16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Spiny Norman
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16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Spiny Norman »

If anyone knows this it's someone here. While working my way through a long-running British children's science fictions series, I noticed how much, much better inserts on 35mm look than those on 16mm.
Other shows too - even was I was little I noticed how 'Allo 'Allo suddenly looked all weird as soon as they went outside, the colours made it look really old. 16mm often is the pits while 35mm looks as good as it can get.

But 16mm film is just 35mm film split in two - so there shouldn't be that much difference in colour? The only thing I can think of is that the BBC used very different film stocks.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Bernie »

The very large majority of BBC colour film inserts to VT programmes were on 16mm. The emulsions changed as the years went on, improving considerably. Super 16 made an enormous difference when it arrived. The emulsions were (are) the same for 16mm and 35mm, as was the grain size.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by stearn »

I'm no expert on film at all, but if the grain is the same size on 16 and 35 mm, then surely when the picture is enlarged to the same size when transmitting, the 16mm will be twice that of the 35mm, so the grains will be effectively twice the size (and the picture degraded). Not sure how the signal to noise ratio (SNR) works with film, but I am guessing the 35mm will be potentially 1.41 times better than the 16mm. Would the difference in camera make the most difference to the picture though - light etc.?

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Bernie wrote:The very large majority of BBC colour film inserts to VT programmes were on 16mm. The emulsions changed as the years went on, improving considerably. Super 16 made an enormous difference when it arrived. The emulsions were (are) the same for 16mm and 35mm, as was the grain size.

B
Granted. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice was filmed (entirely?) on 16mm I believe and it looks perfectly satisfactory.

But looking at inserts approximately from the same time, '70s-'80s, I really get the feeling that 35mm looks so much better and really kept its colour. From one Tom Baker story to the next there's quite a difference, from "Hm. Clearly filmed, this bit..." to "Hey wait, this scene is outside but it looks just as good!".

If it was chemically the same film (stock), then I guess it's all simply because there's 4 times as much surface on 35mm, so 4 times as much information to work with to get the colour balance right? Does that make sense?

The only other explanation I could think of myself is that the 16mm lenses were not as good. But that could be nonsense.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Spiny Norman wrote:
Bernie wrote:The very large majority of BBC colour film inserts to VT programmes were on 16mm. The emulsions changed as the years went on, improving considerably. Super 16 made an enormous difference when it arrived. The emulsions were (are) the same for 16mm and 35mm, as was the grain size.

B
Granted. The 1995 Pride and Prejudice was filmed (entirely?) on 16mm I believe and it looks perfectly satisfactory.

But looking at inserts approximately from the same time, '70s-'80s, I really get the feeling that 35mm looks so much better and really kept its colour. From one Tom Baker story to the next there's quite a difference, from "Hm. Clearly filmed, this bit..." to "Hey wait, this scene is outside but it looks just as good!".

If it was chemically the same film (stock), then I guess it's all simply because there's 4 times as much surface on 35mm, so 4 times as much information to work with to get the colour balance right? Does that make sense?

The only other explanation I could think of myself is that the 16mm lenses were not as good. But that could be nonsense.
Oddly enough, the 95 "Pride And Prejudice" is being trailed on one of the Sat channels, with a before and after comparison, showing it grotty and faded, but now 'Digitally remastered'.

Which Baker serials are you referring to.?.....some of them had film inserts, some video, and some both.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Bernie »

Spiny Norman wrote:
But looking at inserts approximately from the same time, '70s-'80s, I really get the feeling that 35mm looks so much better and really kept its colour. From one Tom Baker story to the next there's quite a difference, from "Hm. Clearly filmed, this bit..." to "Hey wait, this scene is outside but it looks just as good!".
Do you absolutely know that some Dr Who inserts were on 35mm? I have to say that I very much doubt that they were.
Spiny Norman wrote: If it was chemically the same film (stock), then I guess it's all simply because there's 4 times as much surface on 35mm, so 4 times as much information to work with to get the colour balance right? Does that make sense?
Colour balance on inserts in those days was done by the studio vision operator using TARIF controls on the fly to try to match the studio pictures - which was of course never going to work. Each VO had their own ideas on what was right. Shows that were all film were TARIFed in TK by an operator there, also on the fly. Hopefully in both cases the film had been properly graded before it arrived so that the TARIF only needed to be set once and left alone. Current affairs and news material shot on reversal film would need endless adjusting during the run of the film.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Mark »

Most of the inserts on "Who" were 35mm in the 60's, but in the 70's, it was 16mm, with some model work being done on 35mm.

