Given how many people you’ll find huddled over screens on a modern production, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the Digital Imaging Technician (DIT). Their gear and skills help keep them camouflaged in this environment.
But even though DITs usually fade into the background of a busy set, they’re one of the most crucial crew members in video production. DITs are the indispensable shepherds of the digital video image, all the way through the lens, on to drives, and ultimately into post-production.
So what is it they actually do day to day, and how did they become so essential?
In today’s article, we’ll meet the DIT, learn about their roles and responsibilities, and see how they fit into the overall makeup of the on-set crew.
What is a DIT?
First of all, what does “DIT” mean, and how do you say it? Is it “dit,” as in rhymes with “bit”? Or is it “Dee-Eye-Tee?”
DIT stands for Digital Imaging Technician. Based on this title alone, you might guess DITs are responsible for the technical aspects of the digital image captured on set. And you’d be right. But this is only a small part of what these skilled pros do.
You might hear from different people that DITs do different things. And some people will say DITs do everything. Why the confusion? Because the responsibilities of the modern DIT are very broad. But this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, we used to not have DITs at all.
Let’s start from the beginning to find out how we got here.
History of the DIT
The role of DIT came about during the advent of the digital set, and was a member of the camera department.
Before productions were primarily digital, the camera team consisted of an operator, assistants, and a loader. After film was shot, the mags were unloaded and the film sent to a lab for processing (and with the advent of the NLE it was prepped for telecine).
But digital cinema cameras required an entirely new way to capture, process, and move image assets.
When the first digital cameras started to make their way onto sets, digital storage media wasn’t fast enough or cost-effective enough to record and store the raw data coming from the sensors.
This meant that most of these earlier digital camera systems recorded externally, and some didn’t even shoot to digital storage at all. It also meant that the recorded image was not in the same raw formats that are common today.
To accommodate the primitive storage media of the time, images needed to be manipulated before they were even recorded and saved to the media. These tweaks included settings for gain, white and black balance, gamma, and even chroma subsampling. It just wasn’t possible then to capture the full 4:4:4 or raw signals we now enjoy.
These limitations led to increasingly novel and technical ways of working with these early digital cinema cameras, which necessitated highly specialized pipelines managed by a dedicated member of the crew. However, in addition to managing the video pipeline, these early technicians had to help cinematographers, who were used to shooting on celluloid, become comfortable with the new rules of lighting and exposure that came with the new digital sensors.
Initially, these crew members were often video technicians who came from the broadcast world, since this kind of video signal processing was already common there. But soon their creative input became as necessary as their technical expertise.
Today, the DIT is still a member of the camera department and, therefore, is a position in the IATSE Local 600 union (also known as the International Cinematographers Guild).
In the very early days, though, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Since the early digital camera systems relied on video-centric technology, and that video was often recorded off-camera, there used to be a lot of discussion around having these technicians reside with the Video Assist team, represented by IATSE Local 695 (or Local 52 in New York).
But as storage became more performant and cameras transitioned to shooting to files internally, the role of these technicians became firmly focused on managing data integrity, securing that data, and making sure all the assets moved safely from the set to post-production. And that put them squarely in the territory of the camera department.
The DIT today
Today, shooting digitally is commonplace, and so is the DIT.
Digital production has matured to the point that DITs are now a key stakeholder for ensuring everything is completed smoothly and the workflow executed effectively.
In fact, if you look at the credit scroll of a production, you’ll see that even those shot on film might have a DIT. This is because those productions often have VFX or second units that require digital cameras, even if the main production unit shot on celluloid.
As digital cameras became smaller, more powerful, and cheaper, the role of the DIT expanded to cover many more responsibilities. These include camera management, data management, color management, workflow management, and support for the cinematographer.
To really dive into the details, we spoke with veteran DIT Charlie Anderson to hear his firsthand experience from the last decade, and find out more about each of these critical responsibilities.
Charlie started as a camera technician for RED back in 2007, before joining Local 600 as a DIT in 2011. He’s worked on numerous high profile productions since then, including The Skeleton Twins, Vinyl, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. He also runs a DIT-focused blog called Dork in a Tent.
