The mystical world of California’s Hollywood is the forge of numerous blockbusters that we have enjoyed in recent decades. Films still take us into foreign worlds and make us dream. We present some film cameras that took these dreams to the screen.
Sound, camera, and action!
Many Hollywood directors such as Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder or Quentin Tarantino still swear by the analog film technique of the past. Before there were digital cinema cameras, directors shot large cameras and film reels. For example on 35mm, 65mm or 70mm film.
In contrast, digital cinema cameras do not require film rolls, but store the film material digitally on hard disks.
This saves a lot of weight and time during production. But what is lost in return? We explain whether and what advantages or disadvantages this entails.
Analog film cameras
- Analog film rolls must first be scanned.
- The moving film in the camera can cause noise.
- Film reels age over time and can become unusable.
- Film reels are very expensive for long productions, especially 70mm film.
- Unmistakable aesthetics which cannot be matched digitally.
Digital film cameras
- The result can already be checked on set.
- Digital cameras are very quiet and do not cause noise.
- Files can be replicated any number of times and are more difficult to lose.
- Digital “film” does not exist. If the right technology is available, an infinite amount can be recorded.
- Often times it seems too “perfect” and too “clean”.
An introduction to different film cameras
For a long time analog cameras were used in Hollywood because the pictorial character of chemical film was preferred by directors and the image quality was unrivalled for a long time. This is no longer the case. Digital film cameras with 8K resolutions manage to film with the same high resolution and partially imitate the charm of analog films. Only one video camera is unmatched: the IMAX.
A real IMAX camera, for example the MSM 9802, uses technologies that are over 120 years old. These cameras are analog and record to 70mm film. This has many disadvantages: The films are very expensive because the film is twice as wide as 35mm.
The presenter of a Chicago cinema shows in an example that a re-produced film reel is ten times more expensive than a 35mm reel. The film reels are also very heavy. Scanning takes a long time and duplication is extremely time-consuming. Moreover, the camera itself weighs a little more than 220 lbs and costs a lot.
A loan of an IMAX for one week costs about $16.000 while the camera itself is worth more than half a million US dollars!
With digital cameras these disadvantages do not exist. However, the following advantages do not exist: the image quality and resolution are still unrivalled by digital film cameras.
The resolution is up to 16K – but hardly anyone uses it. Why? Many cinemas don’t have the equipment to play 70mm movies, because most of the cinemas worldwide have been converted to digital.
In recent years, however, IMAX has experienced a second spring as directors want to bring back the cinematic feeling of the past. For this reason, the number of IMAX cinemas worldwide is increasing. In order to enjoy such films, you have to visit one of the sparsely distributed IMAX cinemas.
“Dunkirk” by Christopher Nolan was shot almost exclusively with IMAX film cameras.
The DLX2 from US manufacturer Panavision is one of the most powerful digital film cameras on the market today. They have been manufacturing their film cameras since 1954. You cannot buy them, you can only rent them – unless you are J.J. Abrams.
Rumor has it that special Panavision cameras were made for the director of Star Wars VII. The nicknames of the cameras fit like a glove: Millennium Falcon and Death Star. George Lucas already used Panavision cameras when he was filming Star Wars himself.
You can film 8K (8192 × 4320) at a maximum of 60 frames per second. The contrast range is 14 f-stops and the native ISO is 800. The price of these digital cameras is not known as they are only to rent. Experts estimate $120,000 for the body alone. A full lens set could be worth about half a million US dollars.
These cameras have nothing to do with Amazon. The German manufacturer of film cameras and accessories Arnold & Richter, better known as ARRI, is one of the best known players in the industry. The company has been around since 1917 and the ARRI Alexa 65 is one of the company’s flagships. Emmanuel Lubezki, the triple Oscar-winning cameraman, filmed The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio on an Alexa 65.
The maximum resolution is 6.5K (6560 × 3100). Optionally 5K and 4K are also possible. Also here the repetition rate is 60 fps. As with Panavision, the contrast range is 14 rates and native ISO is 800.
ARRI Alexa LF appeared in 2018. The frame rate is much higher at 90fps. In compensation, the maximum resolution is smaller at 4.5K. 4K and 2K are also available. Contrast range and native ISO match.
“The Revenant” was awarded an Oscar for Best Camera for 2016. Cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki used an Arri Alexa.
RED One & RED Epic
The American start-up company RED is the youngest camera manufacturer in our list. The founder, Jim Jannard, is also the founder of the sports and apparel brand Oakley.
In 2005, he decided not only to produce sports glasses, but also to develop film cameras. The first model “Red One” came to the market in 2017 and in the same year was awarded as the most innovative camera in the world. 4.5K resolution, 12bit color depth and 11.3 f-stops contrast range.
About ten years later a new flagship from RED appeared. The Monstro. As the name suggests, the characteristics are monstrous: 8K full format (8192 × 4320) at a maximum of 60 fps with 14 f-stops contrast and ISO 800 native.
All the digital film cameras presented here record in RAW format. So aperture and exposure can be changed afterwards without having to film again.
Canon Camera EOS
Japanese electronics giant Canon is also a player on the film camera market. With the Canon EOS C700 and the C700 FF, Canon offers competing devices on a par with the previously mentioned models. These film cameras are also completely digital and capable of top performance.
The C700 FF features 5.9K full format (5952 × 3140) at a maximum of 60 fps, 15 f-stops contrast range and native ISO 850.
The older model C700 films maximum in 4,5K 16:9 (4622 × 2469), max. 120 fps, 14 apertures and also native ISO 850.
All film cameras at a glance
|digital or analog?||Maximum resolution||Sensitivity||Weight|
|IMAX||analog (70mm film)||16K||depending on film||around 220 lbs (3D15-Solido)|
|Millennium DLX2||digital||8K||ISO 800 (native)||10 lbs|
|Arri Alexa 65||digital||6,5K||ISO 800 (native)||23 lbs|
|Red Monstro||digital||8K||ISO 800 (native)||3,5 lbs (body only)|
|Canon EOS C700||digital||4,5K||ISO 850 (native)||7-8 lbs|
Film cameras are the key to blockbusters
Seldom do viewers think that their favourite films would not even be possible if there were no analogue or digital film cameras to capture excellent stories by award-winning actors. But sometimes not even film cameras are necessary. Some movies were actually shot with an iPhone.
Have you ever held such a camera in your hands? Tell us in the comments about your experiences!
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