December 22, 2013

Can You Tell the Difference? Film & Digital Go Head to Head in This Stop Motion Video

"Which looks better: film or digital?" It's one of those questions that can't really be answered, because every filmmaker has different tastes and opinions, but Joey Shanks (you might know him from his awesome stop motion/in-camera effects tutorials) puts film and digital head to head to show the difference between what the two mediums look like in stop motion animation. He even challenges viewers to guess what the last clip was recorded with, and will reveal the answer come December 26th. It's harder than you might think, but continue on to see for yourself!

Digital filmmaking has always reminded me of that shrimpy kid who would try out for baseball and attempt to prove himself to the older, more experienced players. "I can hit, fellas. I'll hit that ball right outta the park!" (I might be pulling from personal experience there.) And digital has definitely come a long way, both in emulating the look, feel, and power of film, as well as carving new paths as an independent medium all its own.

As you may find while watching the video below, it's getting harder and harder to distinguish the differences between film and digital -- at least in this demonstration. Shanks uses a Canon 5D Mark II set at ISO 400 and a Canon 7E using Fuji 400 stock. He also uses the same lenses when he shoots with both cameras (a list of which you can find in the "About" section of this video).

Granted, there are plenty of factors that could alter the characteristics and quality of the final product. For instance, one commenter on the video mentions that using professional stock and processing (including development and scanning) would make a pretty significant difference in the images produced by the film camera.

Thanks to Joey Shanks for sending this video our way.

And let the discussion begin! What are some pros and cons of the images produced by film/digital? Can you tell what the final shot was filmed on? Let us know in the comments below!

Link: Shanks FX channel -- YouTube

Your Comment

57 Comments

I hope I'm alive long enough to see the point where this discussion finally ceases to exists

December 22, 2013 at 8:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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jime

Considering that the vinyl vs cd/mp3 battle is still going I really doubt it will ever end.

December 22, 2013 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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alex

That is, imho, not at all comparable. The consumer audio recording got stuck for unkown reasons. Otherwise, we would now _not_ be discussing the merits of a vinyl records versus Blu-Ray audio (at e.g. 250 MBit/s and 24 Bits).

December 23, 2013 at 1:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thyl Engelhardt

Consumer audio has improved tremendously in the value department. These days you can buy powered speakers (running out of your PC/laptop) for $50 that have superior sound quality to the $1,000 mini systems of 20 years ago. And modern $1,000 systems sound as good as $2,500 systems from back then. And sub-$1000 - including the tape, CD and record player, most of which are obsolete by now - system was the giant slice of the market anyway. Plus, the popular music over the last 15- 20 years - grunge, garage, post-punk/metal, hip-hop - is so muddy and compressed that spending a lot of money on it is silly. The audiophile audience still exists but they're as likely to have a non-brand name gear, as there's been a great proliferation of the smaller amplifier - tube or Class D - and speaker manufacturers and importers. Vinyl is a small niche and the reel-to-reel is extremely expensive. The trend nowadays is toward the uncompressed (Raw) codecs anyway. Sony is trying something with their High Resolution Audio and should have a few new audio products at the upcoming CES.
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In any case, high end non-CGI production can still use 35-70 mm film, since it can easily absorb the costs. On the low-to-mid end, it's hard to say no to digital. Films, as pointed out, can't be streamed without first becoming zeroes and ones anyway.

December 23, 2013 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

You obviously have never worked with film before...

December 23, 2013 at 10:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eric

One of the biggest factors that can make video look far worse than film is the rendition of motion and stop motion negates that element. This is still cool to see though!

December 22, 2013 at 9:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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luke

Very good point. I'd love to see a similar comparison done with an ARRI Alexa and one of the more recent Arriflex 35mm cameras.

December 23, 2013 at 6:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Patrick

I agree, this is sort of pointless.

December 23, 2013 at 10:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

I'm guessing 1, due to all the grain on it... unless of course he's tampered with it all...

December 22, 2013 at 9:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tim Dalvang

but i don't care that film looks almost or just as good as digital..

film :
it's 10000000 times more work
it's 10000000 times more expensive

December 22, 2013 at 9:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tim Dalvang

Not necessarily. With a decent budget the difference is negligible. Try shooting RAW 4K vs Super 16mm.

December 22, 2013 at 9:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

That's like comparing a the prices of a Ferrari and a beat-up biplane.
Still doesn't mean that owning a plane isn't usually much more expensive.

