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Legacy Hollywood Resists the Digital Camera

The New York Times reports that on movie sets a handful of companies are angling to have their 'digital movie cameras' used to capture the action, supplanting the traditional 35-millimeter film camera.

Many of this summer�s most prominent releases have relied on digital movie cameras, including �Superman Returns� from Warner Brothers, �Click� from Sony Pictures and �Miami Vice,� a Universal Pictures offering.

But while the changeover to digital filmmaking has long been predicted, these companies are encountering an unusual degree of resistance from producers, directors and cinematographers. A majority of feature films are still shot with film cameras and some well-known directors, including Steven Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan, have been vocal about their intention to continue shooting on film.

Unlike the market for consumer digital photography, the market for professional digital movie cameras is relatively small: the major American studios released only 194 films in 2005, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. And while Panavision and Thomson Grass Valley, both based in California, have an early edge, many new cameras are on the way, from established companies like the ARRI Group of Germany and a start-up, Red Digital Cinema.

Digital cinematography first appeared as a faint spot on Hollywood�s radar in 1999, when George Lucas announced his plan to shoot �Star Wars: Episode II� with a new kind of digital camera adapted from Sony Electronics� television news cameras. The Lucas experiment, released in 2002, persuaded a few directors to dabble with digital cameras, but it was not until this year that the roster of movies using digital photography began to grow.

Manufacturers have promoted the potential cost savings of the new technology. Digital cameras eliminate the need to buy and develop film, and the need later to scan that film into a computer, add digital special effects or adjust the color. Robert L. Beitcher, Panavision�s chief executive, estimates that even though renting his company�s Genesis digital camera at a typical rate of about $3,000 a day is nearly twice as expensive as renting a film camera, they can help save about $600,000 on film costs and processing in a big-budget feature.

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