Film vs. Digital

Film vs. Digital


A Guest Post by Rebecca Lily

With the comeback of film over the last few years, many digital photographers are questioning whether or not to make the switch.  This is a decision I had to ponder myself as well.  Is it worth adding a Contax 645 to the arsenal and shooting weddings on film?

I would like to present my honest view of film vs. digital within my own field of expertise as a pro digital and hobbyist film photographer.  I own a Nikon D700 plus 2 film cameras, a vintage Nikon FM2 and a Nikon F100 – on these, I have shot both Kodak Portra 400NC and Fujifilm Pro 400H.  I have not had a fabulously great lab develop any of my film work, only a local lab (with mixed results).  I have never shot film for any of my professional work, only my personal projects.  But I am an ardent admirer of a few great pro film photographers and a continuous student of photography – both in the film and digital arenas. 

Film | Nikon FM2 | Nikkor 50mm 1.2 @ f/1.2 | Fujifilm Pro 400H

I realize that there are different camps within the film vs. digital debate.  There is Camp A who only shoot film and claim that you simply can’t reproduce the look, feel and colors of film on any digital camera.  Then there is Camp B who only shoot digital and claim that film simply isn’t worth all the hassle and expense.  Then Camp C who use (or at least tolerate) both, and admit that both formats have strengths and weaknesses.  Speaking in terms of my professional work, I would define myself somewhere between Camp B and C.  After playing around with film a bit myself and studying the work of other photographers, I can definitely acknowledge that film has several advantages over digital – mainly, the dynamic range (or, ability to retain details in highlights and shadows over a wide range of stops), and also the forgiving nature of film when you overexpose it.  It’s very difficult to blow out film even with overexposing by 2-3 stops – and the highlights with film roll off beautifully.  In that regard, you can relax a bit when you’re shooting film (especially if you have a great photo lab to develop and scan it, but that’s another topic altogether.)

Film | Nikon FM2 | Nikkor 50mm 1.2 @ f/1.2 | Kodak Portra 400NC

However, there are weaknesses with film, too.  One is the ongoing expense of the film itself and the time and expense of developing/scanning.  Another is the availability of your favorite film (look what happened to Portra 400NC…)  And you simply can’t take as many images if you have to continuously change rolls of film as you can when you have a 32GB CF card in your camera.  Another disadvantage?  You can’t back up film; if something happens to your rolls between shooting and developing, that makes for a very unhappy photographer – and an even unhappier client.

Then there’s the issue of the lab.  These beautiful colors that many people see in professional photographers’ film work are often simply the result of a very good lab developing their film and applying specific color profiles in the scanning process.  If you cannot afford a good lab or don’t live near one (and are too nervous to mail 50 rolls of film of a client’s wedding), you may find yourself frustrated that you cannot reproduce these results even with the exact same camera, lens and film combination that your favorite pro uses.  

In my opinion, I think digital has only one major weakness when compared to film, and that is dynamic range.  Your digital camera simply will not handle light as well as film does, and the light will not look as soft and even as it does with film.  But I think this problem will improve over time with digital cameras, as newer models with better sensors are developed.  You can already compensate this weakness by shooting in RAW format to maximize the recovery of details in highlights and shadows, and by working on improving yourself technically so that you achieve more consistently precise exposure.  I always shoot in manual/RAW and spot meter, which is a huge help.  I know before I press the shutter if I still have enough details in my highlights and shadows where it’s important to have detail.  This is the result of lots of practice – and I’m still always working on improving my exposure.

Digital | Nikon D700 | Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 @ f/2.8

Exposing properly, and shooting in RAW, already has you well on your way to better results (and let’s hope that digital camera manufacturers will pay attention and give us better dynamic range in the near future!).  But what about those beautiful filmy colors?

This is where post-processing comes in, and where I personally found my tipping point that made me stick with digital.  

Digital | Nikon D700 | Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 @ f/2.8

First, it’s important to understand that digital images need to be developed just like film images do.  Many people confuse a film “sooc” for being truly unprocessed, but that is not the case.  Every film image is processed by the lab that develops it, and is color corrected during the scanning process – and sometimes also in the initial developing process (for example, push or pull processing, or cross processing).  Digital images need developing work too, in order to get optimal results.

Digital | Nikon D700 | Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 @f/2.8

I love the colors and soft, “matte” feel of film.  But for me, it isn’t about the look of any one film – I’m not stuck on replicating one particular set of tones, like the tones in pushed Fujifilm Pro 400H for example (which are indeed beautiful!).  I simply love this overall “filmy” look – the bright, clean colors, the pastels, the soft muted tones, the subdued highlights, the grain – all of it.  And with a bit of post processing, I find that I can replicate or interpret this vision with some of my digital work, where it suits.  It might not look identical to one particular film (although, I can get it pretty close if that’s the goal).  But with a bit of Lightroom or Photoshop I can capture the essence of what I love about the looks of film in general, with my own artistic stamp.  And for me, that’s a very important part of how I express my work – through my post process.  I enjoy having creative control over how I want my colors to look for each individual session that I shoot, rather than handing that control to a lab.

One of the most important steps in post-processing a digital image to replicate film is to carefully control the light and the highlights.  In my normal workflow, I first develop my RAW file in Lightroom, either with a preset or with individual tweaks (such as highlight recovery and exposure correction).  I usually finish my images in Photoshop with actions.  Overall, filmy looks should have lower contrast, reduced saturation, softened and controlled light, subtle creamy highlights, and a matte finish.  If you know your way around Photoshop and can produce these effects, you can put together interesting combinations to give your images a filmy finish.  If you need a hand with achieving those effects, there are a good many professional products that can help.  Many of my own presets and actions are specifically designed to create this look.

If you are interested in how I achieve some of my film-inspired looks for my digital images, I share some of my post-processing recipes on my website,, under the “Tutorials” section.  

Digital | Nikon D700 | Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 @ f/2.8

So, what’s the conclusion?  I think that’s up to you.  Film will always have its place in the world of photography, and so will digital.  What you decide for yourself depends upon what’s important to you. 

Or maybe, like me, you’ll find that there is a place for both.

Digital | Nikon D700 | Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8 @ f/2.8

Rebecca Lily is a professional wedding and commercial photographer under Bondshots, which she founded with her husband, Johnny Patience. She is also a designer of Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions, which can be found on her website. Johnny and Rebecca make their home in beautiful West Cork, Ireland.

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Some Older Comments

  • Angie. September 12, 2013 03:48 am

    I started shooting film with an Olympus trip, and from there on I then purchased my first slr film camera which
    was an Olympus OM10. I tried many different films even Kodak EIR and Black and white films. Each film would give me a different look. When digital cameras came out I bought my DSLR. I have never been happy shooting Digital, it is not the same as shooting on film and I do not like having to process the images to make them look better.
    So I have now gone back to film, I love it, especially Black and white film, I have slowed down, my photography has improved so much and I am not sat at a computer processing my images. Film gives me just
    what I want, So Digital is not for me. Now I have gone crazy and own twelve film cameras, and a fridge full of colour film and Black And White Film. I shoot every day and now I feel I'm back where it all began! Film Forever!

  • Jorge May 6, 2013 10:07 pm

    HI Bubba Jones:
    I write RAW because my user guide describes the "digital negative" as RAW. The "raw" vegetables might be because the cooking book spells it in lower case. I wonder why...

    I reckon that I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for taking time and write it.

    I agree that digital photography allows to shot a huge number of photos, so it is "possible" that one will come good. While film forces you to think before you press the button.
    But, regardless digital or film, there are really good photographers and they are not dependent on the media.

    There are some DSLRs very expensive. Where I live, the film, process and print is not cheap, so it is cheaper to get an entry level DSLR rather than the total cost 25 films. But that is my case, and still have my film SLR to use it once in a while.

    Maybe, today digital vs film depends on the user, his objectives, style, budget, etc. We might find one more enjoyable than the other. I liked the dark room. For me, the cheapest dark room is the RAW photos (means digital) as a hobby. Today, I just made basic adjustment: contrast, sharpness, saturation, etc. I like your last statement. If I were professional photographer, I think that I would delegate the post processing...

  • Bubba Jones April 26, 2013 10:06 am

    Why do folks spell raw as RAW, is it supposed to be an acronym for something? Do we write "RAW meat", RAW vegetables", "a RAW bruise on the elbow"? No, we write it as, raw, as it should be. Same with photography, it is a raw file not RAW file. Sorry, but I find it so incongruous folks use RAW file, when it is a raw file we are talking about.

    Now back to film vs digital. I am in camp C. Came from film then for ten years went full time into digital, now back to 95% film. For those that say digital beats film only needs to look at pre digital at National Geographic, Arizona Highways, Life, Look, the list goes on, where film was the only medium. As the photographs in those magazines show, film is outstanding. It is the folks that do not understand how to shoot film, or lack confidence in their photography skills, where the issue is.

