Last Romance with Film

Last Romance with Film


last-romance-with-film.jpgIn this post Kim Brebach from Get the Picture shares a story of his last experience with film photography.

A decade after CDs became the norm for music replay, plenty of music buffs would argue until the cows came home that the sound of vinyl was superior, crackles, pops and all. It was only a matter of time before analogue to digital conversion hardware with more bits and smarts silenced those voices.

Only a few years ago, plenty of photographers argued that digital photography would never match film. Once again, it was only a matter of time, or rather of more bits, bigger sensors, more pixels and better firmware. Kodak stopped making film this year but a few pro shooters maintain that digital has taken the magic out of photography, and that even a monkey can take great photos with today’s point-and-shoots.

Sadly, we monkeys will have to wait a little longer before the really smart hardware becomes affordable, the kind that puts an end to the film-vs-digital debate – Nikon’s D700, for example. Over $3,000. Canon 5D MKII – same deal. Want 24 megapixels? Prepare to pay almost three times that unless you settle for Sony’s A900, the Ford among Ferraris here. We’re still talking about more than 4-5 grand.

A New Deal

Along comes Ken Rockwell, a Nikon expert who makes a living from writing controversial reviews and opinion pieces. When Nikon released the D3x a few months ago with a US $8,000 price tag, Ken said: that’s it, I’m going back to film. Why? Because I can get 25 megapixels from a 35mm film camera with a good lens anytime. And once I get the film scanned and digitized, I can edit the files on my Mac, just like digital ones.

Ken Rockwell claims Costco in San Diego scans his films and digitises them to CD in an hour while he enjoys a leisurely lunch. The way he tells it, it costs next to nothing and you walk away with a CD full of beautifully sharp 25 megapixel scans. A few places in Sydney offer 35mm film scanning, some with their core business built around restoring people’s old slide collections and migrating them to DVDs.

For DPS 1.JPGI wasted no time and bought a near-new Nikon F80 for $150 on eBay plus a couple of cheap second-hand lenses – a 28-80mm and an 70-210mm – for A$250 the pair plus folding change. These cheap lenses are famous for producing sharper photos than they have any right to. I already had a 50mm f/1.8 prime, a great lens but a poor choice for my Nikon D40 since it can’t autofocus on that camera. And, on the D40, this lens acts as a 75mm.

The low-down on digital sensors in 200 words

Early digital sensors were hideously expensive, so the makers of DSLRs settled on APS-C size sensors less than half the size of a 35mm film frame. The small sensor size of the early DSLRs badly mixed up the film lens angles and cropped their field of view, that’s why the 50mm lens I mentioned above works like a 75mm lens on my D40 with its APS-C sensor. This phenomenon is described as a ‘crop factor’, which works much like the ‘digital zoom’ ‘feature’ on pocket digicams.

To straighten out these optical contortions, camera makers had to produce new lenses to suit the smaller sensors. Rather than admitting that they’d made our digital lives needlessly complicated, they claimed that the new lenses were ‘optimised for digital’ cameras. As soon as they’d made lots of new lenses for DSLRs, sensors became cheap enough to make cameras with ‘full-frame’ 36 x 24mm 12-25 mp sensors (called FX on Nikon vs the APS-C size DX). They worked just fine with all the old film lenses since 36 x 24 is the size of a 35mm frame (so-called because the film is 35mm wide).

Full Frame on the Cheap

Now you can see the attraction of my $400 35mm film solution: it’s full-frame and produces equivalent resolution to 25mp when using pro-grade film. And this Nikon F80 is a top-of-the line SLR with a gorgeous body, panoramic viewfinder and a shutter release that feels more sensual than a mechanical device has a right to. The controls and functions are familiar from digital Nikons, metering and autofocus are the same.

In short, the F80 looks and works so much like a D80 that you keep looking for the screen on the back to check your shots. Film still has limitations but it’s easier than it used to be: when you reach the end of the roll, the F80 tells you so on the top screen and promptly rewinds. Open the back to take the roll out, lay the new roll in, close the door the F80 feeds the film into winder and forwards it to the first frame.