December 22, 2013 at 11:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

So maybe you understand the point you're making, but I don't.

I'm not sure shooting RAW 4K is necessarily any more expensive than shooting Super-16...once you factor in everything you need to do it.

December 23, 2013 at 10:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

Shooting 4K raw is cheaper than shooting S-16.

December 23, 2013 at 12:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jeff

For a single film, sure, they can be comparable. The budget concerns come in when you're doing more than one project. You can't re-use film stock the way you can memory cards, so you're always going to be buying more film, buying more processing, more scanning.

December 23, 2013 at 12:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jake

Not so sure of your numbers there, Jeff...as someone who's shot Super-16mm. And is looking at the cost of storage for 4K.

And Jake, that's sort of correct...but what about storage? You could wipe the drives and reuse them, but would you really want to get rid of your raw footage? I keep all of my stuff, you never know when you might need it.

December 24, 2013 at 2:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

I'm glad that someone brought up the 4k storage issue, as productions always seem to forget it. Even so... You still have to store your finished 16mm film somehow digitally if you ever want anyone to see it... Not to mention 35mm to 4k is a more fair comparison in quality and frame size. I feel like the real benefit to digital is the quality of low light shooting, and the ease of operation. False color, focus peaking, playback, the ability to record scratch audio on camera for dailies, speed of card changes vs mag reloads, RAW flexibility, quality of video village, portability (size/weight), not having to re-balance tripods when the mag gets more than halfway depleted (applies to Panavision mostly), and details in the blacks... I don't see the comparison.

December 24, 2013 at 3:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Danny

Depends on the film and the aesthetic. I once shot in a 50's monster movie style on Super 8, and it only took me a pair of lights to get a look that would have taken me ages on digital with correction and filters.

December 23, 2013 at 1:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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agreed! who wants to touch up dust spots on every frame. Been there done that.

December 23, 2013 at 12:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Kirk

Once again we have someone who has never shot on film weighing in on the merits of shooting on film.

June 18, 2015 at 11:36AM

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Matthew Espenshade
Cinematographer
163

1. is film.
2. is digital.

December 22, 2013 at 9:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DGrimes

Agreed

December 23, 2013 at 12:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Yeah, me too.

December 23, 2013 at 4:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joachim

i think to my eyes the main thing film has more of is latitude / dynamic range not sure of the range but it seem to deal it nicer without look like a greyed out thing, im more of a photographer so using film on the odd occasion is feasible ... so looking at the burnt out highlights see 1 seems to be film, unless digital version has been under exposed and brightened up in the shadows to be level

December 22, 2013 at 10:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Whispers

Penso que o Filme está na sua capacidade máxima de evolução e o Digital apenas no início do desenvolvimento de seu potencial. Ambas as imagens e vídeos estão bons. Creio que em mais três anos o filme poderá( não digo deverá!) ser aposentado.

December 22, 2013 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jorge

It's Christmas. Maybe there won't be a flame war over this. "God bless, everyone."

December 22, 2013 at 10:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

2 is film.

However, it is more circumstantial and Im no expert on film. Turns out that all the funky colored looking shots in the video is from film. But one thing has to be said that digital is still lacking in the way highlights are rendered. The camera guys need to address that. Cameras have enormous processing power, they could probably assign some of it to specially address the highlights.

Maybe something like - "If pixel X is say higher than 1 - bring back the pixel down to 1 and the surrounding pixels be brought back to 0.9 expanding outward".

But it was a great effort. The film scanning and processing mustve costed a lot for you guys both time and money wise.

December 22, 2013 at 11:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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raj

It seems weird you'd pick 2, the one where the highlights are blown, as being film and then go on to say how poorly digital renders highlights.

I'm going with 1 being film based on the less severe highlight on the snowman picture and the fact that you can see more detail inside the light fixture. That's film's dynamic range showing off.

December 23, 2013 at 11:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brian

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride was shot with the Canon EOS-1D Mark II. It is a stunningly beautiful film. End of debate.

December 23, 2013 at 1:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Well, they were probably using stills, and the still capability of those cameras are different than the video. Still, it's a good point.

December 23, 2013 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

All stop motion uses a series of stills. This comparison is with still images. The debate is the merits of film and digital. And based on current digital cameras, it doesn't make any sense to shoot stop motion on a film camera anymore.

December 23, 2013 at 1:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Benton

True...but in the film vs digital debate, I bet people are talking about it in terms of stop motion maybe .00001765% of the time.

