March 4, 2015 at 12:37PM


Shooting a short on film in the year 2015!

Hi guys,

I'm looking to shoot a short film so I went out and bought a canon T3i and a couple of prime lens. After shooting with the camera for a little while I realized that although the camera is good to have to practice framing and what not, it does not have the image that I'm going for. So that is when I decided I want a 16 mm film camera to shoot my short on. This brings me to why I started this post. Looking for some suggestions on a 16 mm cameras that would be good to shoot a short on. I've been recommended the bolex h16 and the arri SR's. Would like to hear what you guys think on the matter and curious if any of you shoot your projects on film still? Would it be a better idea to rent a film camera to save cost? Best color film stock? Looking for any and all suggestions on best ways to get a short shot on film in the year 2015!


What are your main reasons for wanting to shoot on film ?

The Canon T3i is a very poor example of what good digital video can look like, so I would NOT use it as measuring stick when judging video.

Film is quite expensive to shoot, even 16mm, which roughly costs $40 per minute of finished film shot. So a 10 minute color film test is going to run you $400. Shoot a 10 minute color short film with a 10 to 1 shooting ratio ( of edited finished footage to actual film shot ) and you are looking at about $4,000. No thanks.

You might want to re-evaluate shooting digital video with a better camera, and spend the time it takes to produce a high quality image from it. ( i.e. Master lighting, shooting, color-correction, and grading ) Most of today's big budget Hollywood films ( and almost every Indie film ) are all shot digital. ( 2/3 of this year's Oscar nominations were all shot digital )

If you really like the "film" look then I would start with one of the Blackmagic cameras, which are pretty much designed from the ground up for this type of look.

March 5, 2015 at 3:19PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question......

The main reason I want to shoot on film is to achieve the film quality. I recently saw a video of an amateur filmmaker shoot some footage on a Bolex H16; he didn't set up any lights he just shot and the look of the film was beautiful. This is when I started thinking of possibly shooting on film myself. It didn't seem so far fetched as I originally thought, or as everyone was telling me. Then I came across an article that really made me think shooting on film at my level was possible. The author of the article pointed out how yes digital is perceived to be cheaper (this perception is pushed by digital camera companies who want people to think film is far too expensive to shoot on) but in reality shooting on film saves money in the long run. The author pointed out how the digital cameras that are used to make movies today will be obsolete in 3 years tops and that the film camera built sometime in the 20th century will be good forever (aside from maintenance).

So the culmination of those things and a few other factors is what makes me want to shoot my short on film.

I totally understand that for me to expect film like results out of the T3i is ridiculous. I have looked into the black magic cameras I guess I'm just worried that it will be obsolete in a few years. That's kinda the reason I started with the T3i cause I knew it wasn't the best camera but it was something affordable I could use to practice on. I will continue to shoot on my T3i but once I get something I really like recorded I want to be able to shoot it on film.

I imagine there are other people out there like me with a limited budget that want to be able to shoot their films on actual film!

Thank you again for your time and information! Every bit of perspective and information helps tremendously!

Scott Oswald

March 9, 2015 at 12:16PM

I would totally shoot on film. It's sadly a dying medium, but it's still around for a few more years, so take advantage of that.
It teaches you so many things, and you'll forever cherish the decision to shoot on film later in life.
Arri SR's are great, unless you shoot dialogue stuff, then you need something quiet (I know MovieCams for 35mm are quiet, no idea about 16mm). But you'll need an AC with it, as well as a clapper/loader kind of person.
Pros of shooting on film:
- That texture. It is different. (And yes, I've been shooting for the past few years almost exclusively on the Alexa).
- The colors are still unmatched.
- The organic grain is lovely.
- People are more likely to work cheaply/for free on your shoot if you shoot on film. Nostalgia is a strong seducer…
- It teaches you restraint as a director/dp. Shoot what is necessary, rehearse, don't just grab anything you come across. Your editor will love you for it.
- Filmfestivals are more likely to pay attention to your movie. That doesn't guarantee a spot on a fancy festival, but it'll at least be seen.
- The audience can feel a difference, even if they're unable to tell you why. The chemical reaction does something to the texture of the image that digital just cannot.

- It costs a bit more than digital tech. Not much, unless you shoot insane amounts of footage.
- Not knowing what you've gotten in the can. This can be exciting, and devastating.
- Not too many labs are still operational. You might have to drop off your footage a few days later/a few hundred miles off your path.
- You're restricted in terms of length of take to whatever magazine you're packing. But unless you're shooting Russian Ark, it's not really a concern.
- People here will bitch about it. But whatever..
- You'll have to properly think about your budget. Which forces you to have a better script. Which makes for a better movie. It CAN act as an amplifier to your skills. It can also mean tons of money down the drain.

Have fun shooting 16mm! I'm certainly jealous. My next short will be on 35 though..

March 6, 2015 at 9:38AM

Elias Ressegatti

Don't forget that there are also more budget friendly digital options like the BlackMagic Cinema Cameras or the Sony A7S that will give you FAR more dynamic range and a more gradeable and filmic image than a T3i will. And of course, if you're going to shoot on film, you might be getting into the budget range where renting an Alexa, a RED, or one of the other lesser known high-end cinema cameras becomes a viable option.

March 6, 2015 at 11:02PM

David West

I agree with Elias and David, I have shoot two shorts with a bolex H16. I'm happy to have done it but I don't think I would do it again.
You have to know that the viewfinder of the bolex is very dark (only 1/4 of the light goes trough it) and you can forget about sound as the camera is quite noisy.
You have to make all the tests before, which takes time and money, otherwise you will have no way to know what results you are going to have.
You have to be meticulous, write down everything, like how many seconds you have shot, otherwise you can not know how many you have left. I know someone how didn't remember if she had load the film, that is really an issue because it's not like if you could open it to check... Long story short she shot the whole day with and empty camera :-D
It teaches a lot to shoot on film but if you go only after a look then i think it's not worth.
To be honest I have more fun shooting with a digital camera.


March 7, 2015 at 4:38AM

Shooting on film is a great experience, allowing you to really appreciate lighting and editing. I shot on 16mm in film school using the Arri SR (a crystal sync camera), sound was recorded on a Nagra; I edited on a Steenbeck. In school we also cut our own negative which is a delicate, risky process. To avoid dealing with a negative, consider reversal film stock (at the time 500 ASA was the highest). If you need sync sound, you'll need a camera with crystal sync (i.e. Arri SR). If sync isn't important, a windup Bolex camera is great; these are on eBay for under $200 with a lens.
The real cost will come with processing and editing; you can edit mechanically or digitally. Having the film lab process the film and give you files (or tapes) is the best option.
CineLab is a popular lab that does processing and transfers to 2K files. Here's a link to their rate sheet:

For 16mm, 400 feet is 10 minutes of recording (one reel), which is around $100. Processing and telecine (combined) is $160. So for 10 minutes it's around $260.

The real challenge is the filming equipment (buying or renting). After that, it's a numbers game.

March 7, 2015 at 9:31AM

Sathya Vijayendran

Also keep in mind that color reversal film stock has about half the dynamic range of color negative stock, so your exposure has to be bang on and you have to make sure you add lots of fill light to lower the overall contrast of your lighting. ( or your shadows get crushed into solid black and your hilights burn-out completely )

Guy McLoughlin

March 7, 2015 at 3:09PM

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