Thursday, February 17, 2011

Film and video

What is it about the video image that gives it such a different quality from film?

In discussing differences of film and video the quality of the image itself as a recording medium is usually talked about--often it's a topic discussed practically to death--but not enough is said about the quality of projection.  Somehow projection is taken for granted. And projection isn't just question of image quality, but a great deal of difference exists in the quality the light itself from a film projector versus that of the light from a video projector.

It is not unlike the difference between the quality of the light produced by an incandescent bulb versus the quality of the light from a florescent bulb.  One gives off a warm intensity.  The other, a diffused, sickly pallor.

While brightness seems to be the obsessive goal with video projection--ever and ever brighter as measured in vaster and vaster quantities of lumen--it seems a pity that the somewhat unpleasant quality of the light itself should be overlooked.


I recall a few years back seeing a screening at Anthology of High Definition video. I was very bothered by the light from the projector.  The works themselves that screened that night seemed undermined by the hardness--the oppressive harshness--of the light.

A while after that there was a dance film showing at Anthology made by Physical TV.  It had been shot in digital video and then transferred to 35mm film.  It looked terrific.  Of course, the fact that it looked so good had much to do with the production itself.  But it also didn't have the appearance of having been produced in digital video, even if it didn't necessarily look like it had been shot on film either: much of this difference in the appearance of the work that was the result of projection; not the qualities of the recording medium.  Perhaps everyone who shoots on film and transfers to video has it backwards?  It would be better to shoot on video and transfer to film for projection purposes.


The candle, sunlight in wintertime, the incandescent bulb, the florescent light, all distinctive in the quality, the evocation, the feel, and the "texture" of light.  And for the preeminent essay on the qualities of light, there is Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows



  1. This is without a doubt one of my favorite posts I've come across in awhile...Thanks for it, looking forward to more!

  2. Neither film projectors nor video projectors have one unified quality of light that characterizes the medium and definitively distinguishes it from the other. A majority of video projections you may have encountered may have been ugly, granted, and getting a pleasing video image is currently much harder than getting a pleasing film image. And you're right, that to the extent the tech race is all about lumens or resolution, the other qualities may take a back-seat. But if you actually compare video projectors side-by-side (alas, very hard to do) you'll see the 'warmth' of the image, how welcome it appears to the eye varies a lot. It's less 'all video projectors stink' and more 'too many venues don't how to pick a decent video projector.'

  3. Yes! I agree!