Colatriano: Film vs. digital has many gray areas

Colatriano discusses the age-old debate.

Chelsea Colatriano

Chelsea ColatrianoIt’s a debate that’s been in the mainstream consciousness for about 20 years: film vs. digital.  No, film is not dead.  And by film, I mean what your mother used to take those old baby pictures with that she can’t help but whip out during family gatherings. It is still fighting to be seen.  I have had the privilege of working with both media, and I will not sugarcoat my love of film. However, the convenience of digital definitely has its perks.

Roll tape.

Currently, I am taking a class about filmmaking. And we use actual film. Not those fancy DSLR cameras that record onto a memory card with binary code and bytes. We are using actual, precious celluloid to make films. I am not going to get into the chemical processes and the mechanics of working with 16mm film, but the general consensus among the filmmaking world is that film produces a much richer image.  Sensors, which are equivalent to film in a film camera, equipped in digital cameras just haven’t compared to actual film.

Some disagree.  For example, the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company’s series of cameras boasts sensors that would rival the quality of film.  But during my small but informative tenure at Temple, the most popular opinion seems to be that film is better. Over time, cinema has lessened the use of film.

We must remember that film costs money. It is an extra step that must be taken if you want to make a movie on real film. It’s not enough to just have a camera. With digital, once you make the initial investment into a camera, you have the perks of changeable settings, all while being able to actually see what you have shot on a monitor. It comes down to convenience vs. quality.

Hollywood is an industry just like any other, and time is money. Convenience won out.

However, film did not completely die. Many directors, such as Christopher Nolan, responsible for both the Batman Trilogy and “Inception,” are film evangelists and refuse to use digital. “Argo,” the best picture winner at the 2013 Oscars, is another movie shot on film. Check out the documentary “Shot By Shot,” in which Keanu Reeves interviews prolific directors like Quentin Tarantino and Lena Dunham about their thoughts on the film vs. digital debate. Nolan represents the film evangelist point of view while James Cameron is more welcoming of digital technologies.

Kodak was one of the major suppliers of film to the Hollywood film industry and the general public. However, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 2012.  Remember how Kodak tried to do digital and came out with a line of digital cameras? Nope, didn’t work.

Now they are making headlines once again because they have recovered from bankruptcy. So what now? They plan to stay relevant in the film world. In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter,” Kodak President Andrew Evenski said, “We’re focused on keeping the cost of film down and making it a viable option.”

Like I said before, cost is the main reason why digital technology has a leg up. I hope that Kodak finds a way to increase the relevancy of film instead of trying to do what companies like Red and Canon already do.

Even phone cameras are quickly becoming substitutes for digital cameras.

Working with film in my class so far has been filmmaking boot camp. I have realized how much I take digital for granted. So many things I could do with a push of a button on my DSLR become a 5-step process with a film camera. I have a much greater appreciation for the skill behind using film.

Both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately the decision to choose one over the other is dictated by one’s artistic point of view, or in my case at the moment, the fact that I have no choice but to use film. James Cameron’s creative vision for “Avatar” could be fully realized because of digital technologies. He waited to pursue the idea until he thought that computer-generated imagery technology was advanced enough.

Or maybe Kodak should explore the cellphone business.

Chelsea Colatriano can be reached at

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