Shooting is easy and feels good, and the grid in the viewfinder helps keep things level. I’ve shot a couple of rolls in no time and can’t wait for the results. Ah, the romance of film, the mysteries that won’t be revealed until it’s gone through the darkroom.

For DPS 2.JPGTeds Camera Store downtown was my first stop. You drop off your film and collect a CD an hour later, for $12.95. This is close to KR’s Costco model. When I looked at the scanned files on my 24” screen at home, I got a big shock. Sharpness was absent and, as you can see from the photo on the right, colours were suspect. Michael was doing much better with his paint & brushes, old technology but effective in the right hands.

Back to Ken Rockwell, the guru. His article said to use slide film for best results, and I’d used Fuji Superia Reala print film. Off I went to a specialist photo place in Artarmon where they keep the film in fridges and bought a couple of rolls of Fuji Velvia and Provia for close to $30 each. I began to appreciate the economics of digital. I shot some more photos and took the films into Ted’s, where the young man frowned. ‘These are slide films,’ he said. ‘Yes I know, what’s the problem?’ He shook his head. ‘Can’t process these in our Minilab – we’ll have to send them out.’

I already had my doubts about Ted’s and, when I heard the word Minilab, they grew. I jumped on the net and searched for a more suitable place, and found a pro lab in St Leonards. Slide film was no problem, but the price was around $30 per film for development and scanning to CD. I didn’t mind if the results were in sharp focus.

Sadly, on my big screen at home, it was the same old story with furry resolution and weird colours. Back to the lab to find out what had gone wrong. It turned out that they used a Frontier Minilab as well – no wonder the pics looked the same. For high quality scans, they suggested using their big flatbed scanner which produces a 500mb file from a single frame at a cost of $50. This was a long way from Ken’s Costco model.

A different turn

I had to make sure it wasn’t the operator or the camera, so I bought a loupe and a small light box for $100 that let me check the films. Sharp as a razor, they were, that was the good news. The bad news was that minilabs were everywhere. Eventually I came upon a place at Seaforth whose owner said scanning my film at 4000 dpi should produce the results I was after. The cost was close to $50 per roll but what came back was another CD with slightly sharper but still furry off-colour photos.


The first and second crops are from one of the scanned photos, the first at 50%, the second at 100%. Even at 50%, the scan is fuzzy, and it gets worse as we reach full size. The third picture is a 100% crop of a photo taken on my Nikon D40; it’s much smaller due to the 6mp sensor producing a more compact 3000 x 2000 pixel 3.7mb file. By contrast, the scanned photo is a 17mb file, 5444 x 3444 pixels (almost 19mp). Clearly, scanning at higher resolution merely produced bigger files.

Slipping Away from Me

The man asked me what I was trying to do, and I said: get a definitive answer. Scanning clearly wasn’t it. He suggested working further down the analogue track and gave me the name of a lab that could print direct from film. Interesting idea, side-stepping the hole digital process for a truer comparison. Yet it was a lot like playing poker, with the cost of ‘seeing’ the opponent’s hand rising to giddy heights.

I found a place way down south on the other side of Sydney, which offered traditional film printing. I sent them a couple of print films and asked for 6×4 prints which came back looking pretty sharp but the colours were pretty pale. It was Fuji Pro 160, a much more neutral film than Velvia. I ordered a few A4 size prints to make really sure. They were sharp and the colours correct at the pastel end of the scale, but the prints they made from the already developed Velvia slide film were awful. Clearly they were digital prints from digital files. I’ve looked at enough of them by now to recognize those strange egg yolk yellows and plastic blues and pea greens (see below).

So was it Worth all the Trouble and Expense?

