With Aaton’s announcement that their new 35mm camera will be available in a 2-perf flavor, the already growing curiosity about the format in industry journals, forums and mailing lists is growing into full-fledged buzz prompting many cinematographers to closely scrutinize the format. This document is an attempt to consolidate this information for cinematographers, directors and producers.
2-Perf, originally conceived as TechniScope in the 1960’s, is a system for obtaining a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio on standard 35mm film stock using spherical lenses. It is an ideal format for cost-conscious producers and filmmakers who wish to compose for a widescreen image.
Nominally, a 35mm motion picture camera will produce an image four perforation high utilizing most of the width ofthe negative, wasting a sliver of negative reserved for an optical sound track. Further wasted is much of the frame as the 1.37:1 image, typically, is further cropped to 1.85:1 or 1.78:1.
The Super 35 format gains a bit of a resolution boost as it eliminates the reserved area for the optical soundtrack giving you 1:37:1. Many filmmakers will extract 2.35:1 out of the format, but it still wastes quite a bit of negative.
The only way to shoot widescreen and really capitalize on the 4-perf frame is to shoot ‘Scope. Without question the CinemaScope (or Anamorphic) format will give you the highest quality widescreen images obtainable for any 35mm format. Anamorphic lenses will squeeze that image 2:1 onto the 4-perf negative thus giving you an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (2.40:1 for Panavision) when projected with the appropriate lens. But there is a price to pay. Anamorphic lenses are usually more expensive to rent, heavier and slower than their spherical cousins. This format is not always an option for productions on the low end or for situations that require low light.
2-Perf, as the name suggests, uses only 2 perforations for its height, thus rendering a natural 2:39:1 aspect ratio. Since both 2-perf and Super 35 use the complete width of the negative, the actual real estate for 2.39:1 is roughly similar between the two formats, but 2-perf wastes much less film. A properly exposed 2-perf frame should look identical to a Super 35 frame cropped for 2.35:1 as the actual negative area for both formats is very similar.
With a digital intermediate or a film-to-tape finish in mind, there is a plethora of benefits of to the format:
The quantity of film used to cover the same amount of action is halved because of the 50% reduction in frame height (2 perforations down from 4 perforations). This translates to similar running times, per magazine, to shooting Super 16. Your stock order is cut in half and, consequently, your processing and telecine charges are reduced by half. This translates to similar costs to shooting Super 16 while utilizing much more negative space than Super 16 and maintaining the prestige associated with ‘shooting on 35mm’.
The 2-Perf format allows you to use normal spherical lenses to achieve your widescreen look thus reducing costs further as you will not need to rent an expensive set of anamorphic primes or zooms. Spherical lenses tend to be much lighter and faster (more efficient at transmitting light) than their anamorphic cousins as well.
In theory, a 2-perf camera should also be quieter since the film doesn’t need to travel as far or as fast, the movement can be more discreet. With the increased run time one can use 400’ loads like 4-perf cameras used 1000’ loads and greatly reduce the profile and weight of the camera. Or, with 1000’ loads, a magazine will last 22 minutes!
When the format appeared on the radar in the sixties it was very prevalent in the European market (Sergio Leone shot many of his classics on it), but what eventually forced it out of vogue was the generational loss for the required optical blow up to a 4-perf anamorphic release print. In addition to the optical blow-up, the original negative might have suffered due to the quality of the film stock and lenses of that era. With today’s super fine grained VISION2 and ETERNA film stocks and high quality Zeiss and Cooke primes the format shines, especially with a digital intermediate used to save a generation.
Currently, the format is found only on converted ARRI 2C’s, Mitchells, Eclairs and Soviet cameras, all second hand. The addition of a modern, reliable camera to this list will surely do much for the format and elevate it beyond it’s novelty status and ease producer’s concerns about going with an alternative format.
While retaining similar quality to Super 35 / 2.35 and with the 50% reduction in stock, lab and telecine costs as well as a cheaper rental kit, a smaller quieter camera and longer running loads, the format is destined to give HD a run for it’s money, especially with affordable 2K digital intermediates just around the corner.
by Nathan Milford