December 24, 2013 at 2:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

I really don't care. Film is an aesthetic. Digital is an aesthetic. Pick the one you want to use for your project Sometimes that's about choosing a look, sometimes that's about what's easier on set or cheaper or what you know better.

As an educator, I would also point out that film has an ability to teach students things they wouldn't learn on digital. And vice versa! It's just another tool in the toolbox.

December 23, 2013 at 1:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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As Independent Filmmakers we don't necessarily have the budget or options of choosing film as an aesthetic.

December 23, 2013 at 8:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jorge Cayon

There shouldn´t be a discussion which is the best. As far as I´m concerned it is just aesthetics...different approaches different languages. Each has its pros and cons, prices,processing,storage etc...It is to me not more then using two different digital câmeras. Which is better? The one that suits my needs.

December 26, 2013 at 8:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Augusto Alves d...

Both are digital. Otherwise, you could not see it on your computer screens.

This reminds me of a comparison I once saw between CDs and Vinyl, where both sounded similarly good. In the end, I found out that the vinyls had been mostly digitally mastered.

December 23, 2013 at 1:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thyl Engelhardt

Yes, I can always tell the difference between celluloid and digital motion picture. ALWAYS. Although the best footage which has come the closest to having me fooled has been well shot and color timed Alexa footage, with grain added.

December 23, 2013 at 1:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Vlad

not one or the other…but different..pick the one you like and remember projected it is a whole different story…choose both ..keep both film and digital evolving and competitive

December 23, 2013 at 8:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DIO

kodak filmed images have a weight to them ..and the image is made differently that's why i'm saying that it's not one vs the other..but what you want to see…for this commercial it was kodak..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=GpTwgRk2aUU

December 23, 2013 at 8:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DIO

It is beautiful, but grain of salt: I am certain they had the best of the best making this video. The costumer, sets, colors, lighting, cinematography, all were the best that Louis Vuitton money could buy. You can bet your best dollar on that. They were held to the highest standards since there's no way Louis Vuitton would have its image harmed by something less than the best. So what we're seeing is not what most film shooters will end up with. I'm curious what the highest standards applied to using a 6K Red Dragon would produce?

December 24, 2013 at 12:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

You know, I expect the irrational fight against being dragged into modernity from the multi-billion dollar corporations so obese from past success they think only stagnant conservatism will save them known as the Hollywood studios and those stuck in their system, but I never expected such similar reactionary points of view from the future generation of filmmakers.

The debate is over, the people voted, the polls reported and the election was called. And soon it won’t matter if you have an aesthetic preference for film or digital, and it won’t matter if you’ve worked with film your whole life or if you’ve never touched a single frame of celluloid, nor will any of the hypothetical gains or losses in budget savings.

Why?

Because motion picture film will effectively CEASE TO EXIST.

Within the next ten years there will be no company producing motion picture film at a level able to sustain either an industrial or commercial market.

December 23, 2013 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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finducinema

That's not necessarily true. In the audio realm, vacuum tube amps and analog synthesizers saw a similar decline when solid state and digital technologies emerged. Today, although not as common, a significant number of manufacturers make various tube driven and analog gear. It's common enough.

Yes, digital will be (is) the predominant way to capture images. But, preferring the look of film over digital has nothing to do with modernity, being progressive or forward thinking. As I've stated here before, film and video (both analog and digital) are contemporaries. For narrative storytelling, film beat the video/digital look decades ago. That, too, has already been decided. People don't prefer the look of Alexa because it looks MORE digital than everything else. They prefer it because it looks more like what we like most about film.

Ignoring the best parts of what made people aesthetically choose to shoot film over a Varicam and calling it progress is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are still a few things that film does better than digital that cam makers still need to work on. I'd hate to see them stop because achieving them would be seen by some as having one foot in the past. That's nonsense.

December 23, 2013 at 5:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brian

+1

December 23, 2013 at 6:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marc B

Exactly...the whole battle of digital is to make it look more like film. No one wants a cheap digital video look to their stuff...that's why The Hobbit ended up getting released as a 24 frame movie most places, because people thought the 48 frame version looked like cheap HD video.

December 24, 2013 at 2:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

In the Audio Realm you can take a digital signal from a CD or other source and run it through a tube driven amplifier and play the sound on the speakers you have at home. You can't take a digital video signal and make it analogue without printing it on film and projecting it, which can't happen in peoples homes in any kind of mass market way. So the comparison doesn't really work.

