Affordable, high quality DV camcorders have opened up the world of movie making to a wider audience than ever before, and independent film making is at an all-time high. However, despite the image quality of your typical MiniDV camcorder, a significant section of the video community is rediscovering the merits and qualities of film in providing a softer, warmer alter-native to the sharper, harder look of digital video.
Although most of us can't afford the thousands of dollars it takes to send away our digital video to be transferred to film, several options exist to help create a film-like effect, during both production and editing.
Using your camcorder like a film camera
An inexpensive accessory such as a diffusion filter can soften your DV footage, and other filters are available to create the warmer tone normally associated with traditional film. Tiffen (www.tiffen.com) and Cokin (www.cokin.com) provide a series of filters that give most of the colour and exposure effects you could want.
Playing with your camcorder's manual controls can provide film-like effects, creating an atmosphere that's not normally associated with DV footage. Video has a longer depth of field (DOF) than film, which means that background objects tend to be kept in sharp focus, which is great when you want to take in all the activity in a scene. However, it provides a challenge for the director who wants to focus the audience's attention on a particular subject.
Many camcorders allow you to alter the aperture, enabling you to reduce the scene's DOF. The wider the aperture, the shallower the DOF, resulting in a sharply focused subject against a less sharp background.
Altering the frame rate of your video to more closely approximate film is another powerful, yet simple, technique you can use. Camcorders capture video at 25fps for PAL and 30fps for NTSC, which they achieve by capturing 50 and 60 frames, respectively, at half the resolution and interlacing the frames to make a full resolution frame. Some camcorders now allow you to approximate the look of film, altering the capture frame rate by capturing non-interlaced video at 25fps at full resolution (known as progressive scan) and bringing it closer to the 24fps of traditional film. This lower frame rate creates a slight motion blur that further enhances the film quality of the video, and the progressive scan eliminates the interline flicker that's a dead giveaway to anyone looking for DV artefacts.
Transforming DV to film on the PC
The range of applications available to edit video has never been better. Entry-level programs such as Ulead VideoStudio 8, Pinnacle Studio 9 and even Microsoft's free Movie Maker 2 provide effects to help give your video a film look.
Movie Maker 2 provides the simplest process to transform your video, with drag-and-drop effects for 'old film', 'older film' and, you guessed it, 'oldest film'. These effects add grain and scratches to a piece of video footage, making it look as if it had been rescued from a film archive (see here). Unfortunately, what you see is what you get when using Movie Maker 2, as the film effect parameters can't be altered by the user.
Studio 9 and VideoStudio 8 allow you to control some of the parameters of an effect, with con-trol over noise, and colour, hue and saturation when working with a noise or posterise effect.
Film produces a more subdued colour with less overall glare than video, and a good way to simulate this with digital video is to adjust the gamma levels and colour saturation. To adjust gamma in Adobe Premiere Pro and 6.5, select the video, then choose Effect-Image Control-Gamma correction and move the control unit to suit. To alter the colour balance, choose Effect-Image Control-Colour Balance and move the controls for the Red/Green/Blue channels.
Applications such as MediaStudio Pro 7.0 and Sony's Vegas 5.0 offer similar control over variables including colour channels and gamma ratings. If you're an experienced user and intend to create lots of effects for your project, Adobe After Effects provides pixel-level control over video, with the ability to change the frame rate, add controlled blur and even alter the depth of field. Third-party filters such as Digieffects CineLook and Digieffects AgedFilm (www.digieffects.com) simulate a film-like appearance by adding grain, dust, hair, and jitter.
Deciding on film or DV at the movie making stage is not really an option for most people. However, with a little tweaking, you can make your DV film take on film-like properties whenever you feel the need.