This should start some interesting debate.
First off, a couple of points I'd like to make about the general concept:
The 'home video' look is not crappy (well, unless it's shot on a shoddy camera, which the XM2 is not). It's just a different look.
Also, there is no such thing as 'the film look', if you ask me. Take 5 films, they will all look utterly, utterly different. Off the top of my head, try comparing the following: Fight Club, Saving Private Ryan, Back to the Future, Evil Dead and American Pie.
What people perceive as the film look comes from five things, as far as I'm aware: Lenses, film stock, grading, camerawork and lighting.
Camerawork, grading and lighting can all be done on minimal budgets, with enough time and effort put in. They have nothing directly to do with film itself, really (though light obviously plays very differently to film than it does to a video CCD), and it depends more on the filmmaker/crew.
Film stock is obviously important, and can determine the level of grain in the picture. Compare low budget horror movies to slick Michael Bay movies, for example. Video can also produce a lot of grain in dark areas, although it doesn't tend to be as 'pretty' as natural film grain. Most non-horror films tend to try and avoid grain, though, so whether it should be considered part of the 'film look' is debateable - it's more an aesthetic choice when you want to make something feel nasty and dirty, and can be simulated fairly easily (the Grain filter in our products, for example).
Lenses are probably the most crucial element (and also the element I'm least confident in talking about, having never had the opportunity to use anything other than digital camcorders). Film cameras have astounding lenses, complete with astounding prices. They can create amazing panoramas that verge on being fish-eye, or they can narrow the view down to the intimate. Generally films tend to have a wider scope, with proper widescreen, precise depth-of-field and an 'epic' feel which is very difficult to recreate using a home video camera, which tend to have lenses designed for minimum distortion and maximum clarity and annoyingly wide depth-of-field.
You can buy lenses for the XM2, though. We bought the standard wide angle lens and it is really superb, it transforms footage into something far more cinematic. It's a subtle effect, but well worth it. Filming without it, everything looked horrendously 'flat' and boring. You could maybe try simulating it with a very, very slight use of a digital fish-eye filter, but I've not tried that and it could end up looking awful.
So, basically, film stock and lenses are the tricky bits for low-budget/amateur digital filmmakers.
As for your points, let's take a look...conveniently ignoring ones I know nothing about... 24p
- I don't see the fuss in this, to be honest. Filming 24 frames a second seems utterly pointless to me, unless you're specifically planning to have you film projected solely in theatrical conditions and need to have it converted to film and project through a film projector. Otherwise, using 24fps just risks potential playback issues on televisions and removes information.Progressive
, on the other hand, I'm something of a fan of. Your XM2 doesn't do 24p at all, as far as I'm aware. But it does do progressive at 25fps (normal PAL). The difference is that instead of each frame being two interlaced fields, each frame is a full resolution still image. The difference is massive when it comes to post-production, with a much higher resolution to work with and none of the irritating deinterlacing/split field issues. It can apparenetly cause problems with some televisions (as TVs are still designed for interlaced footage), but I've never actually encountered a television that can't play it well. When played on a computer it gives high quality, silky smooth playback, and on a TV it is a little 'jerkier', in a barely-perceptible manner, which actually makes it appear a little more like film, if anything.16:9 format
- Widescreen definitely helps. All professional movies and TV is filmed in widescreen these days, so produce a 4:3 movie would be a bad plan. This raises issues of how you're going to achieve the widescreen, though. Most professional cameras do it via proper anamorphic lenses, which you don't tend to find on camcorders. They can do digital anamorphic which seems to work quite well, though. You could also film 4:3 and then crop it or stick letterbox bars top and bottom, which means you have more general footage to play with, but also means you ultimately lose quite a bit of resolution - not great if you're only working at miniDV res to begin with. I'm not an expert on widescreen methods, I'm sure people like schwar and sollthar will be able to give more accurate and technical advice.High definition (HD) video
- Proper HD (as used by Lucas, Rodriguez, Cameron, Michael Mann etc) is, of course, fantabulous. It's the future, it's already here in fact, and I'd love to get my hands on a proper HD camera. Unfortunately all us spods can afford at the moment is HDV, which is entirely different. It's higher res, but it's still squeezed onto a miniDV tape, which is a rather dubious design aspect as it inevitably means rather high compression. Again, I'm sure sollthar can give lots of hands-on experience, as he used HDV for shooting Nightcast, and schwar's done lots of research into the topic. It has its pros and cons, as with anything else.Post-production tools
- Crucial. Decent grading can make all the difference. One thing a lot of people don't realise is that the raw film that comes out of movie cameras often looks a bit crap, too. It's only once it's gone through considerable grading that it looks sexy. You can also do 'lens enhancements', adding such things as fake depth-of-field. I wrote a tutorial on the subject
way back for Chromanator, but most of it should still apply to CompositeLab. It's a technique sollthar uses a lot and can really enhance your cinematography, removing that documentary/news broadcast 'everything in focus' aesthetic.Film-style cinematography (using the Micro35)
- I don't know the tech (what's a micro35?), but this is also crucial. Decent lighting is vital - if you don't have good raw footage going through your lens (whether it's a film or a video camera), you're going to have trouble extracting decent stuff the other end. Lighting is only half the game, too - camera movement itself is also crucial. Take the time to develop techniques for smooth movement, or if you're going for the 'shakey cam' look, make sure you do it right.
Not sure if any of that was of any use whatsoever to you, but I quite enjoyed mulling it over. Hope it wasn't too boring a read.
Last edited Fri, 21st Apr 2006, 12:49pm; edited 1 times in total.