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Shooting At 30fps

Those of my friends from the former and original AOL Hollywood online Forum will remember how I LOVE to stir the pot. You guys really bit. It's great to have a discussion like this. And I really believe the essence of what I said about 24fps and 30fps. In fact I better post the article I referred to in my first post on this subject.

Of course the frame rate isn't the only component that makes up the difference between film and tape. Many of the comments about the 3:2 pull down and a refresh rate of 60 (or 50) images like Showscan or normal video were very cogent. But have a butchers at what I was thinking about and then lets talk...

By the way, I promise that I didn't name it ""The Poster Theory"" the editor did. Also please remember it's a few years old.

Film vs. Video : The Poster Theory  by  Steven Poster, ASC

(Cinematographer Steven Poster served as director of photography in 1990 on an experimental high definition television dramatic project for NHK titled Coastal Frames. The production was recorded with prototype Panavision/Sony 1125/60 HDTV equipment in Bodega Bay, CA. It was during this experience that Poster began to reconsider the widely-held notion that video should be made to look like film. Among Poster's 16 feature film credits are Someone To Watch Over Me, Life Stinks and Rocky V. He was also director of photography on Madonna's Like A Prayer video and such longform television projects as Testament and I'll Take Manhattan.)

Since the day video was invented, the question of how to make it look like film has come up repeatedly. I believe that film and video are two separate mediums and should be thought of as such. There is a need for both of these styles, and the two can definitely work side-by-side without one trying to dominate the other.

As I perceive it, there are productions that are best done on tape and there are productions best done on film.

News and sports, special events like variety shows and concerts, news-based and contemporary documentaries, industrials and educational programs are best done on tape. Anything that needs immediate presentation is obviously best done on tape. Soap operas, believe it or not, are best done on tape. I'll get into why I think that is true a little later.

Film, however, is best for any storytelling or narrative production. Historical documentaries, I think, are best done on film. Commercials are best done on film. Anything that is ""fantasy-based"" is best done on film. Why do I say this? Marshall McLuhan, the great media visionary, defined the difference between the hot medium and the cool medium as the audience's use of the imagination as opposed to the direct visual implant. I have a theory about this . . .

Film is shot at 24 frames per second. At that speed, there is a certain amount of blur in the images. There is also a brief time between the frames when there is no image at all and there is a little perception of flicker. Though this film process may sound technically flawed, in fact, these ""imperfections"" cause the audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks of the missing information.

Tape, as we know, is 30 frames per second or two interlaced fields resulting in 60 images a second. There is a technique called Showscan, invented by a genius named Douglas Trumbull, which involves filming at 60 frames per second and projecting at 60 frames per second. This number was not arbitrarily chosen. Trumbull did psychological and physiological tests on all kinds of audiences and determined that 60 images a second is the maximum visual information that can be transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain. Watching Showscan resulted in a direct visual implant without any perceivable blank spaces. If the rate is raised to more than 60 images a second, the audience won't get any improvement in image transference. So 60 frames is the cut-off. I believe a format like Showscan negates the use of the audience's imagination. This refresh rate of 60 images exactly relates to what is seen on a video screen. Therefore, when we see video images we're getting a direct implant of images; we are not having to use our imagination to fill in the blanks. This is little like the difference between radio drama and television. In radio drama, the audience has to completely imagine the setting and completely imagine what the people look like. Listeners must engage the imagination in the storytelling process. For this reason, I feel any fantasy-based or story-based information is best viewed on film. The 24 frame per second film imaging system does not give the audience all of the visual information. Audience members are engaged in the storytelling process because of the need to fill in the blanks with imagination.

Now, what about soap operas? Why do they work on video? Soap operas are made so that the audience can feel an immediate connection to the characters and feel that those characters are part of their daily lives. This is the reason that soap operas are best done on tape. It's best to visually implant that information directly so it feels like it's live and happening now.

There have been continuing attempts to make tape look like film. I think this is the wrong approach. Each medium should be used for what it does best.

Dr. Edwin Land, the inventor of instant photography, had the idea he was giving a new medium to the world. He wasn't just doing something old in a new way. I think that is the approach we should take with the video technology of today and with high definition video in the future.

