Is 2/3″ also dying? Fast track to S35 Digital Cinema.


In my first Wide Open Camera post I talked about changes in the business and where I see things going.  A few weeks ago I posted that RIP 16mm/35mm Film .  A major event happened last week that further solidified my thoughts on both.  Otto Nemenz a legend in the rental house game had an auction.  They sold off a fair amount of film and video gear.  The big surprises where several Sony F35 camera packages with SRW-1 recorders and processors that went for between 7-9k per package.  These cameras were considered top of the line even just a few years ago and were the flagship cameras before the F65 came out.  So how does a flagship camera that cost over $200K (still a current product on Sony’s broadcast site) sell for under $10,000??? No just one as a fluke, but nine.  The processor cost $13k on its own.   Mind you this is a Super 35mm Digital Cinema camera, but why so cheap?  Some might say “well its only 1080p”.  Well so is the Alexa, the C300 and the F3 all of which are more than $10k.  The F35 also does S-Log so that isn’t the reason. Is it because its heavy?  Alexa weighs about the same.  Is it because of the workflow?  Maybe.  It does take up more storage than all these others.  I think its just a sign that we all have too many expectations and things like dynamic range, 4K, compact size, etc are leading us on a fast track to major changes.

Otto also dumped most of their Super 16 and 35mm film cameras.  Camera that sold for over $250K sold for between $3.5k-6k.  Forty four 35mm cameras were sold, most of which were Moviecam Compacts, SLs, Arri 535, 435s, etc.  20 something Arri SR2’s and SR3’s sold for next to nothing.  I even picked up a Super 16 Arri SR3 Advanced Camera with 3 x mags for less than $650. This was a $75,000 camera less than a decade ago.  Television shows, commercials and low budget movies where shot with this this camera not even three years ago. When you see camera like this sell for these low prices at a fairly well advertized auction, it makes it pretty clear that film is dead.  Rental houses are not keeping these cameras because not many people want to rent them.  They take up space and have a lot of mechanical components that are not made anymore.

So what does it all mean?  What is happening to this business?  Change.  Change at an exponential rate.  Film-stock for the most part hit its technology ceiling quite a white ago. There isn’t much they can improve on.  Silver which is a main component in film stock isn’t getting any cheaper.  Its a problem using celluloid, silver and chemicals to make physical media.  Not only are issues of taking from the earth, but also reclamation, pollution, etc.  Also the fact that usual film is transferred to tape and tape is dead.  Tape ingest doesn’t allow for the instant gratification that a file based import offers.

A frame of Super 16 is roughly the size of a 2/3″ camera block.  The difference is one is defined in limitations of film and how many grains of silver you can add, chemistry, etc versus (digital) how much you tune or improve via pixel count, pixel size, processing, DSPs, AtoD’s, software, etc.  Also the fact that 2/3″ seems to be dying off in favor of S35 size sensors limits the acceptability of a S16 image to a user base that demands more.  It seems strange because people still buy 1/3″, 1/2″ cameras all the time.  Some people spend almost ten thousand dollars on these cameras.  They could have bought an F35.

Are people who rent cameras going to make money with rentals?  If you rent gear and advertise it yes.  Not everyone wants to own a camera. Especially these days when the market is rapidly changing.  That actually give rental houses an opportunity to capitalize. Is a camera really an investment anymore?  Film cameras used to be an amazing investment if you rented them as film had been around for over 100 years and not much changed.   Knowing the format was consistent, you knew you could spread the ROI over a longer period of time.  Not the case with digital cameras where formats change, demands are higher, life-cycle is short, and there is constant innovations in CMOS, etc technology.

So why did I buy an Arri SR3 Advanced for under $650 if film is dead?  To a degree it was for the nostalgia, but the reality is there is still a small market for film.  A Super 16 camera might seem like a bad buy but if I put this out with a few friends who shoot S16 or on a long term rental it will have more than paid for itself.  Arri SR3’s traditional rent for $375/day and because many are getting out of film rentals its safe to bump that rate down as its not cannibalizing the market (since that market is almost completely dead).  There are places in the world that still do shoot film, and therefore it makes for a good opportunity to sell the camera in Europe for example where SR3’s still fetch between 4.5-10k. I will most likely quadruple my money either route I take but to be honest it would look just great sitting on my bookshelf as a piece of history or art.

Mike Sutton

Follow me on Twitter: MNS1974


Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Nez

    Another good post.

    Still can’t believe those F35s went for so cheap! They still produce a fantastic image.

    Good call on getting the S16… it sure is not completely dead. A good friend of mine who runs a production company I do a lot of work for directed a doc 2 years ago they shot on Super 16. That film has won/been nominated for loads of awards… a classic case of story and direction over technology, but I think shooting on film sure does give it a different (better) vibe than digital would have :-)

  • Jem Schofield

    I think there’s still a big market and a long life for 2/3″ based cameras for certain types of productions. Not really my cup of tea, but there are many types of projects where 2/3″ is an advantage (due to it’s deeper depth of field at equivalent angles of view compared to large sensor cameras). 

    Very surprised about the F35s. Crazy.

    It should be noted though that the ALEXA is not a Full HD, 1080p camera. Sensor is much larger @ 3.5K and it is a 2K and Full HD camera.

    -Jem Schofield