Today I want to talk about Film vs Digital. For some of us, it has been a long and hard transition from one to the other, spending many hours in the darkroom, learning all about developing, first in color and then in black and white.
For others, there’s a possibility you’ve never ever shot a roll of film in your life and the idea of going through that process is kind of intriguing and it seems like a bit of a ‘mystic art'.
Truth be told, both film and digital both have their positives and negatives (forgive the pun) and while I don’t think we’re ever going to come up with a definitive is one better than the other answer, it is fun to look at both formats and ask the question: ‘What's better, film or digital'?
Let’s look at a few points and see if we can use these to get some answers; Price, Value, Quality, Convenience, and Feeling.
Back in the ‘old days', you bought a good camera system and that was it. You had your camera for life. Yes, it’s true, you might buy the latest version of a camera but honestly, there really wasn’t that much difference.
Now it seems you need to buy a new camera every year as the latest increase in quality is introduced. An ever-increasing MegaPixel count, 4K video, eye tracking, high-speed sync flash, mirrorless. There is always something new that seems to be worth investing your hard-earned cash in.
However, where digital trumps film is processing costs. With a digital camera, you can take as many images as you want and then you can edit them all in Lightroom for yourself.
The first photography company that didn’t have its own lab had a monthly spend of around £10k per month, during the summer months. That buys a LOT of digital cameras!
Digital wins this one.
So that leads us to the next question, what offers better value for money?
I’m afraid that even if you load your own film, have your own darkroom or even if you scan your own film and use it that way, shooting digitally is STILL by far and away the best value for money.
Amazon has had the Sony A7 with a 28−70mm lens on sale for just over $ 500 this week. That is a phenomenal camera that you could use not only as an amateur but as a professional photographer too.
Get a second-hand laptop for a couple of hundred and you are good to go!
Even second hand, the cost of a film camera, film, darkroom set up is going to cost you about that AND you need to convert one of the rooms in your house into a darkroom!
Digital wins again.
Now, there’s no getting away from it, digital wins hands down here on so many aspects. The dynamic range of modern digital cameras is staggering and the ability to shoot. RAW files are just a photographers dream!
Back in the day, shooting film, you had maybe one or two stops of tolerance before the exposure really started to impact on the image you created.
Also, with the latest range of 50MP cameras, we really are on the verge of bettering anything we could achieve with film. Perhaps a 10"x8″ negative could hold its own, maybe even a 67 negative, but 35 mm? Not a chance.
Another win for digital.
Don’t think this is going to be a big surprise to anyone. What can be more convenient than having your images automatically sent to your phone, or simply popping the card out of your camera and popping it on your computer for you to edit in seconds?
How hard is it to send an image all the way to the other side of the world? It takes just moments.
To get an image you can use with film, you need to, first of all, develop it, then allow it to dry, then you have to scan it or print it using traditional wet room methods. This is all really labor and time-intensive.
And one more win for digital.
So far this seems to have been a one-sided race with digital winning everything hands down.
This last category might seem a bit ‘woo woo', but if you’re a keen photographer, I think you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
And ‘Feel' is the game changer and the winner is film, hands down, every time, over and over again and for me, in many ways, it really makes the film worth shooting, despite the fact that digital has won every other category.
What I’m talking about here is the magic you get when you see your negative for the first time and knowing that your shoot was successful.
It’s the joy of watching appear before your very eyes as you swish it around in a developer tray.
To me, shooting film is true art. You can’t just darken add a different sky in post-production. If there’s a fire extinguisher in the way when you take a picture, then it’s there for good. You have to concentrate on the moment and MAKE the picture happen.
When you print your image in the darkroom, as you dodge and burn areas, each print will be ever so slightly different and completely unique.
Film wins with feel big time.
So, if the film is so amazing, why do so many people shoot digital and what do I shoot personally?
For some, it really is that film is just not that accessible anymore and getting access to a darkroom is even harder!
For others, especially professionals, the convenience aspect is what our customers want and that old enemy ‘price' is also a major contributor.
However, if I wasn’t shooting professionally and I had the time; perhaps when I retire, I’ll just shoot film. Every shot will have my full attention because I’ll be aware of the cost of each image. If I’m shooting a landscape, I’ll wait for the perfect light and if that doesn’t happen, I just won’t take the shot.
Yes, digital is much more convenient, much more cost-effective and it’s far easier to get the results… But film has a soul that digital just never will.