By Glenn Estersohn, June 2002

Why shoot digital? Producers and directors are discovering persuasive reasons, including new creative options, better suitability for digital effects, greater fluidity in shooting and instant “dailies.” But sometimes, the bottom line is the bottom line. Time and again, it can all come down to cost.

In a perfect world, shooting digital can save money in three important ways.

1. Lower costs for camera rental, shooting stock and processing.
2. Fewer shooting days.
3. Lower postproduction costs.

But as we’ll see, the real world isn’t perfect. And the savings are often “spent” in other ways.

Of course, trading off cost against other considerations is nothing new. 16mm, Super 16mm and 35mm film have always offered the producer a hierarchy of quality versus cost. The ultimate choice has largely been made on the basis of aesthetic aspirations versus budget limitations. Digital and film formats are so fundamentally different that head-to-head comparisons can be misleading.But in practice, producers are coming to consider specific digital formats as potential alternatives to specific film formats. This makes for a rough equivalence. In that vein, we can look at the hierarchy of film formats, lining them up against the digital formats that typically end up in contention.

The Digital Corollary of 16mm

For example, 16mm film clearly contends with DV-based 4:1:1 digital formats. DV, Sony DVCAM and Panasonic DVCPRO 25 all share a few common technical attributes. To squeeze all that digital information onto quarter-inch tape, all these formats use digital subsampling and 5:1 compression. Together, these techniques reduce the number of bits to be recorded by 85%. And to minimize the real estate for each recorded bit, these formats use metal tape technology. Consumer DV and professional DVCAM digital videocassettes both use Advanced Metal Evaporated (AME) tape, while DVCPRO uses metal particle tape. The result is 40 or more minutes of digital acquisition on a tape you can slip into a shirt pocket–with room to spare.

Some back-of-the-envelope cost comparisons (see charts) make at least two digital advantages clear. Based on street prices in New York, DVCAM tape with IC Memory is 97% less expensive than 16mm stock, developing and dailies. And tape without IC memory is less expensive still. In other words, digital practically eliminates stock and developing costs. While precise head-to-head comparisons are difficult to define, the cost of DVCAM camera rentals runs roughly 60 to 80% less than 16mm rentals.

16mm DVCAM
Stock Eastman 7293 EXR 200T Sony
PDVM-40MEM with IC Memory
Feet 400 233
Minutes 11.11 40
Cost $126.56 $24.95
Stock Cost/Minute $11.39 $0.62
Developing/foot $0.14 $0.00
Developing/Minute $5.04 $0.00
Video Dailies/foot $0.15 $0.00
Video Dailies/Minute $5.40 $0.00
Total Cost/Minute $21.83 $0.62

Digital Savings 97%

Considering stock, processing and dailies alone, DVCAM tape is 97% less expensive than 16mm film. Sources for this and the following media price comparisons: for film stock, Kodak New York sales office (212) 631-3400; for tape stock: B&H Photo, New York, (single unit price), www02.bhphotovideo.com; for film developing and dailies: DuArt Film and Video, New York (212) 757-4580.

16mm DVCAM handheld DVCAM high end
Camera Rental, average of prices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles Aaton XTRProd, Arriflex 16SR-3 or Panaflex 16 Sony
DSR-PD150 or DCR-VX1000E
(Note: Cameras accept Mini cassettes only; maximum record time 40 min. in DVCAM mode or 60 min. in DV mode.) Sony
(Note: Camera accepts both Mini and Standard cassettes.)
Rate Card daily rental, including batteries, charger, AC power, lenses, tripod, fluid head and (for film cameras) color video assist. $1,310 $305 $533
Digital Savings 77% 59%

The savings in camera rentals are almost as dramatic. Note that camera rental prices vary greatly from city to city and between the published rate card and the “going” price. Variations in lens assortments and accessories can also make head-to-head comparisons tricky. Sources here and below include Abel Cine Tech and LVR (New York), Fletcher Chicago and Clairmont Cameras (Chicago), Panavision and Plus 8 Video (Woodland Hills, Hollywood and Los Angeles).

No wonder the DV-based formats have been a slam dunk for a growing list of independent productions, documentaries and short subjects, in addition to such theatrical features as The Anniversary Party (DVCAM), Time Code (DVCAM), Original Kings of Comedy (DVCAM and DV) and Bamboozled (DV and 16mm).

According to Bamboozled director of photography, Ellen Kuras, ASC, the choice of DV was dictated by director Spike Lee’s desire to shoot affordably and quickly, covering each take from multiple angles. “We used up to fifteen simultaneous cameras for the performance scenes,” says Ellen Kuras. Of these, the eleven were DV and four were 16mm film. “In other scenes, we would put a camera on the ceiling, or two Sony Handycams on a conference table, back-to-back.” Many of these unconventional shots made it into the final cut, contributing to the unique look of the movie. Here an innovative but expensive shooting technique was made affordable by the cost savings of digital media.

Cinematographer John Bailey, ASC has shot more than 40 feature films, including American Gigolo, Ordinary People and As Good as It Gets. He shot The Anniversary Party for Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming in DVCAM using the Sony DSR-500WS. Says Bailey, “Despite an ‘A list’ cast, we had a limited budget and an extremely short shooting schedule. Because much of the cast were personal friends, Jennifer and Alan thought that a video shoot would create a more informal atmosphere–like a high class ‘home movie.’ That’s why we chose DVCAM.”

Corresponding to Super 16mm

The next step up in quality, Super 16mm is roughly paralleled by such higher-quality Standard Definition (SD) 4:2:2 digital formats as Sony’s Digital Betacam, JVC’s D-9 and Panasonic’s DVCPRO 50. Also in contention is Panasonic DVCPRO 720P. Compared to the earlier set of DV variants, the 4:2:2 Standard Definition formats feature higher recorder bitrates and increased color resolution with little or no digital pre-filtering and milder compression. The four formats also present a mix of quarter-inch tape (DVCPRO 50 and DVCPRO 720P) and half-inch tape (Digital Betacam and D-9).

While the quality of these digital formats is technically higher than our DVCAM example above, the stock cost for shooting on Digital Betacam is comparable. As a result, Digital Betacam is also about 97% less expensive than Super 16mm stock, developing and dailies. Once again, digital all but eliminates these costs.

