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class="style5" Viability of Super16

>Published : 29th sept. 2005

>I am about to purchase an Aaton Super 16 package and am being dissuaded by many into considering a Varicam. Now the obvious issues notwithstanding, price difference and type of work that would pay this package off, I am wondering - for the first time - if this format (S16) is truly moving into obsolescence and should I push for the high Def. I love the material I shoot on film (and nearly all that I shoot in high def) but I don't want to be the last purchaser of a Super 16 camera.

>It's making me a bit queasy. Any kind insights?

Thanks,


Ari Haberberg
DoP, NYC
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>Ari,

>I would say this is relative, depending on the kind of work you're doing. A Kodak is continuing to develop new films (w/ a new 250D coming out soon)and as many will point out for certain situations there are many advantages for shooting S-16 (latitude, resolution, etc)On documentaries the Varicam offers a distinct advantage-you can shoot continuously a lot longer(but then you can end up w/ too much footage to edit if you don't stick to traditional film discipline)

>I can also say that right now, the way the economy/industry is, I've proposed S-16 or Varicam and some projects can't budget for more than a DVX 100 or XL2-and the producers decide if it's video then why spend so much more than on DV -but this doesn't generally include Music Videos (of course people do shoot them on 24P/SD as well, but I'm speaking of documentaries/ low budget projects) I'm going to be shooting an infomercial(or as I call them, scams LOL)and already it doesn't look like it will budget for film or Varicam-and depending on the project, I can make better w/ Shooting S-16 when you consider the variables(Varicam daily rateX my camera + film/process/transfer.

>So there are many factors to consider. A I do think that the robustness of shooting film and the control during transfer/post offer many advantages. A I've been spending time with the Varicam-I've also shot a bit w/ the 900-you should be prepared to shoot whatever production calls for- so we should plan for extra training since things have been changing...If it's in your budget, perhaps consider a S-16 and a DVX to cover a wide range of production possibilities, and w/ my Aaton I can do time-lapse(sure it's possible w/ video, digital stills, but again, latitude, etc)I just shot some sunrise print tests and the latitude of film is truly incredible-

>I do know a guy who now tells everyone "welcome to the DV business" (laughs). By the way, last night at the Miami Beach Latin Funk festival, it seemed like everyone in the audience had a DVX 100...

John Babl
Miami
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It seems like we have this conversation every three or four months now. Only buy ANY equipment if you have the work load to back up the investment. Otherwise you should just rent. Generally the producers will decide on format before we ever get involved and we have to fight to get whatever we might want. And it really doesn't make sense to own gear unless you specifically are willing to be in the business of owning gear.

>That being said, Super-16 is certainly still a very viable medium. Whereas in 2002 & 2003 I had maybe 20-30 days/year on my Aaton package, this year I've had more than 60. I figured that anything less than 20 days and it's not worth owning (the thing keeps losing value every year). HD ate up a lot of what was Super-16 territory but the format has enjoyed a major resurgence. There's a number of US network TV series captured on S-16 and I think that the combination of the lowering cost of DI and Kodak's excellent promotion of Vision2 film stocks have really turned a number of producers back to the format. I'm currently travelling in California on a Super-16 feature, and it's the third large S-16 project I've been on this year.

>A viable medium format indeed.

>Mitch Gross
NYC DP



I own both an XTR Prod and a Varicam and as much as I prefer to shoot film, I had to bend to the will of the market as it affects my small neck of the woods. I am in a funny market (mid Atlantic) and my mainstay is long form docs for Discovery or Nat Geo, or PBS. Lately at has been almost exclusively Varicam which looks better than previous iterations of video but does not touch the magic of Super 16. The only area in which it truly excels is in low light because of its ASA 640 rating. That also creates a problem however shooting daylight exteriors because I always feel like I have the wrong stock loaded!

>I use the minus three gain, add ND on the camera's filter wheel then add a Pola and an ND 9 just to be able to shoot at the wider apertures…As much as film is a superior product IMHO, I think the market will unfortunately continue to shift towards HD originated material which would make me reluctant to invest in a Super 16 pkg. That said however I am not planning to sell mine just for the occasional independent feature, PSA or music video that comes down the pike.

>Good luck with your decision.

>Dennis Boni
DP/Steadicam owner/op
IA 600



I should have mentioned that I already own a Pana DVX100 and do a great deal of work with it.

>I'm hoping the ability to not have to rent a S16 package will help facilitate THAT sort of work while I maintain the DVX100 clients. I guess I just don't want an expensive paperweight after a year or so.

