!

    Haha. Let’s be “real” here. If we were approached by a foreign race, would they try to speak to us in pictures or binary code? If we’re talking archival, we would naturally want to remove any possible variables of complication. At its very base level, film does that.

    I am very experienced in both film and digital acquisition, post processing and archival. I will tell you that currently that we have a beautiful marriage of both.

    For story telling, when you consider budget, turnaround, propagation, etc.; digital without a doubt is the preference.

    However, how would you choose to prepare that story to be placed in a time capsule? I sure hope your answer is analog.

  • When’s the last time anyone here shot a still photo on film?

    Not a perfect analogy, since analog cameras are still being maunfacured; five years from now, though, this article will be an interesting re-read.

  • The Archiving problem is not in the recording media itself (film or digital) but in the machines to play it back on, which would have to be archived as well.
    Imagine an archealogical dig 1000 years from now, finding both a DVD and a 35mm film version of the same production, but without any playback machines. What do you do with a DVD 1000 years from now, without a DVD player to play it on? It’s just a series of ones and zeros.
    But a sequence of visible images on a strip of 35mm film can still be magnified and viewed, even without a machine, and surely an advanced society will quickly figure out how to project and view it, while they are still wondering what to do with a plastic disc with a hole in it.
    How many video/digital formats are thre now? Over 100, I’ll bet – can we actually save 2 of each (1 for a backup) of those machines to play back our archived material? Of course not.
    Imagine finding some of Edison’s old original phonograph wax cylinders, but without a machine to play them on. How long would it take for us to figure out how to listen to these recordings? Not long. Now suppose you found a thumb drive (but no computer to plug it in to) with all of the Beatles songs on it, or a copy of “Gone with the Wind?’. How do you play it and hear the music or watch the film?
    I truly hope we can continue to save our cinema heritage on 35mm film, so that future generations can enjoy them as we do.

  • Aside from the archival problem and the debate as to whether the film negative has more resolution or latitude, let’s not forget why this “(r)evolution” is taking place: it’s not because digital is a “better” tool. If it was, the majority of feature films would have been shot digitally for at least 5 or 6 years, or even more, and clearly that’s not the case.
    The impact of digital in tv series has been largely determined and accelerated by the SAG strike and the AFTRA deal with Studios in 2008, and if it wasn’t for the new wave of 3D crap…ahemmm…I mean “features” in the last 3 years, all this talk about digital cameras would be just the same as it’s been in the last 10 years or so.
    But the most important, and saddest, point of it all, is that whatever is being done to “kill” film has nothing to do with picture quality and ease of use. It’s all about camera manufacturers trying (and quite successfully so) to switch the market to an economy model based on obsolescence, where you have to buy new cameras every year to keep up to date in the battle of “ks” and “stops” (of latitude). Same thing happened in the still cameras world with the whole “I’ve-got-more-megapixels-than-you” marketing attitude.
    So now, instead of having rental houses and a few private owners investing big money in a film camera, you can get a digital camera for a tenth of the price, and in a couple of years you’ll have to do it again, and then again, and again. Same thing for digital projection (2K DLP, 4k projectors, laser Imax) and even digital archiving (since you must migrate all the data to better storage solutions in a relatively short time frame). At the same time, every camera manufacturer has no interest at all in talking about standards, but ties its technology to very specific, non-standard and “closed” workflows.
    Then of course there’s the artistic and aesthetic debate, and personal taste comes into play (I personally happen to like a certain amount of grain instead of noiseless surgically clean digital images, and I don’t care about the immediacy of digital, actually I think it kills all the “lucky accidents” and some of the magic of filmmaking), and I find it quite ironic that Arri, with its Alexa (which, by the way, it’s a very nice digital camera), needs to promote it by writing on its website “film-like, organic images”. If digital is so much better than film, why it struggles to look like it? Shouldn’t it be the other way around, if we believe Red and Arri when they say that film has been “surpassed”?
    The digital cameras we have today are great, and in the right hands can produce stunning images, but it’d be such a shame if film disappeared and we as filmmakers couldn’t choose it for our projects. Our arsenal of tools would be more limited, and I don’t believe that would be a good thing.

  • Something to try. Take a digital stills camera out one day and ask strangers if you can take their photo. Then take a film stills camera out and ask strangers if you can take their photo.

    The point is that the “romanticism of film” has real value. Being blind to this is being blind to a major part of what makes art valuable.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the military is still using tanks and things that went out of production decades ago, and it’s easy to think of a film camera like a tank.

    • Production means nothing to viability–it just means there are enough cameras out there to suit the market. I’ll be on a commercial set tomorrow with a 35mm Arri no longer in production and a Hasselblad 503 no longer in production.

      And the client has a six-figure budget–could easily have afforded Epic/Alexa and Phase backs for the Hassy, but we want the look of film.

      As for archival purposes, it has nothing to do with codecs or formats. To be justified as “archival” the medium must last 100 years or more. No digital format comes close. Even LTO tapes break down. Sure you can transfer all those 1s and 0s around every decade, but a DVD or hard drive is guaranteed to fail or deteriorate within 10-20 years. In fact they’re built for it. Film is still the gold standard.

  • Funny how this years Oscar choices are, most of them shot on film. Including Spielberg’s, The Artist, the Descendents etc. Says something for film. There is a certain magic to film – almost jumps off the screen. Something about light going through celluloid, messing with particles and grain, and giving that look, almost 3D if done right that can not be duplicated with digital – well not yet anyway. A lovely organic look. Purity by digital is hard on the eyes, is static, is too clean or maybe too different.

    I am sure that a billionaire such as Spielberg, the world’s best director thought long and hard before his next venture – he chose film. There has got to be a good reason for it.

