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September 15, 2012

Roger Deakins Talks About Using the Arri Alexa at IBC

Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men) is arguably one of the greatest cinematographers of the last 20-30 years (if not one of the greatest all-time). His work is timeless in a way that is hard to describe, but much of it comes from his ability to paint with light. Deakins had shot all of his work on film up until Andrew Niccol's In Time, which he lensed on a prototype Arri Alexa. We covered back in February of 2011 an interview with Deakins where he stated that "film had a good run" and that he wasn't sure if he would ever shoot film again. Now he's taken on a much larger project with the camera, the new James Bond film Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes. Mr. Deakins recently sat down with Franz Kraus, the Managing Director of Arri AG at this year's IBC trade show.

Thanks to Notes On Video for the links. First, here are two trailers for Skyfall (I'm including the second one because it has a cleaner 1080 option, and also it's interesting to see the differences between American and International trailers):

Here is the 3-part interview with Roger Deakins and Franz Kraus:

I actually saw In Time, and I thought it looked great. I had no idea what it was shot on, and based on Niccol's other films, I had assumed it was celluloid. I think the name change is what threw me off, but either way, I sat through that whole movie and was blown away by the image.

Obviously the talk is very pro-Arri since it's at an Arri event and posted on the Arri YouTube channel, but Deakins always speaks very honestly about his work. If another camera came along and he liked the image better, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be shooting with it. Even though he has been involved with Arri since the beginning of the Alexa project, there's no question he wouldn't have used the camera if it didn't work properly. His resume is such that he can go shoot any movie he wants and it's likely he is one of the higher paid cinematographers out there, so I have no other choice but to believe he really means what he says.

He takes a few shots at a company that shall remain nameless, but his point is valid. Arguing about how many Ks your camera has is really missing the point. All that really matters is what the image looks like and what the DP can get out of the camera. This is something that I've also said over and over again. Specs mean something, but if the image doesn't look as nice as another camera, what's the point?

What's especially interesting is that Deakins was a die-hard fan of film and never really saw himself moving to digital. When he tested the Alexa against film, there was more latitude in the Alexa footage than in a 4K film scan. He is unquestionably a master craftsman, and it's fascinating to hear him talk about how he actually prefers the cleaner image that digital offers. I've noticed that I prefer when there is less grain in an image -- unless the movie really calls for a gritty look, like Aronofsky's The Wrestler. I've shot films in both ways, on Super 16mm and on clean digital, and they both serve their purpose when used correctly.

He also talks about the highlight roll-off on the Alexa -- which is the gradient within the brightest highlights. One of the reasons people love film so much is because of the highlight performance. More of film's latitude is in that region, and unless you're really going for a clipped highlight look, having a nice gradient makes for a much more pleasing image. It's not just Alexa's high dynamic range that accomplishes this, but there is supposedly a 1/4 softening filter in front of the sensor. This explains the way the camera blooms a bit with highlights, and overall it actually softens the harshness of digital. If you take those two factors into consideration, it's no wonder that Deakins likes the image so much, as those are things that also give film its signature look.

On another note, one of the reasons I can't stop talking about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is because of the image it produces. Honestly I could not care less about the specs in the end, as long as the image is relatively sharp. The BMCC does this and more, and part of the reason the image is so pleasing is because it renders colors in a way I haven't seen out of any other camera except the Arri Alexa. Would I love to shoot my next project on an Alexa? Absolutely. Is that going to happen? Probably not. But everything Deakins is saying is how I feel about the image coming out of the BMCC. Of course, these things are all subjective, so it's up to you to do your own testing and actually work hard to find the right camera for your particular project. Every camera is not right for every job, but clearly some are better in certain situations.

What do you guys think? Do you guys prefer digital or film? Or a mix of both? Do you agree with what Deakins says about the Alexa (assuming you've seen more than just web video of that camera in action)?