    Most digital pros and prosumers are married to digital for a couple of reasons. 1. They can delete photos they do not want, immediate gratification, so they spray and pray. Example of spray and pray, have your listened to wedding photographers boast about taking thousands of wedding photos? OMG, back when I did it if we shot twenty rolls of film that was a lot. Yes, we covered the entire wedding with amazing photos. 2. Digital photographers are more proud of their post processing than their photography. They spend hours on PP, yet little on shooting (spray and pray mentality) is not shooting. Heck give a little child a 5D have them walk around snapping photos they will capture almost as many, and capture many outstanding ones as well. Remember you can delete the bad ones.

    Folks talk about the cost of film. My gosh, a F100 can be purchased for under $200, compare that to the cost of 5D Mark III or the high end Nikon. It is thirteen years old, how many DSLRs are functioning after a few years? When I upgrade it I put in an new roll of film. One can purchase tons of film with processing for the cost difference. The digital upgrade cycle is a mess and expensive. There are a many pro labs, i.e. RPL and NCPS, that have fast turnaround. When you receive your files they are print ready, needing hardly any PP by the photographer. In fact the lab will do all that for you. Just think, you shoot, then the lab pros work for you, now you have more time to shoot and take care of clients.

    Think back in the day when photographers were photographers, they sent their film to a pro lab where pro lab folks process and printed their film. Today, a photographer feels it is up to them to do all of it. Me, I want to shoot, let the lab do lab work, that which they are trained and have vast experience doing. Can I PP in Photoshop heck yes, I am a techno-geeky person well versed in many computer OS and programs. The question is do I want to spend my time in front of a computer, I do not get paid for computer work I get paid to shoot. Or would I desire to spend many hours shooting?

    Pilots get paid to fly, mechanics are paid to maintain the plane. Doctors do their work, they hire others to do their office billings, front office stuff. Film or digital, whichever one you like know why you do. Do not make excuses make photos. Learn to be a photographer. Do not become a computer post processing weenie, sadly that is what digital has made many. Get out of the mentality that you must control each aspect of your work; do not be a control freak, learn to delegate.

  • Rich April 26, 2013 02:16 am

    Hi Rebecca

    I'm not contributing to the arguments raging above, just wanted to say thanks for a well written and interesting article.


  • Brad March 26, 2013 04:34 am

    Maybe off topic to what the general crowd here is commenting on, but not off topic to the title of the article....

    There are things that digital does that seem like a poor mimicry of film camera operation that I swear will make me lose my mind. Ive never seen it talked about anywhere, so it seems Ive already gone bonkers.

    When I was a kid I had an inexpensive old Minolta maxing out at 1000th of a second and a Rokkor 70-200mm telephoto. I spent lots of my allowance on film and proc. starting out taking photos in the backyard of water balloons dropping onto nails, shooting from directly perpendicular to the fall, and then printing my own b/w shots of the gorgeous rimlit or sidelit columns of splashback that formed. I was a pre-teen goober, what can I say. Still have the negs handy to compare with This Modern Age of digital.

    A couple decades later Im trying the same thing with a Canon 5D MkII and an Canon IS L-series lens of roughly the same zoom length, and find that the same shutter speeds ARE NOT comparable results to the mechanical camera. I would even say unremarkable and uninteresting, even underwhelming.

    I have a nicely crowned splashback at 500th/sec of a fairly low speed drip that, seriously, looks like pinwheel fireworks if seen from a 45 deg. angle at 1/2 second shutter drag instead. The rim motion looks like supersonic bullets blurred outwards. This is not the 500th/sec result I knew pre-digital era.

    I tried running the shutter speeds up to 8000th (using Magic Lantern) on the Canon and comparing the results from one speed to the next. I cant say there is an appreciable difference until 4000th where it seems would be my working minimum, if I wanted some sort of result of natural light/high speed stopping. Sure I could go all flash with a cluster of Metz' but... I also like taking the odd shot of my dog running through deep snow in natural light.

    The results of seeing snow powder blurring against his fur at speeds 2000th made me start this test comparison to my old Minolta....

    There is no way that snow should be motion streaked over 1500th... its not "supersonic snow" and even the free falling (not PROPELLED) snow has motion blur to it... Its not the IS system making it worse or better; same results tripod or handheld. Zoomed in all over the frame with Adobe PS and Lightroom looking for blur, shot in RAW, zone focussed as well as (the poor slow) A.Servo focus mode.

    Hand metered or run off the internal matrix metering system, the histograms in various Adobe photo apps all show the camera exposes bang on going up and down the EV scale in Tv and Av modes plus full manual, so its not that its off calibrated electronically.

    It seems like its electronics 'pretending' to capture high speed motion and failing... or whatever sensor chips do to take a photo... am I bonkers?? No one else notice motion handled differently than silver?

  • James February 13, 2013 07:24 am

    I really hate when people lift the shadows in digital pictures so much just to get a "vintage" look. It's really annoying to look at in a picture imo.

  • Walter Barber July 30, 2012 11:24 pm

    Sorry about the typos in my previous post, accidentally touched the submit button on the iPad before editing.

  • Walter Barber July 30, 2012 11:17 pm

    For those of us who think we are getting sharp images from our digital cameras and expensive lenses, consider the effect of anti aliasing filters on our images. I know when comparing images of the same subjects, with and without anti aliasing filters, that I see noticeable differences. Leica cameras do not employ anti aliasing, along with Sigma and a couple of the Fuji cameras and one of the newer Nikons. For those of us that are scanning film, there are many things to understand about before we can get the most out of the process. As far as I understand, scanners do not have anti aliasing filters, so aliasing is something that may need to be accounted for. Point is, again, there is a lot to qualify before we are able to make valid comparisons between digital and film. My opinion has been that if we compare anything that goes through a digital workflow, including film; to a well done Cibachrome or black and white print from a darkroom, we will realize that there is room for much improvement. I don't champion one process over another, when the digital workflow over another. But, I think prints coming out of a darkroom are still the reference that we need to be using, but only if we care enough about what we do.


  • Walter Barber July 29, 2012 01:14 am

    Jorge, I understasnd, film "talks by it self", if we care to look.

    Some depends if you scan your film and go inkjet. or print in a darkroom. I mentioned this earlier, that years ago I used the Cibachrome process in my darkroom. I have never been able to come close to the Cibachrome quality printing with an inkjet. But, even when scanning film, there is an elusive quality that comes from film that I have never been able to capture from a digital capture. When others view my images side by side they initially don't see the differences, because they initially really don't care. I don't ever tell them that one is from film and the other digital captures. If they are good friends they will spend some time at it, it becomes obvious and they always favor the film scan. If I ask them to compare an old Cibachrome to a good injet it is no contest, the Cibachrome is better. The consistent comment is that the film scan has a 3D quality compared to the digital. That they feel that they can reach out and grab the flower in the picture. One person described digital images as always looking like a silkscreen, flat with distinct borders.But, in the end, it is not important to them. I find that if I shoot digital with lenses that have outstanding backround rendering then some of that 3D effect is therel. Comments that are consistently used when comparing film to digital, usually are about sharpness and noise. Perhaps that is enough for most people or they don't take the time to look beyond that, or that is all that is important, or they aren't capable of looking beyond. I don't think a professional photographer has any more ability to make evaluations than a dedicated amateur. In most cases professionals are people doing photography for a living and if it is good enough for their clients, then it is good enough. Martin, in an earler comment made and example of this.

    Then we can't just talk about film vs digital. There is still the equipment to consider and the skills of the photographer. Are we comparing film images from a Leica or Rolleiflex or a Mamiya 7 to a full frame digital with a very good lens. Or, comparing film images from an old camera from the past that someone never learned to use and then had their photos processed at their local pharmacy to a very nice digital camera with the ability to manipulate their photos.

    That is, I think our total experince needs to be weighed when we comment on film vs digital, or lenses, or cameras, etc...

    For myself, I no longer have a darkroom because of logistics. But, I think creating images in a darkroom was far less expensive than using a digital workflow. When we consider the prices of digital cameras, software, printers, the computer, an IPS monitor, calibration equipment, the computer itself, a good scanner and the never ending cost of ink.

    Our old film cameras, my Nikon F3 and lenses that cost me next to nothing way back is still all I would need. there was that time when I coujld buy two or three Nikon lenses at a time and it wasn't a great financial consideration.

    Now I shoot with a Pentax K-5, with my old Takumar lenses and a very nice Sears 55mm lens. I don't like shooting with an SLR, and that will change. Incorporating , whenever possible; MLU, AEL and a grey card is a big help. Eliminates a lot of post processing. And, my Sigma DP1 with a close up lens, that under the right circumstances can take very nice pictures at low iso.

    For film I mostly use a Rolleiflex, Mamiya 7 and Hexar AF. I also have a Yahica with MLU for my Takumar lenses. Sorry that I've missed on the Adox film that Alex mentioned, but will get there.

    Certainly, none of this makes me a great photographer or by itself qualifies me to comment, but there is need for disclosure.

  • Jorge July 28, 2012 05:03 pm


    What else can I say? I just wonder if those giving its point of view has print outs to say it.
    Scanning a film/negative to see it in the computer is like taking a photo with film of the screen... silly? Yes, as silly as saying one is better than the other.
    Each has its advantages (cost, times, etc.) but image quality... well, it talks by it self: film is still in the market for that reason.