In Charlie’s experience, the specific duties of the DIT differ from production to production. “It depends on what the problems are that you’re trying to solve,” he says.
“That’s how I always approach every job. I say, ‘Ok, what does Production need and how can my skill sets best serve Production?’”
So let’s walk through each of the skills of a successful DIT.
The first major responsibility of the modern DIT is still related to the early video technician days of managing the camera.
This includes managing camera settings and firmware, and troubleshooting issues.
Thankfully, modern digital cinema cameras are much more streamlined than their predecessors, but they are still essentially a computer. Managing these complex machines requires technical skill beyond that of the typical camera assistants, who are in charge of the lenses, focus, and the gear and physical setup required to operate the camera.
Much of the DIT’s camera management is done in the prep phase, before shooting even starts. “A lot of the work that we do on set is all prep, which often makes it it look like we’re ‘not doing anything’,” Charlie says.
“Ultimately, you don’t want to cause an issue which costs Production time and money.” So how do you do that? It takes a lot of testing, re-testing, and coordination with the rest of the camera department. Starting prep as early as possible is vitally important, especially checking the cameras and the sensors to ensure everything is working properly.
But it’s not just camera settings. Charlie says that DITs also often have to handle more menial things that almost no one will ever notice, like labeling, organizing, and generally making the lives of others easier.
For example, making sure the right firmware is installed, and being ready to update or roll back to firmware that may fix an issue that pops up during the shoot is something that DITs work closely with the assistants on, as changing firmware in the middle of a shoot is particularly risky.
When something (inevitably) does go wrong, the skilled DIT needs a toolbox of troubleshooting skills at the ready, so that the camera can get back up and running as quickly as possible.
“‘Technician’ is part of the name, it’s the T part,” Charlie stresses. “So you’ll really need to know how to essentially fix anything and everything in the camera department.”
That said, this doesn’t mean the DIT is doing all the work for the assistants. The DIT and the assistants are both part of the camera department, so of course they work closely together. “At the end of the day, you are asking them to help you out and you’re helping them out, too. Everybody’s working together.”
The DIT is also chiefly responsible for the data that the camera generates.
The Original Camera Files (OCF) that digital cinema cameras record are most commonly saved to memory cards or solid-state drives. After shooting, those clips need to be transferred off those cards and backed up for safety, and then sent on to the post-production team. And then those cards need to be properly reformatted and reused for the next stage of shooting.
Choosing the specific workflow for moving the files and managing the media is a key responsibility of the DIT. And in those moments, DITs really earn their keep. No one wants to reshoot an entire day because of a corrupted file transfer.
To ensure none of the valuable assets are deleted, corrupted, or otherwise lost, all file transfers should be verified using a checksum and backed up to multiple locations. If anything goes wrong in the checksum, or if a backup doesn’t go as planned, it’s the DIT’s job to fix it.
During this process, they use specialized software that calculates checksums on the source destination (the camera card) and the target destination (backup drive), and then the two versions are compared to make sure they are exactly the same. This step is essential to qualifying the health of the original camera media.
DIT’s usually back up assets to drives configured as a RAID, which allows for protection against drive failure, depending on how you configure it.
For example, RAID 0 is purely for speed and has no fault tolerance (making it a really bad idea), while modes like RAID 5 and RAID 6 are a better choice for their parity checks and data redundancy. If data redundancy is paramount, then you might also find RAID 1 and RAID 10 in play, but more data means more cost, so the DIT needs to balance price, speed, and safety.
When it’s time to move the OCFs off the set, the DIT is charged with copying this precious data to shuttle drives (small, fast drives used to transport media) that are then shipped to a post house. Once there, the OCFs are archived to stable destinations like LTO tape or to the cloud and everyone can relax a little.
But OCF image assets aren’t the only data the DIT is responsible for. Don’t forget about the metadata.
Digital cinema cameras generate a ton of metadata that needs to be properly organized and associated with the OCF, like for dailies and online workflows, so the DIT has to make sure the correct metadata travels with the OCF into post-production.
