It’s been awhile since we’ve had our little chat on film versus digital and why I think that it ultimately does not matter, so long as the artist is satisfied with the results of either. But I figured it was important that I further elaborated on some of the things that I had mentioned in that previous installment and what they mean in the long run for filmmakers.
First Thing’s First…
First thing’s first: Film does produce a better overall image than digital. Now, before you start lighting Molotov cocktails and start searching for my house, here’s the catch to all of that: you need to actually have your film negative to gain those results. Here’s a good example. When Robert Rodriguez shot his first film, El Mariachi, on film he made a decision that he was not going to make a copy of his negative. Instead he had his negative transferred directly to video because creating a copy of the negative on film would have led to degradation of the image. This is the key. You will never see a movie that was shot on film more beautiful than in its negative form. This is why Bluray is such a revelation to home entertainment, because in most cases it is the negative that is scanned instead of a print. When you create a print you degrade the image to a quality that is now easily (so long as you have the right camera) attained by digital cameras. This is why digital is, overall, better. You cut out the middleman of having to make a copy of your negative and instead you have an image that resembles the final product already recorded.
The Internet Is the Wrong Arena For This
The reason why I’m writing this out for you instead of showing the difference through a video is really quite simple: Anyone who tries to show the superiority of digital over film online has already lost. When you use footage from a flick that was shot on film and then compare it to one that was shot digitally, you have to keep in mind that the film footage has been scanned into a computer at a lower resolution than it was captured in. In other words, you’re trying to compare something that was converted to digital (in a degraded form, no less) with something that was created digitally. There’s no genuine ability to make the comparison because they are both technically the same thing. The only way to legitimately see the difference is to have a film projector (once again, with the original negative) playing side by side with a digital display. So if you’ve been looking up videos on Youtube trying to decide which is better then, I hate to say it, you’ve been wasting your time.
Economics Aren’t the Sole Factor
The sheer economics of it, however, are not the sole reason why one would pick digital over film. If you are going to shoot on film and have made the decision to edit on your negative and have that be what digital transfers are made from, then that is a perfectly valid artistic choice that will yield some great looking footage. In this day and age it is all about venue. The fact is, more and more theaters are adopting digital projectors because it’s less expensive for them, and the film industry has to suit the needs of the theaters because without them, there’s no weekend box office, or box office of any kind (excluding VOD). If you shoot on film (with the exception of Christopher Nolan, who shoots in the Imax format which will probably always use film projectors) and everyone is projecting digitally, then you are adding unnecessary steps because your final product, like it or not, will most likely be digital anyway. You might as well shoot digital unless you just so happen to have one of the twenty six Imax cameras that are floating around on the planet.
If You Don’t Like it, Push It!
The thing that I do not understand about those who rail against digital due to its shortcomings is that they seem to have no interest in helping to push the technology past its shortcomings. We’re running on a sentimentalized image of film as this perfect thing because it produces better images. Why would you not want to help develop a tool that in the long run will make it easier to just pick up a camera and CREATE? As John Lasseter always says, the art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art. I stand by what I’ve said before: it doesn’t matter what a film is shot on, so long as the creator behind it is satisfied with the results. But how can a technology improve if nobody tries to push it? If the art doesn’t CHALLENGE it?