Digital Cinema or Video?  Or Both?

Digital Cinema or Video? Or Both?

As a passionate fan of all things related to motion imagery, I share the same curiosity as others when devices like the iPhone 5 provide exciting new ways to capture video.

Amazingly, the newest model from Apple (the 5s) can shoot up to 120 frames per second and has some pretty decent motion stabilization features. It can even take a still photo while recording video. Pretty cool stuff, indeed.

To see some of the beautiful imagery being captured with this incredible device, check out this video which was shot by Apple entirely on an iPhone 5s.

Just as amazing, check out this jaw-dropping video shot on an iPhone 5s by filmmaker Rishi Kaneria:

iPhone 5s Slow Motion Video

On the surface, it all seems so impossibly incredible. As the Apple video states, the beautiful footage featured in it was captured in just one day. Statements like this might leave some viewers with the impression that the entire film industry has been reinvented by a simple little phone. There is some truth to this but let’s dive into the details.

It’s important to talk about this because what Apple has done is more or less plant the seed in some minds that all one needs is an iPhone 5s to create the next Superbowl commercial.

I’m onboard with that, actually. To clarify a bit, we shoot with RED cameras, Canon cameras, GoPros and perhaps in the near future, even iPhones. In the right hands, amazing things can be captured with today’s cameras. That’s the key consideration. Talented creatives know how to shoot to a given camera’s strengths and the iPhone definitely has some unique ones. The results can sometimes be spectacular. However, in the wrong hands, less than stellar results can happen as well. A simple search on YouTube can bear this out.

All this brings to the forefront a conversation I have nearly every day at Richter Studios: Is the client looking for digital cinema or video? It’s an important question because, from our perspective, there’s a world of difference between the two. Put simply though, here’s the basic equation:

Video = Straightforward & Practical
Digital Cinema = What’s the budget?

Naturally, the digital cinema answer raises a few eyebrows. The reason for the budgetary question is there are so many ways to create a cinematic look/feel to a given project. You can film in 5K+ resolution, use ultra prime lenses for incredible depth-of-field shots, have massive jibs for complex motion shots, etc. The list goes on and on.

Considering this, it’s important to note that while Apple refers to the content its new iPhone 5s captures as “video”, the reality is the finished piece comes across a lot more like digital cinema. It’s obvious that the imagery featured in it is gorgeous. The composition and movement in some of the shots is also very unique and compelling. And why is that? Well, that’s the easy part. To the casual viewer, it may seem like a few random Jane’s and Joe’s went out and serendipitously captured the featured footage in Apple’s commercial. However, that’s really not the whole story. So what is?

Here’s a summary of what was coordinated to create the film “1.24.14” by Apple:

  • 15 camera crews
  • 15 separate locations
  • 21 Editors
  • 46 iPads used by crew
  • 70+ hours of footage was captured
  • 86 Macs used in production
  • 100 iPhones used to shoot
  • All video was viewed in real time at a command center in Los Angeles

Sound like a straightforward and practical video?

So with this in mind, how do we at Richter Studios define digital cinema (which we love) and why is it important for clients to understand the difference. After all, isn’t a video just a video?

Using the “Way Back” time machine analogy, the strong perception had always been that cinema was for filmmakers and video was for newsrooms.

Admittedly, the lines have blurred recently due to technological advancements with cameras (ie. some newsrooms like the cinema look). As a side note, this is a trend that we’re very excited about.

However, I think a more accurate way to differentiate the two is by describing digital cinema as an art form and video as a more practical mechanism. To be fair, we do both at Richter Studios and enjoy the storytelling that each discipline affords. When a client’s budget speaks to it, we push for digital cinema because it holds so much potential to elevate their brand.

A good case in point would be be a digital cinema effort we pursued with Meridian Yachts. The five short films we created for them had a dramatic impact on the brand’s visibility. The really neat thing about the effort was that despite being shot on the same day, the two films below look completely different (which was the intention). Note the color treatment and marked differences in tone/feel for each of the brand films below:

Meridian Yachts 341 Sedan

Meridian Yachts 391 Sedan

We approached the Meridian films with a cinematic mindset. Everything was shot with the industry-leading RED One cameras which, thanks to the advanced chip in the camera, afforded us the option of doing those really fun color treatments seen above (the color depth options with the RED camera are very impressive). Additionally, we were able to capture a near perfect horizon in all our shots because of the advanced motion stabilization gear we brought with us. And many of the truly great shots were possible because we were also in a helicopter half the time. We also shot all the films in the Bahamas with nearly a dozen actors. Cinematic indeed.

On the other hand, digital cinema isn’t always a viable or appropriate solution. A great example of this is when a client needs a How-To video created. This is when the mantra is a lot more about what needs to be accomplished practically versus stylistically. A good example of a How-To video we’ve recently created for Rust-Oleum can be seen here:

Rust-Oleum Wood Floor Transformations

As you can see, this video is pretty straightforward and it serves it’s purpose as an instructional piece. No need for dramatic color enhancements or slick special effects. The message is clear and concise. Mission accomplished!

So circling back, the Apple commercial and other example from Mr. Kaneria are really great examples of digital cinema and, in our opinion, not video.

Both examples were created by master craftsmen who know their skill set very well. It gets a little blurry because often times any moving picture is referred to as a video but where we make the distinction between digital cinema and video is whether it’s intended to be a work of art or a practical mechanism of conveying information.

Every project is unique and often times the tools required to accomplish our client’s hopes and aspirations vary greatly. One of those tools may be the iPhone 5s, 6 or 7 someday. As we continue to add to our tally of 2,000 + motion pictures, one thing is for sure: the landscape for telling great stories through motion imagery is constantly evolving and the demand for content in this medium will continually grow.

So what’s your flavor? Digital Cinema or Video? Or both? Let us know in the comments!