In digital cinema, there’s a lot of focus on “more.” More resolution, more sharpness, more data rate, more color fidelity. Even more frames per second.
But cinema is not about more. Cinema is about less.
24 frames per second is just about the bare minimum for viewers to perceive smooth motion on a big screen, and yet when audiences are shown projections of high-def video running at smooth 60fps they boo it off the screen because it looks like a giant, crystal-clear soap opera.
Cinema is not reality. It works better when we view it through a veil of non-reality. Flicker, grain, lens flares, filters, diffusion, smoked sets, artful lighting, nonlinear response curves, restricted framing, subjecting POV, dutching, color correction, vignetting, 180º shutters, and my personal favorite, shallow depth of field.
Some of the most cinematic digital images I’ve seen lately have not been from a Panavision Genesis or a Dalsa Origin, but rather from a Panasonic DVX100a equipped with a device that would have engineers screaming in protest — a lens adapter that allows 35mm SLR lenses to be mounted on a DV camera. The lenses make an image on a VistaVision-sized vibrating groundglass upon which your DVX’s lens is focussed. The result is the kind of shallow depth of field that no DV camera can produce. You get some vignetting. You get some softness. You get some flaring and some haloing. You get cinema.
Yeah, I want an HVX200. I love shooting with the latest and greatest HD beasts. But I’m seeing my trusty DVX100a in a new light these days. It does less and has less, and that is in fact just what we need sometimes.