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Filmmaking: Film Vs. Digital

The film (8mm, 16mm, 35mm, 65mm, 70mm) format is acknowledged as the Best Format in Capturing Motion Picture Images; The Digital Format is a Less Expensive Way to Produce a Motion Picture Project

Undoubtedly, shooting on film is still acknowledged as the best format in capturing motion picture images. Yet, the digital format continues to develop in order to reach, or sooner or later, attempt to finally beat the quality and resolution offered by the film format in any kind of movie production.

The main advantage of the digital format is that it’s a cost-effective option for any production with a conservative budget. From the workflow to the financial requirements, shooting digitally is an ideal route for independent film projects and just about any production on a tight budget.
Shooting on Film Format

Shooting on film has more than a century of continued patronage from both filmmakers and film audiences. While considerably expensive, this format is the most reliable in terms of capturing the best picture quality for any type of film work.

The use of a film negative in a motion-picture production is comparable with the process employed in still photography. For a still picture shot with an old camera using a 35mm film negative, even the cheapest still camera available provides a relatively good picture quality which can be readily blown up to 10 inches more (or even bigger) from the typical 3R-size (3×5 inches) photo, without any alarming issue on picture quality. Blowing up a photo using the original negative allows this without having to compensate on the usual problem in digital photography: pixiliation.

When using a digital camera, instead of using very small film grains (standard to any type of film negative and any film camera used, regardless of using professional or consumer resources), the digital image is stored in pixels. These pixels are very small squares. Depending on the quality of a captured digital image, once the pixels reach their maximum blow-up size, the edges from these small squares start to show. This same concept in still photography applies to a motion picture work.

A film grain is circular. Even when blown up into very large prints, the grains still render well without the annoying pixels coming from the digital format. When shooting digitally, the digital format’s maximum blow-up size is still inferior with that of film.

Shooting on Digital Format

For a digital film, the footage is either shot using standard definition (SD) or high definition (HD) format.

Before the HD format has become widely used more than a decade ago, the term “digital film” referred to any production that originated from a non-film source. This means that the film was shot using any professional or consumer-type video cameras, instead of using a film camera and a film negative (in 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, or 65mm format).

With the birth of HD, the term “digital film” more often referred to a production shot in HD format. Along with this technology came the new commercial and independent movie theaters specifically catering to digital films using HD projectors. Such type of cinema is called the “digital cinema” (or digital theater). The primary difference of a digital cinema with that of a regular movie theater is that the digital cinema’s source material is not the standard 35mm film print, but a digital file in HD format. Instead of projecting the movie using a 35mm film projector, an HD projector is used to show the movie on the big screen.

Technical Comparison: Film Vs. Digital

Since the film format uses an organic process, while the HD format uses a digital process, the only way to make a technical comparison between the two is to convert the other one’s values into the same format as the other. Unlike the digital format, the film format can readily be converted into digital values.

When shooting on film, digitally scanning it for post-production work offers a resolution approximated to be 4K pixels per line. This means a full scan resolution of 4096 pixels by 3072 lines when a film negative is scanned or digitized into digital images.

When shooting on HD, the technical values referring to its resolution may either be 1280×720 pixels (720p) or 1920×1080 pixels (1080i/1080p). Here, the “i” refers to interlaced while the “p” refers to progressive.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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