Author Topic: Film Grain  (Read 2192 times)

Film Grain
« on: August 14, 2020, 11:38:10 PM »
Since I started noticing film grain, it's somewhat ruining certain movies for me.

What is the intention behind film grain and is there such thing as good/bad grain? I know that high/low is a thing - when might one be selected over the other?

It seems that sometimes the grain is static which I kind like but it's when it's jumping and fizzing it's like visual tinnitus, distracting and irritating.

I guess different people are sensitive to different extents but can anyone explain what it's supposed to do so I can maybe appreciate it on its terms?

I'm noticing this both via BD but particularly via streams. Worst by far is the Ghostbusters 4K UHD digital stream I bought via Amazon Prime Video. BD seems cleaner in general.

Oddly, it's probably more noticeable but less visually distracting with the flat textures of anime. Worst are movies with plenty of shadow which also have significant grain. Black and white films like Kurosawa and Ozu don't bother me in the slightest, grain seems to be better integrated.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2020, 11:54:23 PM by Chedney Honks »

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2020, 11:53:46 PM »
Edited a couple of sentences.

Shit Good Nose

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2020, 12:10:44 AM »
Film grain doesn't "do" anything and there is no intention behind it (other than when it's artificially created in newer films shot digitally where the director is aiming for an old-school look - Tarantino and Rodriguez Grindhouse for example), it's just where it's been picked up during the scan of the (or an) original negative and, typically, the more grain that is visible the higher resolution the scan.  So, in simple terms, if you see grain then it's a "good thing" because it's naturally inherent in celluloid film stock.

That's the quick and easy answer.

The longer answer is that there's grain, grain and grain.

Grain 1 is genuine grain present in the negative as explained above.

Grain 2 is still "natural", but where cheap film stock was used and possibly with poor lighting.  When this has been picked up in large amounts during the scan it can be very noticeable and quite off-putting.

Grain 3 is actually picture/digital noise.  On casual viewing this will look similar to genuine grain, but if you look closer you'll notice that it's actually pixelation, artifacting and "blooming".

All three can be dealt with by noise reduction, either during the mastering process or at home on your own TV.  Neither are ideal as it overly smooths the image giving it what's known as the "soap opera look".  A good example of why digital noise reduction and image smoothing are generally a bad idea:


Grain on anime is a slightly different ballgame as it's partly to do with how they used to process the images (getting a decent HD or ultra HD image for most pre-digital anime is notoriously difficult without a LOT of fucking around with the image - cf. the blu-ray and 4K releases of Akira).

QDRPHNC

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2020, 12:17:33 AM »
To add to SGN's reply, it's not like grain is on the film stock, grain is the film stock. And you'll typically get more grain if the film has been "pushed" in order get more exposure out of dark scenes.

PlanktonSideburns

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2020, 12:46:26 AM »
Silo

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2020, 07:44:07 AM »
Thank you, both, that's really interesting and helpful stuff. I was aware that grain is inherent to the physical format of film, but I wondered why there was such apparent variation and whether this were a choice to some degree, so that's a very helpful and clear breakdown, SGN.

I suspect that my issues yesterday evening/recently are where 'Grain 2' occurs, in an couple of instances. I also wonder whether there's an element of 'Grain 3' exacerbating this with some degree of artifacting or pixelation in the darkest areas on a UHD stream. I suspect possibly not but I can also say that I didn't really have the same distraction from BD as I did from a couple of Prime Video streams.

In a way, it helps me to 'appreciate' the grain and its texture by understanding better that it's simply the physical nature of the medium, much as the texture of canvas or paper is inherent to painting, etc. As I say, it doesn't always bother me at all but it's useful to note that certain transfers or perhaps lower quality stock can magnify it.

Re: Akira

I'm also interested in your thoughts there. Have you tried the recent 4K release? It seems inferior to the standard BD. Generally though, I find anime to look wonderful in BD.

Another variable is I'm now watching on an OLED telly and I sit about 1.5m away with blackout blinds. Maybe that also amplifies how much I notice grain.

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2020, 08:00:38 AM »
Just thinking, I guess it's also very similar to the 'warmth' of vinyl/tape - a texture which I do like.

I've also just seen elsewhere that the 4K Ghostbusters transfer is supposed to be a particularly egregious example of distracting grain, for whatever reason, so that's kind of comforting that my senses function.

