Digital IMAX vs 70mm film IMAX (questions after watching Sully in IMAX) - High-Def Digest Forums
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Old 09-21-2016, 01:48 AM
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Default Digital IMAX vs 70mm film IMAX (questions after watching Sully in IMAX)

Please forgive my lack of brevity, as I want to paint the full picture of my experience before I ask my question (skip down to the bottom if you want to go straight to my inquiry).

I recently watched Sully in an IMAX theatre. Yes, it was "real" IMAX theatre, not the 2k projector small screen LieMAX.

I was very excited to finally see a film where they didn't just do one or two sequences in IMAX, but pretty much the entire thing! I've been waiting for this since I first saw The Dark Knight in IMAX, and wondered why they kept switching back to a cropped image with the top and bottom cut off. I later found out that it was because the IMAX film cameras were too loud and bulky to do indoor/dialogue scenes with, but it didn't help to soothe the sting of having to cut back to a "regular" picture after just being in awe of the (sur)real IMAX footage. The feeling I got from the true IMAX experience was intoxicating, and I've watched every film I could in the format if I found out that it was actually shot with IMAX cameras. From TDKR to Star Trek: Into Darkness to Interstellar, and more recently The Force Awakens and Batman V Superman, I never ceased to gasp and smile when the image suddenly became clearer and more life-like, and expanded to fill the larger than life screen thereby making me almost feel like I was being sucked into the film by the periphery covering and fully enveloping image.

Things changed a little bit when I saw Captain America: Civil War in IMAX. Yes, the airport scene was amazing, and it did expand farther up and down than the rest of the film, but it wasn't quite as big as I was used to. What gives? Was this just an anomaly? Did the DP use some kind of weird lens on the IMAX camera that casts a smaller image? I kind of just filed it as an oddity and moved on.

Then I found out about this new movie called Sully, and that it was going to be virtually all in IMAX! The long awaited day had finally come. I was going to see a movie shot entirely in IMAX! I had heard about the new digital IMAX cameras a while back, and wondered why people weren't using them so that they could shoot indoor/dialogue scenes in IMAX too. Sure, those scenes didn't scream "use IMAX", but why the heck not? It would be better than having to switch ARs throughout the movie. I figured that the directors using IMAX were just old school and preferred film, or maybe even prejudiced against digital cameras. Apparently Clint Eastwood had heard my pleas and used the cameras for his whole movie, and I felt it my duty to see the film in IMAX and support his decision.

For some odd reason the theatre I normally watch these movies in (in Toronto) wasn't playing it on their IMAX screen, so I had to make due with one in another city close by. It was smaller, but it was still a "real" IMAX screen so I was happy. As the film started and I sat back ready to be in awe of the amazing picture, I noticed something odd. It was that same effect I saw in Civil War. It didn't quite expand all the way up and down again. Yes, it was bigger than normal (I had watched Suicide Squad on that same screen for the sake of comparison), but not quite as big as I had hoped. I could see a blank space between the top of the image and the top border of the screen, which was not the case with the aforementioned IMAX movies. Was this because of the digital IMAX camera used? I checked and Civil War had used the same camera, so that explained the similar image in both films.

Another thing I noticed - probably due to the luxury of the slow scenes being in IMAX as well, as opposed to just the fast paced action scenes - was that I could see the pixels on the screen. This was particularly true in light parts of the image, like Sully's pilot uniform (where I could see the "screen door" effect), or in areas with fine detail (where I saw "jaggies"). OK, what? An IMAX movie not being high-res enough? This was never the case before! How could this be? I sat in the exact middle of the cinema hall, so I should not have been seeing pixels.

I did some digging around and found out that for some odd reason the Arri Alexa 65 has a native AR of 2.11, as opposed to the 1.34 of film IMAX cameras, so I'm guessing that would explain the shorter image. Also, I don't know the pixel equivalent of IMAX film, but it is surely above 10k. The Alexa 65 has a 6.5k image sensor, which is definitely less, but one would think that is good enough to still have a sharp and finely detailed image (and avoid showing pixels).

