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12-10-2008, 02:06 PM   #1
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Full Frame, APS-C and Cinema

Hey all. This is my first time starting a thread. I feel so alive. Anyway, my post is concerning our Pentax half-frame DLSRs and the movies. I'm a filmmaker, and one thing that I've found interesting is that the APS-C sized sensor is approximately the same size as a film frame from a movie shot on 35mm, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Many films are still shot in this format, and many films are now shot on HD cameras with much smaller sensor sizes. The film community is very excited about the new Red Camera because it uses a 35mm-sized sensor. That of course means 35mm cinema-sized, which is the same as our Pentax DSLRs.

My points are these. I love my Pentax, because it helps familiarize me with the same focal lengths I would use on a movie shoot. In fact, when I learned this, I excitedly sold my director's viewfinder, and bought a FA35 with the money. Who needs a director's viewfinder when I can use my camera. I don't know if any other forum members care about these things, but maybe my next point is more relevant.

If the APS-C sized sensor is good enough for many of the most beautifully shot movies, and is the target size of the newest digital video cameras like the RED, Arri D20, Dalsa Origin, etc., why do people disparage it so much? The Godfather is a work of art by Gordon Willis, and it was shot in 1.85:1. It seems the only movies that really had the same frame as full frame still cameras were the ones shot in VistaVision, like Hitchcock's films (with VistaVision, the 35mm film runs horizontally like in still photography, as opposed to vertically, like in almost all other non-Imax filmmaking).

These films that use APS-C sized frames look fantastic blown up on the big screen. Doesn't that say something about the strength of the format? I know there are other factors like the fact that a film is a succession of images, etc., but still, it has to say something, right? In any case, if I could afford a full frame camera (which I can't even come close to doing, making it a current moot point) I would still want an APS-C sized sensor in another camera, so I could be more fluent in the focal lengths of cinema. I know this is a specialized use, but I was just wondering what others' thoughts were on the subject.

12-10-2008, 04:13 PM   #2
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Well, I think if you look around the forums, you'd find a lot of good reasons why people want the full frame sensor, and for me the most valid is the noise issue, which drastically improves.

I am not really one of those people though, and don't mind the APS-C sensor and can foresee that improvements in that design will keep me happy at that scale of sensor.

I do think that a reason why people want a full frame sensor is not unlike the reason you prefer the APS-C. It's what you know. Many photographers here come from 35 mm backgrounds and probably long for being able to look through their lens the way they remember so well and to deal with exposure and such as they are accustomed to.

As for APS-C, I don't think people really disparage it that much. I think many people here appreciate what they have in their cameras, and if they really disliked it, they probably have already jumped to other FF cameras anyway.

I also just think people yearn for better. Make FF easy to have and people will start to want Medium Format or larger. People just want bigger is better even when what they got is adequate, and industry usually obliges.

For your examples, I am less certain. A lot of the movies and examples of frame size you are talking about were still shot in film and not digital format. I realize that newer movies are digital, but the great examples you cited were (i.e. The Godfather). The problem many people have with an APS-C sensor is that it performs worse in terms of digital noise for the same resolution of sensor (i.e. a 10 MP FF sensor will perform better than a 10 MP APS-C sensor). With film, I don't think you'd see as dramatic of a difference with a smaller film size as you do in digital, although I suspect there would be losses in other aspects such as detail, but perhaps not as significant as the noise issue.

In cinema, this becomes more obvious when looking at some of the films that are actually shot in IMAX vs other standard Cinema sizes. Many films that were done in that format (not converted to IMAX but actually shot in that size) seem so much better presumably due to the added detail and clarity.

I'm not sure about other aspects of comparing cinema and still photography. Perhaps the dynamic nature makes noise less obvious. The movement on the screen is quite a distraction whereas a still photo gives you an infinite amount of time to pick apart every flaw.

In the end, I really think it all boils down to personal preference. While growing up, I had an old Minolta SLR, I wasn't nearly knowledgeable enough about photography to come into the dSLR world as I have in the past year and feel a strong need for FF. To me a 50 mm lens will be the 50 mm lens I see from the shots on my k10d, even if the field of view is smaller than a regular SLR. As an amateur, I don't find the noise on my k10d so bad that i can't get by for my needs, but I never print larger than 8 x 10, and photography is not my business.

