Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital

Published 4 years ago by

The Assassination of Jesse James Roger Deakins Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital

One of Deakins' best moments captured with a film camera - The Assassination of Jesse James

Film possesses a certain texture that is unrivaled by digital cameras. A talented editor or colorist can easily manipulate digital footage to look more like film, but this seems contradictory in nature. Do we alter digital footage this way because audiences are still not ready to see the true power of digital? It is possible. It seems more likely that those in charge of financing and distributing movies are not prepared to risk their investments on technology that they themselves are not ready to embrace entirely. But the look of a product on film is ingrained in our collective vision to the point that we don’t notice it until we see something different.

Many audiences today argue that a crisp image without the grain associated with film is better-looking. Audiences evolve just as fast as the technology presented to them. But a large contingent of those moviegoers still want the classic look, regardless of the content of the film itself. That audience won’t be going away for awhile yet – and neither will the classic film look.

The most important difference between film and digital might be seen on set. Film reels run out of film. Digital cards run out of space. But when a reel runs out, it is done forever. When a card runs out, it can be dumped and re-used rather quickly. This pushes production along financially in a number of ways.

127 Hours cameras Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital

Small cameras in tight spaces on the set of 127 Hours

127 Hours benefited from shooting digitally in a scene when James Franco re-enacts Aron Ralston’s exhausting attempts to escape from being trapped by a boulder. Instead of shooting multiple takes with different efforts, director Danny Boyle kept the camera running for over an hour, allowing the real emotions of Franco’s own personality, coupled with his performance as Ralston, shine through in a more genuine fashion. The Social Network used the highly coveted RED camera to get not only a contemporary look, but provide director David Fincher ample opportunity to get multiple takes – something he is dubious for.

No matter how efficient digital filmmaking becomes, there will always be a huge contingent of filmmakers who prefer the “old-fashioned way.” To supplement that, the movie theater business has yet to fully conform to digital projectors. Many theaters have at least one or two projectors that can present certain films in the format, but generally studios transfer even digital movies onto film reels to play at movie theaters. Needless to say, the movie theaters are the wild card during this transitional period in the industry.

As those at the top of the industry make the move to digital or give 3D filmmaking a try, the evolution of digital will continue. Martin Scorsese, currently filming Hugo Cabret, is amongst those at the top of the game who are currently giving 3D and digital a try. Those who hope for future movies shot on classic film can rest assured that some filmmakers will fight the revolution – like Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan.

How do you feel about this transitional period in the industry? Can you tell the difference when watching digital versus film? Do you care? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Source: /Film (Roger Deakins interview)

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  1. I don’t really care… but Christopher Nolan are really great, really really great. It is really well film… If he doesn’l like film, and i like his movie then i might share the thing as him.

    • No, Chris Nolan loves film and uses it. The article is saying that he’ll be ‘fighting in the revolution’ meaning he’ll be fighting against digital.

  2. Watching the BAFTA’s everything is mentioned as Film the medium us of a older generation equate with the iconic multple rays of light that is transmitted from projector to screen. I’m not sure if this happens with digital. The title “FILM” I feel should not be exploited when digital is used.A film cannot be erased It can only be destroyed. I feel it is not ethical to call a MOVIE ( What a ghastly terminology) a FILM when its made up of invisible electrons. In stead of pretending. If you have made a tape TELL the truth. Dont call it a FILM

  3. gjjgf

  4. This was an excite to read. I love filmmaking. To me, digital will never replace film in my heart. Even though, I love digital photography, You can appreciate the efforts and strains of film. Everyone loves new. I listen to what’s new on the radio every day, but I never get tired of having some Roger Waters inside me. (keep it civil, guys) Like said here, we won’t be going away, yet. I may not be an old hip guy, as I’m merely twenty, but I can understand and appreciate all of what film has given. As properly stated, digital has its immense benefits with production and working hours, but film possesses a certain texture that is unrivaled.


  5. Just work on story and visual art, what ever the medium. It’s a bit like caring whether a painting was water color or oil. Does it make you feel something and can it hold you in the story? Good art comes in all forms and I hope people with work in every medium. I think I’m going to throw in an eight-track now. I loved those things.

    • i think you mean comparing a traditional painting to a digital artwork, and yes, there is a big difference.

  6. I prefer both digital and film. Digital movies are more efficient and not as costly as film reels, but at the same time, audiences lose the feel of what a movie was like, we cannot let that happen. People need to watch classic movies. They need to know how film came about and how it can be improved in the future. I like film more than digital because I like the authenticity and the effort of the cast and crew, and I tend to feel more involved in a movie. I don’t know why, but I appreciate the reality of film, because it keeps the essence of filmmaking alive. I like digital filmmaking, however, because of its “crystal clear” picture, but digital should not be used for all films. Films that involve special effects and other qualities should have digital film. I also like the way digital can look like film, but it just doesn’t feel right. Film is film and digital is digital, period. People cannot let film die as an art form. Digital should not take over film. People should use what they want, and no one should tell others what to do. I personally think that some movie theaters should keep film projectors, just to keep the originality and essence of film alive for future generations.

  7. Film still looks better than digital.

  8. I`m using nikon d600 35mm Digital I`m very happy about the image quality but still love film and the process of doing thinks to the final result in the paper.

  9. Digital is not always crisp, it grains out in certain conditions too – and there are subtle ways light is captured in film – the technology hasn’t completely succeeded.
    If you work in photography a lot and you edit your images for hours you see very dramatic times where film or digital come out on top, or let you down. Even with the best plugins and software people aren’t “designers” to the point where they know everything there is to know about colour, mood … if that was true every cameraman might be some kind of artist genius just because they learn a few simple principles.
    I hope that digital age people discover film and film age people discover digital – and that both sides improve. One way i can see this happening is that, since most digital cameras are still “emulation” of film photo or cinema cameras … even the way they grain, create noise is being improved to look more “filmic”.
    Film itself – if there were more demand, would have a lot of R&D to apply new chemistry and that could create exceptional new film looks – and really whatever helps people learn and vision things, and achieve that vision is enriched by having both.

  10. All have the different characters, though the digital cameras can produce a clear image, and practical to use, but the traditional cameras usually have a unique character that can not be obtained by a digital camera..

  11. The cost differential between film and digital, from filming to distribution, is not being passed on, or even discussed, by the industry. Ticket prices continue to rise, as the costs of filming and distribution go down. Not related to the quality of the image on screen, but will this ever be discussed, for the benefit of the consumer?

  12. f*** this

    • * thumbs up *

  13. lolololololololololololololololololololo :’)

  14. So erm… what are the benefits of film?
    That grainy effect? Is that it? Or is there more benefits that were left out of this article?