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Eastman Kodak's New Family of 16mm Films

By Robert Fisher

Two men in blazers work with a camera.

On January 17, 1989, Kodak introduced four extended range motion picture films at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles and at their regional headquarters in New York.

All four new films incorporate advanced use of tabular grain emulsion technology, augmented by breakthroughs in chemistry and design. One common denominator is that all are designed to provide a wide range of underexposure latitude. This gives cinematographers the freedom to shoot in low-light situations and where there is fast-moving action, without sacrificing image quality.

All Eastman EXR films are compatible with existing Eastman films and processes. The new films are:

Eastman EXR color negative film 5296, a 500-speed 35mm film balanced for exposure in 3200K tungsten light.

Eastman EXR color negative film 5245, a 50-speed 35mm film balanced for exposure in daylight.

Eastman EXR color negative film 7248, a 100-speed I6mm film balanced for exposure in 3200K tungsten light. It will replace Eastman color negative film 7291.

Eastman EXR color negative film 7245, a 50-speed 16mm film balanced for exposure in daylight.

Roy Wagner, ASC, shot one of the early tests of the 5296 EXR film. His comments: "What I liked best about 5296 was its ability to reproduce absolute black without compromising the highlights and midtones. It (the new film) has the ability to reproduce high contrast without bleed-through or wrap-around from light to dark areas. And yet it has this enormous tonal range. In This way, it is very much like Eastman 5247 film only it is two stops faster."

Bill Butler, ASC, tested the 35mm version of the Eastman 50-speed daylight-balanced film. He shot tests in available light at the Los Angeles Zoo, and then repeated the same shots wit h t he med i u m-speed Eastman 5247 film.

His comparison: "The daylight film has more underexposure latitude. You can see more details in the shadow areas. The contrast is very nice. But the amazing thing is that there is almost no evidence of grain. The daylight film appears to be almost grainless.''

What about the documentary filmmaker who works in the 16mm format? There is a whole different set of parameters, starting with the obligation to record and show things the way they are. What new options does the new generation of 16mm EXR films offer to the documentary filmmaker?

Jack Oswald, Goal Productions, in Pasadena, California, was among the first to test the Eastman EXR 7248 film.

His observations: "We shot from the top of the Rose Bowl, from a position where we could see the field. The film has a relatively strong contrast ratio. The resolution, the grain and the blacks are marvelous. We got a good look at how it holds during the magic hour just prior sunset.I think if we shot this film at sunset, the grain would hold and it would give us solid blacks."

Oswald overexposed scenes up to three stops, and he underexposed two stops. He said the film easily held details when it was overexposed by two to two-and -a-half stops, and image quality also held at a one stop underexposure.

How do these characteristics serve the needs of the non-fiction filmmaker? There are times when the documentary filmmaker can't light for ideal exposure. Sometimes, it may not be practical or possible. Other times, it might be a matter of not interfering with reality.

Introduction of an artificial light source could alter the reality of a scene by distracting individuals being recorded on film, or in some instances, alerting them to the fact that they are being photographed. Or, it might be a case of not wanting to alter the ambience of an environment by introducing an artificial source of light.

In all of these situations, the EXR films will provide some extra margin of flexibility, because of the built-in underexposure latitude coupled with the tighter grain pattern. Also, remember that many if not most documentaries are seen on television, or at least in videocassette format.

"My impression is that this improved negative (7248) looks almost as good as 35mm film if you expose and transfer it to video tape properly," said Oswald.

There is another consideration. Some 16mm documentaries are used to master 35mm print blowup for theatrical projection. Grain which might be acceptable on a 16mm print, can become objectionable, or interfere with the viewer 's perception of reality, when it is blown up to 35mm print format for projection on a big screen. A film with a tighter grain pattern and wider underexposure latitude is going to yield 35mm prints which are more representative of the 16mm image.

The 50-speed daylight balanced film provides a totally new palette for the documentary producer. It isn't a replacement for an older film. It is a new film designed for specific purposes. The 724 5 EXR film can be exposed in real or artificial daylight. There is no need for color correction filters. And it also can be exposed in the mixed lighting situations that documentary filmmakers are likely to find when recording reality.

The imaging characteristics of the Eastman EXR 7245 film are unparalleled in terms of image sharpness, grain and color saturation. With any film, underexposure results in increased grain, particularly in the shadow areas. Grain translates to "noise" when film images are electronically transferred to videotape or video disk.

The Eastman EXR 7245 addresses this issue in several ways. There is a tighter grain structure to start with. And there is significant underexposure latitude. So, whether a video transfer or a film print is made, image quality will more closely replicate the actual scene.

Documentary producers can now choose from four Eastman 16mm color negative films. In addition to the two new EXR emulsions, Kodak still offers Eastman color high speed negative film 7292 and Eastman color high speed daylight negative film 7297.

The 7292 film is balanced for exposure in 3200K tungsten light, and it has a recommended exposure index of 320. The 7297 film is balanced for exposure in daylight, and it has a recommended exposure index of 250. John Spence, of Kodak Motion Picture and AudioVisual Products Division, noted that in many cases, the choice of emulsion depends much upon the individual as it does on the production situation."Different people will use the new EXR films different ways,depending upon the production situation, how they like to work, and the ambience or look that they want to obtain," he said. "That was one of our goals, to give the filmmakers more freedom." "We don't intend to stop here," Spencer Said. "The possibilities are practically unlimited in terms of how we can now shape the speed, grain, sharpness triangle. We anticipate more developments as early as 1990."

Eastman, 5296, 5245, 5247, 7291, 7292, 7245, 7248 and T-Grain are trademarks of the Eastman Kodak Company.