Chosing the right format to shoot a film on.

There are a few initial premises for this article:
A film is shot on film. This has a number of positive preconceptions, 100 years of film making, the film 'look', synonymous with Cinema, dreams, fantasy, storytelling and so on.
Video is shot on video. Synonymous with cheap acquisition, TV, contemporary -though it can now be realistically transferred to film (but at a cost, but at least that cost comes after editing and if distributors are falling over themselves to buy your film).

Before you decide what to shoot on, decide what you want from the end product.
Is it for just you, actor, director, producer to show you can make a film? maybe it might serve that purpose by being made on DV/video at much less cost. If the end result is absolutely brilliant someone will put up the money to transfer to film. Making a short on film seldom shows the ability to make a feature, the logistics are completely different. A short on 16/35mm however does take people through the process and is a quick, if expensive, way of getting through the learning curve.

Are you hoping to show at festivals?: by the end of 2000 few videos were shown at major festivals, none in competition unless transferred to film.

Is it a commercial product?: For the rest of the world filmmaking is a business. Unless perhaps it a short: there has to be a market, some shorts do sell but they are harder to distribute (for money!). Few people can or do make feature films more than once or twice without selling them.
A distributor knows what you shot the film on and roughly what it cost you. A film shot on 16mm may fail to get distribution if because of the cost of a blow up plus say 50 prints (for a limited theatrical distribution), doesn't look viable (ref. Miramax).
If ignored by the big distributors then at least if it is on 35mm it's considerably cheaper to get one or two prints, for a very limited theatrical distribution, to aid a video release. There are examples of art house 16mm touring for years on one or two prints, virtually all takings go back into distribution, but it does help promote the video or DVD.

How long is it?
Both the Academy Awards committee in the US and BAFTA use the 40min mark in their short categories, be they documentaries or other wise. Feature minimum length is best assumed to be 90 minutes, only Disney get away with reissuing their 1943 Saludos Amigos as a feature at 42 min!
TV rules are similar -C4's late-night "Shooting Gallery" showed films lasting between 3min and almost an hour (with commercials). FILMFOUR shorts tend to run around the ten minute mark, a little over sometimes, with credits etc.
Ideal length for Festivals?: There is an argument for basing it on 400 ft of (16mm) film ie about 10 minutes (or 1000 ft of 35mm, at around 11 minutes), it helps in production costs and the projectionist in terms of not having to change (standard) reels for the end credits.
If the short is intended for cinema exhibition then a duration of ten minutes rather than 20 will help: A short might get screened four times a day, thats 40 minutes of "non revenue creating programming" for a 10 minute short, and so 10min might just fit in the schedule. However a 20 minute short would be on screen for 80 minutes a day, for which any sensible cinema owner would undoubtably manage to squeeze in another (paying) feature.

Technical considerations?
Certain effects can only be created cost effectively on film: Variable frame rate slow motion, high speed effects, long exposures in stop frame, and specialised lab processes: bleach by pass and cross processing of colour reversal to create desaturated period looks, dream sequences and moods. There are also specialised film stocks e.g. infrared.

Finally remember the 5-ing's: writing, directing, acting, lighting, marketing. Each is equally important.

So, what should I shoot on?


VHS, SVHS, Hi8, don't bother.

mini DV, consumer DV: aspect ratio 3:4, dubious 9:16 generally poor lenses/camera facilities: likely to be discouraged from use in broadcast TV in the future. Suggest if shooting widescreen use anamorphic lens adapters, (check these may be wider than 16:9).
At the time of writing no mini DV does true 16:9 aspect ratio (ie with full resolution top to bottom of frame). Some mini DV cameras (particularly Sony) do 16x9 by cropping the (3x4) picture after compression, which is technically inferior to cropping before the DV 5:1 compression.
Lenses/cameras usually have some form of "steady shot" either the dreadfull digital version (which can jitter) or a more expensive optical version. Both are mutually exclusive to having a true manually focused camera (ie with focal length marks on the barrel) for focus pulls etc.
(ed note. There is a manual film lens adaptor to hire or purchace (£7k!) from Optex, fits the XL1 and PD150, on the PD150 and the like the cameras own lens is not removed, presumably allowing the steady shot function to be used...)

MiniDV can be transferred to film; the result has a vibrant colourful if slightly unreal look which might even enhance some productions. The cameras may have frame mode (non interlaced) which gives a film effect (aka the Private Ryan effect) to fast motion. It also gives a better reverse telecine for "to film" transfer. You won't find this on more expensive cameras, where the effect must be created (by de-interlacing) in post production. more on miniDV here

Digital 8, consumer DV: aspect ratio 3:4, as mini DV above but with a much smaller user base, and likely to go the way of all late to market products. Pluses are backward compatibility with Hi8. Future proof your "film", stick with the crowd.