NoSleep

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2020, 08:48:22 AM »
Thank you, both, that's really interesting and helpful stuff. I was aware that grain is inherent to the physical format of film, but I wondered why there was such apparent variation and whether this were a choice to some degree, so that's a very helpful and clear breakdown, SGN.

It can certainly be a choice, as you can select film of a different courseness of grain to achieve different end results. To achieve higher resolution you would choose finer grain. But courser grain can have a funky appeal, especially in monochrome and with some tweaking of the exposure.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2020, 09:01:53 AM »
I've not got 4k, but certainly in the HD realm I notice grain far less on streams or downloaded stuff vs blueray. I'm guessing harder compression just loses the detail and smooths it out. I quite grain anyway.

From what I can gather it's not uncommon for stuff shot digitally to either be printed to film then scanned towards the end of the process, or they scan some partially exposed film and mix it in to the video because no noise, or digital noise of uniform size can look a bit clinical.

Alberon

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2020, 09:25:54 AM »
When I know grain has been added for effect it usually really irritates me. It just looks so fake. I could be watching an art film in an unusual screen ratio in black and white and it's still the fake grain fizzing away that will annoy me.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2020, 09:33:15 AM »
When I know grain has been added for effect it usually really irritates me. It just looks so fake. I could be watching an art film in an unusual screen ratio in black and white and it's still the fake grain fizzing away that will annoy me.

Even worse are the video noise plugins with way over the top colour bleed and dropouts.

NoSleep

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #11 on: August 15, 2020, 09:49:23 AM »
David Lynch (and I'm sure sure he isn't the only one) films on digital but then transfers it to film stock at some stage.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2020, 10:07:07 AM »
I guess it's a bit like audio, it's a lot more convenient to use digital for most of the process, and if you want to add saturation or something you can mess around meticulously configuring dsp's to get the effect you want or actually run it through a tape machine.

PlanktonSideburns

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #13 on: August 15, 2020, 10:26:00 AM »
Thank you, both, that's really interesting and helpful stuff.

any time

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #14 on: August 15, 2020, 11:06:02 AM »
David Lynch (and I'm sure sure he isn't the only one) films on digital but then transfers it to film stock at some stage.

Oh interesting,  that's the first I've heard of that. Inland Empire was his first time with digital and that looks like shit, I guess because of the quality of the camera used?

What's the value in transferring digital to film? I wouldn't say that Twin Peaks S3 has a particularly filmic appearance (although I don't have any expertise to make comments like that).

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #15 on: August 15, 2020, 11:11:47 AM »
Inland Empire was shot on a Sony DVCAM handheld, of course it looks like shit.

touchingcloth

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #16 on: August 15, 2020, 11:17:04 AM »
It can certainly be a choice, as you can select film of a different courseness of grain to achieve different end results. To achieve higher resolution you would choose finer grain. But courser grain can have a funky appeal, especially in monochrome and with some tweaking of the exposure.

Faster films have larger grain as well, so if a choice was made to shoot with natural/low light then that would almost certainly mean shooting in faster film and the grain would be more noticeable. A good place to look out for this is old sitcoms where they would shoot on video under studio lights for indoor scenes (with little grain due both the lighting and format), then move to film for outside shots using natural light (with more grain).

It’d be interesting to see how something like Barry Lyndon looks on 4K. That was famously shot using almost exclusively natural light, including some scenes lit by candles. Kubrick used camera lenses originally designed for NASA to be able to shoot under such low light, but I suspect he would also have needed to use grainier fast film as well.

touchingcloth

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #17 on: August 15, 2020, 11:20:56 AM »
Oh interesting,  that's the first I've heard of that. Inland Empire was his first time with digital and that looks like shit, I guess because of the quality of the camera used?

What's the value in transferring digital to film? I wouldn't say that Twin Peaks S3 has a particularly filmic appearance (although I don't have any expertise to make comments like that).

If you’re not projecting the film in a cinema, I would say it’s of little value except for the hipster factor of it using real film omg.

More common is shooting film then converting to digital as it’s easier to edit and colour correct that way. I think Michael Kahn who edits most of Spielberg’s stuff may still edit by actually cutting and splicing film together.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #18 on: August 15, 2020, 11:23:37 AM »
I thought Spielberg was an earlier adopter of digital and moved towards it completely after using it for parts of the Phantom Menace.

Oh wait that's Lucas.

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #19 on: August 15, 2020, 11:26:02 AM »
Really interesting thread.