As I just re-read this I realized that it is a simplified version of a speech that I gave for the High Vision Society in Japan in 1991 (about 300 people involved in the development of Hi Def). It of course raised a lot of eyebrows there. Many of the (Non- Sony) engineers and scientists and designers really got it.

PS - For those of you who don't understand the word Mishagass (however it's spelled) - Tough...

Steven Poster, ASC


The fact that the tape looks much like the 16mm is a good argument for shooting 35mm all of the time. Besides you degrade the artistic content of any narrative piece by shooting at 30FPS or on tape. Refer to my article in back of the American Cinematographer Video Manual.

Given the choice between panning slowly and the look of film at 30fps I'll take panning slowly.

One can overcrank, etc. Conceded there are some compromises. But the rhythmic quality of film at 24 fps is I think, pleasurable, hypnotic. I actually feel this is true for theatrical as well as TV shooting.

18 fps? I'd say that would be fine with me :) ..but I already take enough flack for using a Steenbeck and printing - film dailies.

In the pre-sound days with the projector motors on rheostats, speed cue sheets were apparently shipped to projectionists.. (whether they followed them closely is debatable) and I suppose in the best of all possible worlds we would have projection speed options - actually one thing interesting in the proposed 'HDTV' standards are options in frame rate,(I think) so this is not purely hypothetical musing, I believe it touches on some very critical issues.

It is certainly not the only significant difference and I don't think that Steven Poster is saying it is the 'only' significant difference. But I would agree with him- 30 fps film on video brings out the aspects of video that you yourself do not like. Vs. film's ""organic image"".

Note that everyone in the ""film look"" business reduces 30 > 24 (and of course back up to 30) in an effort to convince us it 'looks like film'

Sam Wells


With respect to the increased cost of film stock & processing related to 30 vs. 24fps, there are some projects that simply cannot afford the added expense. However, this difference is not significant when compared to the overall costs of most contemporary productions.

It is true that 30fps is not an absolute fix, but it does significantly minimize the problem.

As for the issue of the 24fps ""rhythm"", this again appears to be more an issue of a frame rate seeming to be ""comfortable"" simply because we have lived with it for so many years.

And finally, the difference in frame rate from 24 to 30 fps merely requires a ¼ stop increase in light level. This is hardly a major issue.

michael siegel


I'm with Michael Siegel - I love the look of film at 29.97fps! As a colorist I've heard both points of view, but my eyes are my witnesses that I personally prefer film shot and transferred at 30. Not only is it a better sampling rate, but the elimination of the pulldown makes the motion much more fluid. Clients usually notice the difference if they've shot a lot and transferred at 30 for a while - their eyes get used to it so that if they shot a scene at 24 and we drop to that speed, they clearly see the jerkiness of the pulldown.

Because of this, I always recommend shooting tabletops at 30, or scenes which will have a lot of motion and/or picket-fencing. Generally it's OK to shoot talking heads at 24, as that's not a big deal of movement.

There are those who contend that film transferred on a Rank at 30 is degraded due to a smaller flying-spot patch on the tube. They claim that the reduced patch size enlarges irregularities of the tube face. Fortunately, this effect is ameliorated in the new thick-face tubes, which are subject to less surface degradation over their lifetimes. Then again, CCD machines work fine at both speeds.

Anyway, I generally like 30 when the scene has a lot of motion.

I guess there are a lot of opinions, but it's all a matter of personal taste,

Bob Lovejoy


There are a couple of things that deserve to be addressed here. The first issue Michael brought up is the strobe factor. Shooting at 30 fps doesn't eliminate the problem. It lessons the parameters, but it still exists, and there are other compromises none of which I believe have very much to do with tradition , but rather with an aesthetic that many others on this list have expressed. The perception of motion or the motion blur is the key issue here. Some believe (as I do), the blur at 24fps helps rather than hinders the perception of motion. If image sharpness (and not cost) is the sole concern, why not shoot 65mm Showscan at 60 fps and end the argument? Obviously it is not practical, nor is shooting 25% more film at 30 fps in most situations, particularly if the aesthetic gain does not out weigh the economics. There is nothing I hate more than an opening sequence in a film, or a grand scene that opens strobbing all over the place (and some of the greatest masters . . . and operators . . . in the business are guilty of this), frankly shooting 30 fps is not the way to rectify the problem.