  • Walter July 28, 2012 01:55 am

    Martin and Alex,

    In my opinion, well expressed. I shoot both film and digital and I believe also that the resolution from film has a big upside compared to digital. If you talk to people in a good professional lab they will tell you the same thing.
    I think that you need to shoot both digital and film and then you will easily see the differences. My guess is a lot of people commenting here have only ever shot with digital cameras, making an argument with no film experience .Believing only what they read. I work hard at digital with very good equipment and I feel that I produce very good images and sometimes the convenience is all important. And, I keep trying to get better at it. But, shooting with film, especially black and white, is still something else. And for digital, film continues to give me a reference.

  • Martin July 27, 2012 09:59 pm

    The downside of film is also its best quality. It requires effort, time and talent to extract the best of it. If you love what you do, this is something that makes you enjoy it more. I use a digital as well but just for different things. I believe wholeheartedly that if you are to do something you might as well do it properly without shortcuts or easy convenient methods that distance you from the process and compensate for your lack of ability or patience. I just saw a series of digital pictures for a tourist attraction, the pictures completely disgust me. It’s so obviously photoshoped and oversaturated, this is not artistic it’s just ugly and fake. If the person had bothered waiting for the proper light and learned to used their setting properly their pictures would have turned out nice. The shortcuts and convenience of digital makes you care less because it’s human nature to relax into something if you can, you cannot relax with film, therefore the upside of digital is also it’s downside.

  • Alex July 27, 2012 12:38 am

    Being a person with an open mind, passion for photography, skillful hands and a good amount of experience with BOTH processes, I can say without a doubt that only fools and amateurs say that digital supersedes film. Digital is a PARALLEL technology that covers all the weaknesses of the film process in regards speed and convenience but If you are at the point where you cannot be bothered anymore with a little effort then you should do something else anyways. As a photographer you should be able to use both processes and you should also be aware of all the film/developer and digital looks available and have the skill to choose and use the optimal one for the look you want. There is no digital camera out there that can equal the resolution of a 35 mm film camera and a roll of adox cms 20 (research it but I use it regularily), or get the look of tri-x with black and white photography, the skin tones and richness of porta is incredible, the ability of getting a perfect shot and modify it, variable ISO and expendable pictures makes digital a better choice for many things…Nobody needs to choose any sides here, what you need to do is have an open mind and stop being a ignorant fool that limits himself to one process either for spite, laziness or being a tech marketing brainwashed sucker.

  • TJ May 14, 2012 02:30 am

    I know what Cibachrome was and is. I processed Ciba prints in my own darkroom. If you think it is easy, you are not getting the most out of the process. To do a Ciba (now called Ilfochrome) print correctly, you must control the contrast through masking. The chemistry is one of, if not the most caustic there is. If you do not neutralize the chemistry by pouring it down the drain in the proper sequence, you can contaminate a sewer system.

    There is a reason why there are only a relative handful of people doing high quality Ilfochrome. It's a demanding process.

    We will just have to disagree about "excellent" scans...

  • Walter Barber May 13, 2012 12:42 pm

    You may be thinking about some other process. Cibachrome was an all analog darkroom process. Very easy to set up and simple to learn. As I recall the chemical process was self neutralizing.

    I agree, best to stay all analog. Exactly why I mentioned Cibachrome.

    That said, excellant scans can be had without a drum scanner, providing good workflow.

  • TJ May 13, 2012 10:19 am

    Analogies are supposed to be relevant to the context of the discussion. I know you didn't make the original reference to digital sound recording, but it doesn't matter; it's irrelevant. What is relevant however is your reference to Cibachrome (Ilfochrome.)

    There may not currently be a process that can produce a print from a digital file that rivals an Ilfochrome print, (If there is, please, someone tell me about it) but then, there is nothing in the analog world of photography that can do that either. Ilfochrome is a very complicated, costly and caustic process, and takes a long time to master. Contrast masks are very difficult to accomplish, and to be honest, I gave up trying to learn the process because it was consuming all my time. Also, I wasn't doing high end fine art, which is the only area where Ilfochrome is really applicable. In any case, the main ingredient has to be the special paper on which they are printed, and I have no doubt that if there is nothing now to rival the Ilfochrome print, there will be. It probably won't come from an inkjet, but something will replace Ilfochrome in the future. Bet on it.

    Of course Photoshop can be used with scanned images, but my point is that if the recording of a scene with a digital camera is somehow inferior to doing it on film, then how is taking that film into a scanner, which will not be likely to have the same high quality optics as a camera's lens, and making a copy of the original to be considered a better way? You now have a digital image, just as if you had taken it with a camera, but the quality is initially lower unless you use a high end drum scanner, and in the end you have a COPY. Instead of directly recording a scene in software, you are now recording the image of a scene in software. No film can record all the tones in a scene, and now you are re-recording the record in a medium which cannot even reproduce all the tones the film saw.

    In the end, if you shoot film, print from film. If you're working for digital reproduction, whether on a monitor or for print (magazine, etc.) you may as well just shoot digital and save your money.

  • Walter Barber May 13, 2012 09:49 am

    Please ignore the last sentence of my previous reply.

  • Walter Barber May 13, 2012 09:30 am

    As stated, I was responding to the guitar analogy already made. That simply going by specifications is not the same as using our ears. At some point "audiophiles" started tossing their turntables and tube amplification in favor of digital and solid state because they listened with the "specifications" and not their ears. We were hearing what we wanted to hear. Eventually people started to listen with their ears and subjectivity became an important part of audio review. The further development of digital and analog, tube an solid state have benefited from the subjectivity.

    This is why we are here, to offer our subjectivity. I was not comparing audio to photography, but attempting to add to an analogy already offered by another reviewer.

    In that regard, I can only go by my subjective opinion. When we view an image we can only go by what we see. I can't decide that I like what I see based on specifications. I have no way to prove what I see. To my eyes film images have more texture, depth and better rendering of colors. When I shoot with a shallow depth of field, the foreground is better separated from the background.

    Personally, I think a valid comparison is to view a well done Cibachrome. That is, completely analog vs completely digital.

    Lastly, I agree and find that I also need to tweak and improve my digital images in Photoshop to make them look more like how I envisioned them. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. If necessary, Photoshop can also be used to tweak and improve film scans. In that regard, we need to be thankful for Photoshop.

    When even the lowliest of digital cameras came on the scene, I know photographers that were ready to toss their film cameras, they clearly could "see" the superiority of digital.

    I don't read where I was comparing audio directly to photography, I was making an analogy.

    Photoshop can also be used with scanned film images, not just those from a digital camera.

    Exactly, we can tweak and improve our digital images to look more like what we envisioned. I find myself doing this a lot with digital images. Almost never with film images. If I didn't also shoot with film I would be quite content with digital. For most things it is good enough. It scores high points for convenience.

    Lastly, I did state it was my opinion; this is what we are doing here. Why is that subjective opinions don't

  • TJ May 12, 2012 11:45 pm

    Walter, I am curious to know the criteria that you apply to your images to make the determination that "...images from any of my medium format film cameras, in my opinion, are dramatically better. Even low resolution scans."

    Since a scan is in fact a second generation digital image, it's hard to envision a low res scan that is "better" than a first generation scan from a "very good" digital camera. Unless your choice of lenses may be affecting the quality, it seems counter-intuitive to think that a low end scanner gives a better second generation image than a high end camera's first generation.

    As far as I am concerned, comparing guitars and cameras is an exercise in futility. I don't take pictures with a guitar, and I have never seen a rock band playing Nikons and Canons, so I think it is best to compare apples with apples.

    You say: "I suspect that the many people that comment in favor of digital have never bothered to shoot film." Well, I have shot lots of film, small and medium format, had my own darkroom and worked in pro color labs processing and printing the film of others, in formats up to 8X10. The prints I get from a Nikon D2X with Nikkor lenses are every bit as "good" as those I used to get with my film cameras, and in many cases better, because now I have Photoshop to tweak and improve the image to make it more like what I envisioned when I took the picture.

    If you like film, that is your business. But if you claim that pictures scanned from film are better than those taken with a digital camera, I'll need some proof other than a subjective opinion.

  • Walter Barber May 11, 2012 09:18 am

    I mostly shoot digital for convenience. Very good digital cameras, mostly Pentax Takumar lenses. But, images from any of my medium format film cameras, in my opinion, are dramatically better. Even low resolution scans. That is, it doesn't take an exotic scanner to better any of my digital images. To the reviewer that tried to make an analogy with solid state vs tube equipment, you are simply going by specifictations, you're not listening. Much of, if not most, high end audio equipment is tube and not because tubes are noisey. The noise thing is not even true with the diehard guitar people. Those guitar players that fancy tube amplifiers are replacing noisey parts with low noise tubes, capacitors and resistors. I suspect that the many people that comment in favor of digital have never bothered to shoot film.

    Years ago, when CD's first came out most everyone was tossing their turntables, they believed they could hear that digital was superior to analog. They heard what they wanted to hear. We, now realize that was a mistake. Everyone thought the first digital cameras were better than any film camera in existence. We saw what we wanted to see. I suspect that is still true.