  • Resolution: Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Anyone who complains about 2k/3k/4k/5k/6k/7k/8k etc is just a pixel peeper. I’ve seen beautiful 5D images on the big screen, and the 5D doesn’t even output true 1080p (more like 700p up-res’d)

    Archival: It can go both ways. Digital can be scanned to film and stored, Film can be scanned to digital and stored.

    Dynamic range: I’ve never seen a movie shot on film and noticed ugly or clipped highlights. There comes a point where it’s useful, but ultimately pointless to have extra stops of latitude. One day we’ll have 30+ stop cameras. But who cares? I don’t think film’s latitude is lacking in any way. If digital does get to 20/30 stops one day, good for it, but it won’t do much for the image.

    Look: I think film just looks better. The texture is better (not talking about grain, which, on another note, is why I hate stuff like cinegrain. No point), the way it handles colors and light is better, the overall look is better. I’ve seen movies shot on digital that looked pretty good: Hugo, Avatar, Drive, In Time, Real Steel… They’re all beautiful. But film still has that gritty, organic, quality, almost like a painting. Roger Deakins calls it “nostalgia”, but I believe he’s wrong, because I’ve seen this quality in every single movie shot on film, and not a single movie shot on digital.

    Conclusion: Digital and Film both look good in the hands of a good DP. It just depends on what workflow you’re more comfortable with, and what look you’re going after.

  • I’m amazed at how everyone here is still trying to make a point by using resolution for film.

    Different mediums. Different outcomes.

  • Hmmmm—not sure I completely agree with Tyler. True, different mediums, but in tight, no light situations
    (less than 1 FC) even digital video falls apart into noise. Great Gamma curve, and comparative MTF’s, film will
    still be able to produce a very nice look under extreme circumstances.—but
    even though the threat of film being “dead” (going on 16 years now)–no one seemed to tell Hollywood of this on-going death sentence. True resolution is a matter of preference for eye and —experience.

  • Film will always look better than digital. Digital is crap. There is no one digital camera that do not have any problem with temperature and humidity.

    Digital cameras are not reliable and the picture looks really bad compared to film,Period!

    Guy Bodart
    Filn Director/DP

  • I am completely and without a doubt a part of the HD/digital revolution and unashamedly have DSLR’s to thank for finally giving me a way in to film making but ya know what? I would LOVE to shoot with film yet how in gods name do you even begin to know where to start. I mean, there are a million resources on DSLR and Digital film making but say I wanted to go online tomorrow as a budget film maker and buy some bits to get started… How do I know what is a good camera and what is the best camera for my budget? And then what lenses to buy? And then what film stock to use? And more importantly is it even affordable at all? It would be great to see NFS do a beginners guide to shooting with film. I think it’s people like you guys that can help keep this amazing medium alive. I haven’t even been able to find a decent course that allows you to get hands on with film but I guess that’s because it’s so expensive?

  • Bolex still makes motion picture cameras in 2013. Tired of hearing this lie from trade mags!!

  • Complete BALONEY. Arriflex IS STILL PRODUCING motion picture cameras, you can visit their site and verify. Kodak produces BILLIONS of feet of film. And celuloid IS THE ONLY RELIABLE archival format. Digital gets obsolete EVERY FIVE YEARS. You have to back up your film from scratch every five years or risk losing it. If you want your film to last, IT MUST BE in celuloid.

    So please, stop talking non-sense to boost greedy digital camera manufacturers sales. Only ignorant and fool people belive this crap.

  • Film IS an art-form. To load the mag, compose the shot, set exposure, sync up the sound and to go ahead and nervously press that film camera trigger, then edit it all, is what makes it an art firm. No video “home movie” replacement no matter how many megapixels will ever be seen as “Film Making”. There is something to be said for 100+ years of an established technology. The ‘New’ technologies should ride along to support film but NOT replace it! Vinyl records thought to be obsolete have proven the digital world wrong. Reel to reel tape, once though to be a dinosaur, still has a strong following. Don’t let digital technology in itself take over what we have come to love and hold dear.

  • Uninformed nonsense. If the Civil War had been stored on 1′s and 0′s Ken Burns wouldn’t have had any source material to send his career into overdrive.

  • Bryan Colvin on 08.15.14 @ 4:44PM

    Digital Archive has 1 issue for me, hard drives FAIL! LTO Tape currently is the answer which from what i’ve read in white papers has a shelf life of 30 years. Not bad, but not as good as film’s 100+ years

    In the future cloud will get there, but have you ever tried to upload ONE red camera clip to dropbox. It takes for-fucking-ever. Can you imagine archive all your source footage for your feature in the cloud? Plus that opens possibility for leaks of your movie before its release! How do you keep that secure? The fact is with cloud technology you have no information of where exactly this servers are located and who really has access to them. My last feature we had 2 hard drive backups and one failed, which made us franticly have to get another. Also multiple copies on hard drives is a nightmare. When you have to back up 16 TBs of information you have to checksum verify all your backups which makes it take even longer. I always recommend 3 copies of all source footage. But when you’re trying to keep up with a production shooting 5k or whatever you start to see yourself falling behind in the dailies (eventualies) lol. All your time is spent trying to keep up with backing up and checksumming all your footage, not even getting to transcoding until sleeping time. A lot of times camera will give you a 200 GB card to offload at the end of the day and not care that you’re losing sleep trying to keep that going. The whole time praying “don’t let a surge destroy the hard drives, or have a hard drive failure in the raid array” and such fears. People don’t realize how fragile their digital formats actually are! (I know from experience). I’ve never shot film because I’ve never had access, but I see a lot of headaches in digital