And to top it all off, since the DIT is already gathering image assets for post-production, they’ll often back up the original sound files from the sound mixer as well.
Color management and correction
Unlike film, digital cameras allow you to see exactly what it is you’re shooting. For the most part.
Increasingly, modern cameras and workflows can record log-encoded images, meaning that the video signal is captured in a way to maximize the amount of detail and dynamic range. While it’s great to have this range available for post-production, it doesn’t look natural in its native state. Instead, it looks flat and washed out.
In order to “normalize” the image, the DIT needs to apply a LUT (or lookup table) to the video signal. Basic corrective LUTs are provided by the camera manufacturer, but since this is a digital world, there’s an opportunity here to get creative and start applying different “looks” to the video. LUTs that both correct the log signal and add a creative look can be generated by the post house, but they can also be generated by DITs who work closely with the cinematographer.
Either way, the DIT makes sure that the LUTs are applied correctly, and then manage the signal flow so that everyone in the chain is seeing what they’re supposed to.
Adding a LUT isn’t the end of the color story. It might get the footage to a more natural state and apply a base look, but the DIT may also be required to dial in some additional color correction on top of it.
In these cases, DITs will grade the live signal based on guidance from the cinematographer and will then save those corrections as CDLs (Color Decision Lists). These are then sent to dailies and post-production so that the on-set color correction can be accurately recreated in finishing tools. Again, it’s about making sure that everyone is seeing what they’re supposed to, and preserving the cinematographer’s vision.
To help with this, the DIT often grabs stills from the graded signal for reference so that they can quickly adjust images as the production moves forward.
Another part of ensuring this visual integrity is keeping equipment calibrated. Just like camera and data management, a lot of potential problems with color can be solved in prep. “I’ll try to get my monitors calibrated by whoever is doing the final DI [Digital Intermediate],” says Charlie. “I want to make sure that my calibration is the same thing as whatever they’re looking at in a color session.”
But calibration is important for more reasons than just giving the cinematographer a preview into the DI. Camera sensors can vary from body to body, affecting sensitivity and color. Older sensors, lenses, and filters can all add unexpected color shifts to the image, leading to mismatching visuals even from identical equipment.
So, in addition to maintaining a creative look, the DIT is also responsible for keeping the image consistent everywhere. It’s important stuff.
Charlie says that “the goal is to match those two camera sensors as much as possible.” On a set he was working on, a PA asked the cinematographer what Charlie actually did. His response was that if you care about your final image, you need someone to be on set making sure the production can look as good as possible.
“In the end you’re trying to get something consistent so that Production isn’t spending a bunch of money trying to match cameras in post,” he says.
Workflow management and execution
That’s a lot of extremely important things to be juggling under time pressure, which is why DITs are often one of the last crew members on set at the end of the day.
They combine creative talent, technical know-how, and workflow knowledge to execute the very difficult balancing act of shooting a digital production. But they also need to make sure that the needs of post-production are met on set.
And that starts with communication.
You’re having that conversation with the [dailies] colorist, as opposed to having someone from the post-house reply all to producers and all of a sudden people are freaking out.
If the DIT can keep the dailies team and the post team in the loop about what’s happening on set, the dailies and post teams are more apt to reciprocate. This keeps everyone on the same page.
These open lines of communication are only possible by over-communicating as soon as production starts. Charlie explains, “During the first week or two of a show, I’m having daily conversations with the dailies colorist.”
Once things get going, the DIT and post-production have a rapport and that line of communication is well established. Changes in workflow or issues are quickly and cleanly addressed, and the machine keeps moving.
“You’re having that conversation with the [dailies] colorist, as opposed to having someone from the post house reply all to producers and all of a sudden people are freaking out about something even though it’s not something people need to freak out about,” he adds. It’s that tight coordination with dailies and post that keeps people calm and working.
So the DIT designs the way in which the data flows from the camera to where it ultimately needs to go. They pick the tools, the gear, and the methods in which they come together.
