In May 2002 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones became the first high-profile, high-budget movie released that was shot on 24 frame-per-second high-definition digital video, using a Sony HDW-F900 camera. The lesser-known 2001 movie Vidocq was shot with the same camera.
In parallel with these developments in the world of traditional high-budget cinematography, a digital cinema revolution was occurring from the bottom up, among low budget filmmakers outside of the Hollywood system. Beginning in the mid-1990s, with the introduction of Sony's DCR-VX1000, the digital MiniDV format began to emerge. MiniDV offered much greater quality than the analog formats that preceded it, at the same price point. While its quality was not considered as good as film, these MiniDV camcorders, in conjunction with non-linear editing software that could run on personal computers, allowed a large number of people to begin making movies who were previously prevented from doing so by the high costs involved with shooting on film.
Today, cameras from companies like Sony, Panasonic, JVC and Canon offer the prosumer market a variety of choices for shooting high-definition video with less than $10,000 worth of camera equipment. At the high-end of the market, there has been an emergence of cameras aimed specifically at the digital cinema market. These cameras from Arri, Panavision, Grass Valley and Red offer resolution and dynamic range that exceeds that of traditional video cameras, which are designed for the limited resolution and dynamic range of broadcast television.
Digital cinematography captures motion pictures digitally, in a process analogous to digital photography. While there is no clear technical distinction that separates the images captured in digital cinematography from video, the term "digital cinematography" is usually applied only in cases where digital acquisition is substituted for film acquisition, such as when shooting a feature film. The term is not generally applied when digital acquisition is substituted for analog video acquisition, as with live broadcast television programs.
High-end cameras designed specifically for the digital cinematography market often use a single sensor (much like digital photo cameras), with dimensions similar in size to a 35mm film frame or even (as with the Vision 65) a 65mm film frame. An image can be projected onto a single large sensor exactly the same way it can be projected onto a film frame, so cameras with this design can be made with PL, PV and similar mounts, in order to use the wide range of existing high-end cinematography lenses available. Their large sensors also let these cameras achieve the same shallow depth of field as 35 or 65mm motion picture film cameras, which is important because many cinematographers consider selective focus an essential visual tool.
Prosumer and broadcast television cameras typically use three 1/3" or 2/3" sensors in conjunction with a prism, with each sensor capturing a different color. Camera vendors like Sony and Panasonic, which have their roots in the broadcast and consumer camera markets, have leveraged their experience with these designs into three-chip products targeted specifically at the digital cinematography market. The Thomson Viper also uses a three-chip design. These designs offer benefits in terms of color reproduction, but are incompatible with traditional cinematography lenses (though new lines of high-end lenses have been developed with these cameras in mind), and incapable of achieving 35mm depth of field unless used with depth-of-field adaptors, which can lower image sharpness and result in a loss of light.
To date, 1080p has been the most common format for digitally acquired major motion pictures.
Broadly, there are two paradigms used for data storage in the digital cinematography world.
Many people, particularly those coming from a background in broadcast television, are most comfortable with video tape based workflows. Data is captured to video tape on set. This data is then ingested into a computer running non-linear editing software, using a deck. Once on the computer, the footage is edited, and then output in its final format, possibly to a film recorder for theatrical exhibition, or back to video tape for broadcast use. Original video tapes are kept as an archival medium. The files generated by the non-linear editing application contain the information necessary to retrieve footage from the proper tapes, should the footage stored on the computer's hard disk be lost.
Increasingly, however, digital cinematography is shifting toward "tapeless" workflow, where instead of thinking about digital images as something that exists on a physical medium like video tape, digital video is conceived of as data in files. In tapeless workflow, digital images are usually recorded directly to files on hard disk or flash memory based "digital magazines". At the end of a shooting day (or sometimes even during the day), the digital files contained on these digital magazines are downloaded, typically to a large RAID connected to an editing system. Once data is copied from the digital magazines, they are erased and returned to the set for more shooting. Archiving is accomplished by backing up the digital files from the RAID, using standard practices and equipment for data backup from the Information Technology industry, often to data tape.
High-end digital cinematography cameras or recording devices typically support recording at much lower compression ratios, or in uncompressed formats. Additionally, digital cinematography camera vendors are not constrained by the standards of the consumer or broadcast video industries, and often develop proprietary compression technologies that are optimized for use with their specific sensor designs or recording technologies.
