Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cinema Workshop

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cinema Workshop

Article excerpt


The aspect ratio of television is 1.33:1, the same as 16mm and Academy 35mm motion picture formats. This is no coincidence, the television format was obviously designed to be compatible with the existing motion picture standards. This fact may give a cameraman the impression that anything he shoots with a standard 1.33:1 ratio will work as well for a television transmission as for a direct screen projection. Not true.

In most cases footage that was not specifically shot for television will suffer from the broadcast process. This is due to technical as well as aesthetic differences between television and large screen direct projection. The specific techniques for exploiting the dramatic capabilities of television could easily form a complete discussion in itself. We may explore that subject in the future; however, for the present we will look at the technical considerations.

What the cameraman sees is not what the audience gets. The viewfinder image (camera aperture) is shaved away as it passes through the film chain. By the time it reaches the home receiver, the image may be reduced to as little as ½ of its original area. While this may be a worst case figure, the received image rarely represents more than 75% of the original composition, with a figure of 65% to 75% being average. In other words, the TV audience gets to see only ½ to 3/4 of what the cameraman put on the film. This is, of course, assuming the original footage was shot 1.33:1. If an anamorphic screen format was employed during the original filming, the TV image will represent an even smaller percentage of the original scene. Would you believe that the TV audience may be viewing as little as ¼ of an original scene filmed in Cinemascope, never getting to see the other 75% of the cinematographer's composition?

What happens to this lost information? In the case of the wide screen formats, it should be obvious that a bulk of the image is lost by cropping the sides off the original scene to re-establish the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. However, once the 1.33:1 ratio is established, the image is further cropped as it makes its way through each process in the tele-cine chain.

The film records the full image as the cameraman sees it. This is called the camera aperture. (see FIGURE #1.) When the film is projected, a small portion of the image is cropped by the "Projection Aperture", which is specifically designed to be smaller than the camera aperture. This will insure that the frame lines and the side boundaries of the original image will not appear on the screen. …

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