abandonclosediscoverdisruptionfacebookgoogle-plus instagram linkedinmap-markerphonepinterestsearchtwittervimeo-squareyoutube email

Does digital cinematography spell the demise of still photography?

I recently had the good fortune to shoot a short film with Kippertie for one of our clients on the high-end Epic Red camera. Our brief was to create a video to be shown to employees on a large cinema screen in Leicester Square – a great opportunity. The Epic is a relatively new digital cinematography camera, capable of shooting with a quality high enough for digital projection in cinemas as well as providing still images of sufficient quality to print.

Film camera

The real advantage to me was in the edit. Because the Epic recorded at twice the resolution required for the final video, I had a much higher degree of flexibility than I would have had with footage from the usual high-definition camera. Where once the pressures of a one-day shoot could mean compromise in composition and effects, footage shot on the Epic allowed me to crop, reposition, and crash-zoom subjects during the edit, with no loss of quality.

There was no requirement for stills in this particular brief, but my experience of using the Epic opened my eyes to the possibilities of this new era in high-definition video. The Epic shoots at sizes of over 5k, ie one still from an Epic has a resolution of 5120×2700 pixels, high enough to be reproduced at A3 at 300dpi – print quality. A throw-out spread in a recent issue of Vogue featured a still of Rooney Mara shot on the Epic by film-maker David Fincher, with the headline: “The camera that changed cinema is now changing fashion”.

This headline suggests that a client can now commission a photo shoot using a video camera – allowing them to select any video frame for artwork, as opposed to choosing from a more limited selection on a contact sheet from a still shoot. The sheer volume of material that could be available has the potential to pose problems – the Epic is capable of shooting 120 frames per second. But perhaps the solution is that working practices would need to change, with video – and the pause button – replacing the contact sheet.

Feedback from reviews seems to be that the Epic isn’t quite ready to replace still photography. It isn’t yet able to cope with certain lighting treatments used by still photographers. And the cross-over of skills required of cinematographers and photographers could provide its own challenges. But with the advancements and affordability of digital photography spelling the end of film-based cameras (and industry stalwarts such as Kodak), it can only be a matter of time before the digital stills camera is regularly challenged by the digital cinematic camera. After that, the debate may well be decided on personal preference, in much the same way as an aficionado of film may prefer a still from a Hasselblad 500 series to that from a Canon 5D.

Of course, there is always the unexpected game-changing decision that can settle these choices once and for all. At the 11th hour, (but for perfectly valid reasons!), our client opted to embed our high-definition cinema-ready video into a PowerPoint presentation, thereby compressing the life out of it, and rendering it as a lossy, pixelated shadow of its former self.

For the record, the audience loved it, and it was re-played three times. So the real lesson here is that a good creative treatment will always shine through, whatever the technological approach.

You might also like: