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April 26, 2003

Digi-Cinema Developments

Friedrich --

More bulletins on the state of the digi-cinema from someone who doesn't really know anything, and who wastes too much of his life reading cinematographers' magazines, looking at electronics ads -- and then leaping to conclusions, generalizations and predictions.

I Want I Want I Want...

My recent visit to the source itself (AKA Circuit City) was a heartening one. I'm here to report that the visual quality of the latest generation of CRT HDTVs -- tube versions of high-definition TVs, with the big, fat, heavy boxes -- is a marked step better than it was not so long ago. The imagery isn't just big and detailed, it's also creamier and more sumptuous, and offers more in the way of the depth, substance and texture.

Sadly, this isn't true yet for the flat HDTVs -- the plasma or LCD sets. Cool and groovy though they are as pieces of design and furniture, the images they generate are still pretty crappy, especially when you set them next to a tube HDTV. They're still a little stuttery, jaggedy and smeary. They seem too electronic, and the eye still snags on and gets perplexed by 'way too much that it shouldn't. Plus, hey, the flat HDTVs cost as much as a car where prices of CRT HDTVs are falling into a semi-plausible range -- $2000 to $2500 will buy you a really nice one these days. Let's see: at this rate, I'll be able to afford one in about five years, assuming I forgo all vacation travel between now and then. Still, lovely to see video imagery becoming more pleasing.

On the camera side, it seems to my amateurish mind that two recent developments are of some interest. One is a new Panasonic DV camera that looks likely to become a standard. It shoots 24 frames per second like a film camera; users find it thoughtfully designed; and it costs a mere (!) $3500. The cinematographers' magazines ran tests and report that the image it produces is comparable to a 16 mm film image -- better than functional if not yet smashingly good.

Low-budget filmmaking types are already snapping the Panasonic up; a film-critic friend who gets to a lot of the festivals tells me that almost no documentaries are shot on film anymore. Amusing to see that film-camera people aren't just lying back and taking it. (You go, capitalism!) They've mounted a counter-offensive, improving the pricing, performance and maneuverability of what's called super-16 -- a small-format film camera that produces images dense enough to be attractive even when blown up to 35 mm. At this point, it's actually cheaper to shoot a movie on super-16 than on HDTV.

The other digi-cinema camera story that tickles my brain concerns storage, namely hard drives, which have become so capacious, so physically small, and so cheap that they're now beginning to be used in DV cameras instead of tape. You can record hours and hours of sound and video onto the device's hard drive and transfer it to your computer. If you want a record of what you shot, you burn a DVD. DVD burners are coming way down in price too; one rumor has it that new blue-light lasers will make it possible to store 27 gigabytes of information on a single disk, and that blue-light laser-equipped devices will go on sale this fall.

As far as I can tell, the biggest advantage of using a hard drive instead of a cassette, even a minicassette, is size: the Samsung Itcam-7, which is due out later this year and seems to be the first consumer model to use a hard drive, is slimmer than even the smallest cassette-based DV videocam. It'll be cheapish too -- $500 or so. Just imagine: in five years they'll be making videocams we can tuck in a pocket like we do a wallet.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

All of which leads me to a small hunch. I'll bet that one of the many effects of the digitization of movies is likely to be the chunking-up of movies -- the breaking-down of movies into small, watchable, user-browsable, sample-able bits. Why should moviemaking and movieviewing be only about asking people to sit through things, even five minute long things? Why shouldn't it also be about offering a lot of bits and shots that surfers can browse and view as they see fit?

A page (or pages) of video clips, in other words. I've run across such things -- some porn web pages offer a half-dozen Quicktime video clips, for instance. Click on the one you want, watch it as long as you see fit. The shots do have duration but it would be hard to argue that they have any traditional moviemaking in them. Perhaps the web page containing and presenting them is itself is the created work -- an online video environment. But I'm someone who has been arguing for years that that America's Funniest Home Videos is a more innovative and challenging artistic provocation than anything the avant-garde has been coming up with. I'm serious. Hey: reality shots, sent in by volunteers, and then turned into a kind of variety show reminiscent of vaudeville -- beat that.

Despite our distance from our movie-crazed youth, I still find that my mind occasionally enjoys fantasies of making movies. Does yours? The kinds of movies I make in these fantasies have changed, though. I don't imagine making features anymore. I fantasize instead about making short nonnarrative movies. Idiotic, maybe. But these days I'm a little more comfortable with my limitations; perpetual hobbyist that I am, I can't see myself ever doing much beyond monkeying with IMovie. But still, the fantasy... Feeding hours of material into a computer ... Whipping up something beautiful ... Hey, what if I just took my best video shots and put them all up on a web page? There's an idea.

