The American Society of Cinematographers

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We wish all of you a Happy New Year. We hope for peace and prosperity all over the world. This is a big January in the United States, as many new faces have been elected and will be taking federal or state office this month. Many of us watched the campaigns and elections closely and noted the advances in polling and polling analysis.

Nate Silver’s “FiveThirtyEight” blog in The New York Times was quite informative. (The title comes from the total number of electoral-college votes that can be cast: 538.) Silver made clear his methodology as he gave new projections every day. Most readers were aware that he’d had a remarkable degree of accuracy in predicting the 2010 election results. Ultimately, he had a near-perfect record of predicting 2012’s winners. That some candidates lost and were surprised by their losses makes one wonder what information they were getting. If Silver could predict the outcome of the election with a great degree of accuracy the day before the election, why weren’t the candidates able to do so as well? Simple: wishful thinking and assumption, the mother of all mess-ups. Some candidates made assumptions about who would vote, and many of those assumptions were wrong.

In cinematography — you knew I would get back to cinematography — we see lots of wishful thinking and mistaken assumptions, but what concerns us is the misinterpretation of numbers. When discussing cameras, numbers have become a faddist sort of sloganeering by the uninformed. We hear constant reference to “4K” as “the best” camera, but that might not be the case if the camera is 4K with 4:2:0 compression. And what exactly does 4K refer to: sensor size, individual recorded frame size, etc.? There is also frequent reference to “raw” camera files, and many assume these files are uncompressed and unaltered. In fact, there are several variations of “raw” that are processed and compressed. Manufacturers often clearly explain that a given raw file type is compressed, but the uninformed chatter often does not take these various and reasonable compression schemes into consideration. I say “reasonable” because as we make the welcome move toward 4K capture, we are going to be handling enormous amounts of data, and well-made compression systems will be necessary.

In cinematography, what matters is the quality of the image. One camera might have “better” numbers, but the image must serve the story and move it forward. The chatter about numbers distracts from the real purpose of images and demeans the role of the cinematographer. Yes, we know our numbers, but numbers do not tell the whole story either in elections or in storytelling.

 

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