Link: Notes On Video  -- Roger Deakins Talks Arri Alexa

Your Comment

67 Comments

I really would like to see NATURAL looking spectacular film-like quality movie out of these spectacular digital cinema cameras. If they are better than film, show us how much better they really are!
For once, I would like to see one of big budget movies NOT color corrected in teal and orange for change. With digital shooting, editing and grading, we should be blown out of our seats. Instead, we are getting fed same garbage of overdone special effects (digital lens flares and slow motion especially) and ridiculous color grading that is supposed to be their signature look, mostly teal and orange based.
Big shot directors – please make some movies with Alexa that are spectacularly stunning and hire some fresh creative colorists who know how to blow us away, extracting NATURAL colors from these wonderful cameras.
Tree of life, shot with film, was pure visual delight, even though it was unwatchable due to so many ‘artistic’ jump cuts. Can anyone beat this kind of look with digital? I am not necessarily a movie buff, so I don’t know, but probably not until they concentrate on the core of extracting maximum quality from their raw files instead of covering them up with sh*tty colors in the name of art.
Oh.. I am ranting because I just got done watching one of the Blue Ray versions of Blade Runner. Yup, this version had same crappy teal and orange color scheme, totally destroying the spectacular original color scheme.
I need more from digital Hollywood, especially since the tools are better and budgets are in the hundreds of millions.

September 15, 2012

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"Drive".

September 15, 2012

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manfesto

Again, Drive!

September 15, 2012

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Carlweston

Did anyone mention 'Drive'?

September 21, 2012

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AD Stephens

Some of "Tree of Life" was shot with the Red One (not sure which parts - never made it through the whole movie).

September 15, 2012

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Daniel

Probably the "washed out" parts :)

September 15, 2012

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Marcus

The Impossible - fantastic movie to be released in decemebr..have a look at its trailer. Fantastic natural colors!

September 15, 2012

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Quobetah

I have the utmost respect for Deakins, but he's dancing around the technical issues., and this is a an apologist commercial for Arri. "too much resolution"? Depending on who you ask, 35 mm film is equivalent to 4-6k when projected. The difference (for someone with good vision) between 2k and 4k projected is clear. Imax digital is 2K, and looks horrible from anywhere but the back row, with pixels the size of your fist. traditional IMAX is a 70mm frame, that's roughly equivalent to 8K. Thats a 16-times up-res from the Alexa! Of course the next camera from Arri will be 4K+, and they'll disown all this "2K is good enough" BS, but until then we need to call them out on it.

I think that the Alexa has probably the best image quality out there (as a RED owner who attended the Zaccuto shootout), but resolution (at least up to 4K) matters.

September 15, 2012

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I can prove the real 35 mm resolution with facts and numbers:
http://www.cst.fr/IMG/pdf/35mm_resolution_english.pdf

September 17, 2012

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SydneyBlue120d

The relevant info from that article:

"
• The average resolution in the sharpest part of their screen of the six movie theaters was about 750 lines/PH.

• The highest resolution averaged over the eight multiburst groups measured on the screens of the six selected movie theaters was about 685 lines/PH.
"

I could be (and likely am) wrong, but my read of the above is that they're seeing roughly the equivalent of 1300-1700 pixels worth of vertical resolution in first-run release prints (and that'll drop further after a few dozen runs through the projector). It'd seem Alexa's effective resolution after debayering isn't so bad compared to the end-point of traditional 35mm film processes after all is said and done.

September 17, 2012

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It's not that simple. While digital sharpening accentuates aliasing, downscaling higher resolution images results in better MTF and contrast.

Since that study was done there's been developments like 4 and 6k DI plus widespread adoption of HD in the home. 35mm release prints on a modern 60ft multiplex screen is pushing the format and the audience can see it's soft. If we're serious about replacing 35mm then anything that performs worse than a traditional answer print has to be joke.

September 17, 2012

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nobody

> Only digital that can do Answer print resolutions is good enough...

What a joke.
I have been holding my tongue for years.
Sorry but film has been over taken by digital for about 10 years.
I am personally amazed it has taken this long to happen. Its more a generation thing then whats better then the other. And I must admit, colour depth of digital only recently out performed film.