Production sets can be busy, chaotic places, so it’s imperative for the DIT to build robust, efficient workflows. There’s no room for the unknown, so they’re constantly looking at ways to improve their workflow and identify dependable tools.
And the most powerful tool is the DIT community. According to Charlie, other DITs are often trying to solve the same problems, so communities on platforms like Facebook share their knowledge and experience for others to see.
“Seeing what people are doing, what people are talking about, seeing what other people have experience with, what works, what doesn’t work all help get to a solution,” he says.
A DIT might be faced with one particular, seemingly simple problem, but that problem might require a deep dive and working through a long chain of smaller problems.
Charlie says his process is “step by step by step, trying to figure out what the problem is, how do I solve it, and then finding the tools and what other people have done to solve these problems.” It helps to have a pool of people all working on the same or similar problems with experience that can be built on to keep improving solutions.
They also like to “nerd out” on technology, says Charlie. So learning new things and tackling new problems is part of what makes a DIT tick.
And these challenges vary from set to set, with different teams having different requirements, like organizing CDLs in a specific way, or checksums calculated with specific algorithms. Or even recording lens information in a specific way. While these seem like nuances on set, any small changes can snowball into huge repercussions in the post-production pipeline months later.
Again, managing those needs comes down to communication and preparation. Workflow calls with the post house are essential to smooth out these wrinkles before photography begins, so that the camera and sound teams can focus on getting their job done. And this can even avoid extra overtime or a soured relationship with other teams.
Finding the bandwidth to take care of the needs of post-production is difficult, and this is where the DIT can help. They’ll liaise with post-production to make sure the on-set teams can do their job while giving post-production what they need.
It can be a tricky back and forth, but the DIT can provide representation on set for post-production, and representation to the post house for crew members.
Most importantly, the DIT is an advocate for the cinematographer.
The cinematographer is responsible for the image, and the DIT’s job is to give them the confidence that the image being captured is the image that the cinematographer intended to capture. The DIT also makes sure that the integrity of that image and the cinematographer’s vision is protected through the post-production pipeline.
It starts in prep. Before a show starts shooting, the DIT will speak to the cinematographer to get a sense of the look they want to create. “Cinematography and color is an art, so it’s not just about visual notes,” Charlie explains.
“It’s about having a conversation about what a scene feels like and what they want it to feel like,” he says. “It’s my job to take that information and then translate it into a look across the board.”
During the shoot, the DIT is also working to execute the cinematographer’s vision, just like the other departments. They do this through creative color correction but also through managing things like exposure. Every cinematographer has a different style and way of working, and part of the DIT’s job is to learn what they need.
“It takes me about a week to understand where a cinematographer is coming from,” Charlie says.
For example, “I know our DP likes to shoot a 2/2.8 split for the most part…This is where they like to put it on the lens so now it’s my job to make sure it’s consistent.” He continues, “So I’m being proactive and asking the assistants to change the NDs.” (Neutral density filters.)
As with camera management and workflow management, being proactive is a large part of what makes a DIT successful. It’s important to identify and get ahead of any potential issues, including staying on top of the gear so that the cinematographer feels confident that what they’re seeing is what they’re getting on the negative.
Charlie again reiterates the importance of getting his monitors calibrated: “That way, there’s no wild shifts and the DP can look at my monitor and know that it’s color accurate and exposure accurate, and not be surprised later.”
This accuracy helps the cinematographer focus on doing their job without having to worry about whether or not the look was captured, and the DIT works hard to protect this image throughout the pipeline.
“Whatever I’m doing on my cart is sent down the line to video village, VTR, people streaming,” Charlie says. “They’re seeing the corrected image from the conception of the cinematographer all way the way down to everyone else.”
The DIT also gets the CDLs and reference stills to post-production and dailies, and makes sure that the teams who pick up the image know what to do with them. Good organizational skills mean that the right CDLs and the right metadata get clearly associated with the right takes. Without this, chaos would ensue.
