I've switched almost exclusively to digital film when shooting weddings and corporate videos, but that doesn't mean that it's the right fit for every project. Here are some of the pro's and con's of digital film vs. the video you'll get from a DSLR or pro camcorder.
Digital film has been around for years, but thanks in large part to affordable options from companies like Blackmagic Design, it feels like digital film is now within reach for any company to utilize without breaking the bank. I think that my studio is a good example of how digital film has transformed the way we approach project capabilities and the look that we are able to offer clients.
Two years ago, my rig was based around two Canon DSLR cameras and a Canon XA-10 video camera. The rig has advantages: It's small. I can fit everything, including extra lenses, into a single backpack and take it just about anywhere, and all of the cameras are light enough that simple travel tripods can hold them securely. I also like the look that a DSLR with a good prime lens can give you for an interview. There's an inherent softness that works well for faces. The video quality was good enough for the projects that I was taking on, and my workflow was pretty simple: film, import to Final Cut Pro X, sync audio, edit, basic color correction, stylize, export. I was happy making videos. Then I stumbled onto the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and stuff got real.
I had read a bit about the BMPCC before mine arrived. I knew that it recorded raw files with more dynamic range than DSLR. How different could that be? I was using Technicolor's CineStyle and other plugins on my Canon cameras for years. This was the same, but better, right? Obviously, I wasn't prepared for what I had gotten myself into...
Digital film is whole new world. The images are fantastically flat. It's like seeing the world through a strange, brownish filter, where color takes a back seat to endless levels of shadow detail and beautiful motion. I had to become a colorist in a hurry, and learned DaVinci Resolve, which opened up all sorts of possibilities. I also picked up the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Now, the color palette is determined in post, instead of in the camera. The time in post also increased dramatically.
In my opinion, digital film brings two critical advantages: The first is detail. More accurately, shadow detail. The Blackmagic film cameras shoot with 13 stops of dynamic range, which is how much detail you get between the lightest and darkest areas of your subject. To the end consumer, this means that digital film will give you more detail in those little shadows. Film an executive in a suit, and you'll see all the little nuance shadows in his coat. Film an outdoor scene, and the afternoon shadows playing off the side of a building or tree leaves just feels more authentic. Digital film looks like cinema, and it's a beautiful thing.
The second advantage is that digital film is the editor's version of a blank canvas. Because the image is so flat, you can color the final image to taste, and shot matching becomes much more fluid. You can often convey a sense of emotion more effectively with digital film because the image is more pliable.
But in the foreword, I said that it wasn't for everybody. And it's not. Digital film takes time in post to get the colors just right, so if your project is on a tight time frame, it might not be the best solution. If you are supplying your producer with b-roll footage shot on a DSLR, there may be somewhat noticeable contrasts between the film images and the DSLR video images. Also, if your project requires a lot of run-and-gun filming or fast moving subjects, digital film can present some logistical challenges. Cameras like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Pocket Cinema Camera do not have continuous autofocus or autoexposure capabilities like a Canon DLSR would, which means you're primed to miss some shots.