As some one who installs digital projectors, I can tell you, the over all quality difference is great (Even at 2K), so much so, general film goers DO SEE THE DIFFERENCE, not just in the lack of gate weave and scratches.

And the nails are starting to appear in Films coffin as Fuji have announced the end of production of cineramic film consumables (Film stock and processing chemicals) from March 2013. After that date, film will disappear VERY QUICKLY. Its just so much more cost effective to be digital. Add the realization digital is producing better results to the general public..

I don;t expect to see any film used for exhibition in the world by end of 2014.

How this will effect film in production, I am not sure, its an aesthetic choice, and it still has its place, but I am not sure film even for acquisition can survive if it is no longer used for exhibition. (Economy of scale)

This is not like vinyl. Its not likely to hang around, To keep a film shop open takes a lot of money just to keep the doors open. Ie, long periods between processing are not economically feasible .. (Unlike vinyl production process) Ie, vinyl production does not cost you money just sitting there idle like a film processing plant does. The consumables for film are likely to double, triple or more due to economy of scale and they only have a short shelf life.
Then look at the main film production companies.. Ie Fuji getting out of business, Kodak, Goodbye..

Embrace the future or be a dinosaur.

September 29, 2012

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2k looks sharper than what on what size screen? We have a generation that's grown up with HD in their living rooms, why would they pay multiplex prices for an image that's worse than a reality TV show? Did my previous comment not mention that 35mm was barely adequate for todays massive multiplex screens? Unless you disagree that stuff shot in 1080, cropped to 1.85:1 and projected onto a huge screen at 2k looks shit then I don't really know what you're disagreeing with.

For smaller screens (most indie features) 2k is fine. In the 80s 70mm release prints were common for big movies but it wasn't until the mid to late 90s multiplex that both huge screens and S35mm origination became widespread (the latter thanks to DI). Since you install projectors you already know that audiences prefer 2k DCP when it's uprezzed to 4k... right?

September 29, 2012

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nobody

It's extremely fascinating watching this after listening to Christopher Nolan going on and on about how nothing comes close to film. It really is fascinating

September 15, 2012

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Jeff Waweru

They are both right. Digital has the ability to mimic film, but there are so many more things that come into the equation. Having perfect images all the time isn't appealing to me. I feel more comfortable watching film because of it's shakiness and it seems more natural or 'real.' That's where people say Jackson got it wrong with the 48fps. It's too real, too life-like to be a film. Digital is so electronic, just so... fake.

While everyone is bitching about digital camera specs and what the HDR of them are, some other cinematographers are over-exposing 5 stops and under-exposing 3 stops on film and getting a completely workable image. That's why film is better. It works. Digital will work some day, but for now I still wish that films were shot on film then distributed as digital. I wouldn't mind that, because the whole colour would be there with the digital from the film.

September 15, 2012

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Tyler

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. But these are mostly aesthetic rather than technical considerations. Most of these can be 'faked' in post. Whether or not doing so is inherently inauthentic is a philosophical question. But yes, 48 fps looks horrible. :)

September 15, 2012

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It amazes me. This issue about 48 looking too real.. Its like arguing that going from film SR audio (The squiggly line on the side) to digital sound..
"It sounds to perfect, I hate it."
Really, how does that obviously ridiculous statement sound today, long after the acceptance of digital sound?... You know you can MAKE the digital track sound like a shitty SR track.. Will that then make it ok??

As stupid as arguing digital sound is not as good as SR, is exactly what you sound to those in the future who have a fresh look at all this.

You sound like the guys who said the talkies would never take off...

Please. Let go and embrace the future.

September 29, 2012

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Thanks for posting. Deakins is probably my favourite DP and I have to say the Alexa is now my favourite image out of anything. When done well for me it surpasses film.

