View Full Version : What is Super 35mm?

09-05-2004, 11:12 AM
Ran across a reference to Super 35mm (in an article about Garden State, directed by Zach Braff). Can someone tell me what Super 35mm is? And how is it useful to low budget filmmarkers? Any information is appreciated.

09-05-2004, 11:49 AM
It's what you shoot when you want widescreen, but you don't want to compress (anamorpic lenses). It's probably the majority of what is shot in 35mm. It utilizes the whole film frame, like super 16.

09-05-2004, 12:05 PM
It's also used for a lot of TV production. Super 35 has a true 1.33 aspect ratio, as opposed to 'Academy' which is something like 1.37. Academy crops in from the left a little bit to make room for the optical soundtrack. Super 35 leaves no room for the soundtrack- so it's a popular acquisition format, but it can't be used for distribution.

09-05-2004, 12:10 PM
so it's a popular acquisition format, but it can't be used for distribution.
When it's put on print stock in can be. Titanic, Independence Day, and other blockbusters were super 35mm.

09-06-2004, 03:39 PM
Super 35 allows you to compose for the widescreen anamorphic 2:40:1 aspect ratio using standard spherical lenses instead of anamorphic lenses. Shooting S-35 means you extend the width of the frame into the area reserved for the soundtrack. Since you end up use the entire negative or full aperture, when you go to make your dupe negative for prints it requires an optical step where the image is resize so you can have room for your sound. So when it's shown in the theatre you have a widescreen presentation of your film.

What are the advantages of shooting Super 35?

You have a wider choice of lenses than if you shot with anamorphic lenses, especially when it comes to zoom-lens. Standard lenses are smaller and lighter. If you don't believe me go to a rental house like Panavision and ask to see a Primo Anamorphic zoom. Talk about getting a workout! :-)

In addition to being lighter and more abundant than anamorphic lense, spherical lenses are generally faster and allow you to film in lower light with higher quality. You also can get more Depth of Field (DOF) which makes life easier on your focus puller.

But the main problem comes in post. Unlike Anamorphic you can't make a straight 1 to 1 contact print with Super 35. It requires an optical blowup. So using an optical printer, the lab takes the Super 35mm image frame by frame, blows it up a little bit, and then squeezes it anamorphically to make the final printing master. You have have room for your sound, remember? This step can be expensive and depending on a number of variables like the speed of the film stock you used, etc, it can result in lower overall image quality., adding grain and contrast to the final print. But now with the advent of Digital intermediates this is becoming less of a problem. In fact, another benefit of shooting Super 35 is the ability to shoot 3 perf which means you save about 25% in film costs, which often times will pay for the DI.

Now I haven't seen "Garden State" yet, but a friend who is also a cinemtographer saw it and thought it was a Super -16 blow-up to 35 instead of a Super 35 shoot. Maybe he saw a bad print or was the victim of a lazy projectionist. Bottom line there have been some really excellent films shot in Super 35, so it all depends on the film and filmmakers. David Fincher shoots all his film Super 35, as does James Cameron, and like them or not, we all know how uncompromising they are when it comes to the quality of the images. But then, on the other hand, you watch an indie film like "George Washington" directed by David Gordon Green and beautifully shot in true anamorphic widescreen using anamorphic lenses by DP Tim Orr.
and you're just left in awe. So it's really horse for courses.

Anyway, I hope this helped, rather than confused. :-)

Wendell Scot Greene
Cinematographer- Los Angeles

09-06-2004, 04:02 PM
Hey Wendell, thanks for the detailed explanation, and :welcome: to IndieTalk!

09-06-2004, 04:57 PM
Thank you all! Especially Wendell for the great detail!