Some digital cinematography systems further reduce data rate by subsampling color information. Because the human visual system is much more sensitive to luminance than to color, lower resolution color information can be overlaid with higher resolution luma (brightness) information, to create an image that looks very similar to one in which both color and luma information are sampled at full resolution. This scheme may cause pixelation or color bleeding under some circumstances, however, and the highest quality digital cinematography systems are capable of recording full resolution color data (4:4:4) or raw sensor data.
|Format||Bit depth||Resolution||Chroma sampling||Bitrate||Inter-frame?||Algorithm type|
|DV||8 bit||720×480 (NTSC) / 720×576 (PAL)||4:1:1 or 4:2:0||25 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|DVCPRO50||8 bit||720×480 (NTSC) / 720×576 (PAL)||4:2:2||50 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|DVCPRO HD||8 bit||960×720, 1280×1080 or 1440×1080||4:2:2||100 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|AVCHD||8 bit||1920x1080,1440x1080,1280x720||4:2:0||24 Mbit/s||Yes||DCT (lossy)|
|AVC Intra||10 bit||1920x1080,1440x1080,1280x720||4:2:2||50 or 100 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|HDV||8 bit||1280×720 or 1440×1080||4:2:0||19-25 Mbit/s||Yes||DCT (lossy)|
|XDCAM EX||8 bit||1280x720 or 1920×1080||4:2:0||25-35 Mbit/s||Yes||DCT (lossy)|
|HDCAM||8 bit||1440×1080||3:1:1||144 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|HDCAM SR||10 bit||1920×1080||4:2:2 or 4:4:4||440 or 880 Mbit/s||No||DCT (lossy)|
|CineForm RAW (SI-2K)||10 bit Log||2048×1152||Raw Bayer||100-140 Mbit/s||No||Wavelet (lossy)|
|REDCODE RAW||12 bit||4096×2304||Raw Bayer||220 Mbit/s||No||Wavelet (lossy)|
For the over 4000 theaters with digital projectors in the USA, digital films may be distributed digitally, either shipped to theaters on hard drives or sent via the Internet or satellite networks. Digital Cinema Initiatives, LLC, a joint venture of Disney, Fox, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios, has established standards for digital cinema projection. In July 2005, they released the first version of the Digital Cinema System Specification, which encompasses 2K and 4K theatrical projection. They also offer compliance testing for exhibitors and equipment suppliers.
Distributors naturally prefer digital distribution, because it saves them the expense of making film prints, which may cost as much as $2000 each. Digital projection also offers advantages over traditional film projection such as lack of jitter, flicker, dust, scratches, and grain. They are also far more flexible with regard to running trailers, pre-feature advertisements and the like.
However theater owners initially balked at the high cost and potential reliability problems of installing digital projection systems, since they normally do not contribute directly to print costs, simply splitting admission proceeds with the distributors in an agreed ratio. Nonetheless, the number of digitally equipped venues is now growing, (as of September 2007), at a rate of around 400 screens a month in the United States. It is important to note that in the majority of cases, rather than being a complete conversion to digital projection, the more likely scenario is digital projectors sitting side-by-side with film projectors in the projection booths, (often replacing the pre-feature slide projector) or only some units in a multiplex being Digital Only. Currently, (2008) even new cinema installations typically use a mixture of film and digital projection.
Since not all theaters currently have digital projection systems, even if a movie is shot and post-produced digitally, it must be transferred to film if a large theatrical release is planned. Typically, a film recorder will be used to print digital image data to film, to create a 35mm internegative. After that the duplication process is identical to that of a traditional negative from a film camera.
In contrast, when shooting digitally, response to light is determined by the CMOS or CCD sensor(s) in the camera and recorded and "developed" directly. This means a cinematographer can measure and predict exactly how the final image will look by eye if familiar with the specific model of camera being used or able to read a vector/waveform.
On-set monitoring allows the cinematographer to see the actual images that are captured, immediately on the set, which is impossible with film. With a properly calibrated high-definition display, on-set monitoring, in conjunction with data displays such as histograms, waveforms, RGB parades, and various types of focus assist, can give the cinematographer a far more accurate picture of what is being captured than is possible with film. However, all of this equipment may impose costs in terms of time and money, and may not be possible to utilize in difficult shooting situations.