The first Pertwee serial in 1970, "Spearhead From Space" was made entirely on 16mm film.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Bernie wrote: Current affairs and news material shot on reversal film would need endless adjusting during the run of the film.
That's interesting, why was that ... was it a problem inherent with reversal film stock? I assume reversal film was used for speed of processing?

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Ahw, what happened to my earlier reply?

Who-wise it was The Pirate Planet (noticeable) and The Stones Of Blood (almost undetectable). Although I assume that The Time Warrior was also shot on 35mm.
(Non-Who I could name 'Allo 'Allo and Goodbye Again but those are apart.)

I never noticed it as much in b/w, it's really the colour that betrays it more than the grain or the scratches. I guess it could also be that it's simply much easier to tweak 35mm better - originally or later during remastering. Maybe that answers my own question?
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Brian F »

I think that telecine machine quality improved over the years. Not so much as it has recently though. That is why recent re-transfers are much better than original transmissions, especially the Dr Who film inserts re-done for DVD releases - not to mention the Blu Ray of Spearhead from Space.
That said I'm sure Steve Roberts said on the old RT forum that often 16mm was not as good as it could have been due to the use of higher speed film stock than was strictly necessary to prevent getting caught out by unexpected low light. Possibly also cheaper than buying various stock and changing camera backs losing time?

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by GarethR »

35mm requires less magnification than 16mm, so even though the grain is the same size on both formats, 35 generally looks less grainy and more detailed than 16 on a TV or cinema screen.

8mm also has the same grain size as 16 and 35, but obviously it's being blown up an awful lot more, so the grain looks bigger and the detail looks poorer.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Mark »

Spiny Norman wrote:Ahw, what happened to my earlier reply?

Who-wise it was The Pirate Planet (noticeable) and The Stones Of Blood (almost undetectable). Although I assume that The Time Warrior was also shot on 35mm.
Ah well, there you are, as I said earlier, some on film , some on video.

In this case, "Pirate Planet" had 16mm inserts for location work, but "Stones Of Blood" exteriors were done on video.

"The Time Warrior", (a Pertwee serial) used 16mm for exteriors.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Mark wrote:but "Stones Of Blood" exteriors were done on video.
Oh, I didn't know they could do that.

I almost think I am mistaken about The Time Warrior??
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Mark »

Spiny Norman wrote:
Mark wrote:but "Stones Of Blood" exteriors were done on video.
Oh, I didn't know they could do that.

I almost think I am mistaken about The Time Warrior??
Yes, going back to the sixties, shows like "Public Eye" and "Doctor In The House" sometimes had Video exteriors.

In the case of "Doctor Who", Tom Baker's first serial, "Robot" had video exteriors, with the next one in production, "The Sontaran Experiment" being done entirely on location on video, some serials used both film and video for exteriors, such as "The Talons Of Weng-Chiang" and "The Invasion Of Time", (there's also a 1972 Thames "Ace Of Wands" serial, "The Power Of Atep", which uses both film and video for exteriors).

You were perhaps thinking of a different serial to "The Time Warrior".
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Ooops... Quite possible I was all the time mistaken with video instead of 16mm. My mistake...
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by TK-JaKe »

Bernie wrote: Colour balance on inserts in those days was done by the studio vision operator using TARIF controls on the fly to try to match the studio pictures - which was of course never going to work.
Correct,
but - it would have worked if the 'transmission print' had been graded at the laboratory as viewed by 'standard telecine analysis'; but it wasn't, it was graded by white light projection.

Each VO had their own ideas on what was right.
Indeed they did - it became quite 'political by the late '70s.
Shows that were all film were TARIFed in TK by an operator there, also on the fly. Hopefully in both cases the film had been properly graded before it arrived so that the TARIF only needed to be set once and left alone.
When a (complete) filmed programme arrived in telecine for transmission it was deemed a piece of 'technical equipment'; production department staff were barred from both rehearsal and transmission,
it was for us, and us alone, to make a judgement on how best to reproduce the original scene - not the film frame - but we had no real point of reference.

As the 70s wore on the pressure grew to let the makers of the show have their say on 'the look' on transmission,
it became increasingly common for a director or editor to attend the rehearsal to 'advise', so the same engineer was scheduled to both rehearsal and transmission so he (it was seldom a she) could remember what 'it was supposed to look like'.

