Originally Posted by Ungermann
I am watching a series about history of film on Netflix, and it seems that the whole hoopla about shallow DOF came about in the 1960-ies.
While that is very interesting, to be honest, there are very few movies before the 60's or even during the 60's that I can actually sit down, watch and enjoy, so that doesn't really mean much to me personally. Film also started out without color and then the hoopla of color came about. That doesn't make black and white more cinematic or a better standard...just older inferior technology that was improved upon, although B&W still has important uses at times even today, but I wouldn't want to shoot my entire movie in B&W (though it someone else wants to that's fine for them, nothing wrong with that). Though I do appreciate them for paving the way.
Before that time movies were just what the name says: moving images, and it did not matter whether they used shallow or deep DOF. In fact, achieving very deep DOF was a challenge in itself, and many movies of 1930-ies to 1950-ies exploit deep DOF for - wait for it! - cinematic effect. In this case cinematic meant that action happens in several planes, closer to the viewer and farther, and both are important and one provides some context to another.
Both deep DOF and shallow DOF have their uses. Like the scene you mentioned, but that would be scene dependent. If you want a scene like that with DSLR increase your lighting or raise you ISO and raise your aperture. Also, I find that film can pull off deep DOF with much more grace and easier than *most* video can, because film looks like film and still retains cinematic tones and dynamic range, because high quality film is the Gold standard. It just has a certain organic surreal feel to it. Video can mimic film when it has enough dynamic range and especially if shot in RAW format, but if it's shot at 8-bit standard type of compression much lower dynamic range then the film look becomes a bit more elusive and deep DOF only exacerbates the problem. A lot of it I believe is because of how they render tones, which is why I have spent a lot of time working with color curves, shadows and highlights to get cinematic looks with overly contrasty too digitally looking video. whether it's deep or shallow DOF.
With shallow DOF you get just one point of action, therefore there is less interplay within a frame. You can pull focus to another subject, but this is like helping a child crossing a road instead of relying on viewer's intelligence to decode what's happening onscreen all by himself.
Shallow DOF doesn't usually play as bit of a role in action, but if I were using it for action it would be to focus on something specific. Otherwise adding deeper DOF on scenes like this shouldn't be a problem. Shallow DOF is generally a creative/artistic decision and plays upon the subconscious more than anything else. During the medium and an close up shots of dialogue I don't usually want or care to see the background in super sharp focus unless there is a specific reason I need to.
I am not dissing shallow DOF, I am just saying that it is preposterous to say that shallow DOF is a prerequisite for a narrative movie.
I didn't mean to say it was a prerequisite for a narrative film at all. Both have their uses (I'd use very deep DOF for landscapes and specific shots when needed) and DSLRs don't have to be super shallow all the time by any means (in fact there is a happy medium), but the reality is VERY few professionals or amateurs would shoot their entire movie with deep DOF. If someone wants to though there's nothing wrong with that. Most simply do not want to. To be honest, the only way I would do deep DOF throughout the entirety of my movie is if I were shooting a Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity kind of movie that involves the uses of a home video camera for the majority of the footage. Otherwise I'd use deep DOF on scenes when needed and medium to shallow where needed. I don't want to have to use either only deep or only shallow. You can make DSLR deeper, but you can't make a small chip camcorder perform like a DSLR in the shallow DOF department, so I find the DSLR more versatile for narrative filmmaking. Filmmakers not all that long ago were paying $1,000 plus to add some ugly clunky light-losing 35mm Adapter to camcorders for the look you can get on a $500 DSLR, so I am happy where we are today with the great options we have.
Closeups and shallow DOF surely help making a decent movie even on a tiny set, deep DOF requires better preparation of whatever is in background. Amateur videos look like crap not because of deep DOF but because background is usually completely uninspiring.
Shallow DOF also requires work as well, not so much in better preparation in set design, but we can't underestimate the difficulty of pulling focus on moving subject(s) and/or a moving camera. That is an art form in itself. You're right about the amateur video, but there are times when you can't really always make every background inspiring in indie filmmaker, nor should you have to/need to, because the movie generally isn't about the background. Unless you have stuff going on in both the background the background is not particularly important; it won't improve your characters, your story or you dialogue. lol. There are times when I don't want to see the entire background in focus. During the closeups or medium shots I don't want to see the background sharply unless there is something there I need to see. Having the option to do either deep or shallow is nice.