Last, I think there are benefits to the APS-C that I hope it doesn't go by the wayside. The size of the sensor presumably will keep the cameras a bit smaller. More research and development that come with many more cameras being sold in that format mean that progress will probably keep improving its noise performance without feeling like I need a full frame. Only time will tell though.
12-10-2008, 05:55 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by brucestrange Quote
...I'm a filmmaker, and one thing that I've found interesting is that the APS-C sized sensor is approximately the same size as a film frame from a movie shot on 35mm, 1.85:1 aspect ratio...
You make it sound as it was a coincidence. But it is not.

Rewind to early 20th century. One of the engineers at the well known high quality microscope (!) factory Leitz in Wetzlar, Oskar Barnack, was tired of the heavy and cumbersome photographic equipment of his time, so he started to build his own compact camera, known as the original Leica, and the early range finder Leicas, portable, easy and fast to use, pocket size, relatively seen, point-and-shoot. His prototype from 1913 went into serial production in 1925. I presume the war got in between.

But for a compact camera he needed a compact film format. At this time the cinematograph had already started to spread around the globe and it used a perforated 35 mm wide film format that he could buy on big rolls unlimited and cut down for the much smaller rolls in his own camera. And while the cinematograph, and it's cameras, was running the film vertically with a horizontal frame limited to the width of the film minus the perforated edges giving a 18x24mm format, he placed the film horizontally in his camera and doubled the format to 24x36mm. Eventually with the SLR cameras this became the dominant film format. But calling it full frame appears to be an after construction. If anything, it should be called double frame

So, yeas, the APS-C format is the half of a double film format, in net result a film format.

Also interesting:
It is from here, the diagonal of the 24x36mm frame that we get the definition of the normal focal length as about 50mm (actually 42-43mm). The first Leica lenses included 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm as the available focal lengths, eventually with the addition of 21, 24, 28, 200 and 400mm, all focal lengths that became standard focal lengths for the 24x36 format prime lenses until recently. I remember some thread asking why the same focal length were used by all manufacturers, if there was some special optical reason. As far as I understand, they must have been the results of choices made by the original Leica engineers? What did they base their decision on?

Source: I'm sure you can find this on the web and much more but if you care to read a good old fashioned paper book, I can recommend "Leica und Leica-system", Umshan Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1960, by Theo M. Scheerer.
12-10-2008, 10:18 PM   #4
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QuoteQuote:
With film, I don't think you'd see as dramatic of a difference with a smaller film size as you do in digital, although I suspect there would be losses in other aspects such as detail, but perhaps not as significant as the noise issue.
Actually, it's quite similar to digital sensors. A film shot on 16mm will exhibit more noise when projected than 35mm. Quite a bit more. And 8mm is very grainy. As I understand it, the reason is pretty straightforward. The 16mm film, for instance, is the same stuff as the 35mm, but since it is smaller, when it is blown up on a screen, the grain is that much larger, and dominates the image that much more.

12-12-2008, 12:20 AM   #5
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Actually the difference is more subtle than that. With film the sensor has the same resolution charateristics when viewed in detail.

Stay with me here.

With Kodak Tri-X the size of the silver halide crystals are the same size, on 4x5, 645, 135 and 110 film formats. Digital sensors vary their resolution depending on MegaPixel counts given the same dimensions of the sensor.

Look at the K10D and K20D --- where the K10D is 10MP and the K20D is 14.6MP for the same size of sensor. This is more like shooting Ektachrome vs Kodachrome . The sensor size stays the same, but the size of the photosites (digital) or silver halide crystals (film) varies due to sensor characteristics.

The real power of digital is the ability to make a Ektachrome resolution sensor act as if it was using Kodachrome, i.e. Making a camera loaded with Ektachrome act as if it were really Kodachrome. (I used to do this by carrying two cameras - one with Kodachrome 25 - one with Ektachrome - 160) (One of these days - I will have to sit down and come up with a Lightroom preset that acts like Kodachrome --- wonder how many people will run with this now that I have let it out of the bag)

The idea that APS-C is the same ration as film is Intriguing, one I had not considered. My whole concept of making slide shows and short films (off my K20D in burst mode) has just taken a new direction - thanks.