TARIF - Technical Apparatus for the Rectification of Indifferent Film {also The A R I F and Tony's A R I F}

PTC - Programmed TARIF Control - began to appear in the latter part of the 70s, first using a punched paper tape system, then a floppy disk version -
it was first developed by BBC Research and BBC Equipment folk, then Cintel produced a version called TOPSY - Telecine Operating System, that was a bit cr*p, so we went back to BBC version called DigiGrade.
Current affairs and news material shot on reversal film would need endless adjusting during the run of the film.
Stuff like Nationwide inserts was seldom ready in time for a 'learning' rehearsal, so PTC of that was out of the question - it was always hands on.
Panorama, however was an occasional user of early PTC; by the mid 80s everyone was doing it.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by TK-JaKe »

stearn wrote:I'm no expert on film at all, but if the grain is the same size on 16 and 35 mm, then surely when the picture is enlarged to the same size when transmitting, the 16mm will be twice that of the 35mm, so the grains will be effectively twice the size (and the picture degraded). Not sure how the signal to noise ratio (SNR) works with film, but I am guessing the 35mm will be potentially 1.41 times better than the 16mm. Would the difference in camera make the most difference to the picture though - light etc.?
Prior to colour in the late 60s, all filmed exteriors for studio-based productions were shot on 35mm and reproduced from 35mm - mostly on flying-spot scanners.

Those telecines had blue-phosphor tubes and were relatively low in their noise figures and good on 'after glow';

clearly, scanning of colour stock requires a phosphor that is more closely panchromatic, i.e has equal amounts of Red Green and Blue output,
the pale green phosphors used were not as good in the S/N figures especially at the Blue end of the spectrum,
some say the afterglow performance was not as good.
{I don't remember ever maintaining a blue-tube machine but must have done all the green-tube ones over the years}.

It's not really true to say that the absolute grain size is consistent through all Neg and Pos stocks used, but the phosphors also had a granular structure that was more apparent the smaller the gauge of the stock being scanned.

It was deemed that to continue to shoot, process and reproduce on 35mm was way too expensive {although it continued to be used for opening title sequences - a days work running Dad's Army titles - what a lot of novels I got through!}

Once all the 35mm shooting and editing plant had been scrapped, it was also deemed that the quality of the filmed insert material was lagging behind the output of the ubiquitous EMI 2001s
{compare with 1966 when the Philips cameras were thought to be poor and the only decent coloured pictures were The Virginian}.

So, all 16mm telecines were fitted with VAKs - Vertical Aperture Correctors - which processed adjacent lines to make the apparent vertical resolution better {this required that the entire technical area had to be re-timed to maintain synchronism}
This was hailed a progressive move to make 16mm look 'as good as 35mm'.

I was never convinced - you seem not to be either!

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

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Mark wrote:Yes, going back to the sixties, shows like "Public Eye" and "Doctor In The House" sometimes had Video exteriors.
The ITV companies were much more likely to use an OB video set-up than film for its (limited) location sequences in the 60s, presumably because it was a much cheaper option.

Most of us are so used to the (usual) BBC way of doing things that we tend to think everybody did their location work on film - cue one or two posts along the lines of "Ooh, look: videotape's been used for outside scenes!" each time Network releases a "new" ITV comedy or drama from the 60s or 70s.

The first series of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS has a bewildering mix of both for its first series, even during the same episode IIRC. The fairly location-heavy episode THE BOLTER from series three uses tape, but the Scottish set fifth series episode uses film.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Brian F »

Andrew Pixley's book on Public Eye shows some of the reasons for the nix of 35mm film (London locations) and OB video in Birmingham using the Didsbury OB unit.

Also the first season of Emmerdale Farm seems to use video for location but later series go to film for some/most episodes.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Brian F »

Brian F wrote:Andrew Pixley's book on Public Eye shows some of the reasons for the nix of 35mm film (London locations) and OB video in Birmingham using the Didsbury OB unit.

Also the first season of Emmerdale Farm seems to use video for location but later series go to film for some/most episodes.
I was told by a BBC film editor many years ago that News were reluctant to go to 16mm until the editors said they could just about "eyeball" edit last minute items on 16mm as well as 35mm.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Bernie »

Mostly, the method of shooting drama exteriors was decided by expediency and cost - with a small sprinkling of union ideas on what was allowed. Until the introduction of lightweight video cameras such as the Ikegami HL79 or the Bosch Fernseh KCN the gear required to actually hold the cameras - say an EMI 2001 - was much heavier and more difficult to move than that needed for an Arriflex or Aaton 16mm camera. Also the camera was on the end of a big fat cable with a van on the other end. So not only was the cost much higher in people and vehicles, the results were less fluid.

