The Film Look
Getting the elusive “film look” is the battle that most filmmakers using digital cameras fight every day. There are many ways this can be accomplished, but first let me explain a little about what the “film look” is.
ORGANIC Vs DIGITAL
When we look at a film on the cinema screen, it is likely that it was shot on 35mm film. This film uses a chemical process, which gives it a much more softer organic look, unlike digital. Digital cameras use an array of precisely laid out light sensors, this in turn gives it a vivid crisp “Tele movie” look, and not at all “film like”.
As was just mentioned in regards to film being chemical in relation to Sharpness Vs Softness, the same issue also applies to that of Grain Vs Noise. From Film we get quite a random, soft Grain and from Digital we get Noise, which is almost “static” like. This is most apparent in Low light and especially when we use electronic Gain (which should be avoided like the plague).
DEPTH OF FIELD
During a “film” we will find that the camera directs our attention to certain things through focus. It can be moved between two people in a conversation or simply drawing our attention to a person in the middle of a busy footpath where it would normally be distracting. This is the use of controllable short depth of field.
There are a number of things that attribute to getting and not getting a short DOF, things like the size of the sensor (image plane),
So why can’t we do this on common Digital video cameras ? Well there are a couple of reasons, for one; most cameras have a telephoto zoom lens on them, which are not as effective as prime lens’s in getting a short DOF. But the real factor is this.
Put simply “the sensors or Image plane in them are just too small !”
Explaining this in layman’s terms can be rather difficult, but I’ll give it a try.
To explain it properly I would need to involve a lot of mathematics, so as to keep the math’s out of it I’ll use a couple of pictures and a couple of analogies to give some insight.
One way of thinking about it is like this…
As a general rule we know that the wider the angle of the lens, the longer the depth of field.
Now lets look at the difference in the framing a 50 mm lens throws onto a 35 mm chip (red), and then replace the chip with one that is 1/2 the size (blue). Lets repeat the process again with our 70 mm lens. What we have now is essentially the framing of a 70 mm lens when we use a 50 mm one.
This explains why we need to get so far away from our subject to get a nice short DOF and keep the the Mid framing we want to use.
So in actual fact the lens on the camera is considerably wider than what we might think it is!.
Aperture is another factor that greatly controls the DOF that is projected on the image plane. When we adjust our image exposure for filming, most of us adjust the lens’s aperture, BIG MISTAKE!
In order to get a shorter DOF you need leave the aperture as wide open as possible.
Take a look at the diagram below – The top left one shows an aperture wide open at the lens (4) and the respective focal points from the 3 cards (1,2 & 3) against the image plane (5). Note the short DOF displayed against the Image plane, with only the middle card in focus and both the front and rear cards out of focus. Now take a look at the bottom right image, it shows the aperture partially closed, and yet it has affected the DOF quite considerably, with the 3 focal points now almost equally focused. If the aperture was further closed, the DOF would continue to lengthen until all objects both near and far are in sharp focus.
So keep your aperture as open as possible if you want to get a more “film like” look form your Digital camera, “But now my image is way over exposed!!” I hear you say… yes!, and so it will be, this is where Neutral Density filters and shutter speed come in to play.
When you watch the next “the making of “ on a film, take note of the Matte Box on the camera, you may see a piece of tape on it’s side saying ND 4,8,16 or something along those lines. This is how they are stopping down the light coming into the camera. Take a look on your camera as it may have in built ND filters. But if not, you can always buy them to screw onto the front of your camera’s lens, alternately you can make the shutter speed faster to cut down on the amount of light reaching it’s sensor.
Also before I finish talking about aperture, bear in mind that you will need to have as fast a lens as possible on your camera, anything over f/4 is probably going to be useless in getting a decent short DOF so try and get a camera that goes as close to a f/1 as possible, although it very, very unlikely you will get one that quick unless you are going to spend thousands on a camera.
The other obvious thing, but not as important for getting the film look, is Frame Rate, generally film is shot at 24 Progressive Frames/Second (unless under or over cranking the footage to speed up or slow it down later). Progressive Frames is the key word here, if you have it, use it! Try and shoot at 24 F/S if you can but always try and shoot with your shutter speed at twice that of the frame rate in order to avoid “Stutter” (strobing) when panning the camera. Now if your camera can shoot at 50 F/S Progressive, then you are in for a big plus, you will be able to shoot great slow motion footage by over cranking the camera, and bringing the footage back in post. This can be especially handy when shooting action scenes!
Dynamic Range or otherwise known as “Latitude” is essentially how either Film or Video handles the extremes of exposure. Here we find an important difference between Film and Video. Film generally has a Dynamic range of 12 or more, where as on a Standard Definition camera is around 5 ! When we move up to High Definition camera’s we find that the Dynamic Range is around 8.
With some searching on the internet you may be able to find some invaluable information from various sources on adjusting your camera’s menu settings to get a “Wider Latitude”, this may in some instances allow you to push the Dynamic range up to as much as 11!
You will find this will make the image look quite flat and have little contrast, but remember, that you will be able to do a lot more in post when it comes to Grading your film.
Traditionally Grading use to be done through the selection of the type of film stock you required, by choosing different film stock produced by different manufacturers you could get a different look and further selection of iso rating (the speed of the film) you could give it more or less grain. There are also different films for different lighting conditions depending on whether you were shooting during the “Day”, under “Tungsten” or “Fluro” lighting. This could be further balanced or un-balanced by the use of coloured filters on the front of the lens. This is especially useful if you are shooting on black and white film, as you can adjust the contrast of certain colours by using either the same or opposing colour to either lighten or darken what the film will look like.
With Digital video much of this in camera skill is is becoming a lost art, but that’s not to say that it isn’t being done, as most people now choose to do all of this in post. So long as you have exposed your footage correctly and opened up your Latitude in the camera. There are a number of “plug-in” programs that can be purchased for professional editing programs which make Grading a breeze, this is not to say that you can’t do it using the pre-sets that come with the editing suite, but they will save you literally tens or hundreds of hours.
The sky’s the limit !
I’ll be discussing this and the other topics about the film look, further in the Tips & Tricks and Forum section in the future at Zilm Enterprises….
Well I hope this information has been helpful to you, if you require more information, check out the other pages on Film making, especially the Resources page at Zilm Enterprises
Good luck and good shooting!