December 26, 2013 at 12:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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@Michael - The comparison works if you bother to compare what was actually being discussed. Capitalization is for emphasis, not yelling.

1) The claim was that film was going to essentially "cease to exist" or, at best, not be produced in quantities large enough to justify any sort of PRODUCTION work because digital would be too prevalent, cheap and convenient..

2) I pointed out film ACQUISITION might see a resurgence and new life similar to how analog circuitry and vacuum tubes did. The point of a RESURGENCE of analog in a largely digital field was what made the comparison a fitting one, not that there's a 1-to-1 correlation of film to audio for every scenario.

3) Both comments, whether you agree with them or not, were relevant to the ACQUISITION and PRODUCTION side of things, not what the masses could easily do in their homes. Running a CD through a tube amplifier is not the same thing as originally recording through tube amplifiers and mics or generating sound from an analog synth. The discussion in general for this article centered around the aesthetics of the CAPTURE medium.

In the proper context, I'm afraid it's your argument that doesn't really work.

December 26, 2013 at 9:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brian

Digital deals with shadows better and film deals with highlights better. The driving scene you can see that film doesn't render the trees well. It's all dark, but the sky is visible with clouds. With the digital version the sky is blown out and the trees are visible.

December 23, 2013 at 7:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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This isn't a good way to make the argument for digital photography. why does it matter if film and digital can look identical? The fact is that no matter what, they are both very different.

Does it really matter if we can get the absolute perfect film look with digital? Whether or not film gets pushed out of the mainstream, it will always be a possibility to shoot with film. They are different aesthetics and, both with their own pros and cons.

The battle over film or digital is so incredibly stupid and pointless. If you don't like how digital looks, then don't shoot on it. And the idea that film won' be accessible if digital takes over is absurd too. I can go buy a vinyl right now, of a new release, cheaply. I can also buy rolls of film. Yes, film has and will always be more expensive, but also a viable option.

I don't understand how this is even a discussion.

December 23, 2013 at 10:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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1 is film. Merry Christmas

December 24, 2013 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stu

It ought to be noted that, in terms of big budget film making, digital is barely in its second decade and it has already surpassed film in the bang-for-the-buck category on the low end and even for some quality standards on the high end, to say nothing about the VFX laden features. And the developments are coming in fast and furiously - from cheaper storage to greater processing power, from higher FPS to higher DR, from editing to resolution and beyond ...

December 24, 2013 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Now is a great time to bring up that "Side by Side" the 2012 American documentary film is on Netflix. The film investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation.

December 24, 2013 at 1:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Sean

Film *had* more dynamic range, nice built-in colors and curves. Another thing though, even cheap shit film stock looks cool, retro and hip now, but cheap digital just looks crap with compression artifacts, blown out highlights and chroma noise in shadows.

That said, if we're talking pro-level digital cinema cameras, then I'm afraid Sony F65, Arri Alexa and Red Dragon successfully replaced the most expensive, sensitive, pristine grainless film stock for all intents and purposes. Blackmagic, Digital Bolex and KineRAW are doing their thing on lower end of Raw cinema capture too.

December 25, 2013 at 2:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Natt

it's not only about the camera and film vs digital. some people have the ability to cheat that with very intricate lighting set ups.

December 26, 2013 at 7:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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mario

there's no question.film beats the digital ...of course its a matter of taste and u can fake it little bit by adding grain ,dust and all that crap but ... movies,commercials, musicvids shot on film just look better .they tell different story, they have different value . digital looks cheap. images are not alive.its the same like plastic -metal, vinyl-mp3 ,real woman-virtual woman. come on,this discussion is pointless.u can't compare them,there is nothing to compare.im 100% sure that all the DPs ( real DPs ) will say the same thing.

December 29, 2013 at 5:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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viktor von traktor

I got the first one wrong, but I'd love to see these without their added effects and filters. Just straight from camera.

June 18, 2015 at 10:12AM, Edited June 18, 10:12AM

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I shoot strictly digital when I make video content and strictly film when I take stills (consequently, to me, the differences were easy to tell for most but not all the examples).

They each have their merits and faults. This shouldn't be called film VS. digital. It should be called film OR digital. It was a comparison, not a competition as far as I could tell.

Next they should do watercolor vs. acrylic vs. oil paint.

June 18, 2015 at 7:59PM

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Nicholas
168

2- Film
because of sharpness and cold color

June 19, 2015 at 12:05PM

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