Well, back to painting class.

The British Film Institute hosts a discussion among five filmmakers about the state of the digital cinema here.



posted by Michael at April 26, 2003


Hasn't Super-16 been around for ages? It's just 16-mm film with the image shot lengthwise, not crosswise on the film, enlarging the size of the each frame by 50% or so. How can it be cheaper to shoot in Super-16 (paying for film and renting a camera) as opposed to buying (and thus owning) a $3500 camera (which doesn't appreciably depreciate from being used for one movie) and not having to pay for film, if you're storing your images on hard drives and CDs?

As for moviemaking fantasies, in my case I think I'd try to make a documentary, if I could set up a situation where I could have some control of the photography (as opposed to just handholding shots with long lenses, trying to capture the action.) But that's probably just fantasy these days. C'est la vie.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 27, 2003 1:09 AM

Yeah, super-16 has been around for a long time, and don't ask me to explain in what way it's been improved, but apparently it has been. Made cheaper too. The cinematographers' magazine did the math and concluded you'd make your movie cheaper in super16 than HDTV.

HDTV is quite a lot more expensive than DV -- you rent the HDTV camera, just like you rent a film camera. Storage is a challenge, because the information per frame is so much greater than in DV. And post-production costs are often higher for HDTV than for super-16. They both go through the same "digital intermediate" process, but people who shoot on tape tend to shoot much, much more footage, and thus need more (expensive) time in the post-production studio.

DV is much cheaper, and can be done at home, though not as simply as we like to imagine.

The reason the contest is between HDTV (and not DV) and super-16 is that the big question is "how well does it blow up to 35 mm?" DV blows up pretty poorly, but people who never really expect their film to get theatrically shown don't mind -- it looks perfectly good on TV. Documentaries, etc -- that's the crowd that's thrilled with the Panasonic I described. But if you think your film has a chance at being shown theatrically, you want to know that it'll look good if blown up to 35. And, so far, super-16 apparently blows up better than HDTV. Better and cheaper, plus it looks like "film," which is what people expect and prefer when they go to a theater .

I wonder how long it'll be before video matches film. Two more years? Five more?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2003 1:33 AM

Sorry to have confused the two. Still, given that 87% number--that is, only 13% of DVDs released last year were ever shown theatrically--the distinction may actually not be that great. One assumes that most of the 87% direct-to-video productions never assumed they'd get theatrical release, so there was never any financial reason to get all complicated.

According to your Sight and Sound discussion within 5 years nobody will be able to tell the difference. Of course, what do they know?

What intrigued me in the discussion was the following:

Billie Eltringham ...All these advantages are appealing, but [digital video] doesn't look great. But then I asked myself, is there anything about this that's not trying to mimic film that makes it more interesting? Are there things only DV does, like when you let something in the foreground go really soft and the colour has a weird leak-out effect?

Nick James So you're feeling your way into a new language?

Billie Eltringham Yes, and we don't know what it is yet. We're inventing it as we go along.

This, it seems to me, is the real issue. DV is essentially a new medium, particularly coupled with DVD release. If people stop thinking in film terms, it would seem likely to speed up the birth of this new "thing."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 27, 2003 1:57 AM

My guess is that at least one version of what you're looking for is already here -- it's the "reality TV" approach. Handheld-to-jittery, offhand, superfast cutting, direct address to the camera -- the whole casually-monkeying-around-with-the-camera-and-slamming-it-together-in-the-computer approach. (Think "E! Wild On...") It's a real (and these days super-common) alternative to traditional movie language, and possible largely because of video and small cameras.

Such is my theory, anyway -- that it's a video and TV approach that's pushing traditional movie language aside. I wonder whether it'll push movie language entirely aside. Or if not, what kind of ratio it'll settle down to. Trad movie language for theatrical movies and DV for everything else?

Now that you've got me thinking about this, I guess I'm semi-formulating this idea: that there are three main audiovisual languages around these days: traditional movie language; variations on reality TV; and TV commercials/rock-video. Why do I suspect I'm overlooking other major schools?

Have you tried doing any elementary video editing in your computer? It's fun! What kind of thing did you find yourself doing? It seemed to me as I've tried it that home video lends itself really well to a reality-TV (chop up your horsing-around footage, then set parts of it to pop music) approach. Actually, they seem super-suited to each other.

