How were the Original Motion Pictures Captured on Film

Cinecameras were – and to a certain extent still are – a machine for recording motion pictures on celluloid film stock – a widely used analogue form of image storage.

Cinecameras work by feeding film stock – a transparent polyester strip that’s coated with light-sensitive emulsion – from a forward magazine (a light-free chamber) through a transportation system, across an image exposure point and then back into another magazine at the rear.

The total recording process works as follows. Firstly, film stock from the forward magazine is mechanically driven via sprocket-powered gears into an enclosed exposure chamber (film gate). This is executed by a mechanical claw, which pulls the film into position behind the shutter, fixing it temporarily in place.

At this point the camera’s shutter opens and exposes the image that the lens is currently capturing onto the locked segment of film. The claw then draws the exposed film segment down and out of the exposure chamber, advancing the stock, ready for the next exposure. At the same time as the claw draws the film down, the camera’s shutter closes in sync and is then primed to open once more for the following exposure; if the shutter was left open continuously, the images would be ruined through overexposure.

How were the Original Motion Pictures Captured on FilmThis process continues throughout shooting, with a succession of images being exposed onto the film stock in sequence. After each image – more commonly referred to as a ‘frame’ – leaves the exposure chamber, it is drawn into a rear magazine for storage in reel format. Once the director has called ‘Cut!’, the spent reel in the rear magazine can then be removed for processing.

The rise of digital

There are a few key reasons for the shift from film-based to digital recording. Firstly, film is very expensive compared with the electronic storage used to record films digitally, allowing low-budget productions to operate on a fraction of the cost. Secondly, due to the mechanical components of film-based cameras, portability can also be an issue, with certain components requiring a specific form factor; this is not the case with digital cameras. Thirdly, many modern digital cameras are capable of recording footage at a far higher resolution than traditional film cameras, such as the RED Scarlet 5K. Lastly -and one of the most important factors -recording digitally allows for a much higher degree of modification in postproduction.

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