Originally Posted by Charles Papert
This is an interesting discussion.
In every project I have shot there is always a moment where the particular aspect ratio becomes an issue for a given shot, and you think to yourself "too bad I'm not shooting this in xyz". If you are shooting 4:3 and you need to shoot a group of people (as was mentioned earlier), or perhaps an establishing shot of a building, you wish you were shooting widescreen to avoid having to show so much floor etc. If you shoot widescreen, sometimes you need to widen to show a little more height and suddenly there's a ton more visual information on the sides. I'm working on a Will Ferrell movie at the moment and just last night I was framing up an exterior of a building--we decided we needed to add a little more room at the bottom of the frame so we switched from a 29mm to a 24mm prime (night exterior so we couldn't use a zoom) but since we were shooting in the 2.35 aspect ratio, it added a LOT of space on the sides. I even joked with the director that it would have made a great shot in 1.85...! This echoed a film I shot a few years ago in the Bradbury Building in downtown LA--this is the one that was used in "Blade Runner" with the fantastic wrought iron elevators. It's a 6-8 story atrium and very narrow, so you can well imagine that trying to shoot wide vistas of the interior on the 2.35 aspect ratio requires extremely wide lenses!
That all said, I personally find the 16:9 aspect ratio to be a great medium. The widescreen is more satisfying visually than 4:3 in almost all instances as far as I am concerned. Now that I have 16:9 televisions, I find 4:3 with side letterboxing to be far more annoying than 16:9 with top and bottom letterboxing ever was (that was always kind of cool, really, except that the images became so much smaller). I can see that it presents an immediate practical issue for those used to shooting 4:3 headshots, but I would expect that the added demands of HD in terms of making the subject look good and not being able to "fudge" the backgrounds as much would be much more of a hassle than the extra width.
As long as money is no object, than the wider screen usually will be more fun to "decorate" when shooting and then when watching. However, I frankly would like to see vertical TV from time to time. I'm waiting for the day when our TV's are built on some kind of rotating axis and a signal from the cable box actually rotates the television screen 90 degrees based on the program that is being broadcast. When it comes to the annual Victoria's secret fashion show, or Sports Illustrated swimsuit model special, certainly those would work better in vertical TV than "horizontal" TV. My low, low, low budget interviews in which I really don't have the resources to change what I call the frame sidelines benefit from standard 4:3. I've also developed a DC lighting package so I can go into many locations and not need one electrical outlet for the interview. But if or when I get into the 16 x 9 world, I'm pretty sure the same DC lighting package that works in the 4x3 world won't work nearly as well in the 16 x 9 world, which is why I don't think that 16 x 9 is actually as low budget friendly as 4 x 3 is.