The simple answer is NO. If there is extra detail in the photos, it’s not evident on A4 prints. Some of the prints made from the Fuji Pro 160 suggest a fine sharpness that you don’t see with digital consumer cameras, but I’m being generous. The downside is paler colours than the D40 produces with all its settings on neutral.
The man at the lab down south says he did his best but admits that film processing doesn’t have a lot of options left even for a shop like his. I wish he and all the others had been frank with me up-front, and warned me that I was heading into a cul-de-sac.

There are a few specialized labs which offer scans of much higher calibre – for example in Melbourne – but a cost of $12 – 50 per frame rules those options out for all but obsessed professionals. It has taken this amateur many weeks to reach a point where he can make an apples-to-apples comparison between A4 photos printed by a lab direct from film, and A4 photos printed by me on an HP C7280 all-in-one he grabbed for less than $200 in a run-out sale.

The HP C7280 produces better results than it has any right to, and the Nikon D40 produces photos that are so much better than anything I’ve seen in my last romance with film. That both camera and printer are consumer-level devices goes to show just how far digital photo technology has come.

Film is said to capture sunlit skies that don’t blow out as badly, at least on print film, and to produce skin tones that look real and avoid that strange pink shade they often get in sunlight on digital. These are small benefits for those of us who’ve learnt to work around the limitations of digital cameras. On the whole, digital colours are better and low light shots are in another class.

Velvia not forgiving.jpgGreens are a problem for print film and a bigger problem for slide film like Velvia. Even blues can be downright awful on Velvia as the photo on the right shows with that weird playdough colour (that could be a digitisation effect, of course). And the greens on this film have a tendency to turn almost black when the light gets a little tricky. I’ve seen this on quite a few shots like these taken early or late in the day.

The bottom line

Film is simply too much effort when a cheap DSLR produces stunning photos that will print to 75×50 cm, with good sharpness and colour rendition. On the convenience front, there’s no contest. The ability to take a test shot to see if the camera’s metering is on the ball is a boon and a blessing, and the ability to shoot photos you can edit and print on your home PC still feels like a miracle.

The other show stopper is cost. Sure, you can get quality film down to $10 a roll if you shop around but every film will cost $10 to $15 to develop, and every A4 print will cost $15. Compare that with about $1-2 for an A4 print on a home printer, and zero cost for film or development.

I spent close to $1,000 on second-hand gear, films and processing. The lenses I bought will work with the Nikon full-frame DSLR I’ll buy one day. In the meantime, I’ll miss the Nikon F80 for one simple reason: it’s the best camera body I’ve ever held in my hands, the perfect size, layout and weight. It’s a full-frame camera that is much less hefty than Nikon’s D700, let alone the D3. Nikon’s design reached a peak with the F80 at the turn of the millennium. Nikon should take another look at it.

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Kim Brebach is a marketing professional whose experience spans over 3 decades in the IT industry. His interests include photography, cool technology, great music, theatre and books, wine and food, tennis and chess. You can find his photo blog at Get the Picture.

Some Older Comments

  • Jacques September 18, 2010 06:40 pm

    My honest opinion about the film comparing to the digital can't be explained better in the above article, but the basics behind film photography is what makes it that valuable and as well still gives the romance. I'll recommend to someone who wants to learn photography and still see the value and effort he or she as put in when that film is develop.

    The best is when using film and digital: film should only be used when it come to scans to display the photos you have taken and know which ones are the best for printing, especially to save money from a large amount of prints and to get the past the barrier of negative where you imagine what it could look like.

    So film should stay, its that foundation we all need to create those remarkable photos for clients and the public and to learn the value one has put in the artwork everyone is enjoying and maybe buying from you to tell the world of your message

  • tony June 22, 2010 11:34 pm

    i have a d40 nice unit but you can be more creative with film( less buttons on camera.). bought nikon fm 10 learing a lot .some day maybe a leica m6 or m7 . cant wait.