Edit: Uhh, because of the replies.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #20 on: August 15, 2020, 11:30:33 AM »
If you’re not projecting the film in a cinema, I would say it’s of little value except for the hipster factor of it using real film omg.

More common is shooting film then converting to digital as it’s easier to edit and colour correct that way. I think Michael Kahn who edits most of Spielberg’s stuff may still edit by actually cutting and splicing film together.

I'd say the cinema is the last place you want film these days, modern digital projectors look great projecting film scans. My local cinema (and the one before it) has 35mm screenings sometimes and rarely 70mm too. But they're often disappointing, old faded prints that have been kept in service too long and are covered in scratches. I'm sure the remaining places that do use film sporadically are much harder on the film because the projectors aren't looked after and serviced as regularly as they were when used continually. And the actual projectionist skills are lacking in some cases.

Faster films have larger grain as well, so if a choice was made to shoot with natural/low light then that would almost certainly mean shooting in faster film and the grain would be more noticeable. A good place to look out for this is old sitcoms where they would shoot on video under studio lights for indoor scenes (with little grain due both the lighting and format), then move to film for outside shots using natural light (with more grain).

It’d be interesting to see how something like Barry Lyndon looks on 4K. That was famously shot using almost exclusively natural light, including some scenes lit by candles. Kubrick used camera lenses originally designed for NASA to be able to shoot under such low light, but I suspect he would also have needed to use grainier fast film as well.

This is something digital is probably better at these days, the sensors are getting more sensitive than fast film was, but another advantage is they can do slower shutter speeds; although film is 24fps, you're looking at about 1/100th of a second exposure at the by the time the camera has moved the film around.

NoSleep

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #21 on: August 15, 2020, 11:52:50 AM »
What's the value in transferring digital to film?

Probably something similar to transferring digital audio files to tape. All the elements just kind of glue together like the ingredients of a stew. Although it inevitably "loses quality" it can be favoured by some because it's something deeply ingrained (pun unintended) as familiar and pleasing.

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #22 on: August 15, 2020, 12:02:43 PM »
What's the value in transferring digital to film?

Aside from aesthetics, there's an argument for using film for archiving too. It's completely futureproof, and the physical material is more stable than a hard drive if stored correctly.

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #23 on: August 15, 2020, 12:06:30 PM »
Certainly in video there's a lot of conditioning that goes against the technical/scientific aspects. Higher frame rates should bring higher percieved quality due to the way the eyes track. But a lot of people don't like it due to it being synonymous with low quality interlaced video - the 'soap opera' effect.

https://www.theregister.com/2013/06/25/the_future_of_moving_images_the_eyes_have_it/?page=1

Sin Agog

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #24 on: August 15, 2020, 12:13:29 PM »
What is the intention behind film grain?

Once you grind it you can make film bread.

Re: Film Grain
« Reply #25 on: August 15, 2020, 12:24:31 PM »
Certainly in video there's a lot of conditioning that goes against the technical/scientific aspects. Higher frame rates should bring higher percieved quality due to the way the eyes track. But a lot of people don't like it due to it being synonymous with low quality interlaced video - the 'soap opera' effect.

https://www.theregister.com/2013/06/25/the_future_of_moving_images_the_eyes_have_it/?page=1

Also we're used to seeing films in 24fps with the motion blur and more dreamy/unreal effect that is has.

Withnail & I has some horrendous film grain, particularly in the dark scenes, but I prefer it to the extreme DNR as shown above.

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #26 on: August 15, 2020, 01:32:02 PM »
Re: Akira

I'm also interested in your thoughts there. Have you tried the recent 4K release? It seems inferior to the standard BD. Generally though, I find anime to look wonderful in BD.

The Japanese 4K release is VERY disappointing, and I'm glad I was able to demo it before pulling the trigger on spending about £90 on it.  The newest HD master from 2016 is much better than the 4K, but still lacking.  There is a US 4K on the way, but no one seems to know if it's just going to use the same Japanese master and encode (in which case avoid), or if it's going to be a fresh release.  There's also a 4K of Ghost In the Shell (the original version without all of the CGI added) on the way.

I think Michael Kahn who edits most of Spielberg’s stuff may still edit by actually cutting and splicing film together.

Spielberg has been buying up and storing Kodak celluloid in vast quantities for years now, planning to use it to make one last mammoth epic when it all runs out/becomes far too expensive to use (although the rate that digital was adopted so quickly by most of the industry means that celluloid won't run out or became as prohibitively expensive as was predicted, so either he'll make the film sooner, or will die of old age before he gets a chance).


