Tried posting this separately but it seemed to be hung up for approval so I did this as a reply to Matthew’s post, instead.
I will make this brief as I can, considering everything that’s been discussed!
As Todd as mentioned, the majority of my 20,000+ customers are small mom and pop shops doing home movie transfers. They aren’t simpletons but they also don’t know or often do not care whether they are scanning in 2K, 8 bit, 10 bit, 16 bit, etc because, for the most part, they are outputting DVDs at standard def and sometimes BluRay or high def files on a hard drive. So the 2K camera we already provide is working at a resolution that is in excess of what my market currently demands.
The other smaller market we service are archives. Now, one might think that an archive would want something like 4-6k resolution. But, really, why would they? Data storage considerations and post production concerns aside, most archives are working on an inventory that may very well take them a decade to work their way through. Does anyone really think that 6k will be the industry standard 10 years from now? Not likely. So what do archives really want? Well, they are concerned by three main things with their library: Stabilize, archive and access. Stabilize means they need to clean and stabilize the films to prevent future degradation. Archive means they need to scan and store them. And access means they need to be available in a common form, currently using a DVD, BluRay or a digital file with a water mark.
Notice that “restoration” is not part of those three concerns. Why? Because restoration is a totally different process.
So what is really happening at most archives? Let’s use the Academy Film Archives in Hollywood as an example as they have been using our equipment exclusively since 2003. They have used our scanners to archive every home movie that Steve McQueen’s family put in the Archive some years back. These were actually done in SD way back then but serve exactly the same purpose now. Someone doing a documentary on McQueen would check out the screener DVD or maybe even get a digital file with a watermark, choose footage and slug it into their doc temporarily and then, later, once they figure out exactly what footage they need, come back and requisition that particular portion of the original film grouping and take it someplace with maybe a high end LaserGraphic to scan in 6k. If this were 10 years from now, they might have it scanned in 20k or 3D reconstruction or whatever. The user might even take that final high resolution scan and THEN do restoration of the footage, if need be. Anyway, you get the point that whether the screener was in SD, HD, 2K or 6K, none of that is really relevant to the needs of the final user. The archive copy just needs to be good enough to see the overall quality of the original footage so the user can determine if it is good enough to use for their project.
Now, one might rightly say, “Ah, but if the footage were already in 4k or 6k, then they would not have to have it rescanned!” Is this really true? Is an archive intern that learned three months ago how to run a LaserGraphic going to do as a good a job as a professional colorist that’s been doing it for years in a commercial house that uses the same equipment? I think we all know the answer to that question. In fact, one of the problems faced by archives is when they are “gifted” a big chunk of money to get a high end scanner and then need to train someone to use it. Once this person gets good at using it, they now possess skills worth more than what the archive can afford to pay them so turn over is high. By comparison, our scanners produce a better image than the archives really need and is simple to maintain and operate by most any intern or employee with minimal training. Is a $10,000 Universal Mark-II as good as a $250,000 LaserGraphics? Or course not. But the larger question is whether a LaserGraphics is $240,000 better relative to the needs of the archive in question.
Now, regarding questions about how the unit works, yes, scanning 35mm is slower at about 4fps for 4 perf but, then again, an archive could easily afford 6 of our units for far less than the price of one LaserGraphics and with money left over. If you need 24fps volume then you run your 35mm film on all 6 units. If you aren’t in a hurry, then you can spread your various different formats across all 6 units. Either way, you have redundancy that you do not have trying to force everything through one scanner operated by someone with premium skills.
Regarding tension on the film, the back tension is a simple, old style spring/felt slip clutch. Ultra smooth and very reliable and easy to service, if ever necessary. Cinching is no problem because the take up reel will never have loose film and, if someone really is concerned about film safety, they will no doubt be cleaning it and will get a tight wrap when they rewind onto the source reel during prep before scanning. The only time cinching off the source reel would be a problem is if someone isn’t cleaning the film and prepping it properly before the transfer. But, even if they did just put a customer reel right on the machine, it will work fine. Tension ranges from very little to a max of about 12 ounces; all of which is enough to keep the film tight as it passes by the camera. Also, there is no “friction” wheel on the take up. The take up and rewind motors have electronic clutches so there is direct drive on both. No slipping of any kind and the full torque of the motor can be applied to the reel, regardless of whether it is 8mm or 35mm.
Regarding the digital zoom function, this is an option in the software that is only used by small, high volume shops working in HD only. If you fill the 2K sensor with a 16mm frame, then the 8mm area of the sensor is roughly around HD in resolution. So we are using the software to control the camera to choose what area of interest the camera accesses, depending on whether you are capturing 16mm, R8 or S8 film. This makes it easier for small shops to switch between the three most popular formats without having to change lenses or tubes. If you want full 2K for all formats, then take it out of the HD zoom mode and use extension tubes to fill the 2K sensor.
Can we make a unit that is higher resolution? Sure, that is no problem if the camera sensor does not increase in size which, of course, is the big trick. Our unit has a continuous feed transport so the frame is in continuous motion. This means we need a bright light and a fast shutter speed to freeze the film as it goes by for a sharp picture. If we move from 2k up to, say 4k and the sensor size increases, then the extension tube length must increase to accommodate the larger sensor. This, in turn, means more loss of light due to a high bellows factor so then the light source has to be even brighter. And the longer tube also means less depth of field to focus all the across the film. This means using a higher f-stop which, in turn, means an even greater loss of light, etc. So going from 2k to 4k isn’t just about changing out the cameras. There are many things to consider because it is a domino effect; change one thing and everything associated downstream from that decision changes, as well.
As far as using a 2K sensor for 35mm, this really is not an issue and for some reasons that may not be obvious. Beyond the needs of a typical archive as discussed above, it becomes a matter of math. I’d venture that, on 99% of all film being archived on our units, the target image is 4:3 and not 16:9. Also, our 2K sensor is 4:3 and not 16:9.
Why does this matter?
Well, as a thought experiment, if you had something like a 3K camera with a 16:9 sensor, that would be roughly 3000 x 1688. If you used that to capture 4:3 material (without sacrificing anything in the film frame), the center 4:3 area of the 3K 16:9 sensor would measure out to be 2251 x 1688. That is almost the same as the 2048 x 1536 sensor we use in our 2K scanner now. The mythical 3K frame would add only 76 lines on the left and right and about 100 lines top and bottom which, IMHO, would not make any appreciable difference in terms of resolution gain. So, in reality, if you are using the entire 4:3 sensor of our scanner, you are effectively capturing closer to 3K and not 2K because, for 4:3 material, frame height is the key, not frame width. Obviously, if you were scanning something akin to a 16:9 original, like Super 16, then you would need the extra width. But, for 4:3 material typical of old 35mm film, adding extra width does you no good since it would simply be covered by black bars. At any rate, scanning 35mm in 3k for archive purposes seems like overkill to most people working in the business when the screener files will likely be in SD or HD only. And anyone that has a new commercial 35mm project will most likely have the budget to take their stuff to a big transfer house with a LaserGraphics or some other high end unit so, again, going up beyond 2k presently serves no real purpose for my two markets and would simply make the unit more expensive for the majority of customers that don’t need it.
Hope this explains a few things.
owner, MovieStuff, LLC