Digital Betacam camera rentals are also less expensive than Super 16mm, but by a narrower margin–about 26%.

Super 16mm Digital Betacam
Stock Eastman 7293 EXR 200T Sony
Feet 400 791
Minutes 11.11 40
Cost $126.56 $27.99
Stock Cost/Minute $11.39 $0.70
Developing/foot $0.14 $0.00
Developing/Minute $5.04 $0.00
Video Dailies/foot $0.18 $0.00
Video Dailies/Minute $6.48 $0.00
Total Cost/Minute $22.91 $0.70

Digital Savings 97%

The media formats are different but the result is the same. Digital Betacam media is about 97% less expensive than Super 16mm.

Super 16mm Digital Betacam
Camera Rental, average of prices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles Aaton XTRProd, Arriflex 16SR-3 or Panaflex 16 Sony
Rate Card daily rental, including batteries, charger, AC power, lenses, tripod, fluid head and (for film cameras) color video assist. $1,310 $967
Digital Savings 26%

While the prices are closer, there’s still a 26% cost advantage renting Digital Betacam versus Super 16mm.

From productions like Warm Blooded Killers to Buena Vista Social Club, Digital Betacam has become another tool in the DP’s kit.

The Digital Doppelganger of 35mm

With its full 1920 x 1080 CCD sampling combined with progressive scanning at the film rate of 24 fps, Sony HDCAM 24P stands alone as the point of comparison for 35mm film. It was after shooting “Star Wars: Episode 2” on Panavision prepared Sony 24P cameras that George Lucas declared he would “probably never shoot another film on film.”

35mm HDCAM 24P
Stock Eastman 5293 EXR 200T Sony BCT-40HD
Feet 400 791
Minutes 4.45 50
Cost $220.20 $79.95
Stock Cost/Minute $49.48 $1.60
Developing/foot $0.14 $0.00
Developing/Minute $12.58 $0.00
Video Dailies/foot $0.09 $0.00
Video Dailies/Minute $8.09 $0.00
Total Cost/Min $70.16 $1.60
Digital Savings 98%

At the top of the heap, HDCAM 24P media is about 98% less expensive than 35 mm.

35mm HDCAM 24P

Camera Rental, average of prices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles Aaton 35-3, Arriflex 535B or Golden Panaflex GII Sony HDW-F900
Rate Card daily rental, including batteries, charger, AC power, lenses, tripod, fluid head and (for film cameras) color video assist. $1,958 $2,154
Analog Savings 9%

The rental price of the 24P camera is close to that of 35mm film cameras, depending on the specific packages you compare. On average, film has a 9% price advantage.

While the captured image quality for HDCAM 24P is significantly ahead of our previous contenders, the economics for media are essentially the same. The cost for stock, developing and dailies is cut this time by about 98%.

In camera rentals, however, the HDCAM 24P runs neck and neck with 35mm film, depending on which specific packages are being compared. On average, 35mm film cameras cost 9% less to rent.

In addition to effects-driven science fiction productions, the HDCAM 24P system is beginning to find its way into the indie scene and some mainstream theatrical features. Alexandria, VA postproduction facility Roland House specializes in high def post and also invests in indie productions. CEO Fritz Roland declares, “High Definition will make low budget filmmaking a reality. It will really open some doors. For high budget features, it’s completely academic. But at less than $50 million, you’ll begin to gain a great deal.”

For writer-director Rodrigo Garcia, the Sony/Panavision 24P camera was an easy choice. “I had a total budget of $100,000 for Ten Tiny Love Stories,” a production for the Independent Film Channel, intended for theatrical release.

Steven Douglas Smith was the first director of photography to complete a feature, “Nicolas,” with the Sony/Panavision 24P camera. He has since used the camera to shoot two more: Swimming Upstream and an effects-driven action-adventure, Coronado. He says that the lower media costs of digital were crucial to the first two movies. And he estimates that the Coronado production saved $1 million on potential film processing and scanning fees by shooting in 24P.

In contrast, budget was no concern at all when director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki selected the Sony/Panavision camera for nighttime scenes in “Ali.” Michael Mann directed the movie, which stars Will Smith as Muhammad Ali and is scheduled for October release. “We went location scouting at night with a still camera and a DV camcorder. I noticed that the DV camcorder could get a terrific look at night, with amazing detail in the shadows. We tested the Sony/Panavision camera with the shutter disabled, the lens wide open and +3, +6 and +12 dB gain. You’re not supposed to shoot like this. But we got a wonderful look with great detail.”

Longer Loads

One of the most important advantages of shooting digital may also be one of most mundane. Tape cassettes hold more than three times as many minutes as film canisters. For example, an $80 HDCAM small cassette can roll uninterrupted for 50 minutes (24P mode). Compare this with eleven minutes for a 1000-foot reel of 35mm film.

Formats Film Load Tape Load (small cassette) Digital Advantage
16 mm and DVCAM 11.11 min. at 400′ 40 min. 3.6 to 1
Super 16 mm and Digital Betacam 11.11 min. at 400′ 40 min. 3.6 to 1
35 mm and HDCAM 24P 11.11 min. at 1000′ 50 min. 4.5 to 1

The difference was crucial for writer-director Garcia. “The movie is ten uninterrupted monologues by ten different women,” he says. “The longest is 15 minutes straight. I suppose I could have done it in film, with custom equipment. Doing it in 24P was easy.”

Letting it Roll

The combination of 97% savings on recording media and longer loads can transform the flow of work on the set. Instead of stopping the camera and restarting for every take, directors are choosing to let the cameras roll. This single change can make a huge difference for actors, crew, director and producer alike.

Cinematographer Steven Douglas Smith says, “You can get more out of your actors while they’re in the moment. I’ve had directors do three or four takes in a row, sometimes giving the actors direction between takes. For the independent filmmaker, that’s a real luxury.”

Roy Wagner, ASC has used HDCAM 24P equipment to shoot the pilot for Fox TV series “Pasadena,” directed by Diane Keaton. He says that letting the camera run, “gave the actors their environment. By not stopping every eleven minutes, it was their space. In the first years of sound, the sound technologists controlled the set until the directors rebelled. Now I think the film camera controls the set. But 24P lets you keep the tape running, keep the actors in their environment”

Independent writer-director Rob Nilsson, whose actors include members of the San Francisco homeless community, is enthusiastic about the running time of DVCAM. “I shoot long takes,” he says. “I don’t do the classic wide shot, medium shot and closeup. DVCAM enables my camera guy to move as one of the players.”

