Digital Hype

Published on website: August 19, 2009
Categories: Bob Mastronardi , Digital Hype , Education , The StoryBoard Blog

Hype or Reality?  In advertising. ‘digital’ is a codeword often intended to mean ‘sharper, cleaner, faster, cheaper, better’.  In some applications it may be, but not in the art and craft of movie making.  As Kodak’s TV Segment and New Product Development manager, Bob Mastronardi deals with the hype and the reality of digital every day.  Here is some of what he hears – and his reactions.

Hype:   Digital capture is faster because it requires less lighting.

Reality:  Even the best high-end digital cameras have less latitude and dynamic range than film delivers.  Lighting for digital becomes more -- not less -- of a concern and often translates into more time and money spent on production.

Hype:  Digital is faster because you can see the final results of the image on set.

Reality:  Play back on set doesn't guarantee accuracy later because there are other variables involved. Color correction and image manipulation in post production are still required to create the final ‘look’, whether the origination medium is film or digital. 

Hype:  Digital is always cheaper.

Reality:   Money saved on the purchase and developing of film stock -- and transferring images to tape or digital files – is often lost on longer production times and added post-production costs for digitally-originated movies.

Hype:   High Definition is higher definition.

Reality:  Film is capable of twice the resolution of HD, so compared to film, High Definition is really just ‘Half Definition’. And since the next phase of TV technology (‘Ultra Definition’) will double resolution from current HD standards, content shot in today's HD resolution will have the same future quality issues that standard definition (SD) video has today.

Hype: Digital looks as good as film

Reality:  In addition to film’s tangible advantages -- dynamic range, latitude, highlight detail, and flesh tone reproduction – film has the intangible ‘film look’.  Film is a randomly-sampled system that ‘sees’ similar to the way the human eyes see the world; digital creates images in a rigid pattern on a grid.  After many years and multiple billions of dollars, digital still can't match all the qualities and benefits film delivers.

Hype:   Digital lasts forever.

Reality:  According to the Library of Congress, the best magnetic storage media can be depended on for perhaps a decade. Once a digital signal is gone, it’s gone forever.  Since 1956, more than 80 electronic formats have come and gone, along with related equipment. No video format is forward or backward compatible - and even when the media survives, there is no guarantee the equipment will. With a fresh roll of film, a filmmaker today can load a 30 or 40 year old camera and record images that will last a lifetime: images that can forever be viewed with light and a lens.

Hype:  In cinemas, movies projected digitally should be shot digitally.

Reality:  Film has more than enough resolution for the highest resolution digital projection system.  That's why the vast majority of movies, regardless of how they're projected, are shot on film.

Hype;  Digital projection systems have replaced film systems in most theatres today.

Reality:  Ten years after digital cinema systems were projected to be an overnight success, they've been installed on only about 12% of US cinema screens -- and about 8-percent of cinema screens worldwide. All the rest are showing film.  Conversion is coming slowly because the film system is rugged, reliable, available, and well-understood.

Hype:  Digital prints are sharper and cleaner than film prints.

Reality:  In theatres where the exhibitor pays attention to the equipment, film prints can be every bit as sharp and clean as digital prints.  Digital cinema systems provide benefits in terms of automation and efficiency, but cinemas that don't maintain their film equipment most likely won't maintain their digital equipment either.



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