It’d be interesting to see how something like Barry Lyndon looks on 4K. That was famously shot using almost exclusively natural light, including some scenes lit by candles. Kubrick used camera lenses originally designed for NASA to be able to shoot under such low light, but I suspect he would also have needed to use grainier fast film as well.

Criterion's 4K scan looks amazing, but then it was shot with the Eastman 100T 5 series of celluloid, which was very very fine in the grain department and also naturally very sharp (also cf. the 4K ultra HD Apocalypse Now, which is, in my opinion, the standard bearer for 4K and the one to show to anyone who still has doubts about the format).

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #27 on: August 15, 2020, 01:45:02 PM »
Watching movies in 4k now (off 4k Blu-ray, not streaming) has really been a wonderful experience for an ex-film geek. The move from VHS to DVD was fantastic, delivered a big jump in quality in a very consumer-friendly way. DVD to Blu-ray was great for people like me who care about it (although, somewhat humourously, I remember the people back in the day saying that it was all just marketing bollocks and nobody could actually detect the difference between the two). Though admittedly the difference was definitely harder for the average person to appreciate.

From Blu-ray to 4k is a different beast, I think. If the 4k is poorly mastered, you may as well go with the Blu-ray, unless you have an enormous display. BUT. A really well-produced 4k disc is something else. The Shining blew me away, and yet it's so hard to point to what blew me away about it. The HDR plays a big part in that, but it's so much harder to discern than pointing at an HD image saying "look at all that new detail". And I think partly it was the perfectly-rendered grain, it just felt so natural, it was the closest to watching film outside of movie theatre I've ever experienced.

All this film talk has brought back my days as a serious amateur photographer and the joys of exploring different films and their idiosyncrasies. I remember Fuji's Velvia was so rich, the slides would almost glow, and tended towards a beautiful green hue. Provia was less dense, but was cooler and brought out blues and purples. Agfa APX 25 was so slow it was almost grainless, and gave you the most amazing range of grey tones.

I could go on, but now I'm just feeling like an old man rambling.

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #28 on: August 15, 2020, 02:01:38 PM »
Watching movies in 4k now (off 4k Blu-ray, not streaming) has really been a wonderful experience for an ex-film geek. The move from VHS to DVD was fantastic, delivered a big jump in quality in a very consumer-friendly way. DVD to Blu-ray was great for people like me who care about it (although, somewhat humourously, I remember the people back in the day saying that it was all just marketing bollocks and nobody could actually detect the difference between the two). Though admittedly the difference was definitely harder for the average person to appreciate.

From Blu-ray to 4k is a different beast, I think. If the 4k is poorly mastered, you may as well go with the Blu-ray, unless you have an enormous display. BUT. A really well-produced 4k disc is something else. The Shining blew me away, and yet it's so hard to point to what blew me away about it. The HDR plays a big part in that, but it's so much harder to discern than pointing at an HD image saying "look at all that new detail". And I think partly it was the perfectly-rendered grain, it just felt so natural, it was the closest to watching film outside of movie theatre I've ever experienced.

Agree with all of that.

I've not seen the 4K The Shining (not a fan), but 2001 is also stunning.  There's a fairly safe rumour that a 4K release of A Clockwork Orange is on the way in the next year or so, and the likelihood is that it'll be another corker.  With all of these GOOD 4K releases, it's akin to seeing the film for the very first time for most people - when the 4K remaster of Jaws was released in cinemas in...what was it, 2012?  Anyway, whenever it was I mentioned in the thread for it that even though I've seen the film hundreds of times and owned it in numerous formats and releases and seen it numerous times on the big screen (from old prints of course), there were several things that had not properly revealed themselves before until the 4K remaster - the stuff that Brody is inhaling when chumming is Old Spice and the detail of the anchors on Mayor Vaughn's blazer being two good examples.  It's a real shame that 4K media has performed as badly as it has and probably won't last that long as a result (even laserdisc was more successful) because it feels like a proper bona fide flagship for home video.

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Re: Film Grain
« Reply #29 on: August 15, 2020, 02:13:00 PM »
I bought 2001 on 4k having never seen it before. The film itself was incredible, and in a way I've very glad that I waited so long to watch it.

4k discs are (and were) destined to be a niche product. For most people, streaming in HD / 4k is more than good enough. For a lot of movies, it's good enough for me too.

The Japanese 4K release is VERY disappointing

Bummer, I was really looking forward to that. What's so bad about it?

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