So my inquiry is as follows: Is the 6.5k image sensor on the Alexa 65 not enough? Is IMAX pulling another fast one on us like they did with their LieMAX theatres by giving us inferior technology and branding it IMAX? Can I expect the same thing on future films shot with the camera, or is this perhaps an anomaly of the theatre I saw it in? Maybe their projector was of lesser quality? As I mentioned, it was not the one I usually watch IMAX films in, so that could potentially by the case. Has anyone else heard of people complaining of seeing pixels when watching Sully in IMAX?

If my experience is not out of the norm, then it seems digital IMAX still has a ways to go before it can reach the quality of film IMAX, and I will lament the fact that I have to go back to only seeing some scenes shot in IMAX if I want to have the ultimate image (full screen coverage and no discernible pixels). Please tell me this is not the case. Please?

Last edited by pedram; 09-21-2016 at 02:26 AM.
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Old 09-21-2016, 10:51 AM
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The aspect ratio of the old IMAX 15/70 film was 1.44:1. However, once IMAX started transitioning to digital, they adopted a 1.9:1 screen ratio. That's why the so-called "LieMAX" screens are shorter than the old fashioned film IMAX screens. IMAX digital projectors also use a 1.9:1 ratio. Newly-constructed IMAX theaters install 1.9:1 screens. Some legacy IMAX theaters remodeled to install the shorter screens. Other simply project the wide image letterboxed on the old 1.44:1 screen. That's probably what you saw.

Although the Arri IMAX digital camera may have a 2.1:1 sensor, not all of those pixels are actually used in the final movie. The camera sensor is oversized. This gives the director some leeway to adjust his shot composition in post-production by moving the image up, down or side-to-side. The final "OAR" of movies shot with the IMAX digital camera is 1.9:1.

The majority of IMAX digital cinemas use two 2k projectors that shine the same image, one on top of the other, doubling the brightness of the image. The resolution of each projector is still only 2k, though.

Newer IMAX cinemas use two 4k laser projectors, for much higher contrast and less screen-door effect.
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Old 09-21-2016, 12:23 PM
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Thanks for the reply.

I guess I should clarify a bit. The original IMAX theatre I was used to seeing these movies in uses the dual 4k laser projector setup (the first in the world to do it actually). That's probably why I didn't notice any pixels during the IMAX scenes of Star Wars 7 or BvS. I just checked and the theatre I saw Sully in does not have the laser system, even though it has a 1.43 screen and I expected it to be a "real" IMAX.

So you're saying that essentially since almost all IMAX theatres have switched over to digital, if they don't have the new laser projection system then they're using the 2k Christie projectors, regardless of whether the screen was smaller and made for the new digital system, or larger and made for the old 70mm film system, and I'll probably notice the pixels on every IMAX movie I watch there? That would be a shame, since a movie shot with a 6.5k camera would be shown using a 2k projection system and the word IMAX would essentially have lost most of its meaning in those situations.

Also, if the movie is shot with the Arri Alexa 65, then it will be projected with a 1.9 AR and won't fill a 1.43 IMAX screen regardless of which projection system it uses. Movies shot with film IMAX cameras, however, will fill the entire screen. Am I correct on this?

Last edited by pedram; 09-21-2016 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 09-21-2016, 02:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pedram View Post
So you're saying that essentially since almost all IMAX theatres have switched over to digital, if they don't have the new laser projection system then they're using the 2k Christie projectors, regardless of whether the screen was smaller and made for the new digital system, or larger and made for the old 70mm film system,
Yes.

Quote:
and I'll probably notice the pixels on every IMAX movie I watch there?
Depends on the theater. I'd recommend sitting towards the back of the auditorium.

Quote:
Also, if the movie is shot with the Arri Alexa 65, then it will be projected with a 1.9 AR and won't fill a 1.43 IMAX screen regardless of which projection system it uses.
Yes.

Quote:
Movies shot with film IMAX cameras, however, will fill the entire screen. Am I correct on this?
Only if it's projected on IMAX film, which it probably won't be. I'm not sure IMAX even strikes or distributes film prints anymore. I remember that Christopher Nolan had to fight with the company to get them to make a handful of 15/70 prints for Interstellar, and retrofit digital theaters to bring back the film projectors for that as a special event.

