For Film Fans and Camera Crazies: Analog vs. Digital Film

Wow, how amazing is this project? A research team at the Zurich Institute for Performing Arts and Film conducted an extensive project on digital and analog fim.

They recorded movies using both techniques, edited the digital one to resemble the analog one as much as possible and then showed it to audiences in order to understand if they would react differently to the two types of film. In a time where everything is digitalized before we can utter the question: “do we really need to?”, this project can perhaps give an answer.
(The results of the ‘Analog vs. Digital’-Project can be seen on the large screen of the Abaton Cinema in Zurich on March 16th)


Take a look here on their website or read below:

ANALOG / DIGITAL: The Emotional Impact of Film Recording Processes on the Audience

Digital formats have already largely supplanted analog formats in the arena of film production. This is also the case in Switzerland, where a large majority of films, including feature films, are filmed digitally. Postproduction is done almost exclusively digitally worldwide. The transition of projection technology from analog to digital, however, has only recently begun to take place on a large scale in movie theaters.

The technological and aesthetic aspects of this transition have been discussed extensively from the outset, in particular within the field. A certain coldness and sterility is often ascribed to digital images, said to derive from the underlying difference between the dancing grain of the analog film emulsion and the rigid pattern of the digital image. No empirical investigation exists, however, that employs an interdisciplinary approach built on a rigorous psychological foundation and that investigates the question of whether and how this difference, based on the materiality of the medium, influences reception and in particular emotional processing.

A pilot experiment comparing digital and analog images has already shown surprisingly significant differences, with test subjects granting clearly more positive ratings in overall impression and visual quality to analog images over digital images. The present research project has as its aim the detailed and methodical investigation of this previously unexplored aspect. To this end, three short narrative films, each attributable to a clearly defined genre, will be produced in parallel with digital and analog cameras. In postproduction, an additional variant will be created that seeks, to the greatest extent possible, to give the digital film an analog “look.” The effect of these both narratively and technically different films will then be compared in an experimental setting. The dependent variables to be incorporated include both subjective feelings by means of self-reports and questionnaires and objective physiological indicators, including skin conductivity, pulse, and eye movement. At the center of the investigation is the question of the extent to which the difference is perceived at all, whether the specific characteristics of the analog image are expressed in a changed experience of narrative films for the spectator, and to what extent, if necessary, this effect may be altered through subsequent processing of digital film. Also to be studied is whether a significant difference can be observed between test subjects who grew up with analog cinema and are familiar with the traditional recording processes, on the one hand, and so-called “digital natives” on the other, who were born after 1980 and thus socialized predominantly with digital images.

The topics to be explored in this project are exceptionally current, not only because they capture, document and investigate, in a systematically empirically supported manner, a radical media transformation that is still in the process of being born, but also because of their great relevance. Knowledge transfer between the areas of scholarship and praxis, which operate largely in isolation from one another, is a necessary step to reflect on and to steer the medial transition.


One thought on “For Film Fans and Camera Crazies: Analog vs. Digital Film

  1. Very interesting concept but there’s a lot more to film than running a film plug-in on a digital one to make it look different. The biggest difference is the exposure latitude (which many people mistakenly call the ‘Dynamic Range’). It’s the range of light from dark to light that film or a digital sensor can capture. Digital still isn’t at that level. At best, it’s the same as Slide film which had less of an exposure latitude than regular negative film.

    You can see the color differences in the film in the sample above. And if you want to match the exposure latitude you have to reduce it in the film to match digital because you can’t increase it in digital to match film, thus handicapping the film.

    Again, this isn’t to say which is better and I think they hit an important point is that the new kids growing up are more used to digital and so that’s what they might perceive as normal. I tend to shoot film still because it’s what looks normal to my eyes and I find digital can be “harsh” to me sometimes.

    But sometimes I think the problem is that it should be acknowledged that they’re different mediums. People are all too often trying to prove the superiority of one over the other. They should accept that it’s two different mediums and that they should be used based on their strengths. It’s no different than trying to prove oil paints are superior to watercolor.

    Still an interesting study. In the audio world we’ve often had discussions about the same thing. Most audio professionals find mp3s offensive. They hurt my ears, they’re harsh and I can hear all kinds of artifacts, yet kids today are fine with them. Most kids today are raised listening to music on tinny earbuds, often listening with just one ear from a cellphone and so they’re not capable of understanding why MP3s are harsh to me.

    I’m definitely going to check in later on this and see what the study says…


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