One thing that's going to interest me is how it will all get affected as HDTV becomes cheaper, better, and more widely available. Ie., as the visual quality of video gets better. Will the cutting slow down? A friend who works at a TV show tells me that he's expecting HDTV to change the look and speed of TV shows...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2003 10:32 AM

You've got my brain a-buzz with a few things I thought I'd jot down here...

One point of information for anyone confused about this... HDTV and DV aren't the same thing. DV generally refers to the kinds of Sonys and JVCs that you can now buy for $500-$1500 for home use, with the little tiny cassettes. It's digital, you can feed it into your home computer and monkey with it there, and it looks much better on a home TV than oldtime videotape does. But it's still suited for home TV viewing, mainly. Blow it up too far and the image starts to fall apart -- most people find it unacceptable when it's transferred to film and thrown up on a movie screen. In order to make it interesting and palatable on that scale, most directors/cinematographers have found that they have to do extreme things -- cut really fast, use it handheld (the jittery energy adding to the interest of the image), or do so much image-processing that it becomes kinda avant-garde.

An HDTV camera doubles the number of lines in the video image and thereby increases the density of it. It produces a much more detailed image that stands up to being projected large much better than DV does, and if you use it carefully and expertly it seems to produce an acceptable to good movie image, though many pros think that the number of lines and pixels needs to double or quadruple or more -- it can be a bright and detailed image, but it also tends to be a lighter, slightly vaporous image. Current problems with it for movie purposes are three -- not quite enough density, a tendency towards way too much depth of field (which makes things look flat, like a soap opera), and trouble with exposure latitude (an HDTV image will tend to burn out and flare, or just turn flat black, in places where good film will be picking up color and detail). There's also a tendency for natural light to lose some sparkle when captured on video rather than film.

But the HDTV image, if used carefully and well, can result in an acceptable big-screen movie image. HDTV cameras, though, are still just as expensive to rent and buy as film cameras are, and they're big too. And HDTV footage, being much more detailed than DV footage, takes up so much storage space when fed into a computer that you can't really use it at home -- you need professionals, you need supercomputers. So far, it's almost as complicated a medium as film is.

So the big contrast at the moment is between DV (which has the advantages of being cheap, convenient, small, usable at home) and film (gorgeous, expensive, luscious when presented bigscreen). The downside of the DV image is simply detail -- it just doesn't stand up when you project it big in a way that most audiences will put up with. The downside of film is that it's complicated and expensive. HDTV is somewhere between the two.

In a hundred years, all this should be moot and film-based filmmaking will be at best a niche market. There'll come a time when the digital video cameras are cheap and light; when they also capture so much information that the image strikes no one as second-best; and when computers and storage and software are such that they can handle this kind of input and output. In the professional world, this may happen in the next five or ten years. For us amateurs? Who knows, but it'll be a long while.

Friends who work in TV and who are getting ready for the conversion over to HDTV tell me they expect TV to change some when it happens. It's apparently surprising how the extra detail and info that HDTV delivers affects the brain and eye. A lot of what we think of as TV style -- the superfast cutting, the winking and strobing -- are there because the conventional TV image is itself just of rather little interest. It just doesn't seem to be able to intrigue the eye or brain for very long -- there literally isn't enough information there. So TV people make up for this by keeping the screen hyperactive. The HDTV image, though, will be a much more detailed thing, much worthier of being lingered over. So lighting, makeup, set dressing, all that is going to have to become more subtle. At least, such is the going theory. We'll see when it comes along.

You and I may differ a bit about DV. I know you think it's a matter of people giving up their movie fantasies and learning how to wring interest out of what the DV medium itself offers. You're certainly right there. But I see DV as a stepping-stone and rather limited medium that offers only limited possibilities. It conveys a goodly amount of information, which is great, but that's about it. From what I've seen, it's 1) better than OK on conventional TV, or on computer monitors, but 2) next to impossible to wrangle something out of when projected large, unless you do something so extreme that your movie becomes avant-garde. To me it's like poster paints -- there's color there, and it's bright, but almost no one seems to be able to use it in such a way that it becomes something more than a quick read. (Nothing wrong with quick reads, of course, just as you point out there's nothing wrong with going straight to DVD.) It's something you can have fun with and learn from, but that you graduate from as quickly as you can. Brightness and information are great, but the eye seems to demand something more.