I hate to rain on the parade but I can tell you from first hand experience that (other than on commercials) any question of 24 vs. 30 will be quickly overruled once a Producer calculates the cost. This entire argument is highly entertaining but, unfortunately, it is merely an exercise in debating prowess.

I agree completely with your point about costs - however, I think this debate is more over the look of the two frame rates rather than the costs.

Jon Mendelssohn


If you think the increase in cost of 30/24 is insignificant to a Producer/Line Producer/UPM you are sadly mistaken. In many cases I hear guys negotiating over points of a cent per foot.

The only way to slip 30fps into dramatic production is to go to 3 perf pulldown, thereby giving the same overall stock costs. This very rarely happens (although it is happening on some three film camera sitcoms) for myriad reasons.

Whilst most of these arguments are technically accurate they have little bearing on Production. You could argue til you are blue in the face but the cost differential will win over the quality differential every time.

Rob Draper,ACS


I feel that one cannot compare 30fps to 24fps -- the two rates look totally different and should be applied depending on the needs of the artist. I will say this -- 30fps cinematography requires a great deal more care than 24fps.. My experience has taught me to light 30fps with more diffusion and a lower contrast ratio - anyway, that's just my take on it. 30fps is a great format when lit properly-to say that it looks ""bad"" or ""just like video"" to me is just nonsense. One has to know how to use a format before judging it.

Jon Mendelssohn


Well... I just can't buy that at all. For the very reasons I cited previously, 16mm (24fps, 29.97 or anything else) looks nothing like video. The mere fact that video is shot at 30fps (interlaced at that!) can't possibly make up for the myriad of other shortcomings.

That's like comparing an F-117 and a Cessna simply because they both fly! Yes they do... but in very different ways.

30fps looks far smoother than 24, and the ""stuttering"" problem of 24fps is significantly reduced. Every time I see a scene projected on a screen that suffers from that 24fps ""stutter"" it immediately disrupts any ""suspension of disbelief"" and subsequently my sense of personal involvement with the narrative. I fail to see how severing the audiences emotional participation by abruptly reminding them that they are not truly involved in the story can possibly contribute a thing to improving the filmgoing experience.

Again, and with all due respect, IMHO all I see here is the need by many cinematographers to cling to a traditional frame rate since ""its what we have always done and always intend to do"".

michael siegel


The fact that the tape looks much like the 16mm is a good argument for shooting 35mm all of the time. Besides you degrade the artistic content of any narrative piece by shooting at 30FPS

Amazing how true it is. 30 fps film (or 29.97) looks awful!

Jeff Kreines


I'm with Michael Siegel - I love the look of film at 29.97fps! As a colorist I've heard both points of view, but my eyes are my witnesses that I personally prefer film shot and transferred at 30. Not only is it a better sampling rate, but the elimination of the pulldown makes the motion much more fluid. Clients usually notice the difference if they've shot a lot and transferred at 30 for a while - their eyes get used to it so that if they shot a scene at 24 and we drop to that speed, they clearly see the jerkiness of the pulldown. Because of this, I always recommend shooting tabletops at 30, or scenes which will have a lot of motion and/or picket-fencing. Generally it's OK to shoot talking heads at 24, as that's not a big deal of movement.

There are those who contend that film transferred on a Rank at 30 is degraded due to a smaller flying-spot patch on the tube. They claim that the reduced patch size enlarges irregularities of the tube face. Fortunately, this effect is ameliorated in the new thick-face tubes, which are subject to less surface degradation over their lifetimes. Then again, CCD machines work fine at both speeds.

Anyway, I generally like 30 when the scene has a lot of motion.

I guess there are a lot of opinions, but it's all a matter of personal taste,

Bob Lovejoy


Again I would say that for me, the '3-2 pulldown' in NTSC/60 transfers actually helps preserve the rhythmic quality of film.

Having said all that, one could take the opposite tack :

I saw a movie about 6 years ago called ""Julia and Julia"". It was shot on the Sony 1125 system for theatrical release, but I saw it on my (normal) TV. It was the 'clearest' and most 'video-y' video I'd ever seen, outside of trade show demos. And seeing it on my home set made that effect seem quite surreal, enhanced I suspect by its sort of de Chirico exterior compositions (a deliberate production design and framing/composition choice I'm sure). The walls for instance of the exterior architecture were so 'unchanging' in their appearance (sort of like glossy acrylic paintings) that it was almost startling when people or cars or whatever moved in front of them. It was an interesting visual experience insofar as it was SO ""un filmlike""!

