View Full Version : Film vs. digital cinema projection

Otter Mii-kun
April 27th, 2013, 5:10 PM
Mods: I'm not sure if the following belongs in General Entertainment or here, so if needed, move accordingly.

Since the beginning of the movie industry, motion pictures have been shot on photographic film and presented on theater screens using film. The most common format for movie film is the 35mm, first introduced in the late 19th Century, although some movies have used other film gauges, such as 16mm or 70mm (the latter known as 'large format').

Over the past decade however, more and more cinemas have been converting their screens to digital projection, a trend that accelerated when digital 3D technology was brought into use, with many movies produced in 3D and presented as such in theaters. With digital projection, no actual film is involved, instead, the movie is a (extremely large) digital computer file (or series of files) "ingested" into the digital projector system and then shown at a pre-scheduled time. The two major digital projection formats are in image resolutions of 2K (2048×1080 pixels) and 4K (4096×2160 pixels), with 2K being by far the most common.
Also, in this period of transition, more and more movies are being shot in digital formats, and are presented as such in digital theaters, and printed out to 35mm film for theaters that still use film projectors.

One major advantage of digital cinema is that the picture quality of each movie shown is consistent and does not degrade after each showtime, unlike film, which can accumulate dust, scratches, and mars.
On the other hand, the big advantage of film is its maturity and long-standing status as a de facto worldwide standard for cinema.
One big disadvantage of both systems is cost: potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of initial investment to convert screens to digital; on the other hand, $1,500 to $2,500 to print and ship a typical 6 reel 35mm feature weighing upwards of 70 pounds, as opposed to about $150 for equivalent digital files. (source) (http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/movies/film_dinos_be_damned_LHLpJgOH6rMWka2oZibHVM)

To start off the discussion: Do you like film-based or digital projection in the movie theaters better?

As for my opinion: Digital projection is really nice-a consistent, clear picture without constant scratches and dust specks, as well as no changeover cues (those black circles or ovals (or colorful sawtoowth spike-balls, back in the days of 3-strip Technicolor) in the upper right hand corner of the screen every 15 to 20 minutes. However, I do miss the faint "clickclickclickclickclick" that you could hear from the projector's intermittent (the device that pulls down each film frame for showing at a single instance-1/24th of a second) in the booth.

Mr Cat Dog
May 1st, 2013, 11:26 AM
I feel like I should have more of an opinion on this, given the amount of films I watch in a cinema in any given year, but I don't really have one. And, as much as this will probably hurt my hip cinephilia street cred that I've managed to accumulate around these parts, if I had to choose, I'd probably go for digital cinema projection (DCP). For the most part, the UK has been very receptive to DCP: there's barely a cinema around me that doesn't have it installed; so much so that it was really strange viewing something NOT in DCP when I went to the US last year (Lincoln, FYI).

Having said that, I'm a big proponent of shooting stuff on film. In fact, the most beautiful cinematic experiences I've watched have both been on film. The first was a 2012 Japanese film called For Love's Sake, which was full of grain and grime and murk... but it really made the film come alive in its dishevelled look. The second was Taxi Driver, but is slightly more complicated in that it was shown in DCP when I saw it. Still, it's one of the most beautiful films ever made, and doesn't get enough credit.

I think, for me, an ideal solution would be to film things on actual film, but then project it digitally. I feel kinda dirty saying it, but the Taxi Driver experience really opened my eyes to both the inherent beauty of 35mm AND the functional benefits of DCP.

May 1st, 2013, 11:43 AM
I also don't really have strong feelings either way. Digital is a good, useful format for viewing movies, but I think filming with real film is fine. There's something a little more real feeling about film, but that might just be because digital hasn't been perfected yet.

I do wonder if digital is a good media to preserve a movie with though. It seems every year we're moving up to larger and large resolutions. Are today's movies going to look like tiny, low resolution dinosaurs in 10 years, or 20? And what about file formats and compatibility with new technology?

May 1st, 2013, 9:24 PM
For projecting, I think digital is handy. Don't really have a preference either way, but I see the benefit. It's... cleaner. And cost-effective for studios and theatres

For shooting? Film is superior. There's a wonderful warmth and life that comes from shooting on actual film. Digital is sterile. And film inherently sports a greater resolution; it can be recaptured as needed as new personal formats pop-up. Digital, on the other hand, is stuck at the resolution they were shot.