What's heartening is that there's now an HDTV camera on sale to civilians for about $4000 -- this is the first time for that. Like I say, in a hundred years this'll all be moot. People will look back on DV and HDTV and marvel that anyone ever put up with them, let alone got excited about them.

Kind of an interesting time, though, isn't it? Making the transition from analog over to digital. It's not like I could really care much about tech, but it's also not like there's much of interest going on artistically in movies these days. So I try to get interested in what is going on instead: occasional performances, changes in the medium as it adapts to the new technology, etc. But I'd certainly prefer it if the movies themselves were worth paying consistent attention to. Sigh.

As for DVD, it'd be interesting to see further research. A fair number of what winds up on DVD was definitely never meant for theaters -- exercise videos, instructional videos, "Sex in the City" compilations, "Girls Gone Wild at Mardi Gras" complilations, History Channel stuff, Zalman King-style softcore, outright porn, computer-instruction videos, etc. As for movie-length fictional narratives, I've asked people in the indie-cinema world about it: Do you make your movie really, really expecting a theatrical release? And I'm told that, yeah, you'd be surprised, that almost no one makes a legit-wannabe movie without hoping it'll wind up in theaters, despite the odds. Part of this is dreams and glamor -- but the movie biz runs partly on dreams and glamor. Would anyone really go to all that absurd trouble if they weren't a little intoxicated by the possibility of sex, big dough, and glamor? The other thing is contractual and financial. Deals are often worked out in such a way that certain money doesn't start to flow unless the film gets a theatrical release. Which helps explain why all these little movies no one's excited about play in a theater somewhere for a week or two. Even though it makes no sense from an audience point of view, the people behind the movie need to do it in order to complete the deal that the movie was based on.

It'll be fun to observe what happens as DVD burning gets cheaper and distribution over the web gets more plausible. What effect will that have on moviemaking? It could be great, although it's almost certain 95% of what results will be crap. Somehow we consumers will have to develop ways of exchanging tips -- some way of getting to the worthwhile stuff. And there's one thing I do wonder: will what gets distributed bear much relationship to what we currently think of as "real movies"? A "real movie" is a fantastic amount of trouble to make, even if you're doing it with your home Mac and with your own money. You've got to get people showing up in the same place at the same time, the weather gets in the way, ego wars erupt... It's like building a house, that kind of trouble. And how many people really even want to do that? So my theory is that the material that gets offered up via DVD and via the web will tend to be different than conventional movies. Heck, it already is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2003 12:38 PM

Sounds like a business opportunity to me. A good website to review all the various categories of direct-to-video productions. Then we take ads and subtly relax our standards regarding the product of big advertisers, and, bingo, we're Wall Street stock analysts! And if we set it up together, we can claim the erotic material for ourselves!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 27, 2003 1:37 PM

Freebies! Sign me up for that. Plus a percentage of anything we recommend. Oops, shhhh -- if we're going to pull this off, we gotta focus on maintaining our credibility as incorruptible...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2003 2:29 PM

" Somehow we consumers will have to develop ways of exchanging tips -- some way of getting to the worthwhile stuff." You're missing part of the equation. People often make their art-n-culture choices to be part of a group. More choices and easier access will not, I suspect, delute the appeal of seeing the latest thriller on opening night, or buying this summer's trashy beach read. Our basic social instinct is a large part of the reason J.K. Rowlings has more money than the queen.

Posted by: j.c. on April 27, 2003 4:27 PM

P.S. Your captions are charming beyond belief.

Posted by: j.c. on April 27, 2003 4:27 PM

Well, the battle is pretty much over on the still side - after hemming and hawing for years over digital cameras that were "almost, but not quite", I finally put in my order for a Canon 10D (6mp camera that takes all my expensive Canon lenses and flashes.) They've finally gotten to the point where the limiting factor is now the lens, not the sensor. I expect consumer video cameras with better than HD resolution within 5 years (the advantage of digital is that you don't really have to worry as much about format - if you're recording to a hard disk anyway, why not bump up the resolution to 2K, 4K, or what have you if you have the harware to do it? If you could do an entire film at the resolution of the 10D, you could blow any current film out of the water...)

As for marketing, the most exciting development last year was a movie I didn't really enjoy that much - "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". With this and a few other word-of-mouth blockbusters, at least some hollywood types seem to be rediscovering how to do the slow rollout they used to do in the pre-"Jaws" dark ages. I think if somebody in one of these vastly overbuilt theater chains figures out how to use some of their capacity for this type of "viral" movie, they could solve a lot of their financial problems and create a new outlet for some interesting movies at the same time...