It did not make me a convert, however.

Sam Wells


Okay, what is different between film and tape when the final release is on tape?

1. Resolution.

This is a fairly minimal difference, and while it's possible to get better resolution on a film chain than on a conventional color camera, the end viewer never sees it anyway. So who cares?

2. Motion Artifacts.

This is what most people notice first when they see stuff originated on film. If you go to 30 fps operation, they go away, thank God, and the improvement is significant. I consider motion artifacts to be a disadvantage of film, not an advantage, but a lot of people seem to like them.

3. Grey Scale.

This is where film really shines. There is a much wider scale, and this is visible on the final video output. Even more importantly, when you go from the wide scale medium to a medium with a reduced grey scale like tape, you have a lot of freedom to adjust things. There is more shadow detail and more highlight detail, and you can tweak the midpoint up and down a lot without it being visible, like it is with videotape originated material.

Now, this said, let's cut it out with the stupid film vs. tape debates. I've been seeing them on the old filmmakers' mailing list for ten years and I don't want to see them here.

Scott Dorsey


It's interesting that you would point this out, as it's one of the current ""selling points"" for devices such as the Spirit Datacine and/or high-def video origination, not to mention other options such as the HR1440 telecine. The concept of oversampling providing more flexibility in a downconversion has always been one of the primary advantages of film origination.

Mike Most, Encore Video, L.A.


The first part of this I don't want to even get into. But I do take exception to the overall concept.

I'm a director/cameraman in a small market.. We shoot hundreds of thousands of feet of 16mm film each year. It is all for commercials. Most of it is shot at 30 fps.

Our reels are enthusiastically received at agencies all over the country, from large NY agencies to smaller creative shops in mid-sized markets. The single most-often hear comment is, ""I can't believe that is 16mm"". This comment is never, never meant to be taken, ""it looks like tape"". It is always said in belief that it ""looks like 35"".

Really, other than trying to do good lighting and having a great colorist, we don't do anything any different than most people. But we always shoot our 16mm at 30 fps. And our 16mm NEVER LOOKS LIKE TAPE.

Yes, I think this will be another thread. Later today, I'll post a document that is widely circulated by a NY colorist, The Anti 30 FPS"" theory. Then later, maybe my own technical rebuttal.

Jim Dollarhide


Now HDTV is a touchy subject here because many in the states have fought and lost (as I have said all along) to getting any of the standards(e.g. Non interlacing, 2:1 ratio, etc). The reason they have lost this battle and the reason why the digital future is more like science fiction has to do with one word-money. The original propionate for HDTV is the EIA. Who is the EIA? The ten manufactures of TV sets. They single-handedly started the whole thing. That is why we are now talking about HDTV. We will get a compromise though. It's digital TV, as it offers the TV manufactures the ability to throw away 240 million perfectly good sets. The broadcasters have to spend to re-outfit, but they will not have to spend on HDTV and the Gov. is ""giving"" them the free radio space so that is like money in the bank. We as cinematographers who thrive for quality pictures get an ""almost"" 2:1 ratio so that is not bad.

A valid argument was made by the ASC here, but this has nothing to do with quality. And digital will mean ""fantastic"" sound that I doubt anyone will really notice unless you tell them. The only one who suffers is our US economy because virtually all of the TV manufactures are from overseas. I remember when Sony came to the US 5 years ago. They went around shopping malls here to do a side-by-side comparison of HDTV and ""regular"" TV. Almost 80% of consumers who saw it picked the ""regular"" picture as being better. Oh there are some of you that will say the new sets are wider. That is good. But there are also some that will say they look better, but that is simply because you have been told that. And there are some of you that will tell me that this is the first step in the evolution of TVs. Well, this is the first step in the evolution in almost forty years. Oh sure NBC plans on equipping twenty stations with HDTV.

I don't know if they will in the end, but HDTV would be nicer. See TV doesn't evolve much, its too expensive. Its more like they'll make the change now that make everyone happy and that will be it for the next 40.


