Digital Cinematography For over a century motion picture have entertained the masses, allowing people to view life taking place on a large screen. For the majority of this time these movies were shot using the same film found in photographic cameras. Technology always seems to take over and the film industry seems poised to be the next target. With digital picture acquisition getting better everyday, movies are beginning to be shot completely digital. There are a number of plusses and minuses of shooting digitally but digital cinematography will soon replace film in most productions.
The emergence of digital or “electronic” cinematography, began in the late 1980’s. Sony came up with an idea for a HDTV camera but there was little interest in this concept. Most all television shows and commercials are shot using some form of digital video tape, but now films are leaning in the same direction. Low budget filmmakers have been utilizing the MiniDV format for years with it’s quality being considerably greater than other prior formats. In May 2002 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones became the first major motion picture release to be done digitally.
This film was shot using 24 frame-per-second high-definition video utilizing a Sony CineAlta camera. Typical video cameras operate at 29. 97 fps, but these higher quality digital cameras being released are capable of operating at 24 fps, the same way traditional film cameras work. Digital cinematography operates on the same principals as digital photography. These cameras go about capturing images by the use of light sensors. These sensors are commonly referred to as CMOS and CCD, with CCD sensors being the most common.
These sensors typically come in one of two arrays allowing for flexibility while shooting. Most cameras used for digital cinematography are equipped with one sensor that operates in a similar manner to a film frame. These large sensors allow the user to outfit these higher quality digital cameras with the same lenses that are used with 35mm film. The digital cameras that are used more for broadcast typically carry a three sensor array. A prism is used to split the color spectrum and each sensor is responsible for a different color. This increases the quality f the color reproduction, but these cameras cannot be outfitted with traditional film lenses. With film the actual images are stored on each individual film frame. Digital images can be stored in two different fashions. Most industry professionals will only record to tape, with most of them coming from the broadcast industry. The images are captured to one of the many video formats, and then a tape deck is used to transfer the footage to a computer for editing. With film the images still have to be transferred to tape at the differing frame rate before the footage can be edited using digital equipment.
Images can also be captured in a tapeless manner. In this setup harddrives of some sort are connected to the camera allowing for a completely digital workflow. Once shooting has wrapped for the day images can be stored on a server where they can be instantly edited without the need to recapture the footage. Even though there have been significant improvements in digital cinematography equipment over the last century, some of the minuses of recording in this format force most veteran filmmakers to stick to film. The major problem with digital recording is light response.
There are many different types of film stocks and each one has it’s own characteristics. Filmmakers understand what they are working with and are able to accurately predict how the picture will turn out. With digital cinematography cameras the sensor determines how the picture will turn out in terms of color and light. Each camera has a different sensor or sensors so one must be familiar with the specifics of the camera they plan on using. Digital cinematography equipment does greatly excel in one area in comparison to traditional film equipment.
When using film one must have a secondary system to record sound. This system is ran in sync with the picture and can be the cause of a lot of problems. When recording digitally most if not all cameras allow for sound to be recorded directly to the camera already in sync with the picture. This can reduce costs be eliminating some crew positions and offers easier editing in post production, because the audio is already in sync. After millions of dollars are spent producing and promoting motion pictures, they must still be distributed to the individual theaters.
Typically movies are sent in the form of film reels with theaters needing one copy for every screen they plan on showing the picture. These reels cost thousands of dollars to make and are prone to problems. With digital distribution only one copy is needed for the entire facility and they can easily be delivered on a harddrive or downloaded from a network server. This saves a lot of money and digital copies are much more reliable as they will not degrade over time. Technology always wins.
The typical viewer cannot tell the difference between images that are produced digitally and those using traditional film. Digital cinematography equipment has been advancing rapidly over the past century. Most if not all broadcast television programming is shot digitally, and more and more major motion pictures are being shot, edited and distributed digitally. As more theaters switch to digital projectors, and higher quality digital cinematography cameras become available the traditional method of recording on film is slowly becoming obsolete.
Works Cited Editors of Videomaker. The Videomaker Guide to Digital and Dvd Production. 3rd ed. Woburn: Focal Press, 2004. Hitzik, Michael A. “Digital cinema take 2. ” Technology Review Sept. 2002: 36. Kennedy, Joseph. “Out of film. ” Print Jan. 2005: 120. Doherty, Richard. “Cinema poised at brink of digital storytelling. ” Electronic Engineering Times. May 2001: 85. Digital Cinematography. Mar. 2007. Digital Information, Digital Cinema Now. http://www. digitalcinemanow. com/modules. php? name=News=article