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Please explain: Video vs. "organic"/cinematic look


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If we are talking about film vs. digital, there is also a huge difference in how exposure/luminance and colour saturation work together. A digital sensor uses additive colour (things get brighter as they saturate and combine), whereas film stock employs subtractive colour (things get darker as they saturate and combine). This is part of why digital sensors, especially ones that don't have crazy wide dynamic range are so prone to chroma clipping, and give off a "video-ish" look. If your digital camera has a wide dynamic range and you have managed your exposure, it could be possible with a proper LUT to emulate the colour chemistry of film, by having the luminance remapped according to the saturation level. That might help with trying to get that "organic" look.

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17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

Yes but are you wanting something to look like it's shot on film or to look cinematic.

I want neither.  This is just a discussion.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

Those are different goals in my view.

The film look and the "cinematic" look are different, but they are not mutually exclusive goals.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

Seinfeld was shot on 35mm.  But it's not cinematic.

Let's not "put on airs."


I'm no huge fan of Seinfeld, but I would say that Seinfeld was more "cinematic" than the home films that I linked.  As I recall, on Seinfeld they occasionally did use camera movement (staging), inserts and nearby CUs (lensing) and they had motivated lighting to convey certain environments.  It was not entirely a flatly lit, distantly shot, three camera sitcom.


Even if Seinfeld were utterly "uncinematic," how does your point differ from my example of home movies not being cinematic, but being undeniably captured on film?



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

By pointing to lensing, lighting and staging, I was trying to say indirectly it's not really the "camera" or the film look recipe you have in post.  All that stuff happens before the image is captured.  It's mise en scene.  It's an important part of these discussions that always seems to get left out.

The tech stuff can help, but in my view, the objects you shoot, the lens you choose to shoot them with, where you put the camera and how you light them and how those elements iteract all matter a lot more than any magic bullet (pun intended) you think you can have in post to emulate that look.

I don't think that we disagree here.  I am not advocating emphasis on post, nor am I suggesting that we should dwell on technical aspects.  I merely addressed your linked comparison (and the comparison that you quoted) between digital cameras and film stocks.


My point is simply that there are certain variables that can make video look like it was shot on film.  Some of these variables must be wrangled while shooting and some are dealt with in post, but none of them have anything to do with being "cinematic."



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

And in order for the post film look recipes to work, you need a camera with high dynamic range and high bit depth.

Not necessarily.  The Vilm camera had low dynamic range compared to current digital cameras.  Also, much of the early video that FilmLook processed was captured with analog cameras of low dynamic range.  Of course, having extra dynamic range helps.


In regards to bit depth, I don't think that it is an important factor in mimicking film.  There are plenty of film stocks that have low color depth, so high bit depth (as a factor of digital color depth) is not necessarily crucial in making video look like film.


By the way, as you may have gathered from the parenthetical part of the previous sentence, bit depth is not color depth.  Also, bit depth and dynamic range are independent properties.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

Even when you have a scene that appears to have low DR, film has a way of rolling off highlights that you can emulate if you have the DR to do it.  So you take your 14 stop original, crush it to fit into the 8 stop TV you're looking at and jam the extra stops into the highlights to give you a softer roll off.  And in swinging the grade around a high bit depth stops the image from breaking down and looking blocky and digital.

I agree that peculiarities in how emulsion rolls off the highlights/bright areas is an important characteristic to address in emulating film with video.


After using up a significant portion of the dynamic range to deal with the highlights, it certainly is beneficial to have more room left over in the middle and low end for nice contrast range and color depth.  However, huge dynamic range is not crucial in merely making video look like film.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

So far I haven't seen anything that matches the way grain size changes with exposure though for example.  Film grain size gets tends to get smaller or tighter as it goes towards clipping and larger when it's underexposed. In the same image you have different sized grain depending on where it sits on the exposure curve.   That's hard to emulate in an image in a way that's realistic (as a match) because we're often mapping a much higher DR from the camera to a lower display DR.

Peculiarities of emulsion grain likely should be considered when trying to emulate film with video.  I don't know anything about post grain similations, but film grain is a somewhat controversial and complex topic in regards to film look.


However, I have always understood that with negative stock, the grain clumps are usually larger and more overlapping in the bright areas, while grains are smaller but more separated and distinct in the dark areas.


Also, the way noise appears in the shadows in digital is somewhat analogous to the more visible grain in shadows with film, and there have certainly been a few posts in this forum about how noise from certain cameras feels "organic."



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

The colour fidelity is also something that's hard to describe.  No one ever publishes the colour response of their sensors, but film still has the edge. And yeah, just because they have a file that's labeled REC 2020 doesn't mean that file has 2020 worth of info.  Again a higher bit depth image means you can stretch the colour information out a bit before it breaks down.

To me, whether or not film has an edge in color is largely subjective.


In addition, I couldn't say that all film has a greater color depth than all digital sensors.  the color depth of different film stocks varies dramatically, as does that of digital cameras/sensors.  Special processing also significantly affects color depth and contrast in emulsions.


Larger film formats yield greater color depth.  Higher bit depth does yield greater color depth in digital, but, again, bit depth and color depth are not the same thing.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

You're also confusing display technology with capture technology. 