Film cameras do often have a video assist that captures video though the camera to allow for on-set playback, but its usefulness is largely restricted to judging action and framing. Because this video is not derived from the image that is actually captured to film, it is not very useful for judging lighting, and because it is typically only NTSC-resolution, it is often useless for judging focus.
Ultra-lightweight and extremely compact digital cinematography cameras, as the SI:2K mini, are much smaller and lighter than mechanical film cameras. Other High-end digital cinema cameras can be quite large, and some models require bulky external recording mechanisms (though in some cases only a small strand of optical fiber is necessary to connect the camera and the recording mechanism).
Compact 35mm film cameras that produce the full 35mm film resolution and accept standard 35mm lenses cannot be sized down below a certain size and weight, as they require at least space for the film negative and basic mechanics.
Smaller form-factor digital cinema cameras such as the Red One and SI-2K have made digital more competitive in this respect. The SI-2K, in particular, with its detachable camera head, allows for high-quality images to be captured by a camera/lens package that is far smaller than is practically achievable with a 35mm film camera and is used in many scenarios to replace film - especially for stereoscopic productions.
The sensors in most high-end digital video cameras have less exposure latitude (dynamic range) than modern motion picture film stocks. In particular, they tend to 'blow out' highlights, losing detail in very bright parts of the image. If highlight detail is lost, it is impossible to recapture in post-production. Cinematographers can learn how to adjust for this type of response using techniques similar to those used when shooting on reversal film, which has a similar lack of latitude in the highlights. They can also use on-set monitoring and image analysis to ensure proper exposure. In some cases it may be necessary to 'flatten' a shot, or reduce the total contrast that appears in the shot, which may require more lighting to be used.
Many people also believe that highlights are less visually pleasing with digital acquisition, because digital sensors tend to 'clip' them very sharply, whereas film produces a 'softer' roll-off effect with over-bright regions of the image. Some more recent digital cinema cameras attempt to more closely emulate the way film handles highlights, though how well they achieve this is a matter of some dispute. A few cinematographers have started deliberately using the 'harsh' look of digital highlights for aesthetic purposes. One notable example of such use is Battlestar Galactica.
Digital acquisition typically offers better performance than film in low-light conditions, allowing less lighting and in some cases completely natural or practical lighting to be used for shooting, even indoors. This low-light sensitivity also tends to bring out shadow detail. Some directors have tried a "best for the job" approach, using digital acquisition for indoor or night shoots, and traditional film for daylight exteriors.
Substantive debate over the subject of film resolution vs. digital image resolution is clouded by the fact that it is difficult to meaningfully and objectively determine the resolution of either.
Unlike a digital sensor, a film frame does not have a regular grid of discrete pixels. Rather, it has an irregular pattern of differently sized grains. As a film frame is scanned at higher and higher resolutions, image detail is increasingly masked by grain, but it is difficult to determine at what point there is no more useful detail to extract. Moreover, different film stocks have widely varying ability to resolve detail.
Determining resolution in digital acquisition seems straightforward, but is significantly complicated by the way digital camera sensors work in the real world. This is particularly true in the case of high-end digital cinematography cameras that use a single large bayer pattern CMOS sensor. A bayer pattern sensor does not sample full RGB data at every point; each pixel is biased toward red, green or blue , and a full color image is assembled from this checkerboard of color by processing the image through a demosaicing algorithm. Generally with a bayer pattern sensor, actual resolution will fall somewhere between the "native" value and half this figure, with different demosaicing algorithms producing different results. Additionally, most digital cameras (both bayer and three-chip designs) employ optical low-pass filters to avoid aliasing. Such filters reduce resolution.
In general, it is widely accepted that film exceeds the resolution of HDTV formats and the 2K digital cinema format, but there is still significant debate about whether 4K digital acquisition can match the results achieved by scanning 35mm film at 4K, as well as whether 4K scanning actually extracts all the useful detail from 35mm film in the first place. However, as of 2007 the majority of films that use a digital intermediate are done at 2K because of the costs associated with working at higher resolutions. Additionally, 2K projection is chosen for almost all permanent digital cinema installations, often even when 4K projection is available.
One important thing to note is that the process of optical duplication, used to produce theatrical release prints for movies that originate both on film and digitally, causes significant loss of resolution. If a 35mm negative does capture more detail than 4K digital acquisition, ironically this may only be visible when a 35mm movie is scanned and projected on a 4K digital projector.
