Brighton Film School’s Technician, Richard Knights, explores which reigns as number one in filmmaking…

My role at the film school is to maintain all the cameras, lights, sound and grip equipment. I also run advanced camera workshops on the Panavision Genesis, RED ONE, Arriflex Sr3 (super 16) and our Arriflex Mark III (35mm).

We have many film and digital cameras at Brighton Film School and I enjoy spending my time with the film cameras because it’s so hands-on. The first time I loaded fresh roll of film into the magazine I felt like a heart surgeon. I could have accidently fogged the entire roll but I managed to load it successfully and my hands were shaking with absolute delight that I managed to load the magazine without hitch.

The visual look of film is incredible. I remember when we got our first HD TV at my house and Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was on BBC HD. I was completely mesmerised by the picture. The sharpness and the colour felt so natural and lifelike with this 3-Dimentional effect that brought the picture to life.

In contrast to this, I believe the results are different with films that are shot on digital cameras. The image looks rather plastic with sharp edges that are unflattering and a lot of the time the colours look sludgy. I think colour grading can be a crucial factor in this especially with period dramas. The look doesn’t visually relate to the story or the environment. I end up feeling detached from the story as everything feels bland and unrelatable.

Shot on Film:

Shot on Film
Shot on Film

Shot on Digital:

Shot on Digital
Shot on Digital

Film has more resolution than any modern digital camera today. 35mm is standard 6K and if you shoot on anamorphic lenses that will increase the resolution between 8k – 12k.
IMAX Film is 18K and is filmed with IMAX cameras that run the film through horizontally, which uses more of the negative area than standard 65mm. The larger the negative the larger the resolution.

Directors Chris Nolan and Quentin Tarantino know the power of Motion Picture film and like to enjoy shooting on large format 65mm so that their audience will be blown away with the experience of watching their film on a IMAX screen.

Unfortunately, cinemas have removed there 35mm film projectors and have changed to 2K digital projection. I ask myself, why couldn’t they have film and digital side by side and both ready and available to use on certain performances? Ticket prices have not been reduced since the change either, especially as their prices were justified before with 35mm film as the cinema would have to pay £1000 for the film print.

 

Common misconception of film

Many people believe that if you shoot on film you won’t be able to have CGI in the film because it’s being shot on analogue. This is not the case. Once the film has been sent off to the laboratory, it will be developed and will go through telecine (negative scan) where you will have a High Resolution digital file. This is how the animation studios get to work. Star Wars VII was shot on 35mm and filmed their actors live using Motion capture.

Another misconception is that film is noisy and that it would interrupt the sound department during the actor’s dialog. This is certainly not the case. Many film cameras are silent, even if you rest your ear against the side of the camera you will need to listen very carefully to be able to hear it. This is known as a Sound Sync camera. The only cameras that are noisy are special effects cameras that can shoot at High Frame Rates (slow-motion) at 120fps and even up to 2500fps (frames per second).

 

Pros with Film

• Superior Resolution and allows you to redistribute again in HD, 4K, 6K etc.
• No compromise to image quality, especially running at high frame rates
• Not having to keep up-to-date with the latest Codec or colour compression
• The cameras don’t breakdown in extreme weather conditions
• Renting the camera equipment is usually cheaper compared to digital
• Archival storage has been proven to last over 100 years
• Stunning images that look even better when viewed at 4K
• (HDR) High Dynamic Range 14+ Stops
• No complex menus
• Film see’s like the human eye with accurate, true to life colours and warm realistic skin tones
• Colour grading is minimal in post-production helping to keep costs down.
• Increased concentration & discipline from the crew while shooting on film.
• Film is very economical on batteries
• The camera doesn’t need to be switched on to look through the optics and so it saves battery.

Cons with film

• Upfront cost of film and to develop
• No instant playback
• ‘Hair in the gate’: when a slither of film gets caught in the gate and it appears as a hair in the edge of a frame
• Scratches on the film: film nowadays usually has an additional layer to prevent film scratches
• Accidentally exposed while loading.

 

Pros with digital

• (HDR) High Dynamic Range 14+ stops
• High ISO: modern digital cameras can see exceptionally well in low light
• Instant Playback
• You can colour grade the work live during the shoot
• On board microphone allows for easier syncing in post-production.

Cons with digital

• Batteries run down quickly
• The camera must be switched on to be able to look at your frame (shortens battery life)
• Many complex menus
• Can have a plastic look and unflattering sharp edges
• Colour feels compressed
• Shooting high frame rate usually reduces the resolution of the image to get to such high speeds
• Archiving requires on-going spending.

 

In conclusion, it appears obvious that Film is the clear winner for me. While digital is growing and redefining itself to keep on top of the competition, I still think that Film is top form and I have no intention at turning my back on it. I used to think that digital was the future when I was a filmmaking student because 4K RAW was the new option back then. But now I can easily see that Film is the future, especially as Kodak is now investing in film laboratories and 65mm developing and processing in their two main laboratories in London.