So How Does Analog Film Work Anyway?

Even though it contains some of the most memorable images in human history, how many of us really know how film actually works?


Let’s break it down to the components. First, those little holes along the side of film strips are called perforations (perfs for short). The sprockets inside cameras and projectors latch onto those to move the film along at a steady pace. Sometimes these holes are on both sides of the film, but in other cases one set of perfs is replaces by a magnetic or optical strip for sound recording.

Between these two rails are the frames themselves, which are measured in a whole slew of confusing ways. The width of the film is what most people are familiar with (8mm, 16mm, 35mm) but it doesn’t tell the whole story: some formats take up more space on the strip; the number of perforations per frame are also important; some are even oriented horizontally! They all have different uses, which partially explains why filmmakers are so obsessive about film stock.

Regardless of which stock is in the camera, film exposes more or less the same way. Different layers of the film are coated with chemicals sensitive to either red, green, or blue light. With all three stacked on top of each other, the exposed film is able to reproduce the full spectrum of visible light.

Depending on what point in the history of cinema you’re talking about, film was made of either acetate, polyester, or nitrocellulose—which was abandoned around 1950 because it was really, really flammable (if you’ve seen Inglourious Basterds, you already know this).

While some directors still opt to shoot on film, we’re reaching a point where digital is able to perform as well as or better than analog, and often at a fraction of the cost. With Academy Awards for both best cinematography and best direction, The Revenant—which was shot digitally with Arri Alexa 65smight be the harbinger of film’s dying days.


SPLOID is delicious brain candy. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// Keybase: Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/



Even 4k isn’t enough to match 35mm film. Especially modern 35mm film which has less noise. There’s still noise, but it’s less.

Let alone imax film.

Digital is easier and much cheaper to film with but it’s stupid nonetheless to do so. It’s like filming with a videotape instead of proper film. You’re stuck at that resolution forever.

Film does have the problem with noise when you’re trying to make a higher resolution digital film, but it still captures more detail than digital.

I don’t think it’s even seriously worth considering digital > film until you can record at 8K. Even then, there’s plenty of room for debate.

And spare me the “perceived” bullshit. It’s bullshit. Period. If you want to manipulate your project more and have the chance at better editing opportunities, you film with film, for now. Digital still isn’t good enough.

Imagine if all the great films of our time were videotaped instead of filmed just because it was cheaper and trendy. If it were much easier to edit with I’m sure more than just TV shows would have been videotaped and we’d be pretty well fucked now. As it stands, we’re still pretty screwed with the ones that were digitally shot.

Imagine if VR took off or some other better format that required super high resolution stock. A lot of good movies wouldn’t make the cut because it was shot digitally prematurely.