Knowing what to start your project with can feel like a never-ending nightmare of a task. Let’s help with some of the pros and cons of film and digital cameras.
At the beginning of cinema, DPs and directors only had the choice of shooting their films on film. Now there are so many options, from large formats to tiny 8mm negatives. Digital cameras have dominated the game of cinematography since the early 2010s, but some DPs and directors still believe that film is the way to go.
How do you find out whether your next film should be digital or filmed? We can’t answer that question, but we can give you some pros and cons to help you make your big decision.
To know the pros and cons of film, we first need to understand what film is.
Film is a medium made from a gelatin photochemical emulsion. When light hits the emulsion for 1/50 second, the light rays are absorbed and the image is printed on the emulsion. The film must be developed through a series of chemical baths without exposing it to additional light. This process permanently fixes the image on the piece of film.
Negative film is normally used to take pictures – that is, the image is printed as an inverted image on the film – but there are color reversal films like the Kodak Ektachrome, which captures the light as a positive and creates a perfect picture.
A great advantage of working with film is that it captures a certain look. While there is a lot of talk about colorizing a digital recording so that it looks like it was recorded on film, the truth is that film feels unique and has a depth that cannot be captured digitally. The film look is irreplaceable.
Another advantage of the film is its value. Yeoman says when he works in film, the crew and actors seem to be more focused on the project. As soon as they hear the sound of the camera running, everyone is in their A-Game.
On the other hand, you reload the camera every four and a half minutes. If you keep reloading your 400-foot 35mm magazine and calculating the processing cost, that’s about $ 450 for four and a half minutes of footage.
In short: it is expensive and allows little to no errors. Not a problem for more experienced filmmakers who know exactly what they want, but if you want to experiment and try a few different settings, you might be digging into your wallet.
While the video tapping systems in modern film cameras have grown dramatically, the quality of their output is not fantastic. You may not be able to spot problems like blurry images or small strands of hair on the lens until the film is processed. If there are problems with recording, you will need to re-record the scene.
Digital cinema cameras use the same method that movies are shot, but the difference is that the emulsion is digitally replaced with a sensor that captures the light in pixels. The information is then saved in a digital file in formats such as ProRes or RAW.
Since everything is already stored on the camera, filmmakers have instant access to the footage. There is a great benefit in having the playability to show what has been recorded and if something needs to be re-recorded, then and there.
Another big advantage is that the camera can roll for a longer period of time before the card has to be changed. This is a great perk if you are making a documentary or want to experiment and play around. The last major benefit of taking photos with a digital camera is accessibility. Not only is it a great option for low budget movies, but it’s also easy to travel and does exceptionally well in places a cameraman cannot light himself.
Unlike film, digital cinema cameras cannot capture the depth that a film camera can. The appearance is very different and difficult to reproduce during the color correction process. Another disadvantage of digitization is that the crew and actors take advantage of the opportunity to take multiple shots. Yeoman says when he was shooting with a digital camera and the director screams cut, the crew and cast would lose focus and go on their phones. They weren’t at their best when they knew nothing was at stake.
Ultimately, the decision to take photos with a digital or film camera is a gut feeling. Film cameras have something very special that makes them a great option, but the accessibility to digital cameras can outweigh the quality of the film.
For convenience and ease of use, use the digital camera. If the project allows for a larger budget and has a focused goal, go for the movie camera.
At the end of the day, the project will tell you what to get into, as well as your movie instinct. Tell the story in the way that production can best tell it.
Let us know in the comments below if you have any other pros and cons to our list of digital vs. film cameras!