Posted by: jimbo on April 27, 2003 5:18 PM

Super-16 isn't shot lengthwise on the film. It extends the picture area into where the optical soundtrack would otherwise be. See

Posted by: Dreepy on April 27, 2003 11:41 PM

Thanks for the correction, Dreepy. I'll try to be more careful in the future.

Question for Michael Blowhard: The excessive, flattening depth of field that DV has would seem to be a result of too much light sensitivity, forcing the camera's iris to close down almost all the way. Surely this ultra sensitivity could be dialed down, either in the chip or via software. I'm also confused about another thing; my home video cameras always seemed to have stupendous low-light capacity, much better than any film camera I've ever used. If this is so, why isn't their detail in the shadows better? Is this because the CCD chips have a relatively narrow dynamic range? Again, it seems as though that could be solved via software or something. A lot of these issues, one would think, will ultimately be much more amenable to video than they ever were with film. One would think that you could "photoshop" an image in digital video before you shot it, adjusting the contrast item by item. My prediction--and you know I have nothing against chemical film except its economic consequences--is that ultimately, 20 years or so from now, video will not only match film capabilities but be able to do things that film has never been able to do.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 28, 2003 12:01 AM

J.C. -- Your comments are charming beyond belief.

Jimbo -- Eager for news about how you find the new Canon. 6 megapixels -- that's a lotta camera! I love my 2 and 3 mp digi-cameras. No more film for me. But like lots of people, though, I find the pix they create almost cruelly over-accurate, at least when I give them half a chance. Talk about skin flaws. I understand the camera and chip folks are trying to figure out ways of making digital imagery more pleasing, not just more detailed. Do you find yourself struggling with any of that? Plus, yeah, won't it be great when digi-cinema frames have about four times what they've got now. We were born too early, sigh.

Friedrich -- I wish I had even a little expertise to share, but I don't. I do notice that the movies that I've seen that were shot of HDTV that have worked out best compressed the expsosure range really tightly. It sounds like a lighting headache to me, but apparently it can be done, and if you do it you avoid that soap-opera look (although I find natural light still a problem -- it looks like "Toy Story" computer-movie light to me). I hear that keeping the highlights from burning out and the dark-darks from turning into apricot mush is important if you want to make the audience feel like they're watching a movie instead of something on video. No idea why digivid can't pull things out of shadows in the same way film can, but that ability is apparently part of what gives film imagery its richness -- that plus latitude, plus the ability you have to move the focus around. I'm sure you're right that in 20 years digi-vid will outdo film in all those respects. I wonder how afraid Kodak is.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 28, 2003 12:15 AM

The nature of distribution, those links to a dozen or so media files on a web server, was a key factor in the plot of Gibson's Pattern Recognition, the segments of the books McGuffin are released out of sequence, engendering an entire industry of weblogs and bulletin boards.

I'm enjoying how the economics of production are driving film back into the arms of craftspeople. Since, when Hollywood falls, then prices for homes in Malibu might come down too.

Posted by: Bill Humphries on April 28, 2003 2:41 AM

"my home video cameras always seemed to have stupendous low-light capacity, much better than any film camera I've ever used. If this is so, why isn't their detail in the shadows better?"

Actually, shadow detail is the one area that video excels at - sometimes to a fault (it can be a bitch to get true, deep blacks, since little details you didn't want keep popping up) It has to do, not with the greater sensitivity of CCDs (actually, the overall sensitivity of CCDs and film, at least of the kind used in consumer applications, is roughly equal) It has to do with the shape of the sensiomatic curves - that is, the response to different levels of light.

Film, being an analog medium, tends to have a curve that is roughly S-shaped - that is, it takes a fair amount of light on the low end to start to get a response, and at the high end response trails off smoothly. Thus, shadows have a tendency to "block up", and blacks can be "milky" if the ambient light level isn't enough to provoke some response in the film (which is why most cinematographers tend to err on the side of overexposure). Highlights, on the other hand, tend to degrade gracefully - if you're filming indoors and catcha shot of a window, you won't see anything outside, but you'll at least see a blurry outlione of a window.

CCDs, though have a curve that is much more of a straight line. They start collecting light right from the get-go, and go smoothly all the way up to their maximum, at which they give up the ghost. Thus, some detail in even the deepest shadows, and absolute blowout above the limit (that window will just be a black white space).

