Film Versus Digital — A Conversation Among Cinematographers

Film Versus Digital — A Conversation Among Cinematographers

And the film versus digital debate rages on.

 Cinematographers' Roundtable - The Hollywood Reporter, Photo courtesy Jessica Chou


Only, to be fair, these five renowned cinematographers do not appear to be raging so much as lamenting. But why? We’ve touched on the subject a number of times, most recently with regards to Dancing on the Edge (a period piece that turned out beautifully hazing with Aimimage’s Arri ALEXA camera).  We’ve also gone into our feeling, weighing both sides of the film versus digital debate, over at Camden.  We won’t rehash that article here, although our sentiments remain.  Digital is a great tool in a tool box of great film making equipment.  We are of the film + digital camp.  Film + digital = opportunity.  Film and digital.  Not film versus digital.  There needn’t be a versus*.

The great filmmakers at the Hollywood Reporter’s recent cinematographers roundtable seem to agree–with some persuading.  Let’s set the scene, shall we? It’s our favorite filmed roundtable of the year; it’s a discussion among a handful of today’s greats. And it’s as engrossing a discussion as you’d imagine. We’ve got Barry Ackroyd, of Captain Phillips; Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave; Bruno Delbonnel, of Inside Llewyn Davis; Stuart Dryburgh, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s; and Phedon Papamichael of Nebraska.

The topic on everyone’s mind most of all was the question of film versus digital or, to quote THR, “the ongoing transition from film to digital photography, in which they all are embroiled.”


film versus digital


Our favorite comments on the film versus digital topic, beginning with the real standout.  Emphasis our own:

BOBBITT: We’ve been fortunate because we’ve been living through that point of transition. And there was a period, which is fast disappearing, where we had those choices, phenomenal choices. In no other time in history have cinematographers had that choice. And it’s a shame to lose that. I don’t understand why film has to die for digital to succeed.

This is it.  This is the ticket. We must embrace both. Both have their place.  Why does film have to die for digital to succeed*?


Other quotable film versus digital moments from the roundtable.  Emphasis our own.

On learning:

DELBONNEL: We’re using digital cameras and we want it to look like film. So how contradictory is that? It’s absolutely ridiculous. And we use filters just to blur the image a little bit because the lenses are too short. So it doesn’t make sense. It’s an odd medium, but we have to learn the language of digital somehow. It’s a new generation.

PAPAMICHAEL: We’re going to start being in the business of degrading [the digital image]. That’s what I’m doing. For Nebraska, I shot on an Alexa [digital camera], but with old Panavision lenses and stuff.


The fact of the matter:

DELBONNEL: I like to have the choice of saying, “I think this movie should be done on film. On Super 8, or whatever.” But I have no choice…They always compare us to painters, which I think is wrong. But there is a major difference between water color and oil painting. So I want to be able to say, “Oh, this is the thing that I could do with water color instead of oil painting.”

DRYBURGH: What I do miss is that there were the happy accidents in film; you’d see the dailies and there was something in the way the sun flared in the lens or some reflection you hadn’t been aware of. And they’re often some of the most beautiful images to emerge.


A moment of optimism:

DRYBURGH: Film is going to continue to have a life. It is going to continue to be a choice.


And, we even found a gem in the comments:

LauraLee Candace Campbell:  You have to wonder if, in 30 years, the next wave of DPs sitting around this table will feel the same way about film. The up and coming generation of filmmakers (I like to think I’m a part of that) can usually count on one hand the amount of times they’ve worked with it.  It’s a tool. It’s like any other tool. You don’t pound in nails using a screwdriver.


Film equipment hire in London.  Digital equipment hire in London.  Aimimage loves and supplies them both.  And we are here to help you pick whichever tool will work best for your picture.

*We acknowledge that the big wigs who finance films are often the culprits behind that forced film versus digital stance, rather than embracing film and digital.

Share this post

Leave a Reply