  • James April 25, 2012 03:48 pm

    All the arguments on here are valid. With film I have to carry around 2 cameras for different ISO's. It's inconvenient to not be able to fire away at everything I see and then delete whatever I want like I could with digital. But I just use film because it looks better. Simple as that. Looks better, and I enjoy setting engaging in manual photography. It just makes it a lot more fun. It's not just about the results, it's also about the experience (for me at least).

  • TJ April 17, 2012 10:35 am

    What on earth makes anyone think that they have to shoot two thousand pictures at a time without thinking about it just because they have a digital camera? Has any of you ever looked at the images of all these people you see shooting film so they can "think about it and take their time?" I have. They're no better on average than the digital stuff you see all over. Read your DSLR manual, and no where will it say "Always remember to just close your eyes and hold the camera at arm's length while shooting. Never think about your subject, as you might become too emotionally involved."

    If you want well crafted images there is nothing to stop you using your digital camera exactly as you would an 8x10 View camera. You don't need to go to outmoded technology. Just learn the craft and some self disicpline, and you'll get great images.

    If you really can't express yourself unless forced to take your time, take up painting.

  • saron April 15, 2012 04:02 pm

    I found this debate rather interesting and until recently whilst in the London Leica shop, questioning why would you buy a film camera?
    Then on a recent photography walk, where 99% were using a DSLR, one member of the group had just purchased a M6 film camera. There we all were just shooting at anything, myself included, knowing the fact that all the photographs I had taken I would never print and would delete soon as I got home. However the film guy composed himself and thought about what he really wanted to take and seemed to be enjoying the day more than the rest of us (how many flower pictures can one take?)
    I had already made up my mind that I was going to sell my Canon 50d, when I first purchased it, I convinced myself that I would get back into photography but found in the 3 years that I have had it I hardly use it. The share weight of the thing means sadly sits on a tripod in the corner of a room.
    Yesterday, I went into a second hand dealer of various film / dslr cameras and the store was buzzing with film enthusiasts of all ages, professionals and amateurs, picking up developed images.
    After deliberating whether to go for another digital camera, the ease and the convenience and it was the camera of my dreams despite its quirks, I ended up purchasing the film equivalent knowing for me that I had made the right choice.
    In my heart I knew that I wanted to take my time, look at what I am shooting and most importantly enjoy the hobby again.
    Film and digital both have a place it just your preference.

  • Terry McGovern April 1, 2012 12:47 am

    7 stops for black and white might be a little low, but your figure for color film is referencing slide film. Color negative film is closer to 5-7 stops. Digital range can be expanded by combining exposures into an HDR, so there are pluses and minuses all around.

  • Brad March 31, 2012 03:12 pm

    I'm not sure if anyone hit on this, and I'm certainly FAR from an expert (currently a photography student), but she speaks about film having greater dynamic range. BW does have greater dynamic range, 7stops, but color has fewer at 3 stops. Shoot at high noon on a sunny day and your color will go bonkers. Digital has a 5 stop range.

  • Karen Rader March 28, 2012 07:19 am

    @ Harley Abah
    How exciting! I really hope it lights a fire of inspiration for you in your pursuit of photography! Having had learned on film myself, I believe it will teach you concrete principles that seem more abstract in the digital world. Enjoy the process of learning, it's quite an adventure! Best of luck to you! :)

  • Harley Abah ?? March 27, 2012 11:51 am

    I'm in eighth grade going to High school next year and I remember just a couple of weeks ago I was helping my science teacher clean out his closet and I saw this old photo book from his time fighting in Vietnam. So I asked him about them and he gave me stories through all of them and at the end he says "...And I took them all with this camera." Ironically I was in need of a new camera because I had a SLR that really wasn't living up to my expectations, I was going for more of a grainy, vintage type of photography. My science teacher gave me his old Canon FT QL and I prefer it much more. Oh yeah and he's also teaching me how to develop film.
    Your article was extremely helpful in deciding whether to keep the SLR or the Canon. I've decided to return the SLR.

  • Max Scott March 22, 2012 02:03 pm

    Some one asked about converting slides to digitial format and a response was to get a quote on having the coversion.

    DISCLAIMER: Neophyte photographer here-
    Why not just project the slide on a screen and shoot the screen with your Digitial Camera?

  • George Okoh March 21, 2012 04:27 pm

    Thanks so much for the information but l still very much think its getting more and more difficult finding labs that can still boast of having good and functioning film processing machines today. lts not only out of fashion to be caught loading film at events but finding experience printers to process and give you what you are looking for. ln Benin City, Nigeria where l reside, you can hardly find labs with film processing capabilities. This now brings us to the problem of chemistry. Lack or sporadic usage always results in rotting or spoilt chemicals. This is one of those burdens no lab owner is ready to handle. For every ten customers that work into a lab today, ten are there to do digital work. Last time l shot film was almost five years ago and l dont even own an analogue camera anymore.

  • Pallav March 20, 2012 06:28 am

    The truth of the matter is that each have their own pros and cons. Some of the cons with digital that never get mentioned are: weight and cost. I use a second hand Nikon F80 and a 50mm f1.8. I can easily slip into my backpack and not feel the bulk. But with DSLR you know know somethings there. And if I lose my setup, I wouldn't be pegged back by much - 200$s. I can live with that. Doesn't apply with DSLRs. This about the logistics.

    I have had a couple of film slrs and a couple of digital point and shoots. Point and shoots or even the auto mode of the dslr is not a gratifying photographic experience. I love the ASM mode on my awesome F80. I have been wanting to get a DSLR for a long time, and am hoping to get a D5100 before I can afford the new D800.

    My two words on film vs. digital. I love film. I love shooting slides and absolutely love the colour rendering on them. I am hoping to find some Velvia 50s and take it for landscape shooting but they are extremely difficult to find in India. I like the film look of images, esp for portraits. I like the softness of film. But then, digital has its benefits of convenience, clean images, easy post processing, etc.

    I think might get the D800 but I'll still keep my F80. If nothing, shooting BnW in film is amazing fun.. To each his own...

  • Dave A March 20, 2012 01:20 am

    I am firmly in group C. I don't shoot film that much now days, but have all the toys from 35mm to large format. I will be getting back into B&W and opening up my darkroom again too.

    Digital has so much more flexibility than film. When I finally switched into digital 3 years ago, I shot more in the first 6 months than I had for over 5 years! I don't have a lab by me, so shooting color was a hassle. So digital was much more convenient in that regard.

    However, especially for black and white, the one area no one hit on, and that film still and I think will continue to have an advantage in, is archiving. You can back up all you want on those digital files but there is no guarantee that you will be able to access those files in 20 or 30 years. Mac or PC, can you still access data files from 30 years ago? It is a challenge. Now go out 50 or 60 years and the chances continue to drop. Operating systems change and legacy systems can be left behind. Maybe TIFF will be around, but JPG will probably be "improved" and sooner or later those older JPGs will be gone. And RAW files have the same problem. Will there be a RAW converter for those images you shot with the first gen Canon digital in 30-40 years? The operating systems change, but the manufacturers will probably not update the Raw converters for the older cameras to the new OS. The only hope is a manufacturer comes up with a generic RC to use.

    Film, on the other hand, is completely optical. Once processed, and properly stored, it can last for hundreds of years. A properly processed B&W print, properly stored, can last over 600 years (verified by the Image Permanence Institute, acceleration tests). Color film does not have this edge, and digital will outlast it (the dyes in the film change and fade). With film, the images can always be taken out again and reprinted or rescanned. The best digital storage (the new M-Disc) can survive the same, over 600 years (conventional DVDs or CDs are only good for about 15 years), but we are still faced with the OS problem (can you guarantee the files can be accessed 200 years from now??).

    For most of us, this will not be a concern. We may want the images to last only 10 years, or 50. But for those once in a lifetime images, photojournalism shots, landscapes, etc., these will be lost to an ever moving technology.

  • saleemoptima March 19, 2012 11:22 pm

    in film photos has its on originality because the photo can't post production
    but in the modern digital photography age the picture can modified by photographer taste
    any way I like digital photography

  • thygocanberra March 17, 2012 09:25 pm

    One thing about film is, if you have the right camera, you can still shoot when you have NO batteries.

    And though it wouldn't be recommended, a bump or a dip for a film camera may not be the death sentence it is for the digital counterpart.

    But I still love my digital. Though if they could make the viewfinders on entry level dSLRs somewhere near as big on some of the old 35mm cameras...

  • George M. March 17, 2012 12:19 pm

    Us senior folk have grown up with film and then at some point we made the transition to digital. It was a steep learning curve as digital photography did not carry the same latitude that film offers. Various films are designed to perform certain tasks. The lower the ISO, the finer the grain in the film emulsion. Ektachrome 25 (ISO 25!) had the finest grain of any film on the market at the time.One major problem with film is the exposure to Xrays if there is going to be a chance of that roll of film being transported by air. Airmail for example. Flying to destinations is another. Unexposed film is less susceptible to Xray damage than an exposed roll. Higher ISO films are more sensitive to Xrays. Also, the latent image on unprocessed film will suffer over time if the roll is not processed promptly. I'm talking months or years later here rather than days.