  • Michael McGrath May 20, 2010 08:22 pm

    If converted, say, in a Canon Canoscan 8800F , That Film Raw , or Reala Raw, or whatever you would call it, would emerge as a CanoScan Digital File, NOT a Canon Digital File such as comes from a Canon camera,and unless you are well versed in scanning digital film correctly, it would, like your Costco sample, Kim, emerge as AWFUL to view, perhaps a new Art Form , hehehe .

    I have gotten about 5 mp of a digital file myself from a 35mm Reala neg , , but I have never tried to print one as all my non-digital work, about half my entire workload, is done traditional wet process . The B&W I develop and print myself as I've been doing for 44 years, some colour too but a long time ago - (it takes me too long ) .

    And, unfortunately, the Miracles of Lourdes and Fatima will occur simultaneousy on the Earth before any digital camera company , especially Fuji, ever gives us a suitable conversion program .

    Open Source would be the best hope ...

    Meanwhile I'm still laughing at the idea of Ken Rockwell carefully storing away all his Costco CD's of all his precious FILM RAW . Go easy in telling him, Kim, I wouldn't want to be responsible for a mental breakdown, especially as I believe that Ken is a really well-meaning nice guy - and an accomplished photographer too . I do enjoy reading him too, I think everybody does but some will never admit it .

    Ask Ken from me when you're talking to him - what does one do with 1955 Kodak Retina Raw ???

    Haw Haw Haw !!!

  • Michael McGrath May 20, 2010 07:53 pm

    As far as I can make out, Ken Rockwell is correct that with the very best of optics and in a photograph taken under ideal conditions on the very best of film, there does result 25 megapixels of digital information on the film :
    But, the trick is to convert this 25 mp to 25 mp of a digital image file !!!

    As far as I can see, people are succeeding in transferring from the film analogue to digital between 6 mp and 19 mp of this information, depending upon the scanning methods they are using .

    Nor does it follow that the full dynamic range of film will be transferred to digital .

    And then you are going to obviously have a lot of noise degrading the image during transfer .

    Also the actual quality of the lenses used in the transfer from analogue to digital will really matter too !

    As well as the flatness and physical condition of the negative , and the lighting during transfer .

    So it is not correct to state that the film negative is is fact a 25 mp full frame digital .

    And on transfer you are left with a Raw digital file , but which Raw is it ?

    I think that this is the end result that Kim received from Costco - 35 mm NEGATIVE RAW !!!

    Kim's Costco image,. is, as far as I can see, between 6 mp and 19 mp of NEGATIVE RAW , hehehe .

    I do not know of any Conversion Programme for Negative raw, Open Source maybe ?

    Perhaps Kim should research this further as to where he can get his Negative Raw Costco Image transferred to a suitable digital format that will print satiisfactorily to a decent , indeed a good photographic print ,

    Naturally none of the digital camera manufacturers are going to provide such a Transfer Program for this ' Negative Raw' image that Kim has of the artist , if they did they'd be like turkeys voting for Xmas .

    So Ken Rockwell has only told half the story, and is left himself with whatever amount of Negative Raw files since Costco started giving him CDs of Negative Raw - maybe he doesn't know, hehehe .

    Of course in wet darkroom prints from the original negatives, optically enlarged , would, as they always have, far exceed Digital in quality - so we're back where we started unless we can get someone to produce a ' Film Raw Converter ' , Hollywood/TV Production companies have the moving programmes for Film-Video Conversion, and the 35mm negative that Kim has must be put through a still version of that software , which indeed could exist somewhere , I hope .

    ( trying to keep a straight face while thinking of the mountain of FILM RAW that Ken Rockwell has amassed over the years from CostCo - can anybody stop grinning long enough to tell Ken , OK you're the obvious volunteer, Kim, since you are left with a quite expensive lump of FILM RAW on your hands , and as Ken is always looking for donations, I don't think you are going to get your money back ! Haw Haw Haw ,
    Of course we all have learned a lot from your experiment , article and discussion here, thanks a million, Kim !
    Maybe you will invite Ken here to tell us more !