Long loads and inexpensive media have a special advantage for aerial shoots, underwater shoots, ultra-remote locations, wildlife and natural history. For example, wildlife shoots generally entail hours of patient waiting and costly rolling of recording media. Here the long digital record time can make the difference between capturing an elusive event and losing it during a film magazine change. Digital media also transforms the economics of extracting minutes of dramatic and treasured images from countless hours of necessary capture.

Digital Doesn’t Mean “Don’t Bother Lighting”

While digital cinematography does enable “run-and-gun” filmmaking, cinematographers dismiss the idea that in most productions, you’ll simply shoulder the camera and shoot. According to Fritz Roland, “Each shoot is deeply, deeply affected by the culture. For the big-budget film culture, with all the lighting and dollies, nothing less than a 100-man crew will do.”

That’s certainly the case for producer-director Pierre de Lespinois He has shot over $60 million in TV production on Sony HDCAM, including “The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne,” “When Dinosaurs Roamed America” and “Inside the Space Station.” “I don’t do anything different for HD,” de Lespinois states. “There’s no new magic. The only thing different on my set is the part that holds up the lens.”

Steven Douglas Smith agrees. “At first it probably took me more time to light for 24P, because I was just gaining experience. High Definition tends to reveal what film grain hides, including skin pores and nose hairs. And if you want any sort of aesthetic, lighting will always take time.”

Shooting on DVCAM for “The Anniversary Party,” John Bailey faced special challenges. “Because the story is about movie actors at home, we were going for film quality and a certain look of luxury. This meant some extra time in lighting. The DSR-500WS has an exposure index of about 250 to 320 ASA. But you also need to take into account the different parameters of video. For example, you can see into the shadows more, so you may need to take away light. And once the highlights hit 100 IREs, there’s nothing left.”

Even some productions using DV are being carefully lit. Allen Daviau, ASC was director of photography on such movies as “ET,” “Bugsy” and “The Empire of the Sun.” He used the Sony DCR-VX1000E to shoot the acclaimed short subject “Sweet” for fledgling director Elyse Couvillion. “While we didn’t have a generator, we did use three lights,” he reports. “To get the look, we controlled the light.” Daviau was indeed successful, as the standing ovation he received at Sundance last January attests.

The Need for Speed

Digital enables you to reduce your shooting ratios. Or digital means higher ratios. Digital lets you shoot faster. Or digital is just the same. It all depends on the creative demands of the director and cinematographer. Digital enables a pervasive rethinking of life on the set, but only if that’s what you want. For example, seeing the instant playback obviates the need to wait 24 hours to see dailies, enabling you to strike sets faster (which may be more important to some shooting schedules than others). But ultimately the speed you achieve in digital production depends on you.

De Lespinois says that shooting on HD enables him to move much faster. “It costs me $25,000 an hour to shoot,” he says. “Every shoot swings between moments of intense concentration when the director says ‘Action’ and moments of relaxation when the director says ‘Cut.’ By shooting on digital, I can keep everyone focused and work much faster. Generally, you don’t strike the set until you know you really have it on film. With HD, I always know exactly what I’m getting. I was able to shoot in Patagonia and walk away knowing I had everything.”

But Steven Douglas Smith has a different perspective. “How fast you work all depends on the overall budget of your picture. It depends on the project you’re doing. Each film has its own pace, depending on what you’re trying to get out of the imaging.”

Disquiet on the Set?

To some, the prospect of having a high-resolution monitor on the set looks like an opportunity to arrive at consensus faster. To others, it looks like an invitation to disaster, inviting directors and producers to second-guess the DP to death.

John Bailey, cinematographer of “The Anniversary Party” says, “I’ve been on film shoots where the debilitating overuse of the video monitor stalls the creative flow. But I still like having a high-resolution monitor on the set.”

“I keep monitors around the set so that every department can benefit,” says de Lespinois. “Lighting, makeup, hair and wardrobe can all see what we’re getting and make it better. It’s ‘what you see is what you get,’ which enables us to push things farther.”

Cinematographer Allen Daviau says, “You don’t light by the monitor. You light by pre-visualization. Having a high resolution monitor on the set is not threatening.”

Digital cameras also present the DP with a new range of refinements that cannot be done in the film camera. These include image enhancement, skin tone detail, digital soft focus, colorimetry and transfer characteristic. But opinions differ as to the benefits of making the tweaks.

According to Roy Wagner, “In a way, 24P is more dangerous because you have the opportunity to ‘paint’ every image with the camera control unit. Too often, you’re tempted to invest too heavily in specific imagery with no room to play in post. I studied under Ansel Adams and he said that the image is created in the darkroom. I think DPs should concentrate on making a good, solid image for post. Then you can do the radical things in the ‘digital darkroom.'”

Some Things Never Change

As a growing number of established film cinematographers complete their first projects in digital, fears are subsiding that digital negates a lifetime of hard-earned expertise shooting film. Lighting is still lighting. Lenses are lenses. Shot design and composition haven’t changed.

Allen Daviau, a five-time Academy Award nominee says, “The people who say film is dead are wrong and so are the people who say digital is evil. This has been coming a long time. I have a book entitled Electronic Motion Pictures. It was published in 1955.”

Lubezki concurs. “It’s a tool that should live parallel to film. The two are completely different media.”

And Steven Douglas Smith adds, “It’s another tool. I’ll be shooting film as long as it’s available. But I’ve got to be aware of digital.”

By maintaining the long-treasured 24-frames per second capture rate, digital 24P complements 35mm film with expedited transfer between the two media. This will continue to broaden creative choices, making it easy for productions like Ali to choose both media.


The cost advantages, if any, of digital postproduction depend largely on what you need to do and where you need to go. For example, if the production includes heavy effects sequences, if you’re performing a digital online edit or considering digital release formats, then the savings tilt toward digital.

