Digital cinematography

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Digital cinematography is the process of capturing motion pictures as digital images, rather than on film. Digital capture may occur on tape, hard disks, flash memory, or other media which can record digital data. As digital technology has improved, this practice has become increasingly common. Many mainstream Hollywood movies now are shot partly or fully digitally. Many vendors have brought products to market, including traditional film camera vendors like Arri and Panavision, new vendors like RED and Silicon Imaging, and companies which have traditionally focused on consumer and broadcast video equipment, like Sony and Panasonic. The benefits and drawbacks of digital vs. film acquisition are still debated, but digital cinematography cameras sales have surpassed mechanical cameras in the classic 35mm format, and the Academy Award for best cinematography was awarded to a movie shot mainly digital in 2009.[citation needed]


[edit] History

Beginning in the late 1980s, Sony began marketing the concept of "electronic cinematography", utilizing its analog HDTV cameras. The effort was met with very little success. In 1998, with the introduction of HDCAM recorders and 1920 × 1080 pixel digital video cameras based on CCD technology, the idea, now re-branded as "digital cinematography", finally began to gain traction in the market.

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 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.

[edit] Technology

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.

[edit] Sensors

Digital cinematography cameras capture images using CMOS or CCD sensors, usually in one of two arrangements.

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.

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.

[edit] Acquisition Formats

As far as digital cinematography is concerned, video resolution standards depend first on the frames' aspect ratio in the film stock (which is usually scanned for digital intermediate post-production) and then on the actual points' count. Although there is not a unique set of standardized sizes, it is common place within motion picture industry to refer to "nK" image "quality", where n is a (small, usually even) integer number which translates into a set of actual resolutions, depending on the film format. As a reference consider that, for a 4:3 (around 1.33) aspect ratio which a film frame (no matter what is its format) is expected to horizontally fit in, n is the multiplier of 1024 such that the horizontal resolution is exactly 1024n points. For example, 2K reference resolution is 2048×1536 pixels, whereas 4K reference resolution is 4096×3072 pixels. Nevertheless, 2K may also refer to resolutions like 2048×1556, 2048×1080 or 2048×858 pixels, whereas 4K may also refer to 4096×3112, 3996×2160 or 4096×2048 pixels.

The DCI standard for cinema defines 4K with 4096*2048 and 2K with 2048*1024.

Commercial cameras marketed as digital cinematography cameras typically shoot in progressive HDTV formats such as 1080p, 2K and 4K.

To date, 1080p has been the most common format for digitally acquired major motion pictures, since 2008 2K and 4K however are gaining market share.

[edit] Data Storage

[edit] Tape vs. Data-Centric

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.

[edit] Compression

Digital cinema cameras are capable of generating extremely large amounts of data; often hundreds of megabytes per second[1].To help manage this huge data flow, many cameras or recording devices designed to be used in conjunction with them offer compression. Prosumer cameras typically use high compression ratios in conjunction with chroma subsampling. While this allows footage to be comfortably handled even on fairly modest personal computers, the convenience comes at the expense of image quality.

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.

[edit] Lossless vs. lossy compression

A lossless compression system is capable of reducing the size of digital data in a fully reversible way -- that is, in a way that allows the original data to be completely restored, byte for byte. This is done by removing redundant information from a signal. Digital cinema cameras rarely use only lossless compression methods, because much higher compression ratios (lower data rates) can be achieved with lossy compression. With a lossy compression scheme, information is discarded to create a simpler signal. Due to limitations in human visual perception, it is possible to design algorithms which do this with little visual impact.

[edit] Chroma subsampling

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. High quality digital cinematography systems are capable of recording full resolution color data (4:4:4) or raw sensor data.

[edit] Bitrate

Video and audio compression systems are often characterized by their bitrates. Bitrate describes how much data is required to represent one second of media. One cannot directly use bitrate as a measure of quality, because different compression algorithms perform differently. A more advanced compression algorithm at a lower bitrate may deliver the same quality as a less advanced algorithm at a higher bitrate.