    Michael McGrath
    The Studio
    Kilkenny City
    Ireland .

  • Kim May 20, 2010 08:19 am

    Many Thanks for your feedback, guys. I learn so much from this community, that's what i really like.

  • Michael McGrath May 20, 2010 06:12 am

    Hehehe , I'm thinking of slapping a bulk film cassette onto a motorised Nikon F3 , going out and clearing all those Digi Paras from the trees of this fair city , that'll teach em !

  • Michael McGrath May 20, 2010 05:49 am

    BTW There is no point in comparing the way a pro works to that of an enthusiast - we always make sure to buy our film in batches , and waste off one by test-running it for the Lab . We also have the Lab under strict instructions about scratching film etc - and this is how I suspect that Ken Rockwell has a similar relationship going with the Labs he deals with that he mentions in his article , and that he does not tell us about ! Labs will run an enthusiast's film through processing fast and furiously and scan just as carelessly . But the Pro is dealt with very differently, with great care and attention by the Labs.

    The enthusiast, for instance, pays in cash , cheque, card on the spot for each and every transaction whereas the Pro has an account with the Labs etc that he or she deals with, usually by way of monthly invoice/payment with good credit terms extended too . I suspect that Ken Rockwell naturally has generous terms with, and great attention paid to him, by the Labs in scanning and processing . If he admitted this, then his claims would ring a lot more true . But, contrary to what some may say, he does know his stuff, and I am also under the impression that he is indeed a substantial photographer .

    What he states can indeed be done with film , Pro labs do it for Pro's - we couldn't work professionally on digital alone, no way could we produce the Black-and-White quality that we all do on digital , on any digital except possibly those old Kodak DSLRs ( I haven't tried them ) , unaliased Foveon processors etc .

    But there's great hope , for instance everybody who has posted here could easily develop their own Black-and -White - you don't need a darkroom if like some posters here in a small apartment : ALL YOU NEED IS A CHANGING BAG , that's the Good News, and you'll buy one for a Tenner .

    And if you can maintain development temperature to within a half degree centigrade for about ten minutes , you can develop colour negative film. There may even be a couple of brands of slide films you can likewise develop. It's all about experimentation, if the worst comes to the worst you just lose a test film that you've shot of your backyard , and then it doesn't have to be a full film if you load your own cassettes with a cheap bulk film loader you'll also get for a tenner or so .

    What Ken Rockwell says is actually true , he just typically carries along with his witticisms , as is his style .

    What I take from it all is that, yes, film can now harness the advances of digital over the last decade, and that, yes, you can now buy or re-use your favourite 35mm film SLR's, changing bag, cheap tank, thermometer, chemicals, and happily outdo the top digitals in the world simply by learning to develop your films to perfection yourselves , at a small financial cost to yourselves, but -

    it's not for everybody, 99 percent of camera users worldwide are happy contented point and shooters in digital and will continue to be so , certainly more Pro's will return to film, but everybody will gain by being able to use the digital techniques you've all learned and discovered in post-processing in particular, and that you will continue to learn here, thus making film more powerful than it ever has been in its history, and turning this to your advantage in the science and art of photography , having thus manipulative and creative techniques at your disposal that great photographers like Ansel Adams, Karsh, Brassai, Donovan , Cartier Bresson, could only have dreamt of . Even David Bailey might overcome his dislike of and total disinterest in Digital !

    There is so much truth and fact in what Rockwell points out , in what Kim here has highlighted with his gorgeous and thoroughly enjoyable experiment , that this has simply to be the most important article on this website in recent times. What has happened is that digital has outperformed itself over the past decade so much so that it can now be fully exploited by the very film photography it sought to supplant .

    However almost a hundred per cent of the people find digital is so handy, so easy, so fast and instant, so immediately rewarding that they won't be interested like so many of us here are in ever bothering themselves with film again - and all those thousands who want to work in the media, in newspapers and magazines where instant communication is far more important than quality will only do digital from now on , and will not care less about film or film cameras where they would have to put themselves out, to their minds, for nothing .