Digital can also mean lower color correction time and costs–especially if different film stocks would have been required in the same shoot. Many productions shoot slow and fast stocks for daylight and nighttime, for example, which then need to be matched in postproduction. Some high-end digital cameras have built-in high-speed and slow-speed capabilities. For example, the Sony HDW-F900 digital 24P camcorder can range from 150 ASA to 1200 ASA with low “grain” (electronic noise).

“So-called ‘color correction’ is really a misnomer,” says Fritz Roland of Roland House. “Often what’s done in the field is much cheaper to do in digital post.” He says a talented operator can turn day into night, achieve “magic hour,” gel hot windows, cool an overexposed sky, add or remove diffusion and even add or remove light in selective parts of the picture.

If a digital production is intended for digital release or digital broadcasting, the savings can be substantial. However, as Sweet DP Allen Daviau says, “There’s a worldwide network of 35mm film projectors that will take a long, long time to change.” So you may need to balance potential digital savings against the need to blow up digital productions for theatrical release on film–a process that alone can cost for example, $500 per minute (Arri laser recorder; silent, timed print).

In the experience of Ellen Kuras, who shot “Bamboozled,” using DV required added care and expense in the digital-to-film process. And John Bailey adds that “The Anniversary Party” was restricted to relatively exotic (for Los Angeles) PAL-format postproduction equipment. The project also required more than the usual color correction after the transfer to film.

Cash Flow Capers

For independent filmmakers, perhaps the biggest economic advantage to digital is not how much productions cost but rather when those costs are incurred. By nearly eliminating a big upfront cost, digital helps producers manage their cash flow. You can shoot digital, edit digital and project the edited digital master when you shop the feature around to potential distributors. Only after you secure a distributor do you need to spend the money for transfer to 35mm film.

The Bottom Line

Shooting with digital cinematography doesn’t reinvent the cost structure of filmed entertainment. You still need actors, sets, lighting and crew. You still must house and feed them on location. However, digital does eliminate 97% (or more) of the cost of film stock, developing and dailies. And digital can lower camera rental costs. Different producers are putting these savings to use in two significant ways.

— To lower the overall cost of production as producers specifically sought with “Warm Blooded Killers,” “Sweet,” “Ten Tiny Love Stories,” “Nicolas” and “Swimming Upstream.”

— To get more coverage as in the multi-camera techniques that Spike Lee and Ellen Kuras used to create “Bamboozled,” or to achieve a new intimacy with the talent (permitted by smaller, more mobile cameras and longer recording times).

In addition, producers are seizing on digital as the ideal acquisition medium for digital effects-heavy productions, such as “When Dinosaurs Roamed America” and “Star Wars: Episode II.” And finally, even big-budget productions such as Michael Mann’s “Ali” are turning to digital for creative possibilities not easily available with film.

After 100 years of film, creativity and cost remain in contention on almost every production. Still an infant technology, digital cinematography is already proving a powerful tool in managing this creativity/cost tradeoff. The future promises even more attractive performance as cinematographers, directors and technologists continue to nurture the digital infant.

If you have any questions on how this information relates to your project, call us at (888) 247-3456


In the digital world video signals are encoded when recorded and decoded on playback. Depending on the digital format the video signal will be sampled at either 4:1:1 or 4:2:2 sampling.

The digital video signal has three components, they are the luminance (Y), a color value consisting of the luminance deducted from the color red (R-Y) and the color value of the luminance deducted from the color blue (B-Y). This is the same components that make up a Betacam SP and Digital Betacam signal. These three components, Y, R-Y and B-Y are also know as “YUV”.

During the digitizing process, the three parameters of the component video signal are assigned a numeric sampling value. Groups of four video pixels within each of the three components are looked at and samples are taken for recording. With a 4:2:2 sampled video signal, all four of the luminance pixels are sampled, two of the R-Y pixels are sampled and two B-Y pixels are sampled. This gives you a 4:2:2 sampling rate.

With a 4:1:1 signal, all four of the luminance pixels are sampled signal is sampled four times out of four, but only one pixel is sampled from each of the R-Y and B-Y. This lower sampling rate of the color components will result in less color information being recorded. This lower sampling rate affects the accuracy and intensity of the color in the video signal. Therefore, you may not want to use 4:1:1 when doing Chroma keying, graphics, and other compositing functions, since all of these require strong colors to be present in the video signal..

The advantage of 4:1:1 sampling is that you can record twice as much information onto the same area of video tape, thus providing twice as much recording/playback time within a given tape length. And, of course, the circuitry within the equipment is less expensive for a manufacturer to produce.

The 4:1:1 is the sampling rate is used with the consumer DV format, along with DVCAM and DVCPRO. The 4:2:2 sampling rate is used with Digital-S (from JVC), DVCPRO-50 (from Panasonic), Digital Betacam, D-1 and D-5.

Digital Signal Inputs and Outputs

All of the new digital video camcorders and digital VCRs have a variety of input and output connections available, including analog composite, analog Y/C (S-video), analog component (YUV), Firewire, and serial digital interface (SDI).

Typically on 4:1:1 (DV, DVCAM and DVCPRO) decks and camcorders, they will have composite, Y/C and on some units Firewire connections for input and output. This will give you several choices for transferring video between the different components in your editing system. In today’s world of hybrid editing systems, you will find yourself using both analog and digital signals to go between your various pieces of equipment

You’ll find on most of the higher-end 4:2:2 digital editing decks they will have a serial digital interface (SDI) connections instead of Firewire. This will allow direct transfer the digital information from one machine to another to avoid the analog/digital encoding/decoding process. They will also have analog component (YUV) connections for transferring video to and from analog component VCRs, such as Betacam SP.

Everyday, my phone rings and the first words I hear are, “What’s with this 23-frame time code?” followed by “I am about to start a job that is using a 24P HD camera (usually the Sony HDW-F900). How do I stay in sync?” Just as we were getting used to having to contend with pull-ups and downs when dealing with a 24-frame film shoot, we get another wrinkle. The actual time code rate is 23.976 fps. It is also referred to as 23.98 fps when rounded up. Since there is no 23.976 frame rate selection on most available time code audio recorders in the market used for production, including all DAT recorders, Nagras and digital multi-tracks, you can see why there is major concern.

