The great digital debate : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I know that this isn't directly on point with the LF content of our forum, but I came across this interview with Steven Spielberg in Wired magazine today and he has views of digital cameras and technology that some here may find interesting. The whole article is at if you want to read more. Here's the quote:

"Now the thing I'm most saddened by is the constant talk about the photochemical process becoming a thing of Thomas Edison's past. There's a magic about chemistry and film. Sure, a digital shot is steady. It doesn't have to ride through the gate of a projector. And, sure, it's as clean as the OR in a major hospital. That's exactly what's wrong with it. Film has a molecular structure called grain; even a still of just a flower in a vase has life because of the grain, because of the molecules in the film. Especially if you sit in the first five rows of any movie theater, you know what I'm talking about. The screen is alive. The screen is always alive with chaos and excitement, and that will certainly be gone when we convert to a digital camera and a digital projector. I was one of the first people to use digital technology to enhance my films, but I'm going to be the last person to use digital technology to shoot my movies."

-- Bruce Pollock (, May 14, 2002


I think what Spielberg is trying to say is that there is such a thing as a "too perfect image" which is what I have always thought about the new digital processes. Regardless on wether one way is better than other...if you see the images by great digital printers like Fokos, Burkholder, etc. There is always something that does not ring quite true about the images, even when they seem just simple prints......I think the random element that exist on film is what makes it special.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, May 14, 2002.

I happened to be listening to NPR All Things Considered yesterday and one of the stories was about the gradual move by movie studios to switch to all digital production in the next 20 yrs. The huge advantage for studios is no film stock cost, processing, shipping etc. Movies would be transmitted via highspeed ground link or by satellite. The advantage for theatres is the ability to juggle movies between different size capacity rooms, have many titles on hand at one time, and even be able to dedicate screens to more indy and local offerings.

Movies are totally cost and profict driven. Mr Spielberg may make the last movie shot on film stock, but there may not be a theatre left in the modern world that has the equipment to screen it.

In a way this was heartening news. After 35mm and medium format film disappears, the remaining contingent of LF shooters will band together to ensure that at least one production line stays open for film and paper. After everyone has become hypnotized and then numbed by digital, those who can create with light and film and paper, will be the ones who rise above mass mediocrity and produce and craft images that people will view as true art.

-- James Chinn (, May 14, 2002.

Want to see the future of photography? How it will one day look all dull and bland and featureless? Look at what happened to the other great analog art form - music (i.e., records).

Just as the digital dogs sanitized and killed the music by digitizing everything analog and putting it onto CDs - they'll do it to photography and motion pictures, too. They think that we won't notice the loss of beauty and depth - it's a pervasive theme in the digital realm.

Never mind that we humans may operate on electrical impulses - but they're analog, not digital. And yes, we'll miss the details - for, as they say, God is in the details.

In the end, it's all about the Green Jesus - i.e., money.


-- Alan Agardi (, May 15, 2002.

I don't think "they" think we won't notice. They just think we'll have to accept it, and will forget. On average, they're right.

Here's an interesting thought I had recently, on the topic of movie grain (almost): suppose we compare a digital video system with a film movie. Suppose that each frame of film has the same number of grains as the digital video has pixels (be dumb with me for a moment). Shouldn't the film movie still have a higher effective resolution, in some sense? My little mathematician brain says it should: the "pixels" in the film are never in the same place from frame to frame, so we're constantly "sampling" the data differently and averaging this data at 24 fps. Just a thought.

-- Patrick Ingram (, May 15, 2002.

Digital photography is money driven. It is a great opportunity for many manufacturers to cash in on a new market. I feel sorry for the many commercial photographers out there investing huge sums of money on equipment that will be outdated the moment they take delivery. The same thing happened to the printing industry. Printers bought million dollar scanners one year - just to lose out to desktop scanning the next year. Synthetic imaging in upon us. My suggestions is to save up your dollars and be ready to purchase a lifetime supply of film stock...

-- Per Volquartz (, May 15, 2002.

While there are many advantages to digital imaging for motion pictures, the single most difficult hurdle for cinematographers at the moment has to do with the relative size of the imaging area and the attendant problems of depth of field (too much DOF, actually) that come with smaller imaging areas. This, because of the need for shorter focal lengths to achieve the same field of view. A second issue is the lack of a way to view the scene while shooting, through an optical viewfinder. All of these technical problems will eventually be solved, but not quickly and certainly not inexpensively. Still, taking that into consideration, subtle differences in the way we as an audience react to photochemical vs. electronic images is reason enough to believe that the two methods will coexist for some time. Interestingly enough, over time we tend to eventually embrace the stuff we disliked at the outset, partly because at the outset it looked (or sounded) so terrible and got better as time went on and partly because we got used to it. I'm not suggesting that we should simply get used to new stuff when it is introduced, but rather, just suggesting that this is an evolutionary process and that changes in technology and the application therof as observed in our day to day lives, eventually influences what we as a society accept as the standard. Those of us who still recognize the subtle differences and choose to employ older technology will simply have to find what we need to get the job done. This is what they make freezers for, right? I guess the hardest thing for me is that the rate of change just keeps excellerating.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, May 15, 2002.

I bought glass negative holders on Ebay. Nyah nyah nyah! :-)

What the entertainment industry is doing with digital is trying to make the experience like a real event. I think that someplace along the road that the information will be placed directly into our senses.

Personally, I have stopped going to the movies because of the price. The matinee prices are now the same price as a book, so I'd rather spend the money on a book.

What I acertain from Spielburg's statements is that he is more enamored by the equipment than the story. The true major component of any movie is the story, not the effects or the medium. I still have a tape I made 20 years ago from a performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue BWV 535, not because I recorded it on a cheap radio- cassette recorder, but because it is a performance I really love.

What it boils down to is content, content, content. I don't care what medium is used to deliver the information, I want that information to be top notch.

-- Brian C. Miller (, May 15, 2002.

Brians' reply is the answer .... content, content, content. Of all the movies I've seen recently, I cared less, or even knew if they were done digitally or not.

-- Michael Mahoney (, May 15, 2002.

Apparently digital video is noticeably inferior to film. See this article on Star Wars II:

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, May 15, 2002.

It would seem Stevie is mostly referring to big budget, sci-fi, special effects flicks where digital has definitly made for some exciting effects; Spiderman swinging through Manhatten, Jedi's jumping, flying, weilding light sabers, even the flying sequences from Hook with Robin Williams are a far cry from Chris Reves in Superman.

But even in these fun to watch, slick as buttered popcorn flicks, the digital applies mostly to the great action special effects that only last a few seconds to minutes. However, filming and entire big buget flick in digital will happen.

As for us minority maniacs running around with antiquated cameras may go the way of the Box Brownie. But when film became ubiquitous, some thought paints and canvas would vanish. Even if Kodak discontinuous film, there will be other companies like Ilford, Berger, Agfa, or not yet formed to carry the ball.

-- Rob Pietri (, May 15, 2002.

My eyes do not exhibit the artifact called "film grain", yet I still enjoy looking at the world through them. Of course, they do exhibit other artifacts.

-- Michael Chmilar (, May 16, 2002.

"My eyes do not exhibit the artifact called "film grain", ...Of course, they do exhibit other artifacts. "


How old are these artifacts, and when are the artifacts on exhibit for public viewing? Is there an admission charge?

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, May 16, 2002.

Does this mean that when I have to replace my copy of "Attack of the Mole People" or "Night of the Living Dead" that I will not get the high quality Grade B movies I am used to?

-- Dan Smith (, May 16, 2002.

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