Ari
NYC
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Ari Haberberg wrote :

class="Paragraph">>I love the material I shoot on film (and nearly all that I shoot in high def) >but I don't want to be the last purchaser of a Super 16 camera.

>Ari,

>Own a S-16 camera if and only if :

>1.  No local cameras are available for rent.
2.  The work justifies the purchase.
3.  Your accountant smiles.
4.  You want to see a excellent camera collect dust.
5.  You want/need the freedom to shoot smaller projects on short notice.
6.  You have money to burn.
7.  You need/want to learn the care and feeding habits of a S-16 camera.
8.   You don't want to own equipment with an A or B after the Model#
9.   You can only get your creative fix shooting film.
10. You smile when people say to you, "You're shooting film? Isn't film
dead?"
11. Your colorist asks you, "Are you having steadiness issues?"
12. You want a camera tech to send you holiday cards....
13. You look through trade rags and want to mutter "If I only had that
accessory..."
14. You want your wife to say, "Honey, can we move those cases to the outside shed."

>It's fun I'll say that!

>Tom McDonnell
Dir/DP
New Orleans, La



Mitch Gross wrote :

class="Paragraph">>There's a number of US network TV series captured on S-16 and I think >that the combination of the lowering cost of DI and Kodak's excellent >promotion of Vision2 film stocks have really turned a number of >producers back to the format.

>I'm putting on my flame retardant suit now......

>First of all, the cost of DI has absolutely no impact on television because television isn't finished by a DI process, it's finished completely electronically, primarily in large post facilities dedicated to the purpose. Second, it's not producers who have advocated the use of S16, it's largely cameramen, who are more comfortable with any film format than they are with video.

>That said, I would also add a few other personal observations. First, while it is true that a number of shows are shot on S16, it is also true that I can pick them out from a mile away, especially in HD broadcasts. With the possible exception of One Tree Hill and Scrubs (which is broadcast in SD only), I find every single one of them extremely grainy, softer at times than they should be, considerably flatter than their 35mm counterparts, and with very "electronic" color palettes (in other words, "forced" saturation, especially in flesh tones). Such shows as The OC, North Shore, Malcolm in the Middle, Gilmore Girls, VeronicaMars, Third Watch - all of these shows exhibit these tendencies - and this is not meant as a slur in any way, shape, or form, on the fine cameramen who shoot them. It's simply the nature of the beast.

>On the other hand, I happen to think that Joan of Arcadia and Kevin Hill - both shot on 24p HD video - look great, as does Enterprise (which to my eyes looks almost identical to what it looked like on 35mm film). My point is that noticeable grain, while controllable, does not add to rich production values unless the particular production lends itself to that aesthetic (Third Watch is a possible example of this). The almost unavoidable consequence of 16mm production is larger and more noticeable grain than 35mm, particularly when finishing in HD, as essentially all US network programs are now required to do. Except for the limitations of the format (no overcranking, at least on Sony equipment, being the primary one now), I must admit that to my eyes, HD video is a better origination medium than S16 for HD television broadcast when a look is required that does not read as "gritty." It is also a far superior medium when visual effects are involved, and generally cheaper to boot.

>What has driven the "renaissance" of 16mm is the same thing that has pushed sitcom production almost exclusively to HD video - cost. I don't know anyone who is shooting 16mm who wouldn't rather be on 35mm (with the possible exception of Scrubs), but has been forced to go to 16 for budgetary reasons. Given a choice between 16mm and HD video, most current cameramen choose 16 simply because it's film, and therefore familiar territory. And I say all of this as a "film person," someone who's worked in film practically his whole career. But I'm not blind.

>I think I'll wait a while before taking that flame retardant suit off...

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles



Michael Most wrote :

class="Paragraph">>First, while it is true that a number of shows are shot on S16, it is also >true that I can pick them out from a mile away, especially in HD >broadcasts."

>There was also a comment regarding West Wing being shot on S16 and it looked flat and somewhat grainy.

>I checked and yes the West Wing "WAS" being shot on S16. Received this note from a person involved in the post production in response to my question about S16.

>""The West Wing" DP did in fact try a switch to S16 this season, and it will be that way for the first 9 episodes. After that I think sanity has prevailed and they are reverting to 35mm 3perf.

>As far as I know there are no plans to stop the negative cutting process."

>Regards,

>Bill Hogan



Hey Mike,

>Good post

>I whole-heartedly agree.

>BTW, just for even-handedness sake, has Vision2 in S16 changed anything either way? Still haven't gotten to shoot that stuff yet (just Vision), so I can't say for sure first-hand.

