Martin’s HD Make-It-Look-Like-Film Q&A



It’s starting to become a hype… Buying a new semi-pro HD camera, slap some interresting looking gear on it and expect it’s output to look like 35mm. anamorphic film. Oh yeah.. and calling yourself a filmmaker!

Prepare for some disappointment, after spending 10,000 dollars or more, you are still looking at a video picture!
If you follow the threads on the fora and newsgroups, you get the impression that the majority of videographers have now suddenly become film makers!

Sure signs of this new videographer dimentia:

  • ordinary videotapes or even memory cards are suddenly called Footage
  • videofilmers using 3000 dollar semi-pro handycams suddenly call themselves Filmmakers or Cinematographers
  • videocameras are dressed up like tiny little Panaflex production cameras, including baseplates, matte boxes and brackets
  • the belief that, if you switch on the built-in Film Mode effect, film will be magically produced…

Proofed methods for producing  full HD filmic images:

  • Buy a FILM camera, NOT a videocamera. Super-16 film cameras can be obtained at the same prices as mid-range videocameras
  • Get a proper cinematographic education
  • Invest heavily in lighting equipment, to create light-controlled optimal schooting situations
  • Invest even more heavily (here goes your last buck) in a dolly and a pedestal, or even a small camera crane (jib), so you can perform the correct camera moves
  • Scan your film to either video or digital for editting
  • NOW you have full HD filmic FOOTAGE

So, you bought that HD videocamera anyway, what to do now…?

  • Get that cinematographic education anyway…
  • Visit a FILM set or study filmset photographs
  • Remember: most film productions with stunning image quality are shot under ideal circumstances re. lighting and set design. I can show you some crappy 35mm stock that makes your DV camera look better!
    • control the light that enters your lens:
      • attach a UV filter to the lens; not only for it’s protection, but to filter UV rays
      • optionally, attach a diffusion filter to your lens; softens the bright patches in the image – do not diffuse too much, select a filter with lowest grade of diffusion
      • flag off all light that is not welcome at the lens entry; use a matte box with “french flag” or any self-made tool to prevent side-light to distort the picture
      • use graded ND filters to dim skylight; using a gray grad filter also tones clouds and blue sky
      • use reflectors and translucent screens to block, reflect, filter and shape the light source – try to use indirect lighting as much as possible – film can handle much more contrast than a video camera, but even though, film cameraman avoid direct light
    • adjust your camera’s settings
      • depending on your camera, start to adjust any Image Sharpening. Don’t swith it off totally, if it can be adjusted, but put it a few points under the Medium setting or what you have as default
      • reduce the image gain, or Sens, or Attn or whatever it is called on your cam. As long as your lens still is one or two stops closed, bring down the image sensitivity.
      • alternatively switch on the ND filter, if your cam has that, if there is enough light to work with
      • if your camera has a Cine gamma: use it! Some cameras offer an extra cine setting for use in video-to-film tranfer: do not use that if there is a lower setting too.
      • if your camera can switch it’s frame rate, put it to 24fps (for ntsc) or 25fps (for PAL)
      • if your camera has an adjustable electronic shutter, see if you can adjust it to a virtual angle equal to that of a film camera: 180 degrees
      • fix the white balance; use a white card to set the whitebalance for each scene and fix it. You don’t want passing people or clouds change your whitebalance during a shot
      • fix the aperture! Decide with f-stop to use and only change it during a shot if absolutely necesary!
    • move the camera the way a filmcamera CAN be moved
      • production film cameras are seldomly carried around on the shoulder – only for specific effects – so always use a tripod
      • filmcameras do seldomly have zoomlenses, but are fitted with fixed focal lenght lenses; so STOP zooming – fix your lens for each specific scene and keep your hands off
      • instead of zooming, move the camera like a real pro – use a track and/or a dolly to drive your camera around. Think about the big difference between zooming (changing the focal lenght) and actually moving in the same direction (with fixed focal length) – dollies and tracks and cranes are expensive, so think about alternatives (eg. your car, a skelter, self-made dolly, a skateboard)
      • prevent sudden wild moves; real filmcameras weigh up to a hundred kilos and some even more than that – use controlled smooth moves
    • loose the videocamera’s huge depth of field
      • one of the great advantages of videcameras for newsgathering and/or fieldprodcution is the extended depth of field (DOF). This is a good thing ofcourse, but differs from the DOF of a film camera. One of the significant features that characterizes film footage is this shallow depth of field. Since we can not tweak our camera or lighting to mimic this effect (don’t experiment with aperture or lighting to get shallower DOF; that’s just a waste of time…) we need to spend another few thousand dollars (sometimes more than your camera costs) to achieve this effect. You can ask yourself how important this is; the shallow depth of field is used and shown sparsly in film production; filmmakers seldomly see this shallow DOF as an advantage…
        • alternative 1:  buy a Brevis-35 DOF adapter from http://www.cinevate.com. You attach this thing to your camera and attach a 35 mm. lens to the front. That’s basically it.   You’ll need a dichromat adapted for your specific camera model and at least one 35mm lens. This all is gonna cost you at least 3000 bucks. I am lookinig into alternatives at the moment, but under 2000 dollars you wont get far. Main advantages of these convertors: shallower depth of field AND added film grain, because this apparatus uses a rotating or vibrating matte-glass to project an intermediate image on!
        • alternative 2: fix your lens to a longer focal point, or in other words: zoom in, and move your camera back. The DOF get’s shallower if the focal lenght increases. Also reduce the light entering the lens by either reduce the video amplification or using a ND or gray filter. This will open the aperture of the lens, resulting in again a shallower DOF.
        • alternative 3: built a DOF convertor yourself – Google around and find everything you need to build one yourself
    • add film grain
      • yes, it sounds silly (and probably is – but you wanted film…) add some filmgrain effect to your picture – but be careful!
        • filmgrain are silver particles that appear on each film frame on another place. It is a random moving grid, of particles carrying image information. So, grain is NOT noise; it is not an overlay: it’s the image itself! The film image layer is build up from these grains. So, if choosing a filmgrain effect in postproduction (eg. using Final Cut Pro) choose a filter made by people that understand these special characteristics.
        • filmgrain has different forms depending on brand and type of stock
        • filmgrain in modern film stock negative is very very small; you’ll find difficulties seeing it on a monitor – so keep the filmgrain effect lite and fine

Here are some links to interresting websites:











1 Response to “Martin’s HD Make-It-Look-Like-Film Q&A”

  1. 1 mex
    June 22, 2009 at 6:37 pm


    very helpful, I have to try it, also your EX1 Set up !



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