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The "video" look vs the ???? look?


kye
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I was reading a thread on a pro colourist forum and a big debate started about how film was (mostly) awful to work with and mostly it was hugely inconsistent and although it was occasionally glorious, it was mostly a completely undesirable thing.  This makes sense, as evidenced by the complete lack of threads where people are asking how much to blur their footage to get the Super-8 resolution.

This leads me to perhaps a rather odd terminology question - there's the "video look" which typically isn't regarded as desirable, but what is the other "look"?

We can say "filmic" but in reality the film look consists of a whole bunch of things that mostly people aren't interested in.  "Cinematic" is a great phrase, but that just means "like the things in the cinema" and considering that Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane on an iPhone, having a phrase that includes everything from the Alexa 65 to the iPhone isn't really that useful.

We could attack it from another direction - we don't want that "digital" look, we want the "analog" look.  This isn't really so helpful either - analog was either film, which we don't want to emulate many of the qualities of it at all, or analog tape.  Analog tape simulation was in-vogue in music videos etc but used as a special effect, because the quality of VHS or Beta or even their higher-resolution variants, well, it wasn't great.

So, if we've only ever captured images on film, tape, and digital, and these often included attributes that were very undesirable, and even what got shown in the cinema wasn't always to be envied, what is it that we do want?

We can describe what we do want by listing the many things we don't want, like clipped highlights, or digital noise, etc etc, but that's not so useful.

This may sound like a trivial matter and just semantics, but I think there's a larger issue going on here.  I've been interested in learning about the film look, not because I want to emulate film completely authentically, but because I wanted to pick the good bits out of it.  But the issue is that any discussion of the "film look" either takes place with people who aren't experts and therefore isn't useful, or it involves those who have deep knowledge, but will argue that film didn't have a "look" because they spent decades of their life trying to create a single look out of pieces of film that were radically different to each other.  

Thus, these conversations often go nowhere because we don't have a good language to even frame the discussion.

I recently watched the Resolution Demo by Steve Yedlin (who shot Knives Out, Star Wars The Last Jedi, etc) which in Part 2 gave a few more clues about what might be going on with image quality and specifically which aspects of image quality have which effects.  http://yedlin.net/ResDemo/index.html

Another thing that 'inspired' this thread is the recent demo video of the Sony A1 which might be the most "video" looking thing I have seen in years....  

 

What I take from this is that whatever the hell makes an aesthetically pleasing image, it's almost entirely absent in this video.

So, I've tried taking a different approach, and tried asking what makes something look good.  I've prefaced it with some comments around what I don't like, in order to provide some context (because once again there isn't language for this topic) but that went about as well as you'd expect, and I got replies that included "it's whatever looks good to you" or "whatever is right for your project" etc.  Correct, but not helpful.

Does anyone have any idea how we might start to have a conversation about this stuff?

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Film being difficult to work with doesn't make it undesirable in terms of the final outcome. Of course it changes from film stock to film stock but traits of film are what good digital cameras do as well. This is of course talking about film that has been properly shot and developed.

Natural and true to life colors with a pleasing skin tone. Pleasant motion cadence. A detailed image that doesn't look like its been digitally sharpened. Soft roll off into highlights and shadows. Digital is still a relatively new medium and Arri is the only company to really have it down to perfection or at least very close to it.

Weird motion, jello shutter, sharpening, moire, aliasing, aberrations, poor or odd color science, digital clipping, digital noise, compression artifacts, poor color depth, line skipping, incamera noise reduction, are all things brought into being by digital cameras.

 

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2 hours ago, kye said:

We can say "filmic" but in reality the film look consists of a whole bunch of things that mostly people aren't interested in.

You should try shooting a roll of 35mm still. The skin tone, color, and look are you get from film are absolutely amazing. It just looks right.

I would imagine the guys on that colorist forum are likely a lot of veteran colorists that most likely value work flow over everything. 

I know this dude grades a ton of stuff shot on 35mm. Beautiful work. 

https://www.company3.com/artists/stefan-sonnenfeld/

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@TomTheDP @BenEricson You've both listed some virtues of film (and the negative parts of digital) but didn't list the advantages of digital or the disadvantages of film.  Halation, gate weave, gamma-related colour shifts, hue compression, softness, etc are all parts of dealing with motion-picture film that don't get talked about.

This is kind of what I think the problem is - we view film as being better than digital (and maybe we know that it's only better in some ways) but never talk about the ways its far inferior.  This leads "film" to be a proxy for "nice" and then we never get anywhere because we're not even talking the same language.

People are jumping up and down about 6K and 8K but seem to be unfamiliar with the idea that 35mm motion-picture film struggles to match 4K.  No-one seems to be trying to blur their images to match film (apart from me).

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35mm motion picture film doesn’t struggle to match 4k, just look at a film like the matrix in 4k blu ray ultra hd, or 2001 space odyssey or the original blade runner... They look amazing!