Regardless of how it's protographed, if the movie is projected digitally in IMAX, it will be at least 1.9:1. (Hollywood movies photographed at the wider 2.35:1 ratio are always letterboxed on the IMAX screen.)
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Old 09-21-2016, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Josh Z View Post
Only if it's projected on IMAX film, which it probably won't be. I'm not sure IMAX even strikes or distributes film prints anymore. I remember that Christopher Nolan had to fight with the company to get them to make a handful of 15/70 prints for Interstellar, and retrofit digital theaters to bring back the film projectors for that as a special event.

Regardless of how it's protographed, if the movie is projected digitally in IMAX, it will be at least 1.9:1. (Hollywood movies photographed at the wider 2.35:1 ratio are always letterboxed on the IMAX screen.)
The reason why I made that statement about IMAX movies shot on film filling the whole screen was because of my experience with the last two movies I saw there that were shot with IMAX film cameras: The Force Awakens and Batman V Superman. Those were shown after the digital laser projector was installed (which I believe was for the showing of Furious 7), and they expanded to fill the entire screen during the IMAX sequences. For comparison's sake I also saw Captain America: Civil War in the same theatre, which was shot with the digital IMAX camera, and that did not expand to fill the entire screen (even though the AR did change during the IMAX sequence).

According to your statement, the former 2 films must have been projected with a film projector, but that is also likely not the case according to the same statement. So either they had to use a film projector, or the laser projection system can expand to fill the whole screen.

Edit: I dug a little more and Wikipedia also seems to confirm that the laser projection system can fill the full 1.43 AR screen

Last edited by pedram; 09-21-2016 at 04:38 PM.
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Old 09-22-2016, 10:48 AM
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Edit: I dug a little more and Wikipedia also seems to confirm that the laser projection system can fill the full 1.43 AR screen
I wasn't aware of that. Strange that they'd bother to do that while also phasing out all 1.43:1 source material.
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Old 09-22-2016, 12:08 PM
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True, but I guess we can still count on JJ and Nolan to give us 1.43 stuff since I don't see them switching over the digital cameras any time soon.

I'd like to see them use the digital IMAX camera (instead of 35mm) when doing the indoor shots that they can't use the big/loud film IMAX cameras for, so that there isn't as jarring of a change in AR. Maybe they could use some post processing to make it look a little more like film so the entire film has a more consistent look. I doubt that's going to happen though.
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Old 09-22-2016, 12:54 PM
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True, but I guess we can still count on JJ and Nolan to give us 1.43 stuff since I don't see them switching over the digital cameras any time soon.
Nolan is an IMAX fanatic and I expect him to push for the 15/70 film for as long as he can. Abrams is a 35mm fetishist, but only has a flirtation with IMAX. He's used IMAX in his last two movies because he thinks IMAX is "cool," but he doesn't really know how to use it effectively. In both cases, he had the IMAX film downgraded to 2k resolution for the Digital Intermediate. (Nolan doesn't even use DIs.) I wouldn't count on Abrams using IMAX in every movie he makes. It's just a neat gimmick for him, and eventually he'll get tired of it.
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Old 09-22-2016, 01:33 PM
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I wouldn't count on Abrams using IMAX in every movie he makes. It's just a neat gimmick for him, and eventually he'll get tired of it.
Bad Robot's twitter account did call it the best format ever when shooting Star Wars, so I still have hope. It probably depends on what projects he takes on next too. I guess we'll see
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Old 12-22-2016, 12:09 AM
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Originally Posted by pedram View Post
True, but I guess we can still count on JJ and Nolan to give us 1.43 stuff since I don't see them switching over the digital cameras any time soon.

I'd like to see them use the digital IMAX camera (instead of 35mm) when doing the indoor shots that they can't use the big/loud film IMAX cameras for, so that there isn't as jarring of a change in AR. Maybe they could use some post processing to make it look a little more like film so the entire film has a more consistent look. I doubt that's going to happen though.
Dunkirk will allegedly have around 100 minutes of IMAX film footage, although we don't know how long the film is overall. The rest of it was shot with regular non-IMAX 65mm cameras, so the image quality will be amazing even in the non-IMAX scenes. Nolan chose the Scope ratio for those scenes though, so you will still have a huge aspect ratio change in the film.
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