>Jason Rodriguez
Post Production Artist
Virginia Beach, VA



Bill Hogan writes :

class="Paragraph">>After that I think sanity has prevailed and they are reverting to >35mm3perf.

>How long have they been 3-perf? We did a matte painting of “Air Force One” for them like 2+ years ago, and I know we scanned 4-perf plates then, and they didn't get a camera special for us.

>Tim Sassoon
SFD Vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA



Michael Most wrote :

class="Paragraph">>BTW, just for even-handedness sake, has Vision2 in S16 changed >anything either way?

>Just about everyone I know who's shooting a series on 16mm - well, I really only talk to Billy Dickson (One Tree Hill) and I worked a few weeks ago with Victor Hammer (Veronica Mars) - is using 7218 as their primary stock. In Billy's case, I'm not so sure he would have been particularly happy with S16 prior to that stock's being available.

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles


class="Paragraph">> How long have they been 3-perf?

>They were 3 perf last season, prior to that I'm not quite sure.

>Just about every 35mm television production today is on 3 perf, and logically so, since nearly all of them have to post in (16x9) HD, and 3 perf is perfectly suited for that, with essentially an identical negative area for that format as 4 perf. The only productions I know of that claim to still be on 4 perf (and I'm not positive about that) are Boston Legal and Charmed.

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles



Bill Hogan wrote :

class="Paragraph">> ""The West Wing" DP did in fact try a switch to S16 this season... and >they are reverting to 35mm 3perf.

>I'd heard (and this is all 2nd hand info) that they currently have a S16mm and a 35mm package with them. And then I think the plan is to go back to 35mm only in a few weeks (once they're done shooting pickups for the S16 shows ?).

>I was told the switch was a cost cutting measure and not necessarily the DP switching on their own for sake of the look, but the Network found out and wanted them to go back to 35mm.

>As for it looking flat in S16, it shouldn't look that different except for DoF and resolution/neg area/and possible grain in some cases. Unless the post house doesn't have a S16 gate for a Spirit and is putting them on another telecine - but I'd find that hard to believe.

>I also heard the talented Tom del Ruth is no longer shooting that series, so again, I think flatness is a lighting choice more than S16mm vs. 35mm if its done on the same film stocks.

>Besides "West Wing", here are the series I know of that recently shot S16mm:

>"One Tree Hill", "Gillmore Girls" - WB
"OC", "Malcolm in the Middle" - Fox
"Scrubs" - NBC
"Veronica Mars" - UPN

>Mark Doering-Powell
LA based DP



Mark, 7212 shot wide open and transferred on a spirit is in my opinion superior than HD originated material.

>Why? Dynamic Range

>Florian Stadler, D.P., L.A.



Viability of Super 16How many shows that are shooting S16 vs 35 for financial reasons can afford to light for 7212? (dynamic range not withstanding)

>Mark Weingartner
LA based


>If you're exclusively talking about episodic television, you have a point, but I thought we were discussing the viability of a medium.

>Florian Stalder, D.P., L.A.



Mark Doering-Powell wrote :

class="Paragraph">>Unless the post house doesn't have a S16 gate for a Spirit and is >putting them on another telecine - but I'd find that hard to believe.

>The post facility is Level 3, which has both Spirits and C-Realities. I don't know which has been used for the 16mm West Wing shows, but I can make some calls and find out if anyone's interested.

class="Paragraph">>I also heard the talented Tom del Ruth is no longer shooting that >series, so again, I think flatness is a lighting choice more than S16mm >vs. 35mm if its done on the same film stocks.

>That is correct. Michael Mayers is shooting the show this season, although Tom did the season opener (on 35mm, undoubtedly).

class="Paragraph">>Besides "West Wing", here are the series I know of that recently shot >S16mm :

>Also :

>North Shore, Tru Calling (Fox).
Growing Pains Reunion (ABC).
Monk (USA).
Strong Medicine, The Division (Lifetime).

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles



Florian Stadler wrote:

class="Paragraph">> __ If you're exclusively talking about episodic television, you have a >point, but I thought we were discussing the viability of a medium.

>I was talking about television because the post I was responding to mentioned it.

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles


>Mark Doering-Powell wrote :

class="Paragraph">>I also heard the talented Tom del Ruth is no longer shooting that >series, so again, I think flatness is a lighting choice more than S16mm >vs. 35mm if its done on the same film stocks.

>Yes, I agree completely.

>The show used to look very good -- Tom del Ruth left, and now the show looks pedestrian at best.

