On the high end, big-time cinematographer Roger Deakins appears to be embracing digital cinema. There’s a good summary here of comments he has made on his forum about film vs. digital and shooting with the Arri Alexa. He seems to be saying that he won’t be shooting film in the future, but at the same time dismissing the binary film vs. digital comparison and adding here that “a camera is just a camera.” While it is clearly significant that such a well-respected cinematographer has taken this step, it’s also not surprising, as he was the first to use the Digital Intermediate on the entirety of a major motion picture in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Another significant step in high-end digital cinema was recently announced in Sony’s release of the F65—a digital cinema camera in their CineAlta line that shoots an 8k image. They’re conservatively calling it “Beyond 4k,” because it’s currently meant to capture an oversampled image from which you derive 4k, 2k, and HD images. They also make the storage and exhibition system, so you could, theoretically, stay Sony from shoot to theater. There’s a video on Sony’s site where Curtis Clark, ASC extolls the virtues of the F65. Note the extensive use of the camera on a Steadicam, both walking and riding on a dolly.
That’s all well and good for Hollywood, but what about those of us without millions of dollars to spend?
Obviously, the DSLR “revolution” fits that niche to some extent, but potentially more important than any low-end camera advance is the recent advances in camera-connected capture technology. I have only a vague memory of the betamax system on the left, but we may be headed towards something similar. Using the HDMI out from a wide variety of recent cameras, from DSLRs to prosumer video cameras like Canon’s VIXIA line, to the latest removable-lens large-sensor cameras, you can now get past the limitation of heavy compression to fit video on CF or SD cards. The answer is a new crop of external video recorders like the Atomos Ninja and the AJA KiPro mini. Both record using 4:2:2 chroma subsampling to your choice of ProRes formats (HQ, 422, Lt). What does this mean? Less compression all around and a file that fits neatly into a Final Cut Pro-based post-production workflow. The Ninja is controlled via a touchscreen that doubles as a monitor and saves files onto any 2.5″ (laptop-size) hard drive you feed it. The KiPro Mini doesn’t have a monitor, but it appears to be a bit more physically robust. It also includes two analog XLR audio inputs and records to Compact Flash cards.