Film has a characteristic grain structure, which many people view positively, either for aesthetic reasons or because it has become associated with the look of 'real' movies. Different film stocks have different grain, and cinematographers may use this for artistic effect.
Digitally acquired footage lacks this grain structure. Electronic noise is sometimes visible in digitally acquired footage, particularly in dark areas of an image or when footage was shot in low lighting conditions and gain was used. Some people believe such noise is a workable aesthetic substitute for film grain, while others believe it has a harsher look that detracts from the image.
Well shot, well lit images from high-end digital cinematography cameras can look almost eerily clean. Some people believe this makes them look "plasticky" or computer generated, while others find it to be an interesting new look, and argue that film grain can be emulated in post-production if desired.
Since most theatrical exhibition still occurs via film prints, the super-clean look of digital acquisition is often lost before moviegoers get to see it, because of the grain in the film stock of the release print.
The process of using digital intermediate workflow, where movies are color graded digitally instead of via traditional photochemical finishing techniques, has become common, largely because of the greater artistic control it provides to filmmakers. In 2007, all of the 10 most successful movies released used the digital intermediate process.
In order to utilize digital intermediate workflow with film, the camera negative must be processed and then scanned. High quality film scanning is time consuming and expensive. With digital acquisition, this step can be skipped, and footage can go directly into a digital intermediate pipeline as digital data.
Some filmmakers have years of experience achieving their artistic vision using the techniques available in a traditional photochemical workflow, and prefer that finishing process. While it would be theoretically possible to use such a process with digital acquisition by creating a film negative on a film recorder, in general digital acquisition is not a suitable choice if a traditional finishing process is desired.
Films are traditionally shot with dual-system recording, where picture is recorded on camera, and sync sound is recorded to a separate sound recording device. Picture and sound are then synced up in post-production. In the past this was done manually by lining up the image of the just-closed clapper board sticks with their characteristic "Click!" on the sound recording. Nowadays this is normally done automatically using timecodes burnt onto the edge of the film emulsion.
Many cameras used for digital cinematography can record sound internally, already in sync with picture. In theory this eliminates the need for syncing in post, which can lead to faster workflows. However, most sound recording is done by specialist operators, and the sound will likely be separated and further processed in post-production anyway. Apart from this, software problems can cause unpredictable sound-picture timing probems which need to be corrected. Experienced operators often use old-fashioned clapper boards as well as timecode, as this can provide a valuable backup if the sound-sync gets lost.
Recording sound in-camera may also require running additional cables, which can be problematic in some shooting situations, particularly if the camera is moving. Wireless transmission systems can reduce these problems, but they are not suitable for use in all circumstances.
Many people feel there is significant value in having a film negative master for archival purposes. As long as the negative does not physically degrade, it will be possible to recover the image from it in the future, regardless of changes in technology. In contrast, even if digital data is stored on a medium that will preserve its integrity, changes in technology may render the format unreadable or expensive to recover over time. For this reason, film studios distributing digitally-originated films often make film-based separation masters of them for archival purposes.
For the last 25 years, many respected filmmakers like George Lucas have predicted that electronic or digital cinematography would bring about a revolution in filmmaking, by dramatically lowering costs.
For low-budget and so-called "no-budget" productions, digital cinematography on prosumer cameras clearly has cost benefits over shooting on 35mm or even 16mm film. The cost of film stock, processing, telecine, negative cutting, and titling for a feature film can run to tens of thousands of dollars according to From Reel to Deal, a book on independent film production by Dov S-S Simens. Costs directly attributable to shooting a low-budget feature on 35mm film could be $50,000 on the low side, and over twice that on the high side. In contrast, obtaining a high-definition prosumer camera and sufficient tape stock to shoot a feature can easily be done for under $10,000, or significantly less if, as is typically the case with 35mm shoots, the camera is rented.
If a 35mm print of the film is required, an April 2003 article in American Cinematographer found the costs between shooting film and video are roughly the same. The benefit to shooting video is that the cost of a film-out is only necessary should the film find a distributor to pick up the cost. When shooting film, the costs are upfront and cannot be deferred in such a manner. On the other hand, the same article found 16mm film to deliver better image quality in terms of resolution and dynamic range. Given the progress digital acquisition, film recording, and related technologies have seen in the last few years, it is unclear how relevant this article is today.
