Chefs in New Orleans swear by the holy trinity of spices in their cooking. Filmmakers on the other hand aim to conquer the quartet for a perfect “film look.” The recipe includes one part depth of field, one part low-key lighting, one part warm glow and one part cinematic framing or composition.
Let us explore what the film look is about. Film often has a distinct authentic feel to color, visible grain and a wide range of light levels in each scene. Viewers can also enjoy a certain depth or detail to the footage – and sometimes scratches or dust from the projector.
Thing of the past
More and more, digital videos are less and less discernible from actual film. In the past, digital videos had a wide depth of field and smaller dynamic range that made highlights easily blown out if the footage was shot in low light. Video cameras were used to shoot only interlaced video designed for television with two fields per frame.
Times have changed. With the advent of 35mm Depth Of Field (DOF) adapters, video-capable DSLRs and large-sensor video cameras, digital videos are edging closer and closer to the film look.
Larger sensors make DOF available as a tool for budget filmmakers. Selective focus can be activated to isolate foreground from background. Progressive-mode video cameras can shoot 24p to give the same motion as film cameras, but also have similar drawbacks. Panning speed must be steady to avoid motion judder.
Although high ISO capability helps video cameras in low-light situations, lots of light is still required to achieve the same qualities as film.
When there is not enough latitude (difference between light and dark areas), dynamic range remains one thing digital sensors are catching up on. However, the highest-end cameras such as the RED and Arri Alexa have increased dynamic range with RAW processing, sensor algorithms. When all else fails, there is always a chance to make appropriate changes in post-production.