None of them share a common look per se, but nothing shot on digital after the transition to the alexa, red or sony cinealtas beats them. You have to remember that digital means pixels, pixels means squares and thus it cannot give the same type of detail the film grain of layers of color being burnt by light in the negative. A grain is a random shape (I know that 4k blu is a digitized image -converted to pixels-) in the original frame. 
The resolution threshold for what looks good has been surpassed in digital cameras I give you that, and once the film copies reached the theater we watched movies in the resolution degradation was maybe less than hd and maybe that’s what we want to mimic.

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The disadvantages of film are costs, which are increased by the more you shoot.  You can't monitor what you're shooting to the same accuracy as digital.   Its harder to backup and can be damaged if not transported or stored correctly.  Digital has the same problem, but film can degrade over time even if stored well.  

The advanatages are that film has a pleasing aesthetic and whilst digital has done much to narrow the gap, its hard to replicate the organic feel to film, and why some Directors will still use it despite the cost and extra work involved. 

Watching 4K movies shot digitally and on film, there are differences.  Not so much in detail, but in look.  Softer depends on a number of factors.  Lens choice, anamorphic, filters used, amount of grain and the grade itself can influence the final image.  Looking at TV shot in the 70s and 80s, and in the UK, we had many mix film and video depending on outdoors and indoors.  The video looked sharper than the film, but also a lot more ugly in look.  Harsh contrast vs soft contrast, cleaner vs grain, and yet video can't be reproduced well on bluray, whilst film looks simply beautiful on bluray if scanned from the source.

Of course there's the cinematic vs video look argument as well, but that's a complex and well argued one and frankly can be pinned down to personal bias.  For me, pleasing lighting, good DR, low frame rate, 180 degree shutter and decent colour grading are important.  Others will argue differently.

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7 hours ago, kye said:

@TomTheDP @BenEricson You've both listed some virtues of film (and the negative parts of digital) but didn't list the advantages of digital or the disadvantages of film.  Halation, gate weave, gamma-related colour shifts, hue compression, softness, etc are all parts of dealing with motion-picture film that don't get talked about.

This is kind of what I think the problem is - we view film as being better than digital (and maybe we know that it's only better in some ways) but never talk about the ways its far inferior.  This leads "film" to be a proxy for "nice" and then we never get anywhere because we're not even talking the same language.

People are jumping up and down about 6K and 8K but seem to be unfamiliar with the idea that 35mm motion-picture film struggles to match 4K.  No-one seems to be trying to blur their images to match film (apart from me).

People definitely blur their images to match film especially  when shooting on cameras that add sharpening. Using pro mist filters is super common to get a softer image. I think the disadvantages of film are well recognized though the visual ones are sometimes sought after. 

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12 hours ago, BenEricson said:

You should try shooting a roll of 35mm still. The skin tone, color, and look are you get from film are absolutely amazing. It just looks right.

Definitely depends on the film. Many of the currently available 35mm color films aren't great at all with skin tones. Portra, which has pretty much always been a go-to for people photos, is the best. But I've found pretty much any others are totally off - in a wide variety of different ways depending on the stock.

Anyway, just wanted to add that because (IMO) Portra (all flavors are great - 160, 400, or 800) is the only one that gives me pleasing skin tones.

Some quick examples, straight scans with no editing (1st is 35mm Portra 800, 2nd is medium format Portra 160 on a Fuji GA645Zi, 3rd is medium format Portra 160 on a Bronica GS-1)

portra1.jpg

portra160_GA645Zi.jpgportra160_bronicaGS1.jpg

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15 hours ago, kye said:

what is it that we do want?

An image sensor that is able to capture photons similarly to film. This, of course, is kind of ridiculous, because film uses crystals such as silver halides in galatin coated on a film base.

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1 minute ago, Matins 2 said:

An image sensor that is able to capture photons similarly to film. This, of course, is kind of ridiculous, because film uses crystals such as silver halides in galatin coated on a film base.

I don't know I'd be happy with an Alexa Mini LF sensor personally. 😅

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2 hours ago, Matins 2 said:

An image sensor that is able to capture photons similarly to film. This, of course, is kind of ridiculous, because film uses crystals such as silver halides in galatin coated on a film base.

Here is an article that might give a glimpse into the (far distant) future of image capturing: https://www.nature.com/articles/492055a

Here is a short video related to it:

 

 

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3 hours ago, Matins 2 said:

An image sensor that is able to capture photons similarly to film. This, of course, is kind of ridiculous, because film uses crystals such as silver halides in galatin coated on a film base.

The new sensor in the Blackmagic Ursa 12K - which BM designed themselves over the past 5 years or so apparently - actually gets us closer to "film like" than pretty much anything else out there right. In theory, at least, based on the sensor design itself - there's plenty of ways to screw up the potential of it in the imaging pipeline (not saying BM did that, but I'm talking just about the sensor design itself).

Maybe a 1:1:1 Foveon sensor will someday be able to get us there on the video front - which I think is something Sigma is working on. I know they're working on a FF 1:1:1 Foveon sensor, but I think they're working on the video angle too.

Anyway, I'm very excited to see what Blackmagic does in the coming year(s) with other cameras and sensors.

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20 hours ago, TomTheDP said:

Natural and true to life colors with a pleasing skin tone

I agree with all of your post, but I have found that film's colours are generally less true to life than contemporary digital video.

