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September 2003, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 26 Sep 2003 20:36:51 +0100
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Lou Thompson asks:

>I was wondering if any of you could enlighten me about the pros and cons
>of traditional film vs. digital film.

Yikes!  Not having the time or energy to bash out a 100,000 word monograph
on the subject, I'm not sure where to start just now.  But to be brief and

Film - Pro
    * Unsurpassed image quality in both cinematography - film is still the
'gold standard' by a considerable margin
    * Almost universal compatibility - W.K.L. Dickson's four-perf pulldown
specs are still the industry standard
    * Because it's analogue there are no software compatibility issues
    * Because of universal compatibility and because it's analogue, it is
the most 'future proof' moving image medium currently available
    * New generation of polyester film stock overcomes decomposition
problems associated with nitrate and acetate
    * 35mm cinema projectors are virtually given away (relative to the
start-up and ongoing running costs of a commercial cinema) and, with
routine maintenance, last almost forever.
    * Because it's very bulky, very heavy and requires specialist skills
and equipment to use, film is inherently resistant to piracy.
Traditional Film - Con
    * Photographic film stock is the most expensive blank moving image
media available, by a considerable margin.
    * Like a CD-R, it can only be used once; so in production, a rejected
take means wasted film stock.
    * The chemistry involved in manufacturing and processing film buggers
up the environment, big time.
    * The size and weight of a 35mm cinema release print imposes costs and
restrictions on moving them about.
    * If mishandled, 35mm cinema release prints suffer damage which
directly affects the on-screen image quality.
    * Transferring film to video is a costly process.
    * The requirement for specialist skills and equipment in working with
film limits its versatility.
Digital - Pro
    * Less technical expertise is needed to operate the hardware than with
    * Blank media is cheap.
    * If you reject a take on the set, you can just press the delete button.
    * You can see the results of a take immediately afterwards, i.e. you
don't have to wait for the rushes to be processed or use video assist.
    * Technical changes in post-production are easier, quicker and can
sometimes be cheaper.
    * In cinema distribution/exhibition, you cut out all the costs and
restrictions associated with print availability and transport.
    * Images projected from a source as digital data don't get scratched or
Digital - Con
    * With the current state of the digital projection art, the image
quality is just nowhere near what film can deliver (if used properly) in
terms of image definition, contrast and saturation, and probably won't be
for at least a decade.
    * The capital cost of the hardware is a significant issue, which in
most cases (especially in exhibition) will more than offset the cost of
film stock.
    * The hardware will become obsolete over a very short time scale.
    * So will the data carriers and encoding formats, meaning that digital
technology is effectively useless for the permanent preservation of moving
    * If an analogue carrier suffers damage, you have a flawed signal, but
you can still see/hear something.  With digital, if the error rate goes
above the threshold at which error correction protocols can deal with,
either you see a perfect picture or nothing at all.
    * There are many different competing production and exhibition formats,
each of which is deliberately made incompatible with each other.
    * Digital moving images are far more susceptible to piracy, because the
physical barriers are removed.  If human expertise can devise methods of
encryption, it can also devise methods of cracking it.

Dr. Leo Enticknap
Curator, Northern Region Film & Television Archive
School of Arts and Media
University of Teesside
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-(0)1642 384022
Fax +44-(0)1642 384099
Email: [log in to unmask]

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