ARRI, Panavision, and Aaton Cease Production of Film Cameras; Will Focus Exclusively on Digital

     October 12, 2011


Last night I saw the prequel to The Thing.  I’ll have my full review up on Friday morning, but one of the things that bothered me about the movie was that it was shot on digital.  I had watched John Carpenter’s 1982 original the night before and comparing the two makes a strong case for the necessity of film.  It can ground the image and dirty it up, but not in an artificial, “Well go back and add the scratches” way.  Sadly, Creative Cow reports [via @Criterion] that major camera manufacturers ARRI, Panavision, and Aaton have quietly ceased production of their film cameras and will focus solely on production of digital.

Hit the jump to find out why.

movie-film-camera-arri-01ARRI VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, tells Creative Cow:

“The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.  There are still some markets–not in the U.S.–where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent.”

Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala explains:

“Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world? We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.”

Other causes noted for the demise of film cameras are the rise of 3D (another reason to despise the technology), the near-ubiquity of digital projectors, cinematographers enjoy having more tools at their disposal, and, according to New York City rental house AbelCine’s Director of Business Development/Strategic Relationships Moe Shore “an inexorable march of digital progress that may be driven more by cell phones and consumer cameras than the motion picture industry.”

Not all of these are bad and I don’t think digital is a problem in and of itself.  This isn’t a matter of the future destroying the past or fearing new technology.  Digital is a tool and it’s appropriate for some movies but not all movies.  If filmmakers no longer have the option to use film rather than digital, then the art form suffers.


  • John

    This is sad but understandable. I just wish that they would keep making them at least for special orders, because 30 years from now, some cinematographers are still going to want to use film. As long as that choice is still there, I’m happy.

    This is gonna piss of a lot of people, methinks.

  • Al

    There will still be those traditionalists who use film but it will be more of a style choice than a necessity. The truth is that with in the next 10 years digital will meet or surpass film in every significant way; color reproduction, resolution, dynamic range, etc. They already far surpass film in terms of affordability, low light operation and ease of use(conversions, digital editing). I think the only real challenge digital has is making film aficionados forget that it’s digital because most audience members can’t tell the difference anyway.

  • pills_26

    Well I can’t say this isn’t too much of a surprise – just considering the affordability and greater exposure latitude, there is a reason why people are switching to digital.

    But that doesn’t mean they should dump film cameras completely. I mean, this isn’t just one company halting production, but the three major ones.

    The great thing about new mediums is being able to have more to choose and express ideas through. Culling the old just gives you less room to move.

  • Darren

    The Thing prequel was NOT shot on digital, it was shot on Anamorphic Panavision as the Carpenter version was:

    Frosty knows this beause his original set report talked about this too!

    Aside from some awful negative biased writing on this otherwise great site, I suggest you at least get your facts right.

    • Devin

      It’s not a great site.

    • dp

      The Thing, shot on 3 XL2 and 435′s for high speed Cameras, used “G” anamorphic primes, and some older “E’ Series.. this was the capture medium but was all scanned digital for post,

  • AlexHeyNa

    Well, this sucks…

  • Errol

    I remember Tarantino once said in an interview that if they stopped using film and went all digital, he would never direct a movie again. If he’s true to his word, I guess the end of Tarantino’s career is imminent.

    • NickC

      I don’t think everything will go digital enough to make Tarantino back away from directing. Just because the manufacturers aren’t making the cameras, doesn’t mean there won’t be cameras around and people to service them when they break down. Plus, film cameras are about as good as they’re ever going to get. The film stock, on the other hand, will just keep on improving, meaning you will still have a quality increase even if the camera is outdated (I shoot the most modern stocks in my 40-something year old camera and it’s stunning).

      The thing I’m worried about is the theaters converting. There is nothing like viewing a film print (tonight I watched West Side Story in 35mm), and that feeling will NEVER be replaced for me by a digital projector, no matter how high-res it gets.

      • JoJo55

        Shooting on film may eventually vanish, but the manufacture of film will continue for a long time to come. The reason? Most theaters still use film projectors, so the final stage of making a movie (whether film, digital or whatever comes after) is the transfer of the Master to thousands of copies of FILM stock. So really it is all a moot point in the long run.