I agree with Roger's statements about too much resolution being a problem - in the finished print anyway. I guess you can always soften it in post and lots of resolution gives you the option to push in but I am sick of seeing images on so many Hollywood films that are too clinical and 'plastic'. When I see European and arthouse films shot digitally I feel like the combination can work well. The very 'lit' look of traditional Hollywood films is far too much for me when combined with the ultra-cleaness of digital. Naturalistic and un-lit work on the other hand can look great with that much clarity.

September 15, 2012

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Stu Mannion

I'm broadly in agreement about over-sharp clinical looks, but I think it's wrong to conflate this with "too much resolution". If anything the reverse can be a problem - the low resolution of modern cinema projectors (mostly 2K) produce artefacts and visible pixels which give the image a plastic look. The digital noise of 4K is more filmic, and looks closer to film. Just ask any stills photographer - (remembering that 2K is only 4 megapixels!). Moving to higher resolutions actually brings us back towards traditional film image. I'm looking forward to seeing 'Taxi Driver' in my local independent cinema tomorrow, in re-mastered 4K, which should look as close as it has for decades to the original 35mm print.

September 15, 2012

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oops - sorry 2K is roughly 2 megapixels - e.g. a lot less than your old nokia camera-phone. :)

September 15, 2012

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I disagree with the apparent trend that digital = light less or dont light at all, this is still cinematography we're talking about.. Lighting matters no matter how clean a sensor is or how much into the dark it can see.

Deakins is a huge inspiration to me, I'd love to see what he'd do with an Epic, but I don't care what he shoots on as long as he's shooting. He's a master of the craft.

September 15, 2012

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carlos

It would be interesting, if he'd be of the first greats to try out Red Dragon. I'm curious if it would still look "fake electronic crap" to his eye. I'm talking about the latitude and native dr here, not K.

September 17, 2012

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Natt

Deakins said he doesn't use RED mainly because of the lack of optical viewfinder.

September 17, 2012

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SydneyBlue120d

I've checked out the optical viewfinder on the Alexa Studio and for me it doesn't compare at all to the quality of the electronic one. I'll never really be sure why some DoPs get so obsessed with optical viewfinders - for me, they're like looking at a postage stamp at the end of a drainpipe: Hard to focus and way too dark, and no exposure information or metadata overlayed to help the operator. Can't help feeling that with the Alexa Studio the optical viewfinder compromises the value of the camera: It has made it very expensive, and seemingly for the sake of a few older DoPs who prefer it.

September 21, 2012

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Stuart

They don't use the viewfinder to focus and they don't need exposure information because they use light meters.

September 21, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
158

He says in the video that its what you're used to...and how lots of younger filmmakers and Anthony Dod Mantle are happy to run around with monitors and not have that perfectly clean isolated image (with no distracting glare). It's just what you're used to. I started with film and preferred a viewfinder...but steadicam cured me of that because I'm used to not having to scrunch my body up into all kinds of weird positions to keep my eye on it (especially with fast pans, fast handheld...). And I don't have to get black eyes any more bouncing around handheld in cars...)

The glare on monitors is very distracting, so I understand his point of view. As an operator, it's less of an annoyance and its easy enough to see well enough for framing, but as a DP, it's definitely harder to judge subtle lighting past the glare...but Deakins may be talking as his preference as an operator (since he operates), and he lights with the lightmeter/monitor.

September 29, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

I don't think the new Bond trailers look better than "Quantum of Solace" or "Casino Royale" - slightly softer maybe.

As for "Out of Time", wasn't too impressed with the image on that. Looked a bit videoish, especially the night time scenes. Certainly didn't think it was better than film. I only saw it on DVD though.

Digital is great for low-budget filmmakers. Never really understood why a big Hollywood production would jump from film at this point.

September 15, 2012

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Daniel

Because it's not the quality of the film that matters in hollywood these days... it's about tricking people into buy a ticket for as little money out of pocket as possible.

September 16, 2012

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Lucas

Well for me, well shot films are still way more beautiful than any digital. I love Alexa footage, really do, I find it stunning in some moments. But sometimes I caught myself watching some movies shot in film and I think: This is really gorgeous, digital still can't beat that.