DV anamorphic Lens adapters available from South London Filters , Optex with a 52/55mm thread, or the 'Century Optics' adapter from ' Holmes Marketing', with a 57/58mm thread; there's a comparative review at

DVCam/DVCPro /Digital-S: current low-mid broadcast quality TV. Digital transfers to film are acceptable; by comparison Beta SP transfers look grainy. The technical differences between the compression formats are only apparent on side by side comparison of various complex images, depending on the subject either format could win-out. Compression is 5:1, the same as mini DV, the extras are more robust tapes (less prone to drop out), better time-code systems and true 16x9 (but not true of early DV cameras, the cheaper Sony DVcam range (eg PD150), or miniDV), usually good quality, interchangable (and manually focused) lenses.

BetaSP analogue broadcast.

DigiBeta. Top end video acquisition. Depending on picture content, some transfers to film difficult to distinguish from film acquisition.

Sony 24p released in 2000, 24fps non interlace video camera designed as video acquisition for film. Cameras will initially be for rental market -Panavision. A serious contender where digital effects and post are proposed. Rainbow was shot on a prototype.

HDTV HDTV resolution = 1920x1080 square pixels.
JVC is expected to release a low cost Hi-res camera later 2003.

Video to film transfer: all formats approx. £25k for 90min. Warning not all transfers are alike, if comparing prices you must compare the resolution of the transfer!. Some companies offer a range of transfer resolutions (eg 625, High res or high definition). Cheapest in Europe?:
Hocus bogus (Denmark) (Switzerland) click on the latter to see how it's best done.
Color by Dejonghe Kortrijk, Belgium +32 56 35 07 10 Belgium
CFS 10 Wadsworth Road , Perivale, Middlesex. £250-£500/min contact John Ward 0208 998 2731
The Computer Film Company at 19-23 Wells Street, W1, 020 7344 8000,


8mm 12 frames /second means you can't easily copy to video and it looks worse than:

S8 Aspect ratio: 3:4 (1:1.33). Only for the grainy look, but cheap and fun to use. If you can still get it, some reversal stocks had a magnetic strip down the side where (some) cameras could record (awful) analogue sound.

Best Cameras: Braun Nizo 561 (around £400) or Beulieu.

Contacts: Widescreen Centre, Blue (Islington). Hire: 4 Corners (Bethnal Green), Lux Centre.

16mm Aspect ratio: 3:4 (1:1.33). Once the preferred film festival format. Projectors are easily and cheaply available. Optical sound track (if not high-fi) is on projected reel. Easily and cheaply mechanically edited (16mm steenbeck now worth £500 or less). Passť and old fashioned? You can letter box it for TV or film projection, (but plan for this when shooting, the viewfinder must be suitably marked or masked).
Masking a print will cost more than straight 3:4 print, masking in camera is not an option on most 16mm cameras (or desirable on such a small neg.). Masking can be accomplished in the projector, though your DP will object to his framing being at the mercy of a disinterested projectionist.
Best camera, probably: Arri SR, Aaton LTR or getting noisier: Eclair NPR, motorised Bolex or the lightweight Beulieu R16(70's French new wave cinema and Vietnam newsreel camera). Stock & Dev: see S16. Cheap stock: look for double perf, sometimes bought in error for Super16.

16 Anamorphic: as above for projection, (many feature films were available to buy this way in the 60's/70's although shot on 35mm). Probably not a low budget option because of getting lenses. See notes on s16 anamorphic (except this would be a straightforward blow up to 35mm). Possibly Stargate and Pricilla queen of the desert.

Appropriate lenses from Joe Dunton Cameras, Panavision.

S16: Aspect ratio 9:15 (1:1.66). Separate sound track required (CD or tape) and synchronising equipment required for projection. Festivals often don't have S16 projection facilities. However similar aspect ratio to wide screen TV, and seen as preferred acquisition medium for TV where long product life expected (or hoped for), due to life expectancy of neg. being longer than analogue tape and no evidence yet of life expectancy of DV tape.
For cinema release requires relatively (i.e. relative to shooting on 35mm in the 1st place) expensive optical blow-up to 35mm (examples Wonderland, Leaving Las Vegas, Nil by mouth(2), Understanding Jane, Shooters). If a blow up to 35mm is planned then care must be taken in choosing film stock.
The low budget Understanding Jane used fast (500asa) stock and low lighting and the resulting grainy picture is magnified on 35mm.
deliberately used Vision 500 for a grainy look on the blow-up. Wonderland was blown up to 2.35 anamorphic and also looks grainy, (losing even more of the s16 frame by cropping for 2.35) though effects to enhance colour, underexposing and pushing the neg. in development, probably exacerbated this. Alternatively, slow, 50 -100 asa stock can be processed and look as good as 35mm on blow up.

The Super-16mm format is the smallest film acquisition camera where the film can be converted to HDTV at full resolution i.e. 1920x1080 square pixels. Having a movie in HDTV resolution has some advantages. Once your movie is edited, it will be relatively easily transferred to 35mm.
Cameras: s16 SRII, SRIII (for time code), Aaton XLR (best time code), new lightweight Aaton expected in mid 2000.
Neg.: budget around £160/400ft. £60-£100/400ft recans and short ends. Dev: £0.10 - £0.16/ft. Dev and best light telecine £100/400' or 22-27p/ft to BetaSP plus VHS (typical budget price, commercial projects expect to pay more).