The situation is not as bleak as you would think; and, in fact, may simplify things. The following will mainly deal with interfacing with the Sony HDW-F900 camera since that is the one I have tested with at Panavision in Woodland Hills, CA. Whenever I write 29.97 fps, I am always referring to “non-drop frame”.

The F900 (shown on left) is being widely used in the industry, and as of this printing, Panavision had 50 in their rental stock. The F900 is an HD camera capable of running at 24fps progressively scanned. This is a different video standard than the NTSC interlaced 29.97 fps we have come to know and love. Because most video workstations and edit bays perform in the NTSC 29.97 fps format, the HD picture must be down-converted to NTSC. This is where the problem lies. The converters of today cannot properly handle the conversion of 24fps progressive to 29.97 fps NTSC. However, there is no problem converting 23.976 fps to 29.97 fps. These two frame rates are closely related to each other, and the conversion works perfectly. Since 23.976 is a workable solution, it also means there is no .1% slow down (that we have all come to know and hate) from shooting with 24-frame film. Did you hear that? No speed change for picture!

So what about the time code for sound? If you are running a DAT recorder and want to have the same time code on audio as you have running in the camera in a “Free Run” (time of day) situation, you can cross jam 23.976 to 29.97 fps from camera to audio. In this scenario, the camera acts as the master time code. To do this, you will have to use a Denecke SB-2 Synch Box, a Denecke GR-1 generator/reader, or an Ambient ACL202C time code Lockit box. Whichever one you choose to use, set it to 29.97 fps and jam sync it from the 23.976 fps of the camera. The camera will have a BNC connector for time code output. Then feed the 29.97 fps into your DAT recorder from the Synch or Lockit Box. Have your DAT recorder set to 29.97 fps.

If you are still running a time code slate, make sure that it is set to 29.97 fps as well when you jam it from the DAT recorder. The reason why this works is because the Denecke and Ambient time code products grab the “00” frame of the incoming time code. When this happens, the first frame of each second of the 29.97 code will match the first frame of every second of the 23.976 code it was jammed from. There will be a drift within the second until the first frame arrives and then they match again. Because of this relationship in “real time”, the two time codes will match and stay in sync with no drift. The HHB PDR1000-TC DAT recorder does not jam from the “00” frame of incoming time code. If you try to cross jam into the HHB, it will grab a different frame every time and give you a different offset each time you jam. The Fostex PD-4 Version II will not recognize 23.976 when fed into it for cross jam. Cross jamming with the Denecke or Ambient Boxes can also be performed when using a Nagra IV-STC recorder or a digital multitrack recorder like a TASCAM DA-98.

Now that sound is running 29.97 fps and camera at 23.976, what happens at the end of the day? As stated earlier, the picture must be down converted if it is to be edited in video (NTSC) on a non-linear system like the AVID. During the down conversion process, the 23.976 fps is converted to 29.97 fps and a window burn-in of 23.976 fps is created for reference. Now the 29.97 picture time code is frame accurate with the production audio time code and is easily synched for editing.

When using this method in the field, there are a few things to watch out for. Nothing is perfect! When the F900 camera changes batteries or is powered down in any way, you must jam sync again! Changing the batteries creates a time code skip and suddenly you will have a possible 6 frame offset between sound and picture. There must be excellent communication between camera and sound on this. The F900 will not lose frames when put on standby.

If the production requires rec/run time code where the camera time code only runs when in record mode, a cross jam will have to occur before each take. To do this you will need an RF wireless feed transmitting time code from the camera to one of the Denecke or Ambient time code boxes which, in turn, will feed your recorder. The sound mixer will then have to remember to jam code from the camera as soon as the camera starts to roll before a take. From your recorder, you can do an RF wireless feed of time code to your slate. In my view, time code to the slate is redundant since you have the same time code running on camera and audio. That goes for “Free Run” mode as well. Just a standard clap slate would be sufficient. Also, one other note: If you don’t want to deal with matching time code on picture and audio, you can just treat it as a film shoot and just run master “time of day” time code on the audio recorder with a jammed time code slate.

Cross jam can also be performed going to the camera as well with the sound recorder being the time code master. This is especially useful if you are running multiple cameras that you want to stay in sync. The Denecke SB-2 and Ambient ACL202C can be used for this purpose. The latest model of these two devices will generate 23.976 fps. Set them to 23.976 fps and jam sync them from your 29.97 fps audio time code. Then walk the ACL202C or SB-2 over to the camera, hang it on the side, and feed the time code into the BNC time code input of the camera. Repeat this for each camera you have running. You will need a Denecke or Ambient box for each camera. These boxes have very accurate crystals and are very stable. One problem with this procedure at the moment is that the F900 wants to be Genlocked to Tri-Level Sync video when receiving an external time code source. Tri-Level sync is related to the HD picture and is not a standard NTSC video sync source. You cannot Genlock a 24P camera with standard NTSC video sync.

Denecke and Ambient will soon have versions of their boxes available with Tri-Level Sync built in. Without the TriSync, there is the possibility of a 1 frame offset, no more than that. The F900 camera will occasionally miss the first frame of incoming time code. In fact, when I tested this, it happened everytime I sent time code into the camera. A 1-frame offset is easy to deal with; with TriSync there will be no offset.

If you don’t mind having cables going to your cameras, a company called Evertz makes a host of products that handle HD video and sync issues, including down converters, Tri-Level Sync generators, and time code generators. Evertz products are used frequently on sets for TV production using 24P cameras. Usually, the amount of cables running to camera is not as much an issue on a TV set. Evertz have been getting a lot of requests from the film world lately to start making some product that is more conducive to being used out in the field where there is no AC power and flexibility is of the essence. Hopefully, we will see some of that in the near future.

The Evertz HD9150 down converter, also known as the Afterburner, is being used on sets to send an NTSC signal to video village for playback. You will also need a down converter on set if you want a picture feed from camera to your video monitor on your sound cart. The HD signal is sent directly from the camera to the converter. Be aware that the picture and time code is delayed about 4 frames when sent through the down converter. Audio that was recorded on the camera does not get converted but must be delayed to match picture after the conversion. If the sound mixer is sending video village an audio feed as well, it must be delayed to match picture in NTSC format. The other option is to have HD Monitors and VTR’s on set to avoid some of the down converting. This would be an expensive prospect for some.