[edit] Intra- vs. Inter-frame compression

Most compression systems used for acquisition in the digital cinematography world compress footage one frame at a time, as if a video stream is a series of still images. This is called intra-frame compression scheme. Inter frame compression systems can further compress data by examining and eliminating redundancy between frames. This leads to higher compression ratios, but displaying a single frame will usually require the playback system to decompress a number of frames from before & after it. In normal playback this is not a problem, as each successive frame is played in order, so the preceding frames have already been decompressed. In editing, however, it is common to jump around to specific frames and to play footage backwards or at different speeds. Because of the need to decompress extra frames in these situations, inter-frame compression can cause performance problems for editing systems. Inter-frame compression is also disadvantageous because the loss of a single frame (say, due to a flaw writing data to a tape) will typically ruin all the frames until the next keyframe occurs. In the case of the HDV format, for instance, this may result in as many as 6 frames being lost with 720p recording, or 15 with 1080i recording[2]. An inter-frame compressed video stream consists of group of pictures (GOPs), which has only one full frame, and a handful of other frames referring to this frame. If the full frame, called I-frame, is lost due to transmission or media error, none of the P-frames of B-frames (the referenced images) can be displayed. In this case, the whole GOP is lost. The length of the GOP depends mainly on the compression ratio. Long-GOP sequences are hard to edit - one can cut only at the end of GOPs. For all these reasons the video streams manipulated during a digital intermediate process are not usually stored as few (possibly one) long video file(s), but rather in one or more file sequences, where each one stores a still frame, ordered by either timecode, keycode or simple frame order. In such a case, audio data is stored in separate streams (and files), and synced with video files with timestamps at the head of the audio and video files (similarly to timecode sync).

[edit] Digital acquisition codecs compared

Format Bit depth Resolution Chroma sampling Bitrate File size Inter-frame? Algorithm type
DV 8 bit 720×480 (NTSC) / 720×576 (PAL) 4:1:1 or 4:2:0 25 Mbit/s 217 MB/min. No DCT (lossy)
DVCPRO50 8 bit 720×480 (NTSC) / 720×576 (PAL) 4:2:2 50 Mbit/s 423 MB/m. No DCT (lossy)
DVCPRO HD 8 bit 960×720, 1280×1080 or 1440×1080 4:2:2 100 Mbit/s 423 MB/m. (720p60) 835 MB/m. (1080i60) 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 142 MB/m. (720p) 190 MB/m. (1080i) Yes DCT (lossy)
XDCAM HD422 8 bit 1280x720, 1920×1080 4:2:2 50 Mbit/s Yes DCT (lossy)
XDCAM EX 8 bit 1280x720, 1920×1080, 1440×1080 4:2:0 25-35 Mbit/s 190 MB/m. (25Mbit/s) 262 MB/m. (35Mbit/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)
Panavision SSR 10 bit PanaLog 1920×1080 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 Up to 3 Gbit/s No N/A (lossless)
CineForm RAW (SI-2K) 10 bit Log 2048×1152 Raw Bayer 100-140 Mbit/s 900 MB/m. No Wavelet (lossy)
REDCODE RAW 12 bit 4096×2304 Raw Bayer 220 Mbit/s 1.87Gbit/s (RC28) 2.14Gbit/s (RC36) No Wavelet (lossy)
"DALSA" RAW 16 bit 4096×2048 Raw Bayer ~ 3.2 Gbit/s No Uncompressed

[edit] Distribution Formats

Movies shot digitally may be released theatrically, on DVD or in a High Definition format like Blu-Ray.

[edit] Digital Theatrical Distribution

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.

In the UK 300 cinema screens were converted to digital projectors as part of a UK film council initiative, the Digital scren network (DSN) to advance digital theatrical distribution in the UK funded by National lottery money. The first film to be screened digitally on the DSN was King's Game, a Danish film.

