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April 12, 2011 / GreenMan

Has Digital Killed Film?

“35mm Film will ALWAYS be better quality than digital video…”

…Or so the old-school filmmakers say. But is this true?

Well folks, let me tell you that at the end of the day, it comes down to the artist that determines the quality of the finished product, not necessarily the equipment. Let me explain. You may have heard of  HD video being described at 1080i and have just thought, “Oh yeah, that’s high quality.” But what does that mean? 1080 is the number of “scan lines” that are used measure resolution in photographic images. “But what about pixels?” you ask. believe it or not, pixels are not the way to measure resolution in film or video. This is because we literally cannot see individual pixels beyond a short distance. But we can see lines, thus manufacturers are now using lines as a basis of comparing resolution between video images. They call it Modulation Transfer Function, or MTF.

Ok, so we are using lines now, not pixels. Following? Good. Now for the fun part. A few years ago, a brilliant international study was done comparing 35mm film with HD 1080i video images with actual theater audiences. The results were pretty interesting. The average number of “lines” that people could determine were 750. That means that at this point, audiences will typically be unable to determine the difference between film and high def digital video. Now that in no way means there is no difference between the two. If you take it further, yes, you will find differences between the look of 35mm and digital video. But at the end of the day, we are making movies to entertain audiences, not for scientific research. Here’s another thing to think about. This study compared film to standard HD which is 1080 lines of resolution. We now have digital cameras that shoot in 4,520 lines of resolution. Whoa!

Not only are digital cameras starting to rival film, but the editing software is getting so advanced that it is now possible to make your digital video and photos look as though they were shot using film, with just a couple clicks of the mouse. Using Photoshop CS5 is like adding a touch of black magic to your digital photos. It really is incredible what can be done with filters, clone tools, masking, etc. It is no wonder why magazines and newspapers have switched to digital photography. Not only is it much less expensive, but you can manipulate your photos like you never could before. And as for video, well, with greenscreen technology and programs like Adobe After Effects, you can practically create blockbuster films in your garage! Movie making is more accessible now than it ever has been. Anyone can pick up a digital camera and make magic. You don’t even need to create your own sets or use explosives on set. With special effects add-ons and virtual reality sets, the possibilities are endless. Anyone can get professional looking photos and videos if you just have the right editing tools, not necessarily the most expensive camera.

So again, like many other things in this industry, a lot comes down to personal preference and budget. Many people swear that film will always look nicer than digital, but can you tell the difference? In my opinion, there is no need to break the bank on film when you can work with digital and still get professional results.



PS If you would like more information on the study “Image Resolution of 35mm Film in Theatrical Presentation” mentioned in this blog, click here.

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