As you can see, there are many issues to pay attention to regarding sync sound for an HD production. As usual, communication is the key, but with everybody on the same page, things will go smoothly. Just remember the close relationship that 23.976 fps has to 29.97 fps, and that there is no .1% pulldown. Without a pull-down to worry about, we are really only talking about the possibility of time code offsets which is easily compensated for, as opposed to time code drifts.

Panavision, Woodland Hills, CA (818) 316-1000
Nolan Murdock, Product Specialist

Evertz Microsystems Ltd., Ontario, Canada
Alan Lambhead, Vice President of Engineering www.evertz.com

Ambient Recording, Germany
Chris Price, Sales Manager

Denecke, Inc., North Hollywood, CA
Charlie Parra, Engineering


By Ken Garff, Director of Photography

Sony 24P “Cine Alta” on a Discovery Networks spot

I have always loved the graphic and artistic nature of photography. I grew up helping my parents develop and print black and white photos in our makeshift home darkroom. Until recently, I was certain that my love and understanding of the photochemical imaging process would be the base of my entire career. Then in 1998, a project I made for PBS was finished on the first 24p high definition post-production system. The image quality of the 35mm film mastered on 24p high definition was truly breathtaking. Over a few short years since then, HD technology has made leaps forward and rapidly gained momentum. Today the highend 24p digital cinema cameras can truly rival 35mm film imaging. Recent films like Attack of the Clones, and Spy Kids II witness that the era of digital cinema is now gaining momentum and there will be no going back because the technology is only getting better.

In the new realm of electronic cinematography, the Sony HDW-F900 “Cine-Alta,” has quickly become the industry standard. Panavision, George Lucas, and a full range of high-profile motion picture, commercial and television productions have embraced the Cine-Alta.

I have prepared this overview in order to help clarify the advantages of shooting in 24p and provide information for those familiar with film production but moving toward digital as a possible alternative. In general, there are two main HD camera resolutions in pixels, Sony 1920 x 1080 and Panasonic 1280 x 720.

“1080” represents HD systems with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. With the advent of 24 frame-per-second progressive scan, “1080” can now be either “1080-p” or “1080-i.” The “P” in “24p” stands for progressively scanned frames much like those acquired using a film camera. The “i” in “1080-i” stands for interlace. Interlace formats create a “frame” in two parts, all the even video lines known as a field, and then all the odd lines interweaving them to make a single frame. NTSC is an interlace video systems. “1080-i” is sometimes referred to as “60-i” representing the 60 interlaced fields-per-second since two fields make a single frame, you can see that we arrive at video’s 30 fps. It is the 60 fields-per-second that is responsible for the video look as it is often associated with soap operas, sports programming and news. On the other hand, progressive scanning in combination with high-resolution CCD imagers, and a film-like 24 frame-per-second frame rate makes this new technology very appealing for producers and directors used to shooting on film.

1. The Sony HDW-F900 “Cine-Alta” HDCAM is multi-format and capable of the following frame-rates and image scanning formats.
1) 23.98 Progressive
2) 24 Progressive
3) 25 Progressive
4) 29.97 Progressive
5) 30 Progressive
6) 50 Interlace
7) 59.94 Interlace
8) 60 Interlace

23.98p is the actual speed for most film or 24p applications. This is due to sound sync and compatibility with our current television systems. 23.98p is 24P for all intensive purposes.

Having various frame rates in the camera is a huge advantage. By using these frame rates it is possible to shoot high resolution slow motion in that will approach the look of 30, 50, or 60 fps in film by shooting at those speeds and playing back the tape at slower frame rate of 24 or 30 fps. (See the slow motion section below for more detailed information)

If your final product will be on Standard Definition video, then editing of dissolves, CGI, slow-motion effects and titling can all be done as usual with a “down-converted” Standard Definition master. The transfers can be made to Digital Betacam, Betacam SP, DVCAM or any other tape format. If you are finishing in NTSC then these tapes become your edit masters. The original HD tape can then be archived, like a film negative would have been. Having the original on 24p HD can protect you investment and not limit the repurposing of your content. Possible future uses of the HD camera master include making a HD version of the project, 35mm film print or other uses like pulling production stills, reframing shots, etc.

• 2. If the final product is to be released in HD or on 35mm film, then the EDL from your cut can be used to online a final HD master. HD online is becoming more readily available with both tape-to-tape and nonlinear options expanding rapidly. Avid Technologies has introduced an uncompressed 24p HD nonlinear system and Final Cut Pro 3 supports 24p HD with the addition of a special card available from Aja or Pinnacle. Cinema Tools is a new $1000 software program by Apple that will facilitate cutting in 24 fps on simple Final Cut Pro DV systems.

When it comes to actual media costs, 24p HD boasts an average savings of 98% over 35mm film. The average cost of one 50-minute HDCAM tape is $75. When recording 24P these tapes last longer than indicated on the box. A 40-minute Sony BCD-40HD cassette will last 50 min. These cassettes look very similar to Sony’s other professional 1/2′ format cassettes like Digital Beta.

Approximated material and processing costs for 50 min. of
35mm film: $8600

Approximated material and processing costs for 50 min. of
24P HDCAM: $205

• 3. Basically, the same number of crew in every department is necessary to achieve the level of quality you are familiar with. The camera department can do without a film loader and can possibly gain an HD engineer under some circumstances. The “Cine-Alta” camera shooting at 24P is basically tungsten balanced with a rating of 320 ASA. Lighting packages will be identical to a film project using 320 ASA film. If you choose to shoot 60i then the camera will be rated at about 500 ASA. Effects of improper exposure in HD are more pronounced in the highlights. The F-900 camera has about 7.5 stops of latitude while film has about 10. Unlike film it is better to under-expose HD rather than over-expose.