September 15, 2012

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Marcus

1) Joe Marine: what were you going for with the title really? You can name it anyway you like obvioysly but there is a certain irony in it that does not do your article justice.
2) Bill Voelker the orange and teal isn't a digital only thing.It's a hollywood thing.They were doing it with film too.
Also, you thought The Tree of Life was unwatchable?That is interesting indeed.
3) Sam Gordon i have a question for you: have you actually seen the prints side by side?Because Deakins has ,if you follow his site you'd know what he says is based on testing he did.So i am interested in hearing the opposite from someone who has done similar tests.
4) Why does it have to be one or another for most people?Why cant two mediums co exist? Does it have to be gas or diesel?

September 15, 2012

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Konstantinosstag

you may choose one format and only one! CHOOSE WISELY!

September 15, 2012

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I thought the title was funny, Roger Deakins shouldn't need to become an Arri salesman. His work and the image from the Alexa speak for themselves so I found this discussion a little painful to watch. Neither of these guys is delusional about 4k and they look uncomfortable skirting around the subject.

As to the film issue, we're passing the threshold where digital acquisition will beat out celluloid in every meaningful way. A decade from now, we'll be doing the same with electric powered automobiles.

September 15, 2012

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nobody

I was just trying to inception your mind.

September 15, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
158

Well, this is an interesting conversation. Art, in itself, is supposed to be evolutionary. Look through any book on painting, architecture, photography, film, and so on, and you will see that art changes with the times, and sometimes it takes a while for it to get from one era to the other. We are in a small part of an era that everybody seems to want to get out of, and honestly, it's tiring.

Van Gogh didn't paint with the latest technology of oils and brushes on a new and exciting canvas, he painted on what he could afford, and painted the world how he saw it. If we can learn from that, then all this talk about 1080p, 2K, 3.5K, 4K, 5K, 8K, is for what? If you can shoot on the best possible technology, and then end up with the worst film ever made, I'm thinking Troll 2 (shot on film guys) then what was the point of having the best quality footage?

I've preferred to use what helps me get what I need. If it were film, it would be film, but I'm poor and can't afford it. What do I use? A Canon t3i. I do what I can with it, because it's what I have. If I can come up with a good story, and make somebody feel something from that, rather than the visuals, then I've done my job. Remember, we are all storytellers, be it through the lens, writing, directing, or even gaffing, everybody just wants to make something good.

I remember watching 28 Days Later, and thinking that it was an incredibly awesome film. Little did I know at the time that it was shot on a Canon XL2. I remember loving the picture, and the way it moved, and the story of course made it even more enjoyable.

RED, Alexa, Canon, Film, I don't care. If it looks good, watch it.

September 15, 2012

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VanBuren08

I remember watching 28 Days Later and thinking how soft and video looking it was until the end scene as they leave the cabin and crane shot turns into an overhead aerial - that was done on 35mm film. Now that was a beautiful shot!

September 18, 2012

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28 Days Later was hardly watchable to me...

I saw the sequel like three times...cuz it was shot on real film (there was some particularly good day for night DI work with the jet fighters that I really liked)...but the format of the first one got in the way of what could've been a decent movie.

A lot of people post time and again that its all about telling stories...etc...and I agree...that comes first, or should...but you can screw up a good movie my shooting it crappily (wow...I just turned crap into an adjective), just as easily as you can have a great camera and the best lights in the world and still make some cliche boring junk.

September 29, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

1)joe marine :)
2)Nobody : I don't think a decade is realistic and electricity just cant replace gas but that would be amazing.
3)Van buren: well said.Although you dont have to be rich to shoot on film because you shouldnt use your money anyway.

September 15, 2012

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konstantinos

Arguing whether Arri, Red, or film looks better is like arguing what god (if there is one) looks like. Shoot with what you like, people make me feel like a sellout when I say this, but I love the look of Red... not at 48fps though... I think most agree with that...

