By Brian McKernan, DCS Co-Founder
We’ve all read them at one time or another: newspaper articles proclaiming the “death of film.” The writers of these articles typically enthuse about how a particular film was produced digitally, but then jump to the conclusion that this must spell the end of film. This, despite the fact that every movie advertised in the same newspaper was shot and released on 35mm.
This kind of bad reporting is not only wrong, it fails to appreciate the importance of the art of cinematography and the role of professional cinematographers. They are the guardians of image quality, regardless of whether those images are captured on film or some other media. And such bad reporting also erodes respect for the principal medium by which the moving image has been recorded, stored, and conveyed since its inception. An either-or, film-versus-digital mentality is not only short-sighted, it obscures the fact that digital has many definitions. Digital can refer to a variety of acquisition formats (HDCAM, DVCPRO-HD, 4:4:4 FilmStream, etc.), a suite of creative tools for the postproduction of film-originated images (digital intermediate), or new delivery alternatives (such as MPEG-2).
Don’t get me wrong; new digital cinema technologies are nothing less than a revolution in the filmmakers’ toolkit. But just because there are alternatives to film it doesn’t mean the end of film. Digital doesn’t mean the death of film any more than television meant the death of radio or moviegoing.
With this in mind, consider this list of Ten Reasons Why Film Will Never Die:
1.) Film works; it’s a proven, mature medium. Film equipment is widely available, adaptable, lightweight, unencumbered by cables or CPU’s, and functions reliably in every environment. Accessories are enormously varied.
2.) Despite differences in aspect ratios and audio formats, 35mm film is the only worldwide motion-imaging standard.
3.) There’s more than a century’s worth of film content in the world’s archives, a vital part of our modern cultural heritage. Transferring all of those archives to an electronic medium is cost-prohibitive. And why bother, when you can convert what you need to the video format du jour.
4.) Video formats can get obsolete fairly soon. The 35mm film standard is more than a century old.
5.) Motion-picture film continues to improve (e.g., Kodak’s new Vision2 stocks).
6.) Digital techniques for transferring (and restoring) film also continue to improve, and as they do, film yields ever-more picture information–detail we never knew was there.
7.) The archival life of today’s film stocks is at least a century. Less is known about the stability of tape and other media.
8.) Digital film scanning, intermediate, color-correction, and film-recording options are enhancing film’s viability.
9.) Film has more definition than HD. Film has a greater dynamic range. Film cameras are cheap. Processed film is human-readable. Film offers color with neither prism color separators nor color filters, both of which reduce sensitivity and the latter of which reduces resolution and introduces aliases.
10.) Film is actually a digital medium (grains are either exposed or not). The grain structure is random, so there are no sensor-site alias issues. Furthermore, the grain structure is different from frame to frame, so there is no possibility of a defective-pixel or thermal-noise pattern. And the transfer characteristic of film is part of its desirable “film look,” the same look that 24p HD emulates.
And one more thing: film’s viability doesn’t mean the death of digital, either. What it does mean is there are more and better tools for making moving images than ever before. Choose what’s best for you and watch out for misleading newspaper reports.
(Special thanks to Richard Crudo ASC, Mark Schubin, and Andy Maltz for suggestions in compiling this list.)