To boil it down to basics? Good communication between the on-set departments and post-production means that the cinematographer’s vision is clear. Good creative skills and a good eye for color helps execute and enhance that vision through correction and manipulation of the sensor’s raw signal.
And good technical skills lead to less downtime, which means greater efficiency.
At the end of the day, a production’s final product is a story told visually. The cinematographer is responsible for that visual aspect, and the cinematographer has a lot of departments — from grip and electric to camera — to help them execute it, but the DIT is the role that helps turn this cinematic vision into something tangible.
They are the vital link from sensor to post-production.
Technology never stops evolving, and so it’s safe to assume the role and responsibilities of the DIT will run alongside.
New platforms like Frame.io Camera to Cloud, wireless video transmission, and robust on-set internet connectivity are becoming crucial. Charlie noted that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote production tools, and that the DIT is key to making that happen.
“Seeing all these remote technical issues that we’ve had to deal with has kind of solidified our role a little bit in helping productions get through this stuff,” he says.
But it’s not just for viewing. Charlie also sees an increase in remote operation, as well. The DIT can have a kit live on the set that’s not just seeing the camera stream, but can also control it remotely. This has obvious benefits in situations where the number of people on set needs to be limited.
Similarly, as cameras add more network functionality, he sees an increase in remote camera control. Not necessarily for off set operation, but certainly to allow assistants and operators to make adjustments or trigger recordings when the camera is difficult to reach, like on a crane or a drone, or if the space around the camera gets too crowded.
While there’s a lot of functionality for the camera assistants, the DITs can also use these tools to change exposure and color settings on the camera without bothering the assistants. Even when assistants are the ones utilizing the remote control, Charlie still predicts the DIT will be an important part of that.
“I see a lot more smart control happening with cameras,” he says. “I think DITs are going to be integral in making sure everything is up and running.”
And it’s technology like this that’s driving DITs toward managing the on-set network. Because of their experience working with wireless video systems, DITs have a head start in learning the ins and outs of connecting the set to the internet, and so Charlie thinks it’s a natural fit.
“If you’re shooting on a stage and you have four wireless devices that are all operating on a 5GHz spectrum and you have all this crossover, [DITs] would know these devices should be on different channels,” he explains. “It’s going to interfere with the stage WiFi and everyone’s WiFi is going to be slow.”
DITs can apply that same knowledge to routing internet signals around the set. “It falls onto us to do that,” he says. “As simple as it is to plop a device on the camera, you’re still going to need somebody to troubleshoot. You need someone who understands and knows and can give you advice and options.”
A lot of today’s digital cinematography is now commonplace, so elements of the process have become less specialized and less unfamiliar. As an example, the technical skill required to perform robust and safe file copies has been reduced as more user-friendly tools have been released. In the beginning, there weren’t really any mature tools to use for this.
“Rsync was really the only way to do offloads,” Charlie says with a laugh. Digital literacy has become more prevalent as younger generations — kids who grew up on computers — join the workforce.
So DITs need to be adaptable. Charlie thinks that while they’ll still determine the workflow and process for media management and offloading, the actual execution of those tasks may fall to a position like the Loader in the future. So this will allow the DIT to spend more time supporting the cinematographer and the camera team instead.
According to Charlie, “It leads me to focus more on what the DP wants, what’s going on with the camera, what’s going on on set.”
The last word
The DIT is a multi-faceted and multi-talented position within the production crew, a master of many trades, tasked with the not-so-trivial responsibility of making sure the image is being correctly captured. They need to constantly operate at 100 percent, and live on the bleeding edge of the technology they use.
Being in charge of original camera files means that they don’t have the luxury of cutting corners. If footage is lost, damaged, captured incorrectly, or not captured at all, the production can stall, stutter, or fold entirely. That’s a lot of responsibility to lay on one crew member, huddled over a bunch of screens in the corner of the production set.
So while you might not see them or know what they do, you’d definitely notice their absence.
And finally, Charlie strongly believes DIT should be pronounced “Dee Eye Tee”.
Lead image features digital imaging technician Ellen Feldman on set for the Frame.io C2C launch.