    Having worked in the consumer photography industry maintaining film and photo processing equipment, I know all the factors that contribute to YOUR photo turning out the way that YOU would hope for. Squeezing that shutter button is only a very, very small factor in geting that image into your album or on your wall. While I was in the industry, I certainly knew which labs I would take MY roll of film to! Now with digital, all that control is in my hands with the tools on the computer to get it just right before I get the picture printed on quality silver-halide photo paper by a trustworthy lab. Forget ink-jets and dye-sublimation prints. The archival longevity just isn't there, no matter what the advertising says to the contrary.

    I no longer shoot film, having converted totally to digital. I still have my film camera though. The one big problem, I feel, with digital is that the low cost of taking a photo has created a society of "Spam Photographers". Shoot 300 shots in as many seconds and hope you get a good one! Try doing that on film and watch your bank account dwindle! It means many people no longer think about what they are really trying to capture in the first place. Have a look at many of the photos on Google Earth and You'll see what I mean.

    It also doesn't help with products such as the iPhone (I don't have one and never will...) having all sorts of software which pretty much takes away all the control from the photographer and is heavily advertised as having that "feature". Proclaiming that it is somehow superior to a camera. Sorry Apple, but you're not comparing Apples with apples... ;-)

  • Allan Cox March 17, 2012 09:04 am

    I used to love slide film. Each slide was a little mosaic of light. But boy did you have to know about exposure. Half a stop out and you were history. Most of this knowledge is now redundant with digital. Some times I pine for the old days but mostly not. Almost like an old lover: glad I had the experience, great memories, but time to move on.

  • tony March 17, 2012 03:32 am

    "The cost of your printer, ink, and paper does not appear to be much, if at all, less than the cost of film and processing."

    That's the thing that people overlook in the "Well, film is more expensive because you have to keep buying emulsion!" argument, that all the costs for digital are front loaded. Consider this - my Canon Rebel XSi cost 900 dollars for the body and the stock 18-55mm lens. My Canon Rebel TI cost me 50 bucks and a used Tamon lens cost me another 80. So assuming 5 dollars a roll and another couple of bucks for developing, it would take 96 rolls of film (or 3,456 photos) before it costs me EXACTLY the same as what my digital gear costs me.

    And I don't have to upgrade my camera body every 3-5 years.

  • JT March 17, 2012 03:08 am

    I cannot afford a full frame digital camera so I still use my Nikon F100 for full frame shots. I shot film (Minolta SRT 101. Nikon FT2, Nikon FM2, Nikon F100) for 30+ years before I ever got a digital camera: A Nikon Coolpix point and shoot. That led to a Nikon D40 and now a Nikon D7000. Film still blows me away as regards color and dynamic range. And I agree with an earlier poster, Film requires much more discipline and thinking and planning. And...I still get a big kick out of it. Thee D7000 is a marvelous camera.and .I'm sure the new Nikon D800 will be awesome but at this station in my life, I'm thankful for my trusty F100 and that new D7000. And God Bless Nikon for keeping The F mount on its lenses.

  • Neal Foster March 16, 2012 09:49 pm

    I bought my first DSLR in 2007. The main reason was for the cost advantage. With the ever increasing price of gasoline my budget was starting to limit the amount of photo outings I could take, the money I saved on film prossesing went into the gas tank instead. At first I was'nt happy with some of the results. By trial and error,and learning better exposure techniques and pp in photoshop elements I can consistently get the same results as I did with film. I did'nt completly abandon film though, there is something about the feel of my Nikon Fm and my Nikon Fe2 along with the 5 prime nikor lenses that still gives me the thrill I had when I started Photography as a hobby. Now when I go out I still bring a film camera, it just does'nt get as much use.

  • Jerzy March 16, 2012 05:34 pm

    You are right. Something may happen to your negatives and you'll lose all your hard work. This is what happened to me a couple of years ago. I was vacationing on Vancouver Island and went for a trip to the Hot Springs. While cruising on the boat there was lots of wildlife and I was taking full advantage of the huge capacity of my memory card. There were a few shots of a humpback that breached the water about 5 meters away from the boat. And that beautiful dog that fell in love with my daughter (the sentiment was reciprocated). We returned to our resort and I started downloading the images to the computer. But nothing happened. Just the memory card started to get very hot, and the camera refused to take any more pictures. I then used another digital camera but it malfunctioned as well. Thanks to my trusty 20 years old Pentax SF 10, which I packed as an afterthought, I was able to have some memories of that holiday. But even if it had broken down as well I would have been able to retrieve the negatives. I wasn't able to retrieve my lost images from the cards. The digital camera died and took the photos with it. And in my 45 years of picture taking I have never lost a negative. And I prefer to be outside taking photos to spending lots of time in front of the computer playing with Photoshop. The cost of your printer, ink, and paper does not appear to be much, if at all, less than the cost of film and processing. The only real advantage of digital over film, in my opinion, is the ability to change ISO on the fly. But then again you can have a couple of bodies loaded with different film or a few backs if you you a lucky owner of a medium format camera.

  • Jorge March 16, 2012 11:22 am

    p.s. Tony, I agree that we can find many digital images that are so bad that we get tired of seeing photos.

    With Film “most of the time” everybody was more careful before taking a photo, taking care about the quality.
    With Digital “almost” everybody shot everything and we are surrounded of digital images but only quite a few of them are good!

    With film, I use to remove around 40% of photos.
    With digital, taking photos like I use with film, I remove 75% of photos.

    I don’t see the point on keeping photos that I don’t enjoy seeing them again.

  • Jorge March 16, 2012 11:03 am

    Thanks for sharing this information. It inspires me to share my toughs.

    I started with digital photography 4 years ago, after 17 years of using 35mm “negative” film.
    Even taking RAW I agree that negative gives more wide range of light and colours.

    You have said it: each (Film and Digital) has its own price.
    The digital requires computer, software and time for post-processing while for Film requires more budget for film itself and process it in the lab.

    But to be honest, in most cases I hardly can distinguish when a photo was taken with Film or Digital camera.
    Like you did, I stopped my own debate between film vs digital, and recon that I can afford the digital while Film... is fading from my budget.
    But I still love the film results.

  • Karen Rader March 16, 2012 10:46 am

    To compare digital vs film is in some ways as silly as comparing oil paint vs watercolor. They are two different mediums. Both digital and film have benefits and detriments. I enjoy and loath the limitations of both, and have learned to work around those limitations and use them to my advantage when I can. Learn to master the limitations of the medium.

  • Daniel Upton March 16, 2012 10:36 am

    It’s difficult to argue that digital doesn’t make our lives easier, or that image quality/creative potential doesn’t match film. That’s not the issue for me. I find digital as an image making process abstract and cold. If I were a computer programmer or electrical engineer I would no doubt feel differently. I’m not saying you should feel this way, or that my views are right or wrong.

    I don’t understand the chemical reactions that take place when I expose or develop film, so I’m not even sure why I feel this way about digital. Film just feels more intuitive and warm. There’s something appealing about rejecting complexity and getting back to the basics – I still shoot 95% digital though :)

  • tony March 16, 2012 06:30 am

    "thousands of shots on one memory card vs 38 on a film"
    And if your one memory card craps out or you lose it? Kiss that entire family vacation in Florida goodbye.

    "Huge range of ISO vs 1 on film"
    I also assume that you strain at the bit when you don't have a huge range of lenses at your fingertips? The camera does not make the photographer. The skill behind the lens makes the photographer.

    "Instant review vs wait until development/print of the film"
    Again, faster is not better. While you have to be ready to capture Henri Cartier-Bresson Decisive Moment, thousands of pictures of the same baby in slightly different poses is not the way to get there.

    "There is no room for film photography in this era."

    Fine, then don't shoot it. But to dismiss a thriving art form because you consider it obsolete is really shortsighted (and frankly kind of rude).

  • Terry McGovern March 16, 2012 05:59 am

    I read many of the comments and scanned the rest, so if I missed a reference to HDR, I apologize. but I think that this dynamic range discussion is off the mark for a couple of reasons. First, transparency film can easily be overexposed by giving it 1/2 stop too much. The range in f/stops of negative film is maybe seven stops and black and white, nine. The limitations of digital may be more serious right now, but as mentioned by someone above, it is always improving. Digital is in its infancy and has nowhere to go but up. In the meantime, we have HDR processing.

    I'm not talking about the HDR stuff you see on Flickr with black skies, weird, high contrasty oversaturated colors, I mean taking three or more images and combining them to get a range that rivals what the eye saw, something that no film can or ever will do. At this point in time, there is more digital information in a RAW file than your monitor can display, and much much, more than any printer can print. Combining three or more of these files can give you a dynamic range that only future monitors not yet developed will be able to display.

    Right now, HDR is only good for subjects that aren't moving, but I believe that will change. I don't know how, but I just look at the advances made to date, and I am convinced that what is yet to come will astound us. I think film is already obsolete (Kodak doesn't make slide film anymore) and will soon be just a curiosity, like the Daguerreotype .

  • Eduardo Romero (e_romero) March 16, 2012 04:33 am

    Digital cameras offer convenience to professionals and consumers, and just because of that there's is no place for them in this era?