  • Bonobo

    Oh my. I really do hope digital comes up with a way to convincingly fake the warmth of film – I think the newest batch of digital cameras (Alexa, Red Epic) can already outperform any film camera with regard to realistically recreating what was captured, but the thick, warm, often grainy feel of a high-ISO film remains elusive – and I don’t mean just to get a “retro” feel, I recently saw The Living (Du levande) by Roy Andersson and Le Havre by Kaurismaki for instance; both very recent and both very distinctively shot on film (both highly recommended, too!).

    • Bonobo

      *You, The Living (Du Levande)

      Sorry about that

    • NickC

      Have you seen the great camera shootout of 2011? It compares about a dozen formats. From that footage it’s quite clear that 35mm still surpasses all the digital formats in terms of resolution, latitude, color reproduction, and color resolution. The only area that it doesn’t surpass the others is in the low light capabilities.

  • Tim

    How can you state it was shot in digital when it was shot on film?!



    “The Thing (2011)” was shot on film:

  • Gary

    One might look to the audio world and see how much effort has been made in the past few years to create recording software that captures the “sound of analogue”. Can digital film be too far behind?

  • Paul

    This is really sad news. Film is an art & should continue to exist alongside digital. There’s absolutely no reason Digital – regardless of it’s resolution, etc – should REPLACE film. The two formats should/must exist SIDE BY SIDE.

    Anywho, The Thing 2011 MAY have been shot on 35mm anamorphic but after it’s been fucked with so much in post (like the trailers clearly show it has- the DI went way overboard) you can make 35mm look pretty goddamn digital.

    • Darren

      To be fair, I think nearly every film suffers from the over use of DI, making the visuals look unnatural or cartoony. I think the DI process is unfortunate in modern film. It’s giving “pros” the chance to tweak and manipulate every frame to their idea of perfection, like Photoshop for video.

      To me, there’s nothing better than Anamorphic as it was before the DI process, such as the way Nolan uses it. I was hoping The Thing prequel would not use it either, but I guess the producers want this to appeal to a modern audience, so give it a modern “look”.

  • JandS

    I literally felt nauseous reading this. I’m practically in love with film and would always use it as a director. Digital is visually odd, ugly, amateur, and often dizzying to me; but they are different mediums, it’s like oil vs watercolors. Directors should not be denied any tools; that’s anti-art.
    I was hoping that better and better film cameras would be made as well as digital (even though I dislike digital, I’m trying to be fair!). There’s no reason to give up like this.
    This is unexceptable from an artistic standpoint and is a hard blow to the art of film-making, and no amount of digital voodoo will heal this. Asinine.

  • pi

    i just saw BLUE VALENTINE last night and it gave you a dose of what’s different between film and digital.

    anyways, the problem is that some DPs don’t know how to use it. Dante Spinotti really messed up badly with Public Enemies(i have not seen a more badly shot movie from a great cinematographer since). but Fincher and Soderberg knows how to use RED. Deakins, and a slew of films shot on Alexa this year makes it look wonderfully. Avengers is on ALEXA. it looks good on the trailer. but i agree, it will never look like film(unless “meticulous graining” but, what’s the point of going digital if you’re going to grain it up RIGHT?!)

    i’ve been talking to a cinematographer friend about this. he says “film” really is different, but Digital is “different” and is not inferior in any way. i starting to agree.

    PS. if the THING prequel really was shot on film, then Matt, eat your pride and admit your mistake. it’s embarrassing but you’re wrong so admit it.

  • Phil Beta

    This is painful for me. Digital has never appealed to me like film has. There’s no magic to do on digital shooting. Film required more focus on the frames to make art, and the arts in the movies were a very important matter.

    Digital technology, on the other hand, made directors rely on visual effects and care not for the art. Made directors lazy. Of course, there is a small breed of directors that know how to do their homework, but the vast majority, well, they don’t make movies like they used to.

    Like most of you here, I’m in love with film. And personally, I blame Sony and Jim Cameron for triggering the phase out (George Lucas is another sinner). I know things must change, but I will always be more fond of film than digital.

    The good old times, when pixels meant nothing and the magic was an art and not business. Will always love film. Vaya con Dios!

