As a semi-professional cinematographer and photographer, I've always wondered why large productions mostly always prefer to use Film cameras, even with the development of cameras such as RED and BlackMagic?

How do the recorded films get converted to digital? isn't there some sort of inevitable quality loss from this process? Not to mention expensive?

(Sorry in advance if any of these points sound uninformed or just plain dumb!!)

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    Film shows are digitized by scanning the film. The films are often then color graded before creating the deliverable. This process is known as "digital intermediate" or "DI"
    – agf1997
    Mar 18, 2016 at 17:38

3 Answers 3


Is this an impression you have or based on statistics you read? My impression is the opposite: projects shot on film have become so noteworthy they get some press coverage for the fact alone they are shot on film. Then you have things like "interstellar" where the hype was about the 70mm or tarantino who says movies on digital are not sexy. What I heard is that unlike 5 yrs ago, the predominant tool in feature film has become the arri Alexa, while RED is going strong in advertisement. From the distribution side I know that (in Germany) the big multiplex cinemas don't have 35mm projectors installed anymore - they set them up on demand - and that at big film festivals like the berlinale, the amount of analog prints has changed from 9 out of 10 to less than 1 out of ten over the last ten years. Apparently it has become difficult finding a lab that can develop analogue film (in Germany) nowadays.

The reason for people still using film is probably that film automatically adds a lot of organic texture, like minor irregularities, grain etc. that a lot of people aesthetically prefer and which is not easy to mimick digitally in post-production. Using the "original" material also is a tribute to the history of the craft in a way... Going analogue all the way, even in editing (which is really not done anymore I think, even with the biggest fans of film stock) takes you back to a process which is actually destroying something (making a cut) to create something new, so there are some powerful metaphors in the original process ;)

Products like Blackmagic cameras are not used in big budget productions because the quality assurance, sensor quality etc. Is not up to par with cameras by arri or red. And for productions on an average Hollywood budget, the difference between I.e. 5000$ for a bm camera or 60.000$ for an Alexa is not really relevant, especially since a flaky camera ruining a shooting day can result in much higher costs.


The biggest reason for shooting on film is because...it looks like film.

20 years ago, Red Hat founder Bob Young told a story about branding that bears on this question. He explained that if you offer somebody who has never tasted Ketchup before two samples, one being the most popular brand in America (which enjoys > 80% market share) and the other being any other brand of Ketchup (chosen at random), almost everybody will find both to be equally unpalatable. Yet among people familiar with Ketchup, the majority specifically prefers Heinz. It is now possible to build digital imaging systems (ARRI Alexa, RED Weapon, SONY F65) that are objectively better than film in resolution, dynamic range, noise, etc. But those features do not influence a preference that is based on familiarity.

As Hans Meiser points out, there's been a huge flip from film projection to digital projection in the past 10 years, which means that extraordinary measures are necessary to even screen films these days. So it is newsworthy and remarkable, like a dinosaur actually walking down Main Street, when a movie is released as an actual film.

Film does have the advantage of being an interesting archiving format. It is not perfect, but when properly stored, it has many advantages over naive digital archiving strategies. But I would say that the principle reason for film's continued popularity among the Hollywood Elite is because the current generation of the Elite grew up with film, and that is their favorite brand of Ketchup. The next generation have different preferences, and they will have their say as the older generation ages out.

  • Actually i think film, as a relatively "high resolution" medium, is (as far as i know) the only archival medium known to last 100yrs and longer. I don't know if they changed it recently but the really super important governmental stuff (in germany) is still archived on microfilm, put into steel containers and sent down a storage facility in a salt mine. who knows what will be left of all the digital stuff in 100 yrs... Mar 18, 2016 at 19:07
  • We can very accurately model the reproduction characteristics of film with digital systems. It's 100% perfect because of the stochastic nature of silver grains in the emulation and the spectral sensitivities of the film vs those of digital cameras but we can get close.
    – agf1997
    Mar 19, 2016 at 1:23

By far the biggest benefit is archival.

We know how to store film and retrieve the images for at least 100 years. That's not the case with digital film making. Assuming you are able to get the bits off the disk (damn where's my syquest drive), and you can read the file format (will anyone know what a jpeg is in 100 years), you still have no idea how the values relate to the images on the screen. Are they scene referred values encoded relative to camera spectral sensitivities? Are they device code values intended to drive a particular display? Are they values representing a device independent color encoding like DCDM X'Y'Z'.

Assuming you have that all worked out there's the significantly greater expense associated with archiving digital films.

The issues are very well laid out by the Acadmey of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here : https://www.oscars.org/science-technology/sci-tech-projects/digital-dilemma

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) is intended to address some of these issues. http://www.oscars.org/science-technology/sci-tech-projects/aces

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