    Digital photography exists just because of that reason, convenience, just like junk food. We eat faster not better, we travel in faster and safer cars, but there's more accidents than ever and we shouldn't exceed the speed limit anyways.

    Also I can say the same thing!!! Does it need more explanation?

  • Quazi Ahmed Hussain March 16, 2012 03:35 am

    Civilization goes forward; not backward. Because it's simply impossible.

    One can retain a film camera as an antique exactly like maintaining a 60 year old Morris Minor 1000 sedan. That car can still be used undoubtedly however, for regular use purpose it stands no chance to the modern fuel efficient and comfortable automobiles.

    The conveniences and advantages that digital photography has brought to the photogs; can never be matched by a film cameras. Just a few examples - thousands of shots on one memory card vs 38 on a film. Huge range of ISO vs 1 on film. Instant review vs wait until development/print of the film.

    Does it need more explanation??? There is no room for film photography in this era.

  • Gary Duerr March 16, 2012 03:20 am

    The difference in film & digital photography, & by extension other decipilines, is what you internalize in learning to use them and the process you prefer for shooting, post processing, etc. I would contend that if you want to learn the effect of exposure, depth of field, time as it effects exposure & dof, there are several ways to do it. If you are the free and easy type that wants things to reveal themselves to you when you focus on them, by all means go digital. If you want to discover an effect of a control before you apply it, the pain and expense of film should help teach you what's important, or you will go broke trying!

  • Joel Zak March 16, 2012 03:18 am

    All technical debate aside, I shoot both film and digital based solely on what look I'm after in the final image and using the right tool to solve imaging problems. To me there are no pros or cons to either media. For that matter that tool can be a pinhole camera, iPhone, 6x7 and on and on. The REAL challenge is creating successful images through mastering the media.

  • Eduardo Romero (e_romero) March 16, 2012 02:37 am

    I'm an amateur photographer and I mostly shoot on film, I develop and scan all my images wether color or B&W. I'll be crazy if I do commercial work on film. Digital is the best thing for commercial work, is an insurance against all that can and will go wrong with film. Now if you force me to choose between the two (remember I'm an amateur) I'll choose film.

  • tony March 16, 2012 02:00 am

    "And you simply can’t take as many images if you have to continuously change rolls of film as you can when you have a 32GB CF card in your camera."

    The problem I've found with the sharp uptick of photos and the ability to fire off a hundred without batting an eye is the signal to noise ratio goes WAY up. Take this example - just this yesterday, I was in a View and Comment on My Photostream group over on flicker, commenting on someone who had something of upwards of 10K photos (no, really). If it drifted in front of her lens, she shot it and posted it straight away.60% of it was mediocre, 30% was just crap and 6% (and that's being generous) was pretty good and the remaining 4% was actually legitimately good photography. But after slogging through a hundred baby photos (more or less the same photo, just from a slightly different angle or zoom), I was numb to the good stuff. I had just given up caring by that point and my comments were pretty generic "nice shot" or "Looks like you had fun" so I could get the hell outta there.

    When you have a hundred pictures where one would do, people are less likely to look at any of them.

    Another aspect of constantly shooting and shooting is that - well, you take a picture to capture a memory, but if you spend all your time taking the picture, you aren't really there. When I was in Paris a couple years ago, touring the Louvre, I of course stopped to see the Mona Lisa - the 800 pound gorilla of the exhibit. It's on the far side of a room a couple hundred feet long, filled with a hundred people packed in like sardines. Every single one of them - to the man - didn't bother to actually LOOK at the painting, they were all too busy getting a picture of the painting to actually enjoy it. They'd crane their necks, snap a picture, chimp a little bit, snap another one and then scurry on to their next destination.

    After that visit, I noticed it everywhere in Paris - shoot, chimp, move on. It was actually kind of eye opening.

    On the other hand, slowing down and considering each shot has been a boon for my photography. The quality of my shots has gone WAY up since I started working with film again. Why? Because of the limited resources. With digital I found myself spamming, shooting with a pray and spray attitude, firing off 400 shots on an outing without blinking an eye. 375 of them I would never look at again, with 10 or 20 being any damn good. With film, I'm constantly asking myself "Why am I taking this picture? Is this worth expending one of my 36 shots on?" - and many a time, I find myself backing away from a mediocre picture without pulling the trigger.

    "Another disadvantage? You can’t back up film; if something happens to your rolls between shooting and developing, that makes for a very unhappy photographer – and an even unhappier client."

    And if something happens to your hard drive, all your digital photos go poof too. But I would put more stock in the permanence over digital. Case in point, take a peek at this slideshow:,32187,1920419,00.html - slides from the great depression that look like they were shot yesterday. Can we honestly say that .jpg files will be a viable format in 75 years? Hell, will it still be viable in 20? Hard drive crashes? Remote Servers go down? Flicker goes out of business? Big deal - I still have the original negatives and slides sitting on my shelf. All it costs me is some work to rescan all my material.

    Sure if you go far enough out, eventually all matter will succumb to the ravages of time. Entropy always wins in the end and this too shall pass. But if I take a box of slides and a CD full of RAW and JPG photos and leave them on the same shelf and come back in a hundred years, the slides will be viewable. The CD will probably have fallen prey to CD rot and faded dyes (and that's not considering if we'll even have CD drives by then and if we'd even have the right file format to read them).

    Take, for example, this shot: - one of a several hundred old pictures from 1915 to about 1950. Despite them sitting untouched and forgotten in the damp, dusty basement under less than ideal conditions for nearly a hundred years, the photos still look pretty good. Somehow I have doubts that a box of CDs, stored under the same conditions, would anything close to resembling usable in 2074.

    I'm not saying that digital doesn't have it's place - they both are useful media. Just for my money, pound for pound, I prefer film.

  • Rebecca Lily March 16, 2012 01:47 am

    Many thanks to everyone for all of the great feedback to this article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the perspectives shared here, and I very much appreciate how your knowledge added to the topic and made this a learning experience for everyone, myself included. So thank you all for that!

    I think the insightful comments shared here reaffirm the importance of both film and digital mediums and the integral part that each plays in the photography arena. I agree that you can't conclude that one is better than the other, you can only conclude "which is better for me personally?" or, "which is better for this particular situation?" For some people digital works best and for others film works best, and for some it's a combination of both. I think in the end, what matters is your own vision, your needs and wants and which medium will help you best achieve your creative goals.

  • Johnny Patience March 16, 2012 01:28 am

    This is a wonderful article with a lot of very well thought through constructive comments. I'm very impressed.

    I loved to read the comparison between analogue amplifiers and film as this is strikingly true.

    For me personally it's not a question about film "or" digital, it's for sure film "and" digital depending on the subject matter and if it's my personal or professional work. In professional work I prefer digital over film for the creative control about my colors, the ISO capabilities and - backups.

  • Gokhan March 15, 2012 11:27 pm

    Since the times are changing, Instagram being one of the biggest photography sources for new photographers and beginners with or without talent, photography is much more available to everyone who 'likes' to take photos. One unfortunate misunderstanding is that many people who have no or little film experience 'think' that all film really looks like some of photos you posted here. Aged, orangish, reddish etc. Maybe 30-40 years ago....
    as a film+digital shooter, film shooter since 1999, I do shoot with 35mm, medium format and large format film on top of my full time photography business on digital.
    I just wanted to point out that not all film image looks like the ones posted above.. (they are beautiful by the way)
    each film has its own look. That makes it unique. Film will have a come back next 5-10 years. Take a note of that everyone...
    Have a great day..
    found a video on Film vs. Digital, check it out

  • Judy March 15, 2012 03:39 pm

    So, what do you use to get the film images onto a computer? Do you scan the negatives? If so, what type of scanner do film photographers use to get their images onto a computer?

  • Brian Hursey March 15, 2012 08:32 am

    I have started to love film for my art. I do mostly architecture photography for fun and the dynamic range of film just is perfect for this. Much less blown out skys. Yes I could use hdr and take multiple exposures with a digital camera but seriously I don't see me setting up a tripod on a busy city street to often. So film has its place and for me my art is film and my pro work is digital IE portraits and weddings and so on.

    An example where you can see how the highlights detail and shadow detail come into play. With my digital SLR most of the time in theses type of shots the sky is white.

  • Diaan Em March 15, 2012 12:54 am

    Definitely camp C for ma.

    I shoot both digital in film. I love film for its beautiful, characterful look, and digital for its speed and convenience. So, depending on what I shoot, and where, I choose between the two.

  • K March 14, 2012 11:58 pm

    Both film and digital means of taking photographs have their own merits. I still think that film cameras produce a better quality photo but I now use a dslr because in the long run it is cheaper. You don't have to pay for a film and then pay for it to be developed. Also the live view features of many dslrs mean that you can instantly review your photo and make adjustments to the exposure parameters if they are incorrect.

  • boowwet March 14, 2012 12:36 pm

    We can go on debating and discussing this topic forever; we may or we may not come to a conclusion but for me one thing is certain: Apart from the difference in spelling (film vs sensor), "we must learn from the lessons of history."