  • BDMayan

    Both Kodak and Fuji are continuing to produce film stock, these companies have stated they will continue to repair and upgrade their current fleet of rental film cameras, and high profile directors like Chrisopher Nolan refuse to shoot digitally (for now anyways), so film isn’t going anywhere for awhile.

    As an independant filmmaker who has shot in both film and digital formats, I agree with Nolan and Tarantino that nothing beats 35mm film in terms of detail, warmth and color information. Film is also the standard for archiving as you can always re-scan the negative and make new prints, whereas with digital archiving issues have not been resolved as far as Im aware (not sure how “The Social Network” revival screenings will happen or how those will look). But it’s getting harder and harder to justify the expenses that go along with shooting film within the budget range I work in. A talented cinematographer, along with the right lenses, lighting, and post-production can create some beautiful images that you can begin to work with the same evening as you wrap shooting, and at a fraction of the cost.

    Im more worried about production companies and distributors stopping the practice of exhibiting on film and one article I read estimated 9/10 films will be projected digitally by the end of 2012 (in my city every multiplex has already converted, 4/5 screens now project digitally). Results look great, except I can tell that Im just seeing an image slightly higher resolution than a blu-ray. Can I not do this myself at home? Why would I go to a theatre and pay admission when I could do the same at home? And with digital film formats aren’t you putting a high quality file in the hands of bootleggers the minute it hits theatres? What about smaller art-house cinemas that play older films, will they die because the films are no longer available to screen? How exactly do the studios and muliplexes plan on stopping the decline of theatre attendance, and wont this make the problem worse not better?

    Film cameras will still be around (big, heavy, built to last), artists can still use them and I highly recommend student filmmakers learn their craft on film cameras (Roger Deakins has a fine article on how the science of exposing film made filmmakers truly understand what they were doing, and how he worries about the ease of the “kid with a handicam” mantra of filmmaking will see a decline in quality filmmaking). That being said, and I quote another blogger on this, “film never made a movie. Screenwriters, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, sound operators, costume designers, set designers and producers make movies”.

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  • john brawley

    The article is incorrect and the headline is misleading.

    The Aaton Penelope mentioned IS a film camera that is currently sold and which also accepts a yet to released digital back. Aaton are currently selling the Penelope as a 35mm 3 perf / 2 perf switchable 35mm camera that can ALSO shoot digitally at some point in the future.

    It’s already hard enough navigating the plethora of information out there as a cinematographer…no wonder it’s hard for Directors and producers. How about you amend the headline at least ?


  • Nick

    Sorry, but DV and HD are complete crap. If you take a DVD of a major film shot on HD and zoom in one increment, you will see tons of compression artifacts. It also makes night-shooting look ludicrously awful. Good examples of this are “Zodiac,” “2012,” and “The Box.” Filmmakers like Cameron, Rodriguez, Lucas, etc. (or old has-beens like Lynch and Scorsese) champion this format because they are lazy cheapskates and overgrown children who are more interested in playing with shiny new toys than telling stories and creating art. That’s why their movies contain nothing but special effects and no stories. And let’s face it: video is a HORRIBLE archival format. No video format has lasted longer than five years before becoming obsolete; the only way you can preserve a movie shot on video is to transfer it to a film print (lol). And someone like Robert Rodriguez is a complete hack anyways, so why would anyone listen to his theories on film aesthetics? Have you SEEN “Spy Kids 4?” His story of getting into the business is interesting, but his films are all worthless, boring action-movie crap.

    Video has it’s place, and that is TV. Most films continue to be shot on film because it looks and sounds great. And video will not improve any further. 1920×1080 is as good as it’s ever going to look, and it still looks flat and lifeless. Video, no matter how sharp the picture quality gets, will never be able to emulate the luminance, depth, and color of celluloid. The most important aspect of film, which video can not emulate, is that it moves at 24 frames per second, which creates a kind of “clipping” effect that stimulates your eyes and your brain and keeps you continuously excited. Video, on the other hand, always runs at a 60-frame-per-second interlaced rate (the frames dissolve into one another), which puts the viewer into a kind of hypnosis.