 

19 hours ago, BenEricson said:

You should try shooting a roll of 35mm still. The skin tone, color, and look are you get from film are absolutely amazing. It just looks right

Absolutely agree.

18 hours ago, kye said:

No-one seems to be trying to blur their images to match film (apart from me).

I often blur photos, particularly if I add grain. Otherwise it doesn't look right. 

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The benefits of digital are, of course, undeniable - in fact this forum wouldn't exist were it not for the advent of large-sensor video and many of its enthusiast members, myself included, would never have been able to even get into a position where these discussions are possible without it.

We have 2 competing sets of desires when it comes to large sensor video. On the one hand we want more resolution, greater bit depth and higher frame rates (all of which improve the ROI for professional users); while on the other, we want sensors that will satisfy our aesthetic desires which for most of us align much more with the organic nature of celluloid than they do with pristine Rec709 video. Perhaps those two desire sets will never be compatible, but unfortunately there will never be sufficient sales to enthusiast users to justify pro-sumer/consumer level equipment that abandons the megapixel/frame rate race in favour of a lower resolution with film-like DR etc.

I was having this discussion (sort of) with a couple of occasional photo shooters just on Friday. they were saying that there was now no discernible difference between film and digital. I disagreed. I can certainly easily differentiate the stills I shoot on film, to those I've shot on digital - even though I generally process the latter to look as much like the former as I can. The organic, random, chemical nature of silver halide photography gives a highlight roll-off - and just as important, a roll-off to underexposure - plus a transition from in to out-of focus that simply can't be achieved in a grid matrix of photosensitive receptors. That look is at once closer to and further away from what we see with our own eyes and that is where its magic lies.

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18 hours ago, pixelpreaching said:

The new sensor in the Blackmagic Ursa 12K - which BM designed themselves over the past 5 years or so apparently - actually gets us closer to "film like" than pretty much anything else out there right. In theory, at least, based on the sensor design itself - there's plenty of ways to screw up the potential of it in the imaging pipeline (not saying BM did that, but I'm talking just about the sensor design itself).

Maybe a 1:1:1 Foveon sensor will someday be able to get us there on the video front - which I think is something Sigma is working on. I know they're working on a FF 1:1:1 Foveon sensor, but I think they're working on the video angle too.

Anyway, I'm very excited to see what Blackmagic does in the coming year(s) with other cameras and sensors.

You know, it's kind of funny... and a bit depressing.

Out of boredom, I started watching a gameplay of the popular game The Last of Us II, which incidentally is created by Sony.

The CGI is really beautiful in it. It's not really film-like per se, but it is still nice.

But then I worry that when sensor designers finally get around to being able to create the perfect film-like sensor, the majority of the consumers will have moved on. Especially with people being locked in doors, and even when things "get back to normal," they aren't going to be as normal as they were before.

And so with the prevalence of gaming (higher frame rates), and tiktok (shot on phones), I just don't know how much longer the film aesthetic is going to matter to tomorrow's consumers of the world. My fifteen-year-old son is in to video (and photography) and he couldn't care about film-like sensor response.

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16 minutes ago, Mark Romero 2 said:

And so with the prevalence of gaming (higher frame rates), and tiktok (shot on phones), I just don't know how much longer the film aesthetic is going to matter to tomorrow's consumers of the world. My fifteen-year-old son is in to video (and photography) and he couldn't care about film-like sensor response.

You could easily say the same about VHS or Hi8 in the 90s and early 2000s...

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44 minutes ago, BenEricson said:

You could easily say the same about VHS or Hi8 in the 90s and early 2000s...

True, I think the thing is that the main consumers that are being targeted with those things. 

By that, I mean if you count up the total number of hours that consumers ingest content (via all platforms, either on computer, tv, smart device, or in cinema,) their exposure to "the film aesthetic" has declined consistently over the years. 

Put it another way: Let's say that by some magic technology development, film were to become as easy to shoot / process / distribute as digital. Or, let's pretend that a digital sensor that gave "the film look" were to be developed and was available in consumer cameras.

I don't think there would be a clamoring by the public to start consuming content that was shot on film (or with the film look). I think that while the "film look" ship might not have sailed yet, they have loaded the supplies and are getting ready to weigh anchor.

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43 minutes ago, Mark Romero 2 said:

True, I think the thing is that the main consumers that are being targeted with those things. 

By that, I mean if you count up the total number of hours that consumers ingest content (via all platforms, either on computer, tv, smart device, or in cinema,) their exposure to "the film aesthetic" has declined consistently over the years. 

Put it another way: Let's say that by some magic technology development, film were to become as easy to shoot / process / distribute as digital. Or, let's pretend that a digital sensor that gave "the film look" were to be developed and was available in consumer cameras.

I don't think there would be a clamoring by the public to start consuming content that was shot on film (or with the film look). I think that while the "film look" ship might not have sailed yet, they have loaded the supplies and are getting ready to weigh anchor.

Lots of people say Arri has an analogue look and that is what the majority of big stuff is shot on. But then again most content is coming from YouTube rather than Hollywood so your point is true. 

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