Thus, many of the cinematographers I've read have bridled at the talk of "you don't need to light DV". Actually, getting semi-decent results from DV requires much more careful lighting, since DV is so much more unforgiving. Modern films have such amazing lattitude (5 or more stops) that you can get away with almost anything. But video is much more like slide film (2-3 stops lattitude), with the added thrill of that looming brick wall on the high side...

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2003 10:34 AM

Note: if you have a camcorder that allows manual iris control, if you increase the stop you should be able to see any shadow details you want. Like I said, it's not a lack of sensitivity, it the fact that the automatic stop controls are est to avoid the brick wall at costs...

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2003 10:40 AM

oops - make that "blank white space" above. "Black white space" is a bit too dadaesque, even for me...

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2003 10:42 AM

Thanks a lot for your response, Jimbo--you clarified a lot of issues for me. Do you know what the light response curve is for non charge-coupled device ("CCD") chips, like the new CMOS ones from Foveon? Is it also linear? And, if I may ask, what is the proper term for what I've been calling "dynamic range"--by which I mean the ratio of light intensity between the darkest dark and the lightest light of a photographic recording medium (often reported in "stops")? In your post you called this "latitude." Is this the technical term?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 28, 2003 11:03 AM

Hey Jimbo, Many thanks for the explanations. And, yeah, like you I've run across cinematographers who say that lighting for video is harder than for film because of the very narrow exposure range video gives them.

Would you mind a question? I should run back to the article where I read it, or think I read it anyway. But I'm pretty sure that in one piece about film vs. video I read, the cinematographers were saying that they could pull more detail out of the darks with film. It sounds from your explanations like I must be misremembering. But then, the darks in the couple of films that I've seen projected digitally were a problem. But maybe the problem there is density -- maybe there simply aren't enough pixels yet to generate a rich dark-or-black? I'm obviously out of my depth here.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 28, 2003 11:14 AM

Freidrich -

Yes, the term is "latitude", and it's measured in "stops", as in F-stops. Since light, as with most peceivable things, is measured on a logorithmic scale, one stop of exposure is equal to a doubling of the light received by the receptor. So slide film, for a example, will show you meaningful details from about half of the light level (measured linearly) you set your meter at to twice the level. Motion Picture film will go from about 1/8 to about 8 times. Video is much more like slide film - but like I said, there's more room on the bottom, because it keeps going all the way to 0, and above about 2X no level is recorded, so you get zilch.

Every digital receptor I'm aware of has a linear curve - but depending on the receptor, and depending on the software driving it, some may have much more latitude than others. (The Specs for HDTV, for example, allow for enough information to have a latitude of 10(!) stops - but no receptor can currently physically capture this in realtime).

Micheal -

In all my experience, I've been able to get an amazing amount of shadow detail from even cheap video cameras. However, "detail" does not mean "richness". One of the things film is much better at is contrast - the difference between the darkest darks and the lightest lights. Since video has so much less contrast, it's tough to get the strong, solid blacks that you get with film. So you can "see" deeper into the shadows, but the shadows themselves become a washed-out grey.

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2003 2:12 PM

Oh, and while I'm bloviating, I might as well make another comment. The excessive depth of field that you see on video has to do with the physical size of the sensor, not it's light sensitivity. Depth of field is a tricky subject, but suffice it to say that a smaller sensor size leads to a bigger effective lens size (my new Canon, for instance takes the same lenses as my old 35mm, but you need to apply a 1.6X correction factor to them. i.e. my 100mm has the same viewing angle as a 160mm. Most video sensors are much smaller, so you get lenses in the single digit range that give a normal viewing angle.)

Since a shorter lens has more depth of field at a given f-stop (actually, it doesn't; but the reasons why are complicated - the important thing is that the apparent depth of field is larger for shorter lenses) and you use shorter lenses with small sensor sizes, you tend to get deep focus. If you go on the other side, and use a view camera with 4x5 or 8x10 film, you generally need to stop down to f32 or f64 (and use a whole lotta light) to get any depth of field at all...

There, I'm done showing off my useless (at least to an economics grad student) knowledge of photography for the day...

Posted by: jimbo on April 28, 2003 4:42 PM

Ah, that famous video washed-out gray, right. And who knew that the actual size of the chip had something to do with depth-of-field.

Many thanks again for the explanations, Jimbo.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 29, 2003 12:56 AM

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