    90% of feature films are still shot on film, including made-for-TV movies, and will continue to be so for a very long time. Most distributors will not accept films unless they are shot on 16mm or 35mm. What I find is that most filmmakers who shoot indie-movies on DV want to get to Hollywood and shoot 35mm as fast as possible. And whatever happened to 3D?

    • Steve

      I totally agree with you I wish they would leave things alone nothing like film for movies and archive print the old video tape for television was great as well for home viewing and pro broadcast Tv its this new crap most of it computer the voice tracks are behind the video scenes their eyes look like marbles rolling around in their heads I,am really sick of some of the ways they have redone film and the old video tape that were so decent on these new formats the color is wrong the audio track runs too fast and their voices don’t sound like the way they really were I know several people that have gotten sick and thrown up watching old stuff re mastered in HD video all that computer stuff to do away with film and the old tv tape sucks thats all they can think about is how to get rid of film and tape no matter what lousy quality they come up with and their is never any set standard all the new shit is junk.

  • Nick

    Also, the more likely effect of this happening will either be that those three aforementioned companies will go out of business once they can’t meet their quotas (they can’t force people to shoot everything on DV) and be replaced by other companies, or start rolling out film cameras again once they get flooded with complaints (which is what usually happens). Film is for professionals; video and HD is for amateurs and lazy filmmakers.

    • george k.

      yeah, this isn’t like laserdisc players or polaroids. there’s still a huge demand for movie cameras. hollywood is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and most everything there is shot on film.

  • george k.

    I think it’s way too early to phase out film cameras. Even the articles I’ve read said that digital cinema being able to perfectly emulate celluloid is still decades off. The three companies said that they stopped making cameras because nobody’s buying them, but the reason nobody buys them is because everybody rents or leases them from the company. These cameras cost an average of $100,000, and Panavision doesn’t even sell cameras. I’m sure other companies will continue making them as long as there’s a demand for them, which is still pretty high.

  • Ron

    What this basically means is that Arriflex, Aaton, and Panavision will go bust while new companies fill in the demand and continue making film cameras. Companies like Sony and Red have already cornered the digital-video market. Nothing to see here, move along.

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  • Adam

    A couple things:

    First, according to IMDb the new ‘The Thing’ was shot on 35mm film, not digital. Of course IMDb can often be wrong. I have not seen the film myself, but are you sure it was digital? If so, what made you think it was?

    Second, the article this is based on seems to have jumped to some incorrect conclusions. It seems to me that these companies have not ceased PRODUCTION of these cameras, but rather development of new designs.

    The original article states that “someone is holding the last film camera to roll off the line”. This shows some lack of research. 35mm film cameras are not produced on a “line”. They are built one at a time to order. I’m sure that if someone calls up Arri and says they want to buy a $250,000 Arrcam ST they are not going to say “no”.

    But I don’t think it comes as a surprise that they are not putting money into developing new models. This isn’t just due to digital though. It’s also due to the fact that film cameras last a long time and take decades to become obsolete rather than a few years like digital cameras do. There are still Arri BL4s made in the 70s or 80s in use on some low-budget productions.

    I think another factor is basically “how do you improve upon a Arricam ST or a Millennium XL2?”. These cameras have just about all the features that you could ask for in a 35mm camera. They are more user-friendly than any of the digital cameras out there and because their image quality is reliant on lenses and film stock and not the camera body itself it’s hard to sell rental companies on an upgraded CCD like you can with a digital camera.

    Arguments about quality and ease of use aside, the “soon to be obsolete” nature of digital cameras make them a much more profitable venture since you are really only competing with recent models and not ones made 15 or 20 years ago. It’s no surprise they have stopped working on newer models of film cameras to focus on digital.

    Yes digital is gaining more and more share of production, but film is FAR from dead. The 35mm cameras out there already could service production for at least another 20 years. And there is a strong following for film. There was a quote in the article that stated “Film will be alive as long as Kodak and Fuji want it to be”. There is a certain percentage of filmmakers that with hang on to their film to the bitter end until it is forcibly removed as an option.

    Look at what has happened in the still photography world. Film is having a small resurgence. Small yes, but significant because it’s some kind of motion upward rather than the slide to disappearance that was predicted.

