THE DISASTER IN MODERN FILM, TV AND VIDEO
OUR UNNATURAL WIDE-SCREEN FORMAT
©2006 Mark B. Anstendig
The wide screen film and HDTV format is a completely unnatural way of organizing a graphic or film image. The human eye simply does not see that way: we do not see, look at, or view images in a wide format. And a good part of all types of photographic images, both still and film, are higher vertically than they are wide, and few if any are as wide in relation to their height as HDTV’s vertically narrow 9 x 16 side ratio format. The human eye simply does not see that way. Period! There is absolutely nothing whatsoever about that format that is natural or corresponding to reality as the human being experiences reality.
The possibilities of how the human eye sees images are two-fold: 1) vertically higher than they are wide (called "portrait" mode in computer jargon) and 2) horizontally wider than they are high (called "landscape" mode).
Types of subjects vary. But the most seen types of images are portraits of human beings, and most portraits are naturally vertically oriented, fitting the vertical format. Landscapes and nature shots are probably most often horizontally oriented. But few such subjects exceed the height to width ratio of three to four, which is the old, original film format.
Format is described in terms of ratio of the dimensions of the height to the dimensions of the width. A ratio of three to four (3 x 4) means that the width is 1 1/3 times wider than the height is high.
The old 35mm film format, of 24 x 36mm, has a two to three height to width ratio. That format, for still camera photographers, was always considered to have a good deal of wasted space in the longer dimension, because few subjects, if any, ever needed the full 36mm width in landscape mode or height in vertical mode. Most of the time, for most subjects, the longer side had to be cut off (cropped) to get the most natural-looking photo dimensions.
By the 1960's, this problem was addressed in the larger format professional cameras by devising a medium format image size called "Ideal Format" that was 56mm x 72mm, or a side ratio of 7 x 9. That format fit the most subjects horizontally or vertically of any image format, with the least cropping necessary.
Already, in the beginning of film making, the horizontal 3 x 4 side ratio of original moving pictures posed problems to the camera men. The horizontal side width fit most landscapes and group scenes quite well. But whenever the camera had to zero in on the actors and show them close up, great problems occurred in filling up the horizontal screen when the relatively narrow head, or head and shoulders, were the subject. Any still photographer would have just filled the height with the image and chopped off the sides, which were not only not needed, but detracted from the viewer's attention to the face and its expressions. But cameramen had to use enormous creativity and special lighting and scenic design to be able to get close to a face and not have the rest of the horizontal image detract from the important expression going on.
The present wide-screen film and HDTV format is 9 x 16, which is almost 1 x 2, or much wider than even the ridiculously wide 35mm format. The present 9 x 16 side-ratio format does not correspond to how we see. Except for special panoramic shots, crowd scenes, possibly battle scenes, etc., it wastes the better part of the detail on the screen with film area that is not needed and hardly noticed in the bulk of the film.
The camera people are locked into an impractically wide image format and are forced into laughable solutions, like cutting off tops of heads and the chins and necks, in order to get the subjects’ heads large enough in a kiss, confrontation or other relatively close distance. If they photograph the subjects full height or full head-height, the subjects are simply too small in relation to the whole image to make any great impression.
The 9 x 16 format is too wide to ever be more than a waste of image-space in over 95% or so of images.
TV's are becoming wide, thin strips of images that are relatively tiny and hard to see, compared with previous TV sets of the same diagonal dimension. A 30" diagonal set with the traditional 3 x 4 ratio had a very large, easy-to-view image with most subjects. The new 30" diagonal HDTV's have relatively tiny images, because it is the vertical resolution of the screen's image that determines the size of all detail on the screen. And, on HDTV, the same vertical resolution of 30" is spread across a much wider and therefore much less high TV set.
Today, for example, even though HDTV is sharper and has better color, on the same 30" or 42" diagonal TV set sizes everything looks smaller and dinkier, because the image-detail really IS smaller..
This is a full-blown disaster, because the film industry is locked into that format and computer manufacturers are following suit.
A computer desktop has many reasons to organize itself wider than high, to allow room for tool palettes, dialog boxes, etc. And at least the wide-screen computer monitors use a 10 x 16 ratio, and not the unnaturally extreme 9 x 16 film format. But new HDTV video camcorders use the 9 x 16 format. Few, if any at all, home-type amateur subjects ever can use that format to any advantage. Most would look best in the old 3 x 4 format or vertical, portrait format. So the extreme wide format is simply impractical, wasted space.
The image quality should have simply been improved for the HDTV format and the side ratio of the format and not messed with at all. It should have been recognized that cinemascope was a visual EFFECT that had nothing to do with the reality of how we see such images in real life, that it was used to achieve a certain shock effect as a selling point for a few special items, and that it was not a permanently usable and effective format for the overwhelming bulk of all subjects.
But now the world is saddled with this imaging disaster, which is not only wrong, but will cause billions of people to waste a lot of money for equipment to record aas well as play this format..….money better spent elsewhere. The format should be scrapped immediately. And, when business appreciably slows down again, it probably will be scrapped so that the public can spend further billions on getting back to the original, more practical 3 x 4 format. Or things will go on to the next impractical disaster that no one realizes is a disaster.