Pictures from any video camera would look much closer in quality to any other than film, so experiments were made, and everyone knew that eventually film would be superseded when the video gear was good enough.

In other areas 35mm colour film had its uses despite the much increased cost over 16mm. Almost all the animation sequences used on the beginning of menu trails were on 35mm, and some time in the late '80s I made an ad for Radio Times on 35mm, during the very short time that someone thought it was ok to show blatant commercials for BBC products on BBC1. Stupid, stupid, but I enjoyed making them, especially that one for which the brief began "WS sunny beach, as exotic as possible" - cue a few days at a hotel in Tunisia and the use of an Air Tunis 737 (on the ground).

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by GarethR »

ian b wrote: The ITV companies were much more likely to use an OB video set-up than film for its (limited) location sequences in the 60s, presumably because it was a much cheaper option
Really? OB video cheaper? OB video needed more vehicles, more equipment, more bodies, more lights and more power than OB film, and the cameras were less portable and flexible.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by TVT_Dave »

I find Brian F's comment.....I was told by a BBC film editor many years ago that News were reluctant to go to 16mm until the editors said they could just about "eyeball" edit last minute items on 16mm as well as 35mm - very interesting, and wondered when it was made.

I joined Television Film Studios in 1963 as a projectionist and was sent to Alexandra Palace where news was based, almost immediately. All news stories were filmed on 16mm neg stock with a mag stripe down one side - usually referred to as COMMAG. The film was viewed as neg in the viewing theatre, edited, dubbed and transmitted as neg. It was only when BBC2 started in 1964 that prints were made from the negs for BBC2 news programmes.

The only time I had to run 35mm was archive material. In fact on one occasion, after running a 35mm print, the film editor came into the box and while rewinding the film, tore shots out and hung them round his neck to take them to the editing room!!

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Brian F »

It was made when I joined a cine club in the early 1070's. IIRc it was Derek Bottle that told us.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by ian b »

GarethR wrote:Really? OB video cheaper? OB video needed more vehicles, more equipment, more bodies, more lights and more power than OB film, and the cameras were less portable and flexible.
Not an unreasonable supposition to make though, and why I used "presumably" in my post.

The point I was making was that it wasn't unusual for an ITV drama or comedy production to feature OB vt even in the 60s, where an equivalent BBC series would have used a film crew.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Bernie »

ian b wrote: The point I was making was that it wasn't unusual for an ITV drama or comedy production to feature OB vt even in the 60s, where an equivalent BBC series would have used a film crew.
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Simon Coward »

In the earliest days of location VT inserts, how would these have been combined with the studio parts of the programme?

In as-live productions, any film sequences would be cued to run at the appropriate point in the action, but what of VT location sequences or, I suppose, VT inserts of any kind?

Would these have been handled in the same way, or would VT inserts have been a no-no until VT editing was possible?
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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Bernie »

I don't know definitively, but I think it unlikely that anyone made VT inserts for drama before the days of VT editing. Cut editing was around almost from the beginning of 2" tape in 1956. So if you had a VT insert you could either play it through the studio or just cut it in during the edit.

For a long time, BBC programmes that expected to do much editing were telerecorded on 35mm film.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by Roll ACR »

Simon Coward wrote:In the earliest days of location VT inserts, how would these have been combined with the studio parts of the programme?

In as-live productions, any film sequences would be cued to run at the appropriate point in the action, but what of VT location sequences or, I suppose, VT inserts of any kind?

Would these have been handled in the same way, or would VT inserts have been a no-no until VT editing was possible?
Handled exactly the same way. On "as-live" recordings they'd be rolled in just like a film insert. Watch an ep of "Public Eye" and look out for the left-hand cue dot. Right-hand side for commercial breaks, left-hand side for VTR. Disappears -15secs before a cut to VTR insert. IIRC there are also such cue dots on Xrds eps with VTR inserts. Not all companies used VTR cue dots but in the days when tape to tape post prod was still expensive and many dramas were recorded either in one hit or very long takes of whole parts, the inserts were rolled in on the fly.

Not only location inserts either, if the script requires an artist in consecutive scenes or there's a complex studio stunt etc. it would, perhaps, be necessary to pre-record some studio scenes too and roll them in.

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Re: 16mm vs. 35mm inserts

Post by IndigoTucker »

Could the OB units used for inserts not be 'written off' financially in a way, as they were made in the downtime for the vans in between weekend sport and religious broadcasts.

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