Just because you tube displays in 8 bit 264, doesn't mean that's all you need for capture.  SD tv for many years had a mix of 35mm and electronic cameras.  There was always an easy distinction to make on the camera acquisition despite the fact the resolution was the same for both acquisition technologies.  Super-sampling has been happening since the beginning and is always going to trickle down to lessor display mediums.

No.  I'm not confusing display technology with capture technology.  I most certainly made a distinction between the viewing bit depth and the capture range in the YouTube scenario.


I was additionally making the point that low bit depth (in the post-capture) stage doesn't influence whether or not something looks like it was shot on film.  Apparently, we agree here.



17 hours ago, John Brawley said:

 Otherwise you'd be happy with what your iPhone shoots right ?  Don't fall for that trick.

I don't have have an Iphone (I never fell for the Apple trick), but I have no doubt that I could shoot something "cinematic" with it.

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1 hour ago, tupp said:


My point is simply that there are certain variables that can make video look like it was shot on film.  Some of these variables must be wrangled while shooting and some are dealt with in post, but none of them have anything to do with being "cinematic."

And mine was simply that in my opinion, you can get closest to those goals by choices that happen before you expose anything. The one's that happen after exposure have less weight.


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If it was purely film VS digital, for my uses it would be digital every time.

Low light/live music and I never want to use film again for stills and while I never shot a band video with film, I never want to either.

I just use video as shot for limited use (mainly at 25p at 1/50 on a tripod/table with auto ISO) so mine IS likely what many would describe as "video" but when I am often at ISO 25600/51200 and even higher sometimes that's ok by me.

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21 hours ago, cantsin said:

The issues of "video vs. film" and "video look vs. [organic] cinema look" always get mixed up. (In the case of the vintage 8mm home movies, it's mostly color rendition, maybe highlight roll-off but mostly analog film/projection artefacts, including grain, splotches, jitter, gate weaving, that tell that something has been shot on film).

If we stick to the original subject of this thread, then the difference between video and cinema look was most clear in the miniDV era, because you had:

  • NTSC/PAL resolution vs. higher film resolution (even in 16mm)
  • interlaced images vs. progressive images
  • 30fps or 60fps interlaced vs. 24p
  • small sensors with infinite DoF vs. large chips/film surfaces with shallow DoF (when desired)
  • everything in focus/autofocus vs. focus pulls
  • auto-exposure (with auto-iris) vs. manual exposure (with constant aperture)
  • 4:2:0 8bit vs. deep color
  • high compression with artefacts vs. low or no compression with no visible artefacts
  • low dynamic range (cut-off shadows, clipping highlights) vs. high dynamic range (shadow and highlight detail, smooth highlight roll-off)
  • artificial sharpening (through increased edge contrast) vs. no artifical sharpening
  • aggressive in-camera noise reduction vs. no noise reduction (or slight noise reduction in post)
  • long-range zoom lenses with low optical quality vs. (mostly) high quality prime lensing
  • motor zooming vs. camera movement (dolly, steadycam)
  • available light/full-frontal light setup/harsh video light vs. soft light/light that models space/complex light setups
  • ultra-fast-paced (strobic) editing or no editing vs. planned shots/staging and narrative editing
  • in-camera audio vs. externally recorded audio + sound design.
  • on-location shooting (with random colors) vs. set design (with a chosen color palette)
  • in-camera default (Rec709) color vs. graded color
  • default clothing vs. costume design
  • no makeup (including specular highlights from skin) vs. film makeup

Since nobody has taken issue with the above list yet, it's worth checking it against the typical cameras and shooting/production scenarios discussed here on this forum. Many issues (resolution, progressive vs. interlace, focus and depth of field control) have been resolved since the miniDV era, but the following still remain:

  • 4:2:0 8bit vs. deep color (for most cameras discussed here, except Blackmagic and now GH5, although it remains to be seen whether the GH5 can really produce cinematic/deep color);
  • compression artefacts, somewhat (except for cameras recording raw, or external video recorders);
  • low dynamic range, somewhat (mostly due to limitations of Rec709; log profiles have their own drawbacks on 8bit cameras);
  • artificial sharpening, somewhat (except for Blackmagic);
  • in-camera noise reduction, somewhat (except for Blackmagic; if it can be switched off in other cameras, codec artefacts often result)

Color depth and rendition is the only serious issue at the moment. The main factors, however, lie outside the camera:

  • light
  • audio
  • staging & editing
  • set design
  • wardrobe/costume design
  • makeup
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7 hours ago, Emanuel said:

Like cooking, need to bake the footage ; ) Like love, a plant needs lot of care. Like life, stomach won't fill up with water nor alcohol all the time. Neither love. Filmmaking is not love making but certain rules apply ;-)

Sorry for so strikingly technical reply... :-))

At the end of the day filmmaking it is an Art, with rules etc... but like with the music, you can have the best Steinway piano, you can study rules, harmony, you can be a good piano player... and you are still far from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart etc... :)

Of course, we all love that "magic" in this Art - and we try to catch it - but it is like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow :) 

Someone catch it, most of us try to catch it, but anyway it is an enjoyable journey, because you meet on your road lot of great people that share your same passion and you learn something new every day.

Probably this is one of the biggest value of filmmaking. 

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