    Kragom: I like your comment:

    " 'Some commenters here seem to believe they have to take a stand and that it has to be one OR the other. I would not want to be without either! No-one who never shot film should limit themselves to never trying it! The two can help you progress in ways one alone would not…' "

  • gabriele lopez March 14, 2012 10:20 am

    I absolutely believe what you talk matter what medium you'll use, is all about the feeling and workflow you are able to create with it...I think a wonderful reason to use film (or digital) or just that it feels right in your hand, in your mind, and it's fun to use...but your eye and sensations will make the shot.

  • Rusty Sterling March 14, 2012 04:58 am

    I started with film more than five decades ago. I embraced digital when the sensors finally were developed to a point that I could get consistently good results. Lately, I've continued with digital but have also reembraced film. My difference from the author is that I shoot 98% black & white.

    I roll my own film and process it myself. I scan on a flatbed scanner to the computer at home and if something stands out I go to a local shop to scan using a drum scanner.

    I notice a very ethereal difference between film and digital. There is a richness to film that comes out immediately without any post processing compared to digital. However, with post processing of RAW images I can almost get results close to film. I've done a lot of test shots side-by-side with film and digital cameras for comparisons.

    The rub is that it takes much longer to process and scan film than it does to post process a digital image. Nonetheless, I still love the look of film images. I'm not abandoning digital. I like shooting both though.

  • Knips March 14, 2012 03:47 am

    Very well written. I too have a D700 and a 35 year old Nikon FM that I still shoot with. I love the softer grainier asthetics of film and I love the flexibility and precision of digital. I don't compare the two. One isn't better or worse than the other. They are two different mediums for self expression that give wonderful but different results.

    Digital technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. I look at the recently announced crop of digital cameras and they all seem to defy the laws of sensor physics as I understood them four years ago. I can only imagine what the next round of digital technology will look like.

    I occasionally become nostalgic for the days that I used to develop my own film and make my own prints. Then I remember how much work it was and...well...maybe not so much. But I still miss it a bit.

  • kragom March 14, 2012 03:18 am

    Some commenters here seem to believe they have to take a stand and that it has to be one OR the other. I would not want to be without either! No-one who never shot film should limit themselves to never trying it! The two can help you progress in ways one alone would not...

  • lane dittoe March 14, 2012 03:17 am

    film is amazing! went back to shooting it a few years ago, best thing i ever did. have a great day :)

  • charr March 14, 2012 03:07 am

    I wrote, "What I like best about film is that it makes you think harder, work smarter. With digital it’s too easy to fire a series of shots and hope you got it right without ever learning what “right” is.

    Charles replied, "This really seems a weak argument for film. Why not just buy the smallest memory card you can find or maybe have a jar you put $1 in every time you take a picture with you DSLR? If you are concerned that you need better discipline or technique, just focus on doing better with whatever camera you currently are using."

    I know people with digital cameras who never leave full Auto mode; they're usually people who used film point-and-shoots and they continue in that same vein with their digital cameras. For me personally, film experience with a Nikon SLR translated into being comfortable in Manual mode with a dSLR right out of the gate. I already knew what I wanted my aperture, speed, and ISO to do for me. I'm not a professional, just a photo hobbyist who loves the "sport."

    I far prefer digital although my first digital camera (in the late nineties) was admittedly pretty dismal. Today's dSLR's are a different breed of cat! If you want a film look you can apply the noise look YOU like in post processing. You can find super quality papers, card stock or novelty items like canvas to print on and can rival what any consumer lab will do as well as share your photos online or by email. You can do all of that with film too if you *digitize* your film first; but you don't have "film" from that point on.

    "Film versus digital" implies pure film, not digitized film. For me, digital photography opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities for the non-professional. This is *Digital* Photography *School*, right? :-)

  • Deb Scally March 14, 2012 02:13 am

    As an original film user, and someone who spent many hours with the sweet smell of stop wash and fixer around me while I gently shook cans of Tri-X, I do have fond memories of those days! I think it's a great training ground for understanding exposure and the delicate art of processing, as well as learning a wonderful discipline of good composition. But digital is here to stay, and I have transferred my skills to Lightroom processing--where I take digital processing just as seriously as I did in the old days. I do think it's interesting and pretty cool that plug ins like those from Nik have so many options to emulate film effects. You can literally process your b/w to bring out a Tri-X look, or Velvia, Agfa, or any number of others. It just proves, that many people still crave the look of film, with the ease of digital processing.

  • David March 14, 2012 02:00 am

    Those photos are gorgeous. I love the mild, washed-out look of them.

  • Will Dochertaigh March 14, 2012 01:20 am

    I shot film and had a full wet darkroom - my film years ran from 1973 until 2004. I shot a Firefighter 1 class (my son's) with both film and digital and after printing the results i went digital and never looked back. From landscape and flowers to highrise construction (my day job) digital has served me well with the ability for diverse finishes and styles to suit the subject. Though I had processed and printed many photographs, i always felt i could do better. Now that i'm processing my photos in ACD Pro 3 and PS Elements i am turning out finished products that satisfy my toughest critic - me.

  • John D. Roach March 13, 2012 11:59 pm

    I really like Rebecca Lily's reference to the venerable FM2. That was my first serious Nikon SLR that I purchased in 1980 not long after the entry level aperture priority film camera; the Nikon EM. It took many years with a lot of start and stops to embrace photography fully and then in 1999, I purchased a Nikon D90. Now in 2012 I own a D7000 as well as my new full frame unit the D700. I have fallen in love with the D700. But, I still enjoy taking the FM2 out for a walk sometimes so much so that I got a motor drive (found on eBay) so I could shoot continous. It is marvelous, but noisy, to hear that FM2 fire out multiple shots and the film images are sometimes just so pleasing to see. Indeed, the softness works much better at times using film. A nice article, to be sure.

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips March 13, 2012 11:04 pm

    I adore film, but I agree with Steve.. film belongs in the past. It's unfortunately become a novelty and is just not practical with the demands of today's clients. For personal work, it's amazing.

  • Kragom March 13, 2012 11:04 pm

    Steve! Get yourself a Hasselblad 500 and at least two film backs. Then you can switch ISO and black and white as you like (as many as you have backs). You can switch mid-film and then go back later as you wish.

  • Kragom March 13, 2012 11:01 pm

    I am solidly in group C. My first SLR was the first Autofocus camera, Minolta 7000. My main reasons for shooting film today is because it is fun and because it challenges me as a photographer in a way digital does not. At times I have been fatigued with digital and lost the fun in taking photos, I have then rediscovered the joy by using film instead.

    My film cameras are a Kodak Retina from 1935 and a Hasselblad 500 C/M from the 80's. Both are completely manual and with no meter. I have had to start learning what light is and how it will differ. I have had to estimate distance to the subject, and try to focus manually as best as I can. The application of shutter speed and aperture is also much more conscious and the knowledge of the limited frames I can take makes me consider composition much more.

    Last but not least, I had forgotten how much fun it is to get your film back from the lab. With B/W this often takes over a week. Slowing everything down like this is the perfect antidote against an overdose of digital instant gratification! Needless to say with the more conscious approach, the ratio of keepers is much higher than with digital, and I am hoping this is also influencing my digital work in the long-run.

  • Steve Hale March 13, 2012 10:00 pm

    Not being able to change ISO at will would be just too much of a handicap for me, no sorry personally I think film just belongs in the past.

  • Fabio March 13, 2012 09:02 pm

    Digital photography has so much to offer and at such lower cost especially for non-professionals. I remember the high cost of developing films and (as a beginner) finding out that only a couple photos were of any quality. It would be near impossible to return to film after having discovered the infinite possibilities that digital cameras and post processing have to offer. Good article thank you.

  • Omar S March 13, 2012 04:45 pm

    Film having a higher DR is a myth. It simply cannot compare with a good sensor like the D3s etc. You can test this out yourself by shooting the same scene

  • Chris Ruddy March 13, 2012 03:55 pm

    Shooting film is cheaper for beginners. Yes, cheaper. You can buy a decent (used) body for $50, or a really nice (used) body for $200. Shooting $5 rolls of 36 exposures and getting them developed and scanned for $10 at a decent photo lab costs you under 50 cents per shot. That means you could take 2,000 photos before you'd spend as much as a mid-range DSLR (or 5,000 before you'd spend enough to buy the cheapest full frame DSLRs).

    2,000 shots might not sound like a lot for digital shooters, but when you can only take 36 shots before you have to change rolls, you really take the time to shoot more quality than quantity. Especially if you need to crank a lever between each shot, rather than just hold down the trigger.

    Plus, you're spending a little at a time, rather than all at once. And, when you're ready to finally buy a DSLR, you should already have a decent collection of lenses. Just make sure you pick a film body with compatible lenses (i.e. not Canon's obsolete FD system that I use (I get a great deal on lenses though)).