[edit] Film-based Theatrical Distribution

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.

[edit] Digital cinematography cameras

Professional cameras include the Sony HDCAM Series, RED One, Panavisions Genesis, SI-2K, Thomson Viper, Vision Research Phantom, Weisscam, GS Vitec noX, and the Fusion Camera System. Independent filmmakers have also pressed low-cost consumer and prosumer cameras into service for digital filmmaking.

[edit] Digital vs. film cinematography

[edit] Technical Considerations

[edit] Predictability

When shooting on film, response to light is determined by what film stock is chosen. A cinematographer can choose a film stock he or she is familiar with, and expose film on set with a high degree of confidence about how it will turn out. Because the film stock is the main determining factor, results will be substantially similar regardless of what camera model is being used. However, the final result cannot be controlled when shooting with mechanical cameras until the film negative has been processed at a laboratory. Therefore, damage to the film negative, scratches which are generated by faulty camera mechanics etc can not be controlled.

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.

[edit] Portability

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.

[edit] Dynamic Range

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.

[edit] Resolution

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[3], 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.

[edit] Grain & Noise

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.

[edit] Digital Intermediate Workflow

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 first be processed and then scanned to a digital format. High quality film scanning is expensive (up to $4 a frame, although the costs of this are continually dropping). It also cannot normally be done in real time, although in practice this does not greatly add to the total processing time. With digital acquisition, the scanning step is not necessary; and footage can go directly into a digital intermediate pipeline as digital data. In practice, this applies to the 1080P streams of Sony HDCAM and HDCAM SR cameras, Arris D21 in video Mode, Panavisions Genesis system with HDCAM SR and to any realtime-recorder. With RAW-basing workflows using cameras such as the RED One, the SI 2K which record RAW data, the debayering process can be realtime, faster than realtime or take longer than traditional photochemical developing followed by scanning, depending on the hardware and quality used.

Some filmmakers have years of experience achieving their artistic vision using the techniques available in a traditional photochemical workflow, and prefer that finishing/editing 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. The classic chemical & mechanical workflow however has become the minority of hollywood productions, and digital intermediate meanwhile became the new standard process.

[edit] Sound

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.

Practically every camera 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 problems or even complete loss of sound recording which need to be corrected.

Because of this, experienced operators often use old-fashioned clapper boards as well as timecode, (often with the timecode generator built into the clapper/slate assembly) as this can provide a valuable backup if the sound-sync gets lost. (This is regularly seen in the "making of" segments at the end of each episode of the most recent Dr Who series).

However, a lot of television oriented productions still record sound only on the camera, usually with some kind of wired or wireless monitoring feedback to the sound recordists.

Recording sound in-camera will also require running additional cables if overhead microphones are used, 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.

[edit] Archiving

Many people feel there is significant value in having a film negative master for archival purposes. There are after all numerous extant examples of original 19th century film footage which were manufactured under primitive conditions, with no consideration given to archival value, but whose original images are still clearly visible and recoverable with relatively simple equipment. As long as the negative does not completely degrade, it will always be possible to recover the images from it in the future, regardless of changes in technology, since all that will be involved is simple photographic reproduction. In contrast, even if digital data is stored on a medium that will preserve its integrity, highly specialized digital equipment will always be required to reproduce it. Changes in technology may thus 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.

[edit] Economics

[edit] Low-budget / Independent Filmmaking

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.

[edit] Hollywood

On higher budget productions, the direct cost advantages of digital cinematography are not as significant in relation to the total budget, primarily because the costs imposed by working with film are not the only major expenses for such productions.

Other factors, such as improved speed, security and the ability to connect to the postproduction already while shooting are also important factors which often play a role when A-budgets are shot digitally and not mechanically. Skipping developing the negative, linking live via satellite or data networks, on set backups of the shots and immediate availability of high-quality dailies on blu-ray, hdcam or file-base have become commonplavce for many directors and Directors of Photography.