September 16, 2012

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Tyler

Because of human nature we all have preferences and biases. You can present facts on a page and show white paper, resolution on a screen, highlight detail retention, roll-off etc, and people will still gravitate toward their preference (if it is a blind test like Zacuto did, once they find out which is which, they will make the argument for their preference) - even though their often is a winner.

Regarding God, it is similar. We have a 3,500 year old canon of works proven by the Dead Sea Scrolls to be of accurate translation with 66 different books, written by 40 different authors in three main languages, from all different parts of the world, ranging from peasants, to shepherds to kings covering topics of love, death, God, eternity, salvation and most people flippantly disregard it as a fantasy book without ever studying, reading or peering past their own bias.

So, yes, in life, there will be biased opinions in the face of factual evidence. With cameras, use what works for you. Regarding God, get to know Him.

September 18, 2012

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That was a very awesome reply. Well done.

November 15, 2012

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Friday for work purposes I watched the master file of an episode of Longmire (Alexa) vs the master of a major show shot 5 years earlier on S35mm in a top line grading suite. Just for kicks we also put up a master of Monk (16mm).
The Alexa DESTROYED them (ok, we just wanted to laugh at how much grain we used to get away with on MONK). Seriously, it was breathtaking.
Just to confirm it, we put up a master from the new series of DALLAS (Alexa). The detail, the DR, the skintones....

Look, I LOVE film. And I love RED. But if you're shooting tomorrow, and you need ease of workflow and an image that is more defined than film, rent an Alexa. My DSLR is as good as S16, and while film may have more latitude in the grade (and I'd argue that) it has a ton of negatives too.

September 16, 2012

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marklondon

Biggest movies were shot and some still shooting now on the camera made by company, that shall remain nameless and it's not all about Ks either. Funny, but I'd rather shoot 5K for Imax release, than with Alexa's 2,5K. It's too soft there, though grain actually helps. Peter Jackson loves film as well and the footage of The Hobbit looks just as good as Alexa, but with bonus-points like IMAX-ready resolution and more DR with HDRx in some tough scenes on location.

September 17, 2012

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Natt

Interesting how someone's comments can be misinterpreted. I would use any camera if I liked the image it created and thought it right for a certain project. I have shot on a cellphone for that matter.
'K' is not everything. Dynamic range and colour rendition is also important as is the ergonomic design of the camera and the ease of it's workflow. There may well be a case for shooting a film on 65mm film or on IMAX. That's fine but I have not, as yet, worked on a film where I have felt the need for either.

September 17, 2012

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Roger Deakins

Definitely, and that's why I tried to make it a point to say: "If another camera came along and he liked the image better, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be shooting with it."

In the end it's all about the work, and the work definitely speaks for itself. :)

September 17, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
158

Holy Crap! Mr. Deakins... is that really you?!

September 18, 2012

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dixter

He said "Oh Brother Where Aren't You". That makes me smile.

September 17, 2012

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I find it interesting that 'O Brother Where Art Thou' was finished on a Spirit Datacine and the 'resolution' of the final image was a lot lower than 2K. I have never heard anyone criticize the image quality of that film.
Recording Raw from the Alexa gives an image that is closer to 3K than 2K, by the way.

September 18, 2012

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Roger Deakins

Hmmmm. Surely with the heavy sepia grade on O' Brother, viewers would interpret softness as a stylistic thing? True Grit is tack sharp - I assume finer grain stock, 4k DI (including film-out) and digital grain removal / sharpening all contributed somewhat.

September 18, 2012

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nobody

Right, 2880x2160... Quite a bit more than 1080p though of course there's the loss of resolution after debayering to account for.

I don't think many people are complaining about any of your images, Roger. :)

September 18, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Great discussion and I agree with you Joe regarding the look of the BMCC. Simply amazing. I find it interesting that Deakins claims the Alexa had more dynamic range than film - certainly he must be talking about the shadows then? I love the Alexa look and see it a lot in HD, but it still does not rival film. Not even close with skin tones. I still go back to John Brawley's test footage short where he compared the various cameras and 35mm was my favorite look.

September 18, 2012

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