Just remember, there is no standardization in resolution at the sensor level. Each manufacturer has their own standard - N*kon, Pentax and others using APS-C, C*non/N*kon using 135 (so - called full frame ---- excuse me --- I use all the frame when I shoot, therefore I shoot using the FULL FRAME) and the plethera of cell phones/P&S using various sensor sizes. Film has a set of standard sensor sizes (4x5, 2 1/4x2 1/4, 645, 120, 135 --"full frame"-- 126, 110 etc) with absolute resolution determined by film type (Tri-X, Panatomic-X, Pan-Tech -- yup I am showing my age), digital has sensor size with resolution determined by sensor manufacture -- different, but still the same in many ways.

Digital gives you more oportunities than film - but film is more demanding in technique and command of the sensor characteristics. (Easier to change film that change digital sensors)

The Elitist - formerly known as PDL
12-12-2008, 02:37 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by brucestrange Quote
If the APS-C sized sensor is good enough for many of the most beautifully shot movies, and is the target size of the newest digital video cameras like the RED, Arri D20, Dalsa Origin, etc., why do people disparage it so much?
A full frame sensor on a digital still camera affords less noise on high ISO sensitivities, greater dynamic range, a larger viewfinder, and cheaper wide-angle lenses -- but those are the reasons to prefer full frame, not the reasons to disparage APS-C. That happens because Nikon and Canon has full frame cameras in their pro lines so obviously FF is better, APS-C is useless shit, and everyone needs a full frame camera to take decent pictures now..?

It's cool that you're happy about APS-C though. A lot of people are. My $400 APS-C camera took great pictures a month ago and it takes great pictures even now that there is an option to get a $8000 full frame camera instead
12-12-2008, 04:46 PM   #7
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QuoteQuote:
Actually the difference is more subtle than that. With film the sensor has the same resolution charateristics when viewed in detail.

Stay with me here.
I tried to stay with you, PDL, but I'm not sure I did. I reread what I said, and I wasn't clear either. I didn't mean that 16mm film has more grain than 35mm film. The film for cinema is the same stuff, just cut to different sizes. So the grain structure is the same for both. But when 16mm is projected to the same size screen as 35mm, since it is a smaller image, the grain will appear reciprocally larger.

QuoteQuote:
Just remember, there is no standardization in resolution at the sensor level.
The same is somewhat true for cinema. I oversimplified a little. The two aspect ratios that are most common for 35mm are 1.85:1 and 2.40:1 (sometimes erroneously called 2.35:1). Those ratios represent an image cropped from 4 perforations of the 35mm film (run vertically) to be 1.85 to 1 (that's the one that is very similar to APS-C size) and 2.40 to 1 which is the result of using a little more of the film space (almost a square) in combination with anamorphic lenses (to stretch the square into a 2.40:1 ratio). Beyond those two, there are many other formats for cinema. Some 2-perforation (Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns) and some 3-perforation (making a major comeback these days) films that are later printed to the two standard 4-perforation formats described above for theatrical release. There's all the older foreign films that used a 1.66:1 ratio in 35mm format. There's the old films like Casablanca that used more of the 4-perforation film space but without anamorphic lenses, resulting in an aspect ratio closer to TV, 1.33:1. There's HD which is shot on sensors smaller than our APS-C in a native 1.78:1 ratio, then printed on film for theatrical release. And there's also Super35, which is using a large amount of the 4-perforation frame, like anamorphic, but with regular lenses, and then cropping each shot later (excising boom poles, etc.) for printing, or sometimes leaving it with instructions for the projectionist to properly crop it (hence why boom poles are sometimes shown in theaters--blame the projectionist).