• 4. Rental rates for HD camera packages will generally be slightly higher than film packages. The savings are realized in other ways outlined below;

32″ client HD plasma monitor masked for 4:3
– No film stock costs
– No processing, prep or cleaning of film
– No shipping hazards or special transportation costs
– No waiting for dailies
– No dirt on the image or hairs in the gate
– No need for separate sound recording device
– No financial pressure when camera rolls
– Actors, directors more at ease
– No costly telecine for dailies or video masters
– No sound syncing in post
– What you see is what we get
– Instant playback in full resolution
– Less time spent reloading cameras

HDCAM is less expensive to shoot. Miramax has embraced 24p and claims a 20-30% reduction in production costs on films like Spy Kids II. Some expenses on the back-end must be planned for if a 35mm film print is to be made. A feature length film may cost $30-80K to output to 35mm film. This can still be less expensive than traditional film color timing, printing and negative cutting. It is also possible to shoot 2.35:1 wide screen and make the film prints in the anamorphic “scope” format. This digital-tofilm process also eliminates 2 generations of resolution loss because multiple masters can be output from the digital master so that printing can be done right from an original instead of an inter-negative.

Another benefit of 24p is that the production audio is recorded in the camera. Production can record up to 4 channels of 48Khz digital audio at 20 bits. This fidelity surpasses most DAT recorders. Other recording devices can also be used, however, the main production sound should be recorded in camera. External devices should be running time-code at 29.97 NDF, or 23.98 NDF.

• 5. The electronic shutter in an HD camera is capable of many more “shutter angles” than even the most advanced film camera. The base exposure time for 24 fps 35mm film and 24p is 1/48th of a second. In a film camera a spinning disc with 180° shutter opening achieves this 1/48th exposure. An electronic HD shutter can be set very accurately from 1/24th to 1/7000th. This is similar to 360° (no shutter) all the way down to .05° – both impossible in film cameras. This means that any effect that was achieved with shutter effect in film can be done in HD – from enhanced motion blur to staccato effect. The 360° or 1/24 feature increases apparent motion-blur and also gains one full stop of light. Light gain and loss characteristics are identical to those shutter settings possible in film. These shutter capabilities also enable low frame rate looks like (6, 12, 18, 20 FPS) Some thought this was only possible with Panasonic but it can be achieved with the F900 as well. The advanced functions of the electronic shutter also enables clear images to be made of computer monitors.
• 6. Many people ask what makes better slow motion… Panasonic’s 60p (100 Mb/second) or Sony’s 60i (180 Mb/Second).

Sony’s HD 60i scans an image at 60 times per second in fields, a slow motion effect can be created from 60i by treating the Sony HD field as a frame. The result is equivalent to shooting at 60 fps on film and doing a simple transfer to video. Because no two frames are the same, the result is very similar to film that was “over-cranked” to achieve slow-motion.

Data bit rate per 60th of a second (approximate)
Panasonic’s DVCPRO HD 60p 1.66 Mbit (1280 x 720 pixels)
Sony’s HDCAM 60i 3 Mbit (1920 x 1080 pixels)

The Panasonic camera always records the image in 60p. To make 24p and other frame rates, this camera flags the frames to tell a complicated conversion box how fast to pay back the information. The Panasonic format also uses about one half of the digital bandwidth used by Sony. Both formats surpass NTSC’s ability to display the picture information.
• 7. The Sony Cine-Alta is designed for cinema. Over the last 100 years most films have been made using a film rate of 24 fps with a 180° shutter. That means that cinema camera’s usual exposure time of one frame is 1/48th of a second. The Cine-Alta uses an electronic shutter instead of a mechanical one. The electronic shutter can be used for creative purposes that would be impossible in a mechanical film camera. This ability to control motion blur and exposure time using this electronic shutter is great asset to digital cinematographers. It can even buy a full stop of light if the sun went down and you need one more shot.

When calculated using a 24 fps base (strikethrough means the angle is not possible in film cameras)

24p HD Electronic Shutter
Film Shutter°Angle Stop Gain or Loss
360° +1
315° +3/4
270° +1/2
225° +1/4
180° 0 Normal
135° -1/2
90° -1
57.5° -1.5
45° -2
33.75° -2.5
22.5° -3
17° -3.5
11° -4
8.25° -4.5
5.5° -5
2.75° -6
1.37° -7
.68° -8


10 mm in 35
HD 4.6 mm Horiz 92° Vert 58°
12 mm in 35
HD 5.5 mm Horiz 82° Vert 50°
18 mm in 35
HD 8.3 mm Horiz 60° Vert 34°
20 mm in 35
HD 9.2 mm Horiz 55° Vert 31°
25 mm in 35
HD 11.5 mm Horiz 45° Vert 25°
35 mm in 35
HD 16.1 mm Horiz 33° Vert 18°
40 mm in 35
HD 18.4 mm Horiz 29° Vert 16°
50 mm in 35
HD 23 mm Horiz 23° Vert 12°
63 mm in 35
HD 29 mm Horiz 18° Vert 10°
88 mm in 35
HD 40mm Horiz 13° Vert 7°
100 mm in 35
HD 46 mm Horiz 11° Vert 6°
180 mm in 35
HD 83 mm Horiz 6° Vert 3°
280 mm in 35
HD 129 mm Horiz 4°18′ Vert 2°16′
400 mm in 35
HD 184 mm Horiz 2°59′ Vert 1°37′
600 mm in 35
HD 276 mm Horiz 2°0′ Vert 1°5′
1089 mm in 35
HD 500 mm Horiz 1°6′ Vert 0°36′
1306 mm in 35
HD 600 mm Horiz 0°55′ Vert 0°30′
2177 mm in 35
HD 1000 mm Horiz 0°33′ Vert 0°18′


2/3″ CCD (HD) 1.85:1(Academy 35mm) 2.40:1(Anamorphic 35mm)
0.8 2 2.8
1.1 2.8 4
1.6 4 5.6
2.2 5.6 8
3.2 8 11
4.4 11 16
6.4 16 22

Anamorphic Hawk 70mm on 24p HDCAM Spherical 85mm Zeiss Super Speed

The doors to innovation are open. These images are part of my recent tests of anamorphic and 35mm lenses that help maintain vertical resolution in film out and also regain the depth-of-field of 35mm film.

For most of us film is our heritage, the photo-chemical process is part of our creativity. We have by no means given up on film but have embraced another and sometimes more liberating way to tell a story.

If you have any questions on how this information relates to your project, call us at (888) 247-3456

by Ken Freed, February 23, 2007
Freed is a News Correspondent for TV Technology Magazine.
Lighting technician Michael Anamal offsets lighting for a recent demonstration of the new ARRI D-20

Shooting video in HD requires fresh approaches to lighting, and those who sell lighting gear to the trade are in a great position to hear about the latest tips and techniques.

