urbanfox - company logo  
          urbanfox.tv > production > Part 1: Making video look like film


The Camera
Depth of field

Part 2: Making DV look like film in post.

For our complete list of articles on making video look like film including links to other sites of interest.

Part1: Making DV Look Like Film

by Christina Fox

It has been said that: "Video is what the eye sees and film is what the mind sees." So, if you want gritty realism stay with video at 50 (or 60 NTSC) frames per second, but for that dreamy, other-world look, only film's 24fps will do.

It is not just the frame rate that means video doesn't look like film, the colour, gamma, contrast range and grain are also different. So, if you want the film look, why even start with video? Not surprisingly, the main reason is money. It is a lot cheaper to shoot on video and then up-convert your production, giving it that film look, and perhaps even outputting to film.

Whether you go for High Definition like George Lucas for the next instalment of Star Wars or can only afford a Canon XL1s, there are ways of getting the film look with video to suit your budget.

back to the top


The first thing to consider is your shooting style. OpTex technical manager, Brian Rose, believes you should try to "…shoot in a film style, with all of the discipline of film. Using the camera like a film camera, using all the film lenses and accessories." And, like Lucas, "you would actually shoot with a film crew," if you can afford to.

Next is your choice of camera. At the top of the DV range, there is Panasonic's DVCPRO-HD camcorder, with variable frame rates for film-like speed effects. Even at lower budgets, there is a lot you can to give a film look. JVC recently added CineLine camcorders to its professional DV range, which mimic some of the characteristics of film. The 50Mbps D9 DY-90W has 14-bit digital signal processing and can sync to an external DAT recorder, while the lower-cost DV-700W is probably the most full-featured miniDV camcorder available. These cameras are optimised for digital filmmaking (and can come with suitable accessories from OpTex). The digital processor includes gamma curves and colour matrices calibrated to match those of film.

Other camcorders can do something similar. "With DigiBeta it is a matter of setting up the camera so that it will transfer well to film and look like film rather than a video picture," says Rose. "That can be done by people like us, although a lot of cameramen have their own memory cards. You can very easily record set ups and quite easily go back to previous set-ups. You can tailor the camera for a certain look using memory cards or smart cards. It is the same as changing film stocks and filters. It makes the camera more versatile than film."

With a DV camcorder, one method of replicating a film look is to set the camera's shutter at 1/25 (or 1/30) of a second, but this halves your vertical resolution. Canon has sidestepped this on the XL1, using its Frame Movie Mode. The camera captures 25 (PAL) full frames (or 30 NTSC) instead of 50 (or 60) half-resolution frames a second. This improves vertical resolution and gets you closer to a 24fps film look.

back to the top


One aesthetic problem with video is that it has greater depth of field (DOF) than 35mm film (DOF measures the amount of the picture in focus). A shallow DOF allows the director to guide the viewer's attention to certain parts of the screen. There are several ways around this – you can force a change in the depth of field by changing the f-number you shoot at. The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. However, to compensate for opening the iris you will have to use neutral density (ND) filters to cut down the increased amount of light now entering the camera.

Alternatively, you could use the new Mini35 Digital adapter from P+S Technik. This adapter allows you use the same Prime lenses as film cameras (or cheaper photographic lenses) and can be used with the Sony PD-150, VX-2000 and Canon XL1 camcorders. A version for Digital Betacam and HDCAM is also in development.

Film lenses are designed to project an image on a 35mm piece of film, which is about seven times larger than the one-third inch CCDs used on the XL1 and PD-150. "If you project it directly on to the CCD, you only use a small fraction of the middle of the 35mm image. You change the angle of the lens. A standard lens becomes a telephoto lens, so you never get the 35mm feeling. With this it stays exactly the same," explains freelance cameraman/Mini35 developer, Ben Gabel. The Mini35 projects the image on to a ground glass screen the same size as a 35mm frame (which rotates so it doesn't add grain). It is then passed through a prism block and a second lens to the CCD.

back to the top


If your budget is very tight, then a simple pack of filters may be all you need (or can afford). "Video applies an artificial edge enhancement to correct a problem inherent in CRT video displays. Some cameras let you adjust the amount of added edge enhancement via a 'sharpness' adjustment. Lowering sharpness a little will soften edges and give more of a film look. You can achieve something similar by means of a Promist filter," says D Gary Grady, a DV expert on the VX2K egroup forum.

Indeed, Tiffen has bundled four filters into its Film Look DV filter kit. It includes: the black diffusion/FX 1/2 to take the hard edge off your video pictures; the warm black diffusion/FX 1/4, which gives a similar effect with an additional warm tone; the black Promist 1/2, which tones down excessive video sharpness, lightens shadow areas and minimises highlights and flare; and a Soft/FX 1, which subtly softens unwanted detail. The kits come in a range of sizes from 52mm up to 4x4.

back to the top


How you light your production is another important consideration. A video camera's CCDs respond differently to light than film does. Film has a higher dynamic range, typically about 12 to 14 f-stops compared to the eight to ten of video. Video will burn out bright areas and crush details in the shadows.

On some cameras, setting the viewfinder 'zebra' at 90-100 IRE will warn you when you're about to loose detail in bright areas, while a graduated filter can help tone down large expanses of sky. "Likewise, you usually don't want large areas of pure black with no detail," says Grady. "Use fill light or a reflector to bring up some detail in the shadow areas. White poster board is often good enough. And by all means use good, film-like lighting, not just flooding everything with light but modelling things."

Rose agrees: "You can light as if it is a film set. For example Night and Day has a very filmic look to it, which was lit as for film by a film director of photography and shot on DigiBeta. With modern cameras, as long as they are set up properly, there aren't the restrictions there used to be with video. Such as restrictions on lighting." But you may still have to do some post-production tweaking to get the feel you want.

"If you're doing a film, use film style lenses and shoot it as film. It is half attitude and half equipment. Use the best format you possibly can. Ideally, High Definition because it is [more] compatible with 35mm," he says. And of course if its good enough for George Lucas….

© 2000 - 2010

back to the top


Here's our complete list of articles on making video look like film including links to other sites of interest.


Christina Fox