>But since Aaron Sorkin left, the show has been nearly unwatchable -- kind of "ER goes to DC." So the bland photography doesn't really hurt, because there's little left to destroy.

>Jeff Kreines



Jeff Kreines wrote :

class="Paragraph">>But since Aaron Sorkin left, the show has been nearly unwatchable -- >kind of "ER goes to DC." So the bland photography doesn't really hurt, >because there's little left to destroy.

>This is verging into Chat territory, but.....

>Personally, I really like where the show has gone so far this season.

>The whole middle east peace initiative storyline is interesting, at least as speculation, and the changing of the guard in the Chief of Staff position can potentially add some conflict which has sorely been missing. Having said that, some shows are really the product of one solitary vision (The West Wing, Ally McBeal, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos all come to mind as examples of this) and should probably be kept that way, for better or for worse. When that one mind leaves, the vision is largely lost.

>Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles



>I should have mentioned that I already own a Pana DVX100 and do a >great deal of work with it. I'm hoping the ability to not have to rent a S16 >package will help facilitate THAT sort of work while I maintain the >DVX100 clients.

>I went through this very process about six months ago...I can identify with your sick feeling. People will always try to herald the death of S16. I am looking at a five year plan at the moment and that looks pretty sound. My market is smallish with a fair amount of music video work, tv commercials and shorts. I will be hiring the camera only to a few talented and trusted friends over the course of my ownership. I am keeping the package very grass roots, 11-110, 9.5 and 25mm Zeiss Mk2s, XTR prod, three mags, follow focus and mattebox, VR42 etc. no whiz bang accessories. I now get more S16 work personally than I had before, have two and a half weeks hire scheduled before January and am now getting interest from those that shoot medium level TV commercials.

>The kit was bought very economically, and this allows me to price it a small notch above an SRII conversion. The SRII conversion is normally a producer's compensation to not being able to afford a 3 so a camera with equal or greater technology and a whole lot younger always goes down well. This is what I have found so far, its only early days.

>All I can say is don't expect it to generate income in the first few months...you need to get the word out and regardless of how good your package is, customisation and camera alignments etc will chew through more cash than you were expecting, give yourself a budget contingency. I have also lost some jobs to HD and that can some times seem rattle you, but remember, you also loose alot of HD to mini DV.I am watching the market closely and hope that when Jeff Kreines has a mature technology chugging along in the market place, that my lenses and accessories will allow me to change over to a camera system that film lovers might embrace.

>Film isn't dead, far sighted producers are.

>Nick Paton
Director of Photography
High Def./Standard Def./Film
Aaton XTR Prod owner operator
Brisbane, Australia
www.npdop.com
0411 596 581


>Ari Haberberg wrote :

class="style8">>I should have mentioned that I already own a Pana DVX100 and do a >great deal of work with it. I'm hoping the ability to not have to rent a S16 >package will help facilitate THAT sort of work while I maintain the >DVX100 clients.

>Having shot all the vision 2 stocks except '29 and the latest 46, I've got to say I'm impressed. I Have a S16 package which languished for a bit but lately I've shot a number film projects and all the clients have loved the results.

>Film is still the real deal, especially with the V2 stocks. It is such a relief to see highlights that are highlights hold and have shadow detail.

>Now whether or not you have the clients to support a package is another thing. I've had my camera package for a while and upgraded as I went along. I own it outright and kind of think of it as a real estate investment. As long as Kodak stays in the game its good, assuming you have the clients.

>Mark Smith
Oh Seven Films
143 Grand St
Jersey City, NJ 07302



Mike Most writes :

class="style8">>First of all, the cost of DI has absolutely no impact on television

>I never said they had anything to do with one another. I simply stated that the lowering cost of DI’s and the introduction of Vision2 stocks have increased the viability of S-16 as a capture medium. I still stand by this statement.

>At least in NYC, you can ask any of the labs and they'll tell you that there's been a dramatic increase in the use of S-16 compared to the previous two years.

>Mitch Gross
NYC DP



First of all, the cost of DI has absolutely no impact on television because television isn't finished by a DI process.

>I know this may seem a little off topic, but I've never really had any real exposure to Digital Intermediate, I've read the words time and time again but I'd like to know a little more. I understand selected takes or sometimes a whole film is digitized using DI but what happens after that, do they just grade the shots and output it? What else can this machine really do? Do people really just use it for long format work?

>I hope this isn't a basic question but anyone that can shed light on the whole process would be greatly appreciated.

>Cheers

>Vinit Borrison
Toronto "learning" DP