My main point, I guess is this, the 1.85 crop from 4 perforations of a vertically moving strip of 35mm film has been used for many, many Hollywood films (like the aforementioned Godfather). This is nearly the same size as our APS-C sensors. These films are absolutely gorgeous. And the bulk of the other films are shot in 2.40:1 with anamorphic lenses, with the original film frame being larger than APS-C, but much smaller than 135 film. All the other formats I listed are also significantly smaller than 135 film. The only cinema formats that surpass or equal 135 are VistaVision (little used in it's day and now dead) and Imax (much larger, but very seldom used--even when you go to see a mainstream movie on Imax, it has usually been printed up from a much smaller format listed above). I'm just trying to cheer on APS-C and say that there may actually be a special niche for it for filmmakers who want to prep for a shoot.
12-12-2008, 06:10 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by brucestrange Quote
These films that use APS-C sized frames look fantastic blown up on the big screen.
Each time I go to the cinema I'm appalled by the softness of the picture. That and the awfully loud sound and overpriced tickets and extras, I'm done with the motion pictures. Of course there is more to a picture or a motion picture than sharpness but I do not think it offers a good case for APS-C.

12-13-2008, 11:49 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by ManuH Quote
Each time I go to the cinema I'm appalled by the softness of the picture. That and the awfully loud sound and overpriced tickets and extras, I'm done with the motion pictures. Of course there is more to a picture or a motion picture than sharpness but I do not think it offers a good case for APS-C.
Has anyone else noticed the appalling softness of projected movies? I hadn't noticed, personally. Maybe it's the theater you frequent. Maybe their equipment is old, or the projectionists suck. Or maybe you really would perceive this same softness everywhere.

I think, for myself, I would like to pay for a movie ticket, just to sit in a theater with you. I would choose a good seat so I could watch you becoming appalled, and then maintaining your appalled state throughout the film. In fact, I might even consider videotaping your appalled reaction, and posting it on youtube. I would title it, "This man is appalled by the softness of the picture."
12-15-2008, 12:41 PM   #10
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I can't say I've ever noticed major problems in picture quality that were not due problems from the projector end (i.e. I doubt I could attribute the problems to the film itself).

I have though often noticed that there is a significant improvement in quality that goes with IMAX... I'm not talking the feature films blown up for projecting onto a big screen (to me that is no different than blowing up a 6 MP image to 10 MP), but rather I am talking about films that are shot in IMAX from the beginning. There is a clarity there that just never seems matched by regular cinema.

Of course, that could be more than just the film... The cameras are different, the lens are different, etc. Not sure it's a valid comparison.

I do like this thread and the different point of view and perspective. I actually like my APS-C, and still being new to the sensor and format (I've had my K10d for a year) as compared to having PS digital sensors for the 7 years previous. The APS-C sensor is fantastic. It is serving me every bit as well as my old 35 mm SLR did, although I've learned a ton more about photography too... Perhaps I would benefit from taking the old film camera back out for some shots (end digression here).
12-19-2008, 08:16 PM   #11
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Moving picture can hide alot of low light noise and other imperfection.

Plus commercially speaking its never a problem of "good enough", its always a matter of "better than the competition".

As for personal use, it always come down to pleasing myself, the primary client. I can rock a Canon G9 all I want but deep down inside, I know I want MORE. Therefore I buy the best lens I can afford.
12-20-2008, 04:15 AM   #12
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Good thinking Bruce,

made me think once again about putting film lenses on my Pentax .-)
OTOH I know an animation film maker who's done his whole (movie theater) film with a 6MP APS-C Nikon D1X (copied onto 16mm).

whatever7,
agreed, we will soon see where formats and resolutions will end up in filmmaking, as we now cross the threashold of the old standard (for the same price and sinking). Good example is the Canon 5DII, which will be used by filmmakers and it'll show to what extent and how. Sample film here,
Canon Digital Learning Center - Sample EOS 5D Mark II Video: Reverie
(might have to refresh the page if it comes up with an error)

Bye, Georg (the other)
12-20-2008, 08:24 AM   #13
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Interesting thread:-).
I have no problems with APS-C at all, except I would like better DR.
I've found a very interesting thing beginning to happen, though. After about 12,000 clicks on my K10D I'm beginning to visualize my lenses in APS-C format and not FF. In other words, I'm no longer thinking, when reaching for a lens "hmm, if I use a 50mm it's actually seeing 75mm FOV and that's a little long so I better get the 31mm because it's FOV is 47.5mm on film and that's what I need." More and more my thinking process is "I need the 31mm or I need the 77mm". I'm no longer caring about the relationships between the formats, I just get the lens I need for my K10D, very liberating actually:-).
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