Most extremely low-budget movies never receive wide distribution, so the impact of low-budget video acquisition on the industry remains to be seen. It is possible that as a result of new distribution methods and the long tail effects they may bring into play, more such productions may find profitable distribution in the future. Traditional distributors may also begin to acquire more low-budget movies as better affordable digital acquisition eliminates the liability of low picture quality, and as they look for a means to escape the increasingly drastic "boom and bust" financial situation created by spending huge amounts of money on a relatively small number of very large movies, not all of which succeed.
Rick McCallum, a producer on Attack of the Clones, has commented that the production spent $16,000 for 220 hours of digital tape, where a comparable amount of film would have cost $1.8 million. However, this does not necessarily indicate the actual cost savings. The low incremental cost of shooting additional footage may encourage filmmakers to use far higher shooting ratios with digital. The lower shooting ratios typical with film may save time in editing, lowering post-production costs somewhat.
Shooting in digital requires a digital intermediate workflow, which is more expensive than a photochemical finish. However, a digital intermediate may be desirable even with film acquisition because of the creative possibilities it provides, or a film may have a large number of effects shots which would require digital processing anyway. Digital intermediate workflow is coming down in price, and is quickly becoming standard procedure for high-budget Hollywood movies.
Today, digital acquisition accounts for the vast majority of moving image acquisition, as most content for broadcast is shot on digital formats. Most movies destined for theatrical release are still shot on film, however, as are many dramatic TV series and some high-budget commercials. High-end digital cinematography cameras suitable for acquiring footage intended for theatrical release are on the market since 1999/2000, and have meanwhile gained widespread adoption.
Some notable high-profile directors that have shot with digital equipment include
Some of these directors are strong supporters of the change from film to digital, some of them declare that it depends on the particular movie.
Some directors have expressed an openness for either format, such as Jean-Jacques Annaud who used 35mm and HDCAM together for Two Brothers, or Quentin Tarantino, who, while he ended up shooting his contribution on film, expressed an interest in digital acquisition for Grindhouse
Lower-budget and limited-release movies have adopted digital cinematography at a somewhat faster pace, although some filmmakers still choose to shoot such productions on 16mm film, the traditional medium for that market segment.
As the digital intermediate process gains wider use, even for finishing movies shot on film, and as digital acquisition technology continues to improve, it seems likely digital cinematography will continue to gain wider acceptance.
Digital technology has eclipsed analog alternatives in many other content creation and distribution markets. On the content creation side, digital photo cameras significantly outsell film photo cameras, digital video tape formats like MiniDV have superseded analog tape formats, digital audio workstations have almost entirely replaced multi-track tape recorders, digital non-linear editing systems have displaced Moviola/Steenbeck equipment as the standard means of editing movies, and page layout software running on desktop computers has come to dominate the graphic design industry. On the distribution side, CDs have largely replaced LPs, DVDs have largely replaced VHS tapes, and digital cable systems are displacing analog cable systems. It seems likely that despite current resistance on the part of some in the industry, digital technology will eventually be similarly successful in the feature film acquisition and theatrical exhibition markets.
|The Argentine||Red One||2008|
|Balls of Fury||Panavision Genesis||2007|
|Before the Devil Knows You're Dead||Panavision Genesis||2007|
|Chemical Wedding||Thomson Viper||2008|
|Cloverfield||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2008||(segments, other shots include the Panasonic HVX-200, as well as the Thompson Viper)|
|Collateral||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2004||(exterior night scenes)|
|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button||Thomson Viper||2008|
|Genghis Khan||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2005|
|Get Smart||Panavision Genesis||2008|
|I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry||Panavision Genesis||2007|
|The Informant||Red One||2009|
|Jumper||Red One||2008||(some 2nd unit)|
|Me and You and Everyone We Know||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2005|
|Miami Vice||Thomson Viper||2006|
|Planet Terror||Panavision Genesis||2007|
|Reign Over Me||Panavision Genesis||2007|
|Sin City||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2005|
|Speed Racer||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2008|
|Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2002|
|Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2005|
|Superman Returns||Panavision Genesis||2006|
|Surviving Evil||Thomson Viper||21||Panavision Genesis||2008|
|Two Brothers||Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23)||2004||(tiger shots)|
|You Don't Mess With The Zohan||Panavision Genesis||2008|