Remember that when we get digital TV we will have the opportunity to see 24 fps film shown on 24 frame video...the end of 3-2 pulldown!

However, we will also be able to see 30 fps film shown on 30 frame video! <<

Uhhh,,, that's not entirely accurate..

Since most people will be viewing digital TV via a decoder box attached to a (current) analog monitor, the monitor display will still be 29.97 FPS. Not to mention the likelihood that most broadcasters will adopt one of the 30 frame options for digital broadcast, if only to allow a mix of film and video originated programming. In the case of film origination, the 3:2 pulldown is removed when the MPEG encoding takes place (automatically, in most cases) in order to save bandwidth. The MPEG2 format contains a flag that identifies the data stream as 24 FPS material and the decoder reinserts 3:2 pulldown for display. That's how DVD works today. Looking at today's DVD is a very good preview of what digital broadcasting will hopefully accomplish within a few years. Besides, you don't really want to start viewing flickering 24FPS displays, do you??

Mike Most, Encore Video, L.A.


One needs to keep in mind that film shot and transferred to NTSC at 30fps cannot be transferred to PAL using advanced 3:2 pulldown conversion technology such as ImageFIT, DEFT or TK3:2. This presents a major headache to the international distributor of the finished program due to the fact that linear interpolating converters such as ADAC are the only option for creating the necessary PAL masters from 30fps NTSC. Many of today's quality conscience program buyers will no longer accept programming which exhibits the temporal smearing and judder associated with linear conversions. Remember that with the exception of the United States, Japan, Canada and a few smaller markets, the vast majority of viewers around the world will be viewing the standards converted master. Take a close look at what these converters are going to do to your work prior to deciding to shoot 30fps.

Jeff Dewolde


I have been following this 24-30fps/film-video tread (yes another film-video tread) with great interest and Steven certainly started a very good one there. This is what this mail group is all about.

I certainly prefer to shoot film for all the reasons we all agree on so I won't repeat them all here. However, I am starting to do more and more video. Keep in mind that I am in a peculiar market. French Canadian productions are doomed from the onset to have a smaller market, mostly here in Quebec, most even have to be dubbed when sold in France and other francophones Europeans countries as our accent is apparently disturbing to our Europeans cousins. Therefore productions are highly subsidized and subject more and more to budget cuts.

Three weeks ago a large productions company called me to a meeting and asked me to shoot a 13 part mini-series. Five months of shooting over 120 days of work (total budget around 11 millions CAN$, that's a lot here). The fee is as good as on any feature I could do, the script is good. It is on digital betacam. I agreed. I did not stop to think ooooh... it's video. Of course we get follow focus, serious mat box and all the film style gear and it is shot like a film, only the cameras (2) are different.

Perhaps some among us have only shot 35mm for the past 10-20-30 years, that's great, maybe I wish I was in your shoes. Perhaps some can afford to turn down work like this. I know I can not. Here in our smaller market that's the game. I believe I am getting a good reputation doing better video than others and that's getting me work. I always treat video with as much care as I would film while respecting the medium's shortcomings without letting them limit me. Just last week I was offered, but had to decline of course, another mini-series on digital betacam, and I was asked for another one about six weeks before. Is there a trend? Perhaps, and I am glad to take on the challenge. Just give me something with a lens at one end and a light if it gets dark and I'm a happy camper. Add a good dedicated crew, talented cast and a serious production company and all is A-OK for me.

IMHO, it's not the container that matters but what's in it.

Happy shooting to all... at all speeds and on all formats. Have fun...

Daniel Villeneuve


I couldn't agree with you more. I personally hate how 35mm film looks transferred at 30 fps, and 16mm looks worse. And to further the argument, advanced definition television is just around the corner. I read recently that the FCC is pushing the broadcasters hard to be on line broadcasting digital television signals by Christmas 1998. The broadcasters admit that about half of the 20 major markets will indeed be on line by Christmas '98. So, you're a producer and you shoot your show in NTSC video.... whatcha gonna do with it in a year and a half? 35mm film is higher resolution than any of the proposed advanced definition TV standards and will allow your product to look its absolute best well into the foreseeable future.

To quote a long dead economist: ""There is the price, and then there is the cost.....""

Bill Bennett, Los Angeles


 

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