Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Spring declaration of the Death of Film

For an assessment of my research, please see the blog entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. Another set of ideas I've been working on, in terms of how colour is represented can be found at: The Concept of Colour Space from the practitioners Standpoint. You can find other papers of mine at:

A few weeks back, with the advent of the Alexa from Arriflex and the new sensor from Red, Marc Weigert an Emmy award winning visual effects designer declared on Friday, March 5, 2010 at 11:03 am in an article on the Film Animation World Network that:

2010 is the year that celluloid Died

For a week or so there was opprobrium expressed in abundance on the Cinematographers Mailing List: “obviously this man doesn’t know what he’s talking about” - others said “let him off the hook, he’s just being enthusiastic” others said - “maybe he’s got a point”.

Well, the cat was out of the bag. A few weeks later an article by Alan Brandon on gizmag (17 the March) asked:

Will the Arri Alexa finally kill film?

The point here is that the conversation’s on. The truth is film will never die or go away - people still chalk images on rock, so by the same token, film is here to stay.

The step-change with the Arri Alexa is that the ideas proposed by many cinematographers concerning getting a full image form a digital camera by shooting two frames one with low exposure one with high exposure - then combining the low lights and the highlights of both so that the final combined frame benefits from both exposures - must mean that the latitude given in the pho-chemical medium of film is surpassed.

However, one rule of electronics is that supposed gains always produced un-supposed drawbacks and we wait to see what the downsides of the new innovation produces.

There’s another issue too: over-exposed film highlights were beautiful whereas over-exposed digital highlights (for various technical reasons) were not. So by cutting out over-exposure digital capture will at least not be ugly in that area. But the hidden loss is the potential absence of one of the colours from the cinematographers palette.

Well - of course until we all get our hands on the cameras and do some work in earnest the jury will have to remain out on this.

One by-product of dealing with so much data is that the Alexa is limited to 2K - therefore notionally good enough to rival the resolution of film’s 6k (I quote the necessary scanning figure for good transfer), baring in mind that by the time you get to a release print with film in the cinema you see what approximates down to 1k (because of the degradation of the various processes film has to go through), and of course HD 1920 or 2k acquisition (2048) screens at 2k - therefore twice the resolution of standard film projection.

The Red shoots at a notional 4k (3.2 if your lenses are good enough) and the unspoken problem in data management is Modular Transfer Function: each bit in the chain of data has a quality level - whatever the lowest quality in the chain is is the MTF of the data. Often, 4k can be below 2k...

The Alexa sensor is running 2 x 2k frames for every red 4k frame - effectively half the amount of data - so if as Panasonic often shout from the rooftops that measuring resolution and anything else come to that, is dependent on the quality of the chain - you better know what the weaknesses of the chain are.

Incidentally - Red can run 120fps at 2k and the Alexa will run 60fps at 2k - that’s the same amount of data.


The point of all of this is that technology is following the aspirations of the DP’s (finally) and we have a good chance in the Alexa of putting out some images comparable to film.

The image below is a description of Modular Transfer Function