“In the conversations we’ve had with our customers,” said Duane Sherwood, director of communications for Lowel-Light in Brooklyn, NY, “we’ve found that the lighting adjustments fall into two areas, the amount of light you need and the way you light the scene.”

Sherwood said the change in the amount of light needed for HD stems from the change in camera technology.

“If you look at the evolution of video cameras over the past 10-15 years, each generation has done better with less light,” he said. “What we’ve found surprising is that the new HD cameras actually require more light.”


The difference might be the higher resolution or the different circuitry in HD versus SD cameras, Sherwood said, “yet we’ve noticed that people shooting HD seem to add more lights now when before they’d been getting used to adding less and less, almost to the point that overhead ambient light was enough in some cases.”

Perhaps advanced lenses explain the shift, he said. In an effort to make HD video look like 35 or 70mm film, especially in made-for-TV movies, camera operators might add extenders to get a telephoto effect.

“When you add extenders, you need to add more light to compensate for what the extra lens elements are doing,” he said.

Regardless of the reason for needing more light, Sherwood said Lowel is seeing an increased demand for stronger fixtures with higher multiwattage lamps. “You need more flexibility with HD than with SD because the higher sensitivity of HD makes errors like stray light much more noticeable.”

Sherwood said HD is also improving the craft of lighting.

“I’m very excited about this,” he said. “Just like in woodworking or any creative endeavor where your individual sense of craftsmanship sets you apart from your competitors, so every good lighting director creates a unique style and look.”

With HD, he continued, “you now can use light more like in film by really paying attention to the details. You can create a sense of depth with so much more gradient of shade in the image that you almost get a 3D effect. It’s like the difference between an old computer Web browser with 256 colors and a new browser that can display millions of colors.”

The opportunity for greater craftsmanship is most apparent with those shooting TV programs and made-for-TV movies, Sherwood said, but those shooting local news also need to refine their craft in lighting for HD.

“You need to be sensitive to the subtleties of the image your camera will show,” he said.


A slightly different view came from Gilles Galerne, president of K 5600 Lighting in North Hollywood, Calif.

“Aside from the obvious fact that the new format of 16:9 requires a larger or wider area to be lit, lighting for HD is not fundamentally different than lighting for SD, whether it’s a broadcaster’s shoot or a production shoot.”

Broadcasters usually are satisfied with the lighting they have on a subject, he noted, but when HD is used to replace 16 or 35mm film, then a more “contrasty” film-like look is required.

“From this we can deduce that any camera operator called for both styles of production needs to have equipment that adapts to each kind of shoot,” Galarne said.

Versatility and ease of set up for the lighting kit is paramount.

“In one day, you can shoot a stand-up interview where maximum raw output is needed to fight the sun; then you’ll be doing a beauty shot for the primetime magazine. The next day, you might be faced with shooting a drama or comedy piece where you must combine the roles of director of photography and chief lighting technician. Choices have to be made, and your equipment has to be ready to fulfill all duties.”


The type of shoot determines the lighting choices, according to Gary Thomas, national sales manager for Videssence of El Monte, Calif.

“I’ve noticed our HD customers requesting softer light for their aging news anchors who want to hide as many imperfections as they can.”

At the same time, he said, “more and more news sets are installing light in the desk itself to illuminate under the chin. This has been done for years, but HD really shows up the need for dispelling that chin shadow, and this is most obvious with aging talent.”

A former lighting director at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Thomas said that angles of light are much more critical in HD than SD, especially when working with multiple cameras.

“You need to match those shared details in the background and in shadow that show up from different camera angles,” he said.

As a consequence, “we’re getting a greater demand for portable lighting kits because field equipment is being used in the studio to get full spectrum lighting from all angles for multi-camera shoots. Nothing is worse than getting into the editing room and discovering that the same shot from different angles does not have the same lighting.”

A related issue is having full coverage of the wide-screen image area.

“HD news sets have to be lit to cover the entire desk with people spread out across the frame. Your lighting must extend to the outer boundaries of your wide shot’s image area, too, so you might want to use filters that diffuse light at the outer edges of the set.”

Thomas said the most useful high-intensity lamp in HD lighting is HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium Iodine or Hygerium Metallic Iodide), an arc light initially developed years ago for big searchlights.

“The new HMI lamps have lightweight ballasts, so they can be small enough to mount on a camera or carried around in a portable kit. HMI lights are always there for you. You can create whatever kind of scene or image you want to achieve with HMI.”


Improved batteries also are critical for HD lighting, said Jim Crawford, president of Frezzi Energy Systems, a division of Frezzolini Electronics in Hawthorne, NJ. “The new HD cameras and lights require tremendous energy efficiency, so we’re seeing a big demand for advanced lithium batteries that support maximum shooting time and stronger lighting, especially when shooting with a 200-watt HMI mounted on your camera.”

Crawford affirmed that multiple light angles are increasingly crucial.

“We have customers placing HMI lights all around a subject to get proper illumination, including back lights and key lights, which is relatively new with HD compared to SD.”

HD cameras tend to compress the contrast range, said Frieder Hochheim, president of Kino-Flo in Burbank, Calif.

“So unless you want your anchors highly defined, softer light seems to render faces better on HD than hard light. I can guarantee that from the viewpoint of the anchors, especially the aging anchors who freak out when they first see themselves on HD, they want softer light that eliminates some of the contrast.”

The trick to handling contrast in HD, Hochheim said, is to “maintain proper control over highlights and shadow detail. To get the skin tones right, I suggest you shoot some bracketed tests at different exposures with a highly textured surface like burlap on one side of the face and an 18 percent Kodak grey card on the other side of the face. If you don’t have time to shoot some tests to adjust your lighting, use a spot meter on highlights and shadows, and set your exposure somewhere in the middle.”

Hochheim also advised staying within the color parameters of your lighting.

“Know the color range of your camera and correct your balancing accordingly. If you’re mixing daylight and tungsten, for example, wrapping something blue around your subject will make color balancing easier. If you have high contrast in the background, unless you are shooting sports where you want every detail to show, focusing wide open on your subject and using a shallow depth of field may help. Of course, all these are very subjective calls. Your own tastes must determine your lighting.”