Cinematography by Hannah Fraser

This web article will explain the development of digital technology and show the differences between film and digital camera. It will attempt to highlight the arguments for and against the rapidly developing technology and use the views of Christopher Nolan and George Lucas to help support each case. With the digital age coming into full swing there is no surprise that there are mixed views on which is better, film or digital? As some Directors fight to keep things traditional, others are happy to see where the new technologies take them.

First off is to explain the differences between the two type of camera. As shown in Side By Side (2012)[1] Dir. Christopher Kenneally ‘the camera is a tool that focuses and measures photons of light and records them as images’[2] With a film camera the light enters through the lens and hits a frame of film behind the lens. The film contains silver halide crystals that react with light, which turn into silver metal when developed. The photographic image is then formed on film[3] The digital camera on the other hand uses an electronic chip/sensor that is behind the lens. The sensor is made of millions of tiny picture elements also known as pixels. When light enters the camera and hits the pixels, electron charges are created. These charges are then converted into digital data that reaper sent the image.[4]

The main difference between the two cameras is that with a film camera you have to wait for the images to be processed before you can see what the final product looks like, whereas with digital you can see what your filming as it’s being filmed. A film camera also only records 10 minutes of footage before the reel needs to be changed whereas a digital camera can record up to 40 minutes.[5] This makes it easier for the director to communicate with the actors and guide them throughout the scene. They can also check with the cinematographer that the image looks okay and make adjustments accordingly, saving a lot of time. However there are some that would say waiting for the dailies to come the next day from a film camera was part of the filming experience.

Another main difference in terms of the image is the resolution and picture quality. Digital film is much more finite, accurate and exact[6] George Lucas said in an interview that “You can hide all the little seams and imperfections that inevitably show up on props and sets and costumes simply by putting a filter on the camera so that the image is a little smudged”[7] Meaning you can choose how clear you want the image to be depending on the desired effect. Most directors want to achieve a high resolution if they are creating a Sci-Fi film whereas film cameras are better for the War genre.

With the film camera – because it gets taken away and developed – the image keeps its grit, grain and texture.[8] 77% of top-grossing films which were shot digitally between 2010-15 were Sci-Fi compared to the 33% that were War.[9] It would seem that digital technology is constantly developing and is a very competitive industry.

Lucas also said in an interview, “Now that the whole medium is opening up, there are lots of lens manufacturers out there building lenses and lots of other camera people building cameras, so you’ve got competition. And once you’ve got competition, you’re going to get a lot of people making vast improvements on the system”[10]

As of 2010 there were three cameras that had taken over the world of motion capture. The ALEXA-EV from Arri, the EPIC from Red and the PENELOPE-DELTA from Aaton.[11] These advances in technology allow for high resolution, with the EPIC reaching a massive 5k. Along with that was the in-camera immediate editing that they all offered as well. Although these rapid developments may seem great in the beginning, they do pose a threat. Buyers may become too scared to invest their money in a digital camera, in the fear that a better model will be released.

Someone that is definitely not a fan of digital camera is director Christopher Nolan. He sums up the argument for film perfectly in this interview “It’s cheaper to work on film, it’s far better looking, it’s the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s extremely reliable.”[12] Nolan makes a very valid point about film being cheaper. Although it initially seems like digital would be the cheaper option, that’s only after you’ve forked out thousands on all of the equipment. “So here is the comparison: $20,000/10 years = $2,000/year average cost if you’re shooting film. $50,000/5 years = $10,000/year average cost for digital”[13]

Overall although digital is the easier and quicker option, film is vastly cheaper. Digital is still a very new concept compared with film, and has more adjustments to make before it is considered a reliable form of medium. There is also an authenticity about film that makes what you’re watching seem more believable, with the whole point of it being to immerse the viewer into the world that has been created. Digital can sometimes seem too fake and the sharpness of the image makes the audience more aware that what they’re watching isn’t real. Thus making film the superior over digital.


[1] Side By Side, dir. by Christopher Kenneally (Tribeca Film, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ron Magid, ‘Exploring a New Universe’, American Cinematographer (American Society of Cinematographers, 2002) <> [accessed 29 April 2016].

[8] Side by Side, dir. by Christopher Kenneally (Tribeca Film, 2012).

[9]Steven Follows, ‘Film vs Digital – What is Hollywood Shooting On?’, StevenFollows (January 11, 2016) <> [accessed 29 April 2016]

[10] Ron Magid, ‘Exploring a New Universe’, American Cinematographer (American Society of Cinematographers, 2002) < > [accessed 29 April 2016].

[11] Benjamin B, ‘New Breeds of Movie Cameras’, American Cinematographer (America Society of Cinematographers, 2010) <> [accessed 29 April 2016]

[12] Jeffrey Ressner, ‘The Traditionalist’, DGA (DGA, 2012) <> [accessed 29 April 2016]

[13] Seth Resnick, ‘The State of Business for the Digital Photographer Preparing for 2011’, Digital Work Flow (D-65, 2010) <> [accessed 29 April 2016]




B, Benjamin. “New Breeds of Movie Cameras”. American Cinematographer. America Society of Cinematographers, 2010. <> [accessed 29 April 2016].


Follows, Steven. “Film vs Digital – What is Hollywood Shooting On?”. StevenFollows. January 11, 2016. <> [accessed 29 April 2016]


Magid, Ron. “Exploring a New Universe”. American Cinematographer. American Society of Cinematographers, 2002. < > [accessed 29 April 2016].


Resnick, Seth. “The State of Business for the Digital Photographer Preparing for 2011”. Digital Work Flow .D-65, 2010. <> [accessed 29 April 2016]


Ressner, Jeffrey. “The Traditionalist”. DGA .DGA, 2012. <> [accessed 29 April 2016]


Side By Side, dir. by Christopher Kenneally (Tribeca Film, 20



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