S16 Anamorphic: Aspect ratio: 1: 2.33. Much talked about option, but very few people have actually done it.
The technical problem (assuming you are going to blow up to 35mm) being the aspect ratio of the neg. is not the 3:4 of 35mm anamorphic so either it is not a straight enlargement or the sides get cropped (missing the point of S16).
Most freely available anamorphic lenses are either BNCR or PV mount, initially designed for 35mm cameras and in themselves as big as most 16mm cameras. No adapters available from BNCR or PV to PL mount (for Arri2/3) or Aaton mount. Smaller high quality experimental AS16 lenses do exist in PL mount (re: DP).
The standard 16mm viewfinder shows the operator a sideways squashed image, though an analogue video assist monitor can be easily modified to show the correct aspect ratio this makes for a cumbersome shooting kit. An Arri 35mm eyepiece extension with anamorphic adapter should also fit SR2/3 but with reduced brightness. Unfortunately there is no similar solution for Aaton 16mm cameras.
Once you have acquired a neg., getting a telecine in the correct aspect ratio may be a problem, and more difficult to shop around for the best quote. If the end result is video the neg. will be too wide, if the end result is film a non-standard-optical-blow up, or digital blow up to 35mm is required, at considerable cost. If shooting S16 and transfer to 35mm print without appreciable loss of quality is the intention, then care in choosing the 16mm neg. is essential. That means slow speed stocks with negligible grain and the consequent need for more light in interiors etc., increasing shooting costs above the current trend for fast stock and natural light.
Appropriate lenses from Panavision, Optex.
Cameras: SRII/SRIII (for the eyepiece adapter).

35mm: 35mm uses the full 4 perf 1.33 (Academy) gate. Though shot 'open gate' many films are framed 1.85 because that's what most cinemas project. In some cases this now means panning and scanning is a possibility even for the film copy where the buget allows.

35mm Anamorphic: Most freely available anamorphic lenses are either BNCR, PV or Aaton mount, Smaller high quality experimental lenses do exist in dual 35/16 PL mount (re: DP).

S35: Most 35mm shot for US TV is infact shot 16:9 on super 35, i.e. a cropped 35mm gate. Normal 35mm uses the full 4 perf 1.33 gate. S35 is either 3 perf (i.e. modified perf pull down on the camera) see or 4 perf with 25% gap/wastage where the norm is to shoot either centre frame or top of frame, ideally the lens too is "off centre" . Evertz and Aaton support 3 perf in terms of reading, interpreting, and display. Lightworks v.6 supports 3Perf as does Avid FilmComposer version 7.

3 perf makes the camera quieter, and it gives mags an extra 25% footage. 4 perf neg. gives the option to pan and scan in post production, this is becoming more viable as digital post becomes the norm.

Telecine: Gate changes are not needed for 3 perf on the Quadra or the Spirit. The standard gate is used, 3 perf operation is built into the software.

Cinema prints can be made either as cropped 4 perf or blown up to anamorphic.

S35A- Academy and Academy-4Perf cropped 1:1.78 (273.5mm2) 1.27mm off-centered; standard dia 27.2mm lenses.

S35B- Super35-Goskino proposition (337.8mm2) centered; 'super35' dia 28.4mm lenses.

S35C- Super35-3Perf 1:1.78 (316.5mm2) centered; standard dia 27.2mm lenses. 'S35C' offers 16% bigger image area than 1:1.78 cropped Academy, and an 8% wider angle of view from a standard lens.

Techniscope: 2-perf 35mm for straight to letterbox films.
1962: Technicolor Italy introduced Techniscope, a 2-perf 35mm spherical format (half-frame). This was blown-up and strectched to 4-perf 35mm anamorphic during the process of making the b&w matrices for their dye transfer process, so the graininess wasn't too bad. Techniscope died out when Technicolor killed off their dye transfer process in the mid 1970's. However, with modern film stocks and dupe stocks getting better, there has been an attempt to bring it back as "Multivision 235" by a lab in Australia. The low-budget indie film The Slaughter Rule used this format and blew-up to scope.
Had it's hey day in the 70's with Sergio Leones spaggetti westerns but 100's of films were shot this way. Modern post production techniques & telecine are today's pitfalls with this format, and when you can find a modified camera it's probably an old and noisy Arri 2c (though not as loud as running it at 4 perf!). Pros: you can use standard lenses and it will halve your stock and processing costs: still the cheapest way to shoot 1:2.37, 'scope.

70mm neg size comparisons

IMAX Typical IMAX 40min film costs around $4-$8M to make , a 3 min reel of IMAX neg. is $4000. End 1999 there are 255 IMAX screens and 40 more being built. Related links the old man and the sea the unofficial IMAX pages


Related pages: neg image sizes, film cameras , what_format_was.? ,

Aspect Ratio:

through the video assist of an arri 3C, though the 185/166 figures have been added for clarity. The overall frame is approx 3x4, though a 'for TV copy' could be anything from the open gate to top and botton of the 185, with a corresponding loss of the sides.
see also
neg size comparisons