Production Notes: The Myths of Resolution
Good cameras don’t mean good pictures.
Let’s face it, everyone loves a big beautiful picture. I can recall years ago seeing “To Fly” one of the first Imax spectacles by MacGillivray Freeman Films-- truly astounding. By the same token, I think most people remember the first time they saw David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia lensed by Freddie Young in full Cinemascope. Breathtaking.
All the same I can’t help but think of the balloons floating away in Lang’s shadowy M., or Orson Wells running through the glistening Viennese sewer in Carol Reed’s The Third Man-- both shot with grainy black and white.
To place so much emphasis on the technical qualities of the camera and not the craft of cinematography is to miss the point. A chef loves a sharp knife, but does it make the meal any better?
With the advent of digital cameras and digital filmmaking, resolution, or the total pixel count of the image, became the Holy Grail of comparison-- a quick and dirty metric for consumers and camera companies. Equally important metrics such as latitude, acutance, bit depth and lens quality are factors a professional is just as interested in, are rarely tested.*
I’d rather have Wally Pfister shoot my feature in 1st generation DV than have a hack shoot with the Arri Alexa. Talent trumps technology here. Now to be sure, I’d like both-- but the camera is simply a recording device-- the composed image is created by the cinematographer.
So let’s stop worrying so much about pixel counts, and start working more on cinematography-- and beyond that, let’s realize that it’s the composition plus story and performance that really give us a thrill.
*Note: for the seminal guide to modern cameras check out the battery of tests on high-end cameras put together by Zacuto in the Great Camera Shootout 2011. With great side-by-side camera comparisons and well designed test shoots, you’ll get all the tech info you can handle on the latest cameras. Then take all this info, stuff it away, and learn how to shoot.
-- Allen McLain