Video Vs. Film

To really get the "film look" you really need to use film. But if you are going to shoot in video and want to closely approxiimate the "film look" understanding what makes film and video different will go a long ways to help you to this end.

The biggest difference between film and video is the contrast latitude of the mediums. That is how many steps in the value scale between black and white. Film compared to video has a smooth gradation between values. Related to this is the actual difference between the brightest and darkest detail the mediums can capture before reading totally black or totally white. Video can handle a narrow range of values, measured in stops. Good video cameras can read 5 stop differences in light. Film, depending on the stock, is 8 to 12 stops. This is a huge difference. I could give a long example to help you understand a little better but let me put it this way: It is all in the lighting. Really! A junky $250 video camera look more like film with the proper lighting kit set at the right levels than some one with a $8000. pro video camera with fancy lens adapters shoot in the stark lighting found out doors or in everyday (practical) lighting situations.

The second biggest difference is color depth. Film has more color(s) than video, especially mini-DV. Especially NTSC video cameras (NTSC is the video standard used in the US) Often pro videographers use PAL system (PAL is a European standard) because it has better colour sampling. Besides switching to an entirely foreign system there is not much you can do about this. And even then you will not have the many possible colors you get with film.

Third, Progressive scan. Most video cameras and all consumer TVs use interlaced scanning. That is each framed image is actually two images. Image a photo, cut into 480 horizontal strips. Now imagine the every other strip scanned by the camera. This creates half the image, now imagine the remaining alternate strips being scanned by the camera this creates the other half of the image, then the two images are knitted or "interlaced" together to create the whole image. This process of capturing and playing back an image gives video a very different look than film which is one whole picture played after another.

Finally frame rate is the last major difference between film and video. Film shoots at 24 frames per second. Video shoots 30 interlaced frames per second, which is actual 2 sets of half images 30 times a second. This means that it has some of the quality of 60 frames a second. More is better right? No, since all of us have become so accustomed to seeing movies with the slight blur during motion shots, we are a little annoyed at super clear crispy video images. Sad but true.

And, as an afterthought, there is lens technique. This is not really a difference between film and video, but home movie enthusiasts and news camera operators rarely or never use there lenses the same way expert cinematographers do. But that is a whole other subject, sort of.....The lens adapter, the mini35, actually put cinema lenses in front of a video camera. There are two ways these adapters work, I have built both, I just haven't had time to build web pages about my designs. The first kind is simple a lens mount adapter. These are no good. Cinema lenses are achromatic, that is they focus all three primary colors of light to the same focal plane (the film). Video lenses are different. Achromatic lenses are expensive, because the require allot more elements of glass and engineering to refocus the light that is bent up by being focused through the different layers of glass. Non-achromatic lenses do not compensate for this, they are cheaper and easier to design, but the result is is that you get three slightly different focal depths, one for red, one for blue, and one for green. When color video was first invented video engineers realized they could save allot of money on leses if they space the three color camera tubes to compensate for this difference. Today we still use the same idea but with 3 chip ccd cameras. Cinema lenses do not work on 3 chip cameras, they give a slightly soft focus no matter what you do. The other type of mini35 adapter uses a ground glass aerial projection system. These are cool and can be worth the money A cinema lens focus the image onto a ground glass screen, then a small (video) macro(ultra-closeup) lens focuses this image onto the 3ccds. It is a great idea, the only problem with it is that it is not very good in low light situations.

So, possibly the best recommendation to creating a traditional cinema image is to educate yourself on lighting. Everything you need to know is at the Kodak motion picture film web site. Once you understand how to light for film you simply reduce the useable number of stops from 8 or so to 5. Your video will look like film. Especially if you also use a ground glass system and shoot in 24 progressive frame mode.