    If you ask people at post houses, motion film production is up recently. And some expect it to far out-live 3D which is fizzling recently. Look at Transformers 3, it was supposed to be shot 100% digitally in 100% 3D, but by the end they had shot 80% of it on 2D 35mm film. There were reasons, and on that production money certainly wasn’t an object.

    Don’t underestimate film. It’s not going away for a while.

  • MythicSeven

    Ironically, the demand for glorified camcorders has caused the price of 35mm equipment to drop like a rock, allowing filmmakers who’ve been stuck on the sidelines to finally have their cinematic day in the sun. I myself acquired a perfectly functioning 35mm Eclair CM3 plus 5 lenses for 700 bucks on Craigslist and now I’m having a go at what was only a pipe dream as little as 5 years ago. Film isn’t dead, despite George Lucas’ most furtive efforts… merely a changing of the guard.

  • Stephen

    I normally sit on the sidelines of this kind of thing but I have to throw some thoughts into this. People who say that film is dead are obviously overstating things. No one is going to force filmmakers to stop shooting on film as long as there is a demand; the economics of making movies are different from the economics of consumer technology and for most movies that you will ever see the cost is not an issue (for the ones for which cost is an issue good digital cameras allow them to make better images and that’s a great thing).

    People who say that film is inherently better than digital have no idea what they are talking about, especially people who think that film projection is better than good digital projection. A typical release print will put something like a 1k or 1.5k image on the screen, registration issues decrease perceived softness even further and the stability and contrast will degrade over time. Digital projection has none of these issues, whether the source is film or digital.

    On the camera side, as Matt exemplified in his article, most people cannot tell the difference between “film” and “digital” (in quotes to take into account the vast differences between different stocks, cameras, formats, etc.) especially as digital camera makers and filmmakers try to emulate the “look of film” whatever that might be, and film technology strives for more sharpness to compete with digital. Incidentally, one of the most digital-looking films I’ve seen in recent memory is Indy 4, which was shot on 35mm anamorphic. To address the issue of archival support, films which are shot in high-resolution digital formats, 3-4k and soon to be higher, have about the same level of resolution as a 35mm negative. You can of course scan 35mm at any resolution you like – 6k, 8k, 10k – but after about 3-3.5k you are only getting noise. The Social Network wouldn’t look any better in a revival 20 years from now if it had been shot on 35mm.

    It is definitely true that film and digital have a different feel from each other to a trained eye, as they are fundamentally different technologies – ironically the basic elements of film (photosensitive crystals) are binary whereas the pixels in electronic cameras are analog. As long as that feel is something desirable to filmmakers they should shoot on film to obtain it. But to argue that it is inherently better than something else is to project your aesthetic judgments as truth. I like black and white films, but almost no one is making them anymore. Do I go around ranting about the inferiority of color photography? No, that would be stupid. Color photography offers a different, in some ways expanded, toolset for the cinematographer. Digital filmmaking offers more versatility in terms of workflow and in the hands of a competent cinematographer can produce images that are equally as beautiful – or not, if that be the intent – as film. Both are just tools – it is the artist that creates the art.

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  • Leadmann

    I’ve gotten into this forum about six months too late, but I’ve a couple notes to list.

    EKC is likely being kept alive by the motion picture industry. Kodak Park, the main manufacturing and coatings part of Kodak, is nearly a ghost town, save for those select lines for specialty goods. The Motion picture research center, just down from the Park, has been torn down. They may have consolidated that into another facility.

    While I see digital as a new ‘process’ for film making, I agree that from a creative viewpoint, film will be around for some time… at least until such time that the digital process can surpass in every way, the film look. A case in point may be the character, depth and tonality of black and white (I suppose adding into this, the ‘craft’ and expertise of the lighting director). While B&W is typically not the choice of the major studio, the Indy’s and “Select” group of directors use it for its characteristics.

    Lastly, I will miss the iconic magazines mounted atop a camera. For me, this was always the look. Looking down the viewfinder during a scene, with the attenuated purring of the camera and transport and the magazine just off to my side was something special. During a truck or crane, the magazine was like a flag that all could see. Bystanders didn’t have to see the action, just the camera and mag, to know that something special was being filmed. Lastly, it was like a tabernacle, which contained the yet, unseen images captured by the lens.

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