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How digital filmmaking differs from shooting with celluloid

Digital filmmaking offers a variety of options for accessible and practical workflows.

You don’t need to buy expensive rolls of film that would typically cost hundreds of dollars. You don’t need to go to a film laboratory to produce the footage from the exposed negatives.

The digital format allows you to shoot the scene, then edit it using any amateur or professional video-editing program. Yet, film stock is still widely used in many professional productions. This clearly shows how valuable this analog format is to the industry, even at this time and age of the “digital revolution.”

Main Difference

A digital camera uses its sensor to create and process an image. This becomes a file stored in the camera’s internal memory or an external memory, like an SD card or a camera hard drive. The scene you shoot is instantly recorded then ready for playback right after. As long as your camera has a calibrated LCD screen or you have a calibrated external viewing monitor connected to the camera, you can immediately see exactly how the footage looks.

A film camera uses a combination of mechanical and organic processes to produce images. Your shot is stored in the film negative. However, you don’t see the final footage right away. This is because the film format follows the “old school” process, which is also used in film photography. After shooting a series of images to fully use up the entire roll of film, you need to bring it to a laboratory or your own dark room for processing. The developed negative is used to produce the final prints.

When shooting on film, it is actually possible to have guide footage to view after shooting. You can do this by connecting the camera to an external monitor, often referred to as “video assist.” This helps in reviewing the shot, but its image attributes are not the same as the final footage; the video on the monitor only comes from the camera’s viewfinder.

Shooting in Digital Format

The digital format becomes a more feasible option for amateur filmmakers because many consumer digital cameras generally have simpler operational requirements. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the technical knowledge needed to make a professional-looking work is not within the caliber of what the format requires.

This becomes more apparent when operating digital cinema cameras — the professional cameras used in independent films with decent budgets and low-budget commercial productions. Operating this equipment requires thorough technical skills to understand the different buttons and features.

Essentially, what makes the digital format largely accessible to a wider range of filmmakers is its variety of camera and digital video format choices. Some can easily be used by first-timers. Others require in-depth technical knowledge and production experience to operate them properly.

Shooting on Film Format

Using film stock requires professional knowledge and technical skills in cinematography. Regardless of the actual camera or stock used, the production process generally remains the same. Shooting on film actually makes it “conceptually easy” to acquire the footage you need because of film’s wide dynamic range to produce topnotch details and exposure for a shot.

However, lighting scenes to achieve your intended look still requires technical skills that mainly involve the use of a light meter.

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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