    Other advantages of film:
    -It's "full frame"
    -Bodies don't go out of date every three years
    -Losing a roll only loses 36 photos, rather than however many you can fit on a 32 GB card
    -You can develop black and white film in your bathroom

    Disadvantages of film:
    -Can only change ISO once every 36 shots
    -No automatic recording of EXIF data
    -No way to test difficult lighting (unless you have a Polaroid back and film)
    -Great developing and scanning is expensive

  • Charles March 13, 2012 01:10 pm

    What I like best about film is that it makes you think harder, work smarter. With digital it’s too easy to fire a series of shots and hope you got it right without ever learning what “right” is.

    This really seems a weak argument for film. Why not just buy the smallest memory card you can find or maybe have a jar you put $1 in every time you take a picture with you DSLR? If you are concerned that you need better discipline or technique, just focus on doing better with whatever camera you currently are using.

  • Charles March 13, 2012 12:28 pm

    Be prepared to have this discussion for a long time to come. As far as I can tell, the specifications for film are mostly "worse" than digital. Likewise, the specifications for a tube amplifier are worse (much worse, in fact) than for a solid-state amplifier and that's a good analogy for this situation. A modern solid-state amplifier blows away any tube amplifier in just about every measure: noise, distortion, dynamic range, etc. However, to this day you'll see many guitar players insisting on tube amplifiers. The reason is not because they are better than solid state, but because they are worse. The noise actually adds a charm to the sound (sort of like real film grain can be an important part of a good picture). Solid state amplifiers hard clip, while tube amplifiers soft limit the peaks. In particular, the characteristics of a tube amplifier when you overdrive it are very different than those of a solid state amplifier (sound familiar?).

    All of these things can be simulated digitally and you can buy many devices that simulate a tube amplifier. However, a simulation is only as good as the person writing it and simulating analog devices in digital has some fundamental limitations that are hard or computationally expensive to overcome to a given degree of accuracy.

    The same is true for film. My T3i has a 14 bit a/d converter. Bits correspond to a factor of two, exactly the same as f-stops as a measure of light intensity, so a 14 bit linear system has a dynamic range of 14 f-stops. However, the camera sensor is not actually linear, so we have higher resolution in some intensity ranges than in others (I don't know the ranges, sorry). So, we have to de-rate a bit and I'm not sure we know how much that is. I would guesstimate we are getting about a 12 bit or 12 f-stop dynamic range from my camera (far more than 6-7, BTW. 7 bit dynamic range looks bad and 6 bit dynamic range looks positively awful). As far as I can tell, that's actually comparable to film, though film is a complex beast. A traditional dynamic range measure does not really tell the whole story (just as the dynamic range of a Fender guitar amp does not tell the whole story).

    Modern digital cameras are far more linear (the non-linearity is accurately cancelled in the signal processing) and have very high resolutions (actually still less than the theoretical capabilities of film, BTW, but are you able to focus good enough through a viewfinder to exploit those theoretical capabilities?). They are going to reproduce images more faithfully than film can, but there will always be a place for that analog imperfection, just as there remains a place for vinyl, real Leslie speakers, and tube guitar and audiophile amplifiers. Digital simulations will get better and better but will never be a perfect match, since it's actually very hard to perfectly match what is fundamentally imperfect.


  • ccting March 13, 2012 10:25 am

    Ya, this is the topic i am waiting for. The film can support up to 12 stops dynamic range, where DLSR sensor only support up to 6-7 stops... 5 stops different. So one must master exposure technique while using DSLR.. ;D ==> I believe other technique such as HDR, bracketing, etc etc may help a bit.

  • Alfie Goodrich March 13, 2012 10:23 am

    "It’s very difficult to blow out film even with overexposing by 2-3 stops – and the highlights with film roll off beautifully."

    The latter part of what you said is true for sure. But if you shot more transparency than the neg it sounds like you've been shooting, you'd realise that the first part of this sentence is not so true.

    For me the biggest part of loving having learned on film from the age of five (in 1974) to when I went fully digital in 2007 was printing. And for people learning photography printing is a very valuable experience as it teaches you about exposure all over again: lens, aperture, time.... it's a slowed down more concentrated experience to exposing the neg in the first place.

    I don't really miss shooting film but I do miss the darkroom.

  • Mike beckingham March 13, 2012 10:04 am

    I recently purchased an Olympus om1n, it was a suggestion from a professional photographer that I needed to get a better understanding of taking the picture. After my first film with only 4 good shots from a 36 exp film, I was a little disheartened! But none the less eager to pursue film. Until today when the reality of film really slapped me in the chops!

    I was a tad over excited about my next film, eager to get a better success rate than the last! I spent a great deal more time making sure I had the shot I wanted! Then finally the film was completed. I dropped it off at my local camera shop, waited 1hr for it to be developed. Then bounded back in the store over excited no more than an hour later to be told the film was a blank!!! I asked how come? To be told "you made a mistake loading the film, it happens, the good news is we don't charge for blanks." ( this is good news!!!)

    Intirely my mistake, a harsh lesson learned! My point is digital works for me, film is something I need to work on, but both in my opinion are a great way to progress as a photographer I certianly did, now when I use my digital camera and return home from a days shoot I have less to edit. Thank you film!

  • Mark Paley March 13, 2012 09:49 am

    OK. Yes, I probably have something over 1,000 slides. What scanning service would folks recommend?

  • charr March 13, 2012 09:31 am

    Nothing we show on the internet is "film." It has all been digitized. There can be a difference between prints from film and from digital, but as you point out, that depends on the quality of the lab used. I've seen digital prints done on good prosumer printers that beat prints returned by the average consumer-level lab. Modern digital cameras can push the ISO way beyond the fastest film speeds. What I like best about film is that it makes you think harder, work smarter. With digital it's too easy to fire a series of shots and hope you got it right without ever learning what "right" is.

  • Yacko March 13, 2012 09:25 am

    "But now I have years of slides that I’d like to scan. What scanner would folks recommend? Would a scanner around $200 to $300 make sense"

    No! Are you talking 1000, 2000, more slides? High resolution scanning is s…l……o………w. Do you have hundreds of hours free time to devote?

    Do yourself a favor, find an acceptable slide scanning service and get a quote for the whole thing.

  • Yacko March 13, 2012 09:20 am

    Digital cameras only get better and better from this point on. The time to move from film is now. It's like creating a Post-It reminder by carving the note in granite.

    Lightroom or Bibble + RAW + minimum 13" x 19" printer + PShop + 27" monitors + color matching software = you've never had it so good!

  • Mark Paley March 13, 2012 07:59 am

    When I got my first camera, almost 40 years ago, of course it was only film. Now my teenage daughter has picked up a couple of my old SLR cameras and is shooting in film. I think that's great! But now I have years of slides that I'd like to scan. What scanner would folks recommend? Would a scanner around $200 to $300 make sense?

  • OsmosisStudios March 13, 2012 07:32 am

    Having gotten used to developing my images on a computer (from RAW files), I have a hard time going to colour film. No problem with black and white though.

    The other thing to consider is that 120 systems are getting cheaper for film, and that's definitely a lot more involved and fun than just 35mm.

  • Diego March 13, 2012 07:21 am

    Different gital sensors and different types of film vary significantly in their dynamic range abilities.

    However, since you can't swap a sensor out if you don't like its dynamic range, it's really important to pick a camera with a good sensor from the getgo.

    DPReview does pretty thorough dynamic range tests, and if you look at some of the reviews from a decade ago, the amount of progress in dynamic range is pretty impressive.

  • Zaman Khan March 13, 2012 07:12 am

    I love to dabble in film as well but i think the main reason i stopped shooting film for me was the fact that i don't have room for a full scale dark room. The most i do is develop my own film and then scan it, i've done both black and white and color and mainly do black and white from 100ft rolls that i put into canisters myself. Its fun to shoot it here and there but 1. its not cost effective, 2. once scanned it turns into a digital image just like the one from my dslr 3. the only people that have full control is those who can dedicate an entire room to it.
    I did also get into the whole lomo scene but i have to say most of the hipsters and people that claim film is sooo much better than digital are also simply just sending off their work to a lab than scanning a file and posting it on facebook. This scanned file has nowhere near the resolution that a digital 16mp file would. Yes film has more dynamic range than digital but what do u need that dynamic range for? a properly exposed image or with the help of filters you don't need all of this. Also lets not forget how much cleaner of an image we can get with iso 1600 in digital where as in film iso 1600 looks like a grainy mess.
    I wouldn't say digital is better but it is a hundred fold easier to work with. it lets you shoot as much as you want. It also lets you fool around with the images, something you could only do with film if you had a dark room. Also digital is slowly getting better and better, you could essentially send your film into get scanned at 30mp files and there weren't too many cameras that would let you do that, now we have a D800 which has 36mp resolution and 2ev of dynamic range. We are getting closer and closer.

    To anyone that claims film is better, i'd ask them what their process is. Unless you're doing your own processing and NOT scanning files to process in lightroom or photoshop, than you cannot claim film is better.

  • Amanda K March 13, 2012 06:50 am

    What about those who use film for fun? I may not use it for client assignments, but those little plastic cameras are great for experimentation - growing as an artist.

  • Mark March 13, 2012 06:48 am

    Well written and informative post. Thank you! Oh, love your vision/images.

  • Pamela March 13, 2012 06:36 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm new to photography, so all of this is good information for me to know.