16mm film! Experience with Cinelab scanning my film school project

I’ve been a film geek for a while, and one of my bucket list items was to shoot on real motion picture film. When I saw that I could apply the Intro to Film-making course at the SMFA to my engineering degree, I decided to take the plunge. The class was actually a nightmare to attend, mostly due to its distance from the main campus requiring 40 minute bus rides every Monday with a heavy-footed driver, the timing leaving little opportunity to get food during my already-packed Monday schedule. But it was quite fun!

The decision was to shoot a music video for my brother, then in the early days of his musical career. I shot it on 16mm film with a wind-up bolex, winding through the river of Salt Springs in Notheastern Pennsylvania as well as in my brother’s bedroom studio in Weston, MA.

I would not let the cost deter me: at 79 cents/ft to go from camera negative to positive print, the cost was certainly not to be dismissed — in digital terms it’s over $28 for a minute of shooting.

The shooting was done in two segments, each consisting of two 100 ft rolls of film. I shot the indoor bits on Vision 7230 500T stock and the outdoor on Vision3 250D. Interestingly, the second batch of print came back colder than the first (I chalked it up to whoever was operating the contraption feeling sad that day).

Editing with a Steinbeck and a splicer was also quite fun. I got to spend a Monday of my three day weekend in a small room in the basement of the SMFA cutting film.

The Result

After all the editing was done, we got to project the print for critique. It came out quite beautifully. It was nice to see it finally on the silver screen after working on the little porthole window on a Steinbeck for so long. The critique indicated that I needed more of a story but that it was “beautifully shot.” I’ll take that as the lone electrical engineer in the room.

And then it was returned faithfully to the Cinelab box and left there for five years. And my brother never saw it.

Fast forward to this past few months were I’ve been spending time digitizing old family photos and video tapes. It seemed appropriate to get a solid transfer done (helps that I’m now actually employed and have sufficient funds). I also have been inspired by Cinerama here in Seattle showing their 70mm film festival as well as Christopher Nolan’s shooting on IMAX, so I figure I must do my part.

The Transfer

Cinelab has just acquired something called the “Lasergraphics Scan Station” which sounds quite nifty and can do 30FPS at 2.5K resolution. So I packaged up the edited print and all 400 ft of my old camera negatives and sent them in.

The result was pretty cool. About 78 GB of data for 500 ft or ~14 minutes of film.  The images are 2560×1920 with a fair bit of overscan:

That being said I’ve never done this before so I have no reference point. For Regular 16mm this left about 1950×1374 per frame. Since I needed 16×9 I ended up leaving the sides of the frame on, cropping to 16×9 at 2444×1374. They offer higher resolution 4k scans on a Xena Optical Registered scanner; I might try that out next time, though there’s not a ton more resolution in the negative. They ended up giving me ProRez 444 instead of DPX files (which I thought cost extra but they gave it for free).

The print scan didn’t fare so well (I’ve heard that prints aren’t really supposed to be scanned directly so I wasn’t really expecting wonders) and contrasty. The negative looked great though!

Here’s a negative frame raw from the transfer:

Same frame from the print:

With adjustments in Photoshop:

You can see the dynamic range is simply lower, which is what you’d expect:

The Finishing Touches

For the aforementioned reasons I ended up cutting the original negative on top of the print so that I was left with a digital recreation of my original tape-and-scissors edits. I did some basic color correction digitally (roll skewed a little towards green tint and I warmed up some of it and cooled the tungsten stock).

Here’s the result!

What’s next?

I may have broken down and purchased a Super 16-modified Krasnogorsk 3 wind up camera on eBay, and I’m one week into the month it will take to ship it here. There may be more film in store 🙂

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