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  • A Golden Age of Choices

    Posted on October 19th, 2010 Mike 3 comments

    It often seems that nearly everything I read about the production and post industry today involves some sort of choice. Film vs. digital. PC vs. Mac. Red vs. Arri. Sony vs. Panasonic. Kodak vs. Fuji. Resolve vs. Baselight. Lustre vs. Pablo. Scratch vs. Speedgrade. The list goes on and on. But the very use of the term “versus” is a good indicator of just how far off the mark all of these things are, because the fact is that choice is a good thing, and making a choice based on particular circumstances is something that is done by every producer, cinematographer, and director on every project they undertake.

    The choices made aren’t always the same, and they shouldn’t be. Each production is unique in its requirements, both practical and aesthetic. The physical location and physical production circumstances sometimes favor one methodology over another. The production design and story considerations often favor a particular method or medium for the photography. The casting sometimes influences the choice of capture medium. And, of course, the budget can have a significant influence on the decisions that are made. For many years, film was the only choice for most professional television and feature projects because it was so clearly a superior medium when compared to all existing electronic alternatives. That began to change about 10 or 15 years ago, and that change really accelerated in the last 4 or 5 years with the appearance of new cameras based on larger, single chip sensors – the Panavision Genesis and Arri D20 at first, followed by the Arri D21 and Sony F35, and later by the Red One and more recently, the Arri Alexa. These cameras have brought a lot to the table, including the ability to capture using traditional 35mm optics and with 35mm depth of field characteristics, the ability to capture a much wider dynamic range than any previous electronic cameras, and the ability in some cases to record the information as pure data, and to store it on commodity media such as flash memory cards and hard drives. In the last year or so, the Canon 5D and 7D have begun to bring some of those abilities to an unprecedented low price point and a smaller form factor.

    The availability of all of these devices, and the continued availability and viability of film, have put this industry in a position that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. One can currently shoot quality visuals to match just about any budget, and one can do it in a number of ways. Projects can be shot on digital cameras with little compromise, and they can still be shot on film with all of the traditional strengths of that medium. And we should be celebrating this, because we truly live in a kind of golden age that we might not see again. An age in which the way you shoot a project can be dictated by a combination of creative choice, physical need, and budgetary consideration. Prior to the arrival of true digital cinema cameras, the only choice was film, a great choice but one that carries with it some physical and budgetary limitations. In a few years time, it is likely that film will no longer be a viable choice, and that in itself will represent a creative limitation that today does not exist. Instead, many today try to turn it into this vs. that, using all of the artificial conflicts listed at the beginning of this post. It becomes something of a religious argument: for this to survive, that must die. For this to be successful, that must fail. In a polarized world, these things become almost a mantra. Film zealots deride the digital cameras simply because they’re not film. Digital zealots cheer what they see as the approaching “death of film,” not understanding what they’re cheering about, and not understanding what we’re going to lose when film is no longer a viable choice.

    And it’s never been about “this” or “that.” It’s about having the ability as an artist to choose your tools based on all considerations – artistic, practical, and financial. No matter how much one may like, say, a Red One, when one has to capture something at 1000fps, another tool is required. And no matter how much one may love film, its inherent grain characteristic means that it isn’t always the best choice for, say, green or blue screen work. Today we still have all of these choices available at all times, along with new ones yet to come. Instead of arguing, we should be celebrating this possibly short lived age of almost unlimited choice. We might not see it again.


    3 responses to “A Golden Age of Choices” RSS icon

    • Very interesting post ! I’m not that old but when I started some years ago, the “film” quality was just out of my scope… Now a young filmakers can “easily” a Canon 60D and a prime lens and shoot some very good looking footage.

      At the moment, with the upcomings new cameras (AF101, F3…), I’m really afraid that the major company start a kind of “new gear” war ( a little bit like the HDSLR market…) . And the market will be disappointed one in 2 years, Panasonic will issue the AF-200 and Sony the F-2 or F4.

    • Insightful stuff=) Going to need some time to think over your writing!!

    • A very interesting and well-written blog, nice to read some useful information on the web for a change instead of babbling dribble..

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