Tech POV


Brilliant but Difficult: Vinyl and Celluloid

There is a New Yorker cartoon showing two hipsters looking at a turntable captioned, “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and the inconvenience.” Indeed.

For all the vinyl fetishism these days – I blame you Wes Anderson – there is no getting around the problems with records as an electro mechanical audio playback medium. Beyond the classic analog issues of noise, distortion, and frequency response there is wow and flutter, mis tracking, groove damage, surface noise, crosstalk and a host of other problems begging for a better way.

But invest enough time, money, and effort to reduce these problems and the results can be magical. That’s because the dynamic range of vinyl exceeds 16-bit CDs, and the lack of sampling and quantizing has a purity that allows the emotion in the music to come through. Listening to records passes the “just one more track” at 3:00 AM test. By comparison, digital, especially compressed digital music like on Spotify, sounds good at first and then just gets fatiguing which makes one want to stop listening.

A great example: Listen to Talk Talk’s “Spirit of Eden” album on Vinyl and CD. Mark Hollis’ production technique required immense dynamic range because of the way he layered instruments together. On Vinyl the guitars come crashing through with massive intensity on the crescendos. On CD the guitars just get a bit louder and distorted.

The same can be said for shooting film. As electro optical mediums for capturing images go film is not exactly pristine. Dirt, scratches, gate jitter, emulsion damage, a limited exposure range and of course, not being able to see what has been captured until after development is archaic. Plus, the cost of shooting on film is astronomically more expensive than shooting digitally.

But like listening to records, there is a magic to the look of “analog” film. While it may have less dynamic range than digital the way film gently rolls off highlight and shadows, folding them back into themselves, is beautiful. By comparison, digital simply clips when it runs out of bits in the whites or blacks. And how one treats the highlights and darkest part of an image is the secret to making great pictures – ask any colorist.

There is a natural softness to film that is so flattering to shooting people. And grain! Real grain. Not the stuff being schemerred on top of digital these days, but real grain is beautiful. Film just naturally looks wonderful – digital is sharper and cleaner but needs to be made to look great. Which is why Oppenheimer, Poor Things, Killers of the Flower Moon, Maestro, Past Lives and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar were all shot on film.

Retour à l’analogique !

Winkler Consulting Inc.