Recent films, such as Sin City and Superman Returns, both shot on digital tape, had budgets of $40 million and close to $200 million respectively. The cost savings, probably in the range of several hundred thousand to over a million dollars, are not negligible for today's producers.

The mentioned security and speed advantages are an important reason to shoot digitally for many producers. The ability to check expensive shots at once on set, the possibility to backup and copy shots lossless directly at the set, the immediate transfer to postproduction as well as remote viewing by directors allow massive cost- and timesavings and reduce risks.

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. With disk-basing systems as the Red one or the SI 2K, the cost would be even lower, and exact backups can be stored at different locations on different media as well. However, this does not necessarily indicate the actual cost savings percentage, as the very low incremental cost of shooting additional footage may encourage filmmakers to use far higher shooting ratios with digital. Lower shooting ratios, no matter if with mechanical or digital cameras, may save time in editing, or may make the team miss interesting shots.

[edit] Industry acceptance of digital cinematography

In 2009, the Academy Award for best cinematography was awarded for a film mainly shot digitally, Slumdog Millionaire. Another nominee, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, was also shot digitally.

It was different in the last century, virtually all movies have been shot on film then and nearly every film student learned about how to handle 16mm and 35mm film. Today, digital acquisition accounts for the vast majority of moving image acquisition, as most content for broadcast is shot on digital formats.

The majority of movies destined for theatrical release are still shot on film. However, digital cinematography gains more marketshare every year while mechanical cameras lose marketshare every year.

Digital cinematography cameras suitable for acquiring footage intended for theatrical release are on the market since 1999/2000, have meanwhile gained widespread adoption, and in 2008 for the first time, more digital 35mm cinematography cameras have been sold and delivered than the classic mechanical ones, and in 2009 for the first time received the Academy Award for best cinematography.

Some notable high-profile directors and producers that have shot with digital equipment include

Others artists, who didn't shoot their movies digital so far, are using digital cinematography as producers, such as Ridley Scott for his 2007 series "The company", which was shot on Arri D-20. [4]

Some directors have expressed an openness for either format, such as Jean-Jacques Annaud who used 35mm and HDCAM together for Two Brothers [5], or Quentin Tarantino, who, while he ended up shooting his contribution on film, expressed an interest in digital acquisition for Grindhouse [6].

Directors Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, M. Night Shyamalan, Oliver Stone and Paul Thomas Anderson belong to the opposing camp, and have vowed to continue to shoot on film[citation needed].

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 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.

[edit] List of major films shot in digital

In the last decade a large number of films have been shot digitally. Some of them are independent, low-budget productions, while others are major Hollywood- and Europe-based productions.

Title Camera type Year Notes
Naan Kadavul - Tamil[7] Red One 2009
Apocalypto Panavision Genesis 2006
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
Click Panavision Genesis 2006
Cloverfield Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23) 2008 (segments, other shots include the Panasonic HVX-200, as well as the Thompson Viper)
Collateral Thomson Viper 2004 (only for exterior night scenes)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Thomson Viper 2008
Deception Panavision Genesis 2008
Flyboys Panavision Genesis 2006
Game Red One 2008
Genghis Khan Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23) 2005
Get Smart Panavision Genesis 2008
Guerrilla Red One 2008
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Panavision Genesis 2007
If Panasonic SDX-900
Impressionists Panasonic SDX-900
The Informant Red One 2009
Inland Empire Sony DSR-PD150 2006
Jumper Red One 2008 (some 2nd unit)
Knowing Red One 2008
Me and You and Everyone We Know Sony HDCAM/cinealta (750/900/F23) 2005
Miami Vice Thomson Viper 2006
Next Panavision Genesis 2007
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
Zodiac Thomson Viper 2007
Postcards from the future (doc.) Dalsa Origin 2003
Quantum of Solace Dalsa Origin 2008 (SFX shots)

[edit] See also

[edit] References

Bala's Naan Kadavul first Indian DI film [8]

[edit] External links

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