    Believe me, it's far easier to shell out a couple of thousand for a top Digital than to get down to learning all the film processing and scanning techniques for someone who has never done it . Likewise all the semi-pro's who have sprung up , especially all the Digi Kids descending like paratroopers from the trees , going out with digitals to photograph their neighbours weddings for pin money , will not be interested .

    Basically what we have today is a whole army of Professional Digital Operators springing up , and yes the Old Pro is dying out in consequence .

    For instance , any fool with a digital can now be a press photographer !

    A lady posted above asking about a Canon 8800 F scanner. I have one . It's great at scanning 35mm, slides, medium format and plates, but after using an Epson, it really takes getting used to . It's a fabulous flatbed, does an equally fabulous job on film - but you have to learn and to practice hard on it to scan film properly .

  • Michael McGrath April 27, 2010 12:01 am

    And as regards " A Last Romance with Film " , developing the film yourself, scanning ot yourself, and printing it yourself ( Wet darkroom for B & W is the Ultimate Luxury ) is the answer. And if you like you can get the Lab, as I do, simply to develop your colour neg and slide films, of course developing the B&W yourself ( I did that when I was eleven years of age ! ) and it's all cheap to do as well. And now, thanks to digital, you can buy film dirt cheap ! II scavenge all the time, recently I bought 150 cassettes of 36 Superia 200 for 40 Euro from a local store that was going completely digotal, BEAT THAT ! And also happy battery-buying and hours of battery -chraging and batteries running out during a shoot with virtually every digital camera , nake sure to bring a backup camera too with you when you're on digital , we never needed backups with the hefty film cameras we used, and still used with film, we needed no batteries at all, still don't, we don't of course need camera exposure metres when we have handheld metres reading incident light , beat all that with your digital, PHAH :-)

  • Michael McGrath April 26, 2010 11:36 pm

    Ed, I am a Professional Photographer for 44 years , 14 years of that as an accredited Press Photographer working for The Munster Express newspaper , Waterford City , Ireland, and I thoroughly and totally disagree with you !

    The film of today is far better than I worked with back then !!!

    And without post-processing - and a lot of it taking hours in front of a computer which is totally unhealthy - no digital camera today, even including a Hasselblad with digital back , I have tried it - can come near film in a medium format film camera, the Canons and Nikons etc haven't a ghost of a chance !

    Film, even 35mm film , has a much more solid look and feel about it when printed . For Dynamic range Digital ( except in the Nikon D3S and the Fuji D Pro series of three DSLRs, the S2, S3 and S4 ) can't compete with ANY film .

    And 25 tyears ago we didn't have Velvia or Reala , so I fail to agree with you on every single point you make .

    Digital actually looks better than film, but only when you have large expanses of sky or on the huge political election posters that have acres
    of white/blue space .

    I have despaired, even with post-processing of getting a 16X20 inch from digital that will comp[are with a 16X20 from medium format .

    My colleague Oliver who owns and ran the local High Street Studio for 45 years absolutely agrees with me and used medium format film until he retired last year - his daughter who has taken over now uses digital .

    Again and again I find it a generational thing, but with a minority of younger photographers still favouring film .

    But we'll agree to disagree. In the meantime I don't see how anybody can photograph a wedding properly on digital alone , can't be done professionally, but a lot of the newer entrants go blissfully about trying to do it .

    Their work simply does not compare to medium format on a wedding, tI have yet to see any of the wedding albums they produce coming near Oliver's or mine !

    ( I do wait to see, however, how they will develop the Foveon sensor, as all the Bayer filtered DSLRs can't come near film for B& W ) .

    Michael McGrath
    The Studio
    Dominic Street
    Kilkenny City
    Mobile ( Ireland) 0879145714 .

  • DErek Simpson April 26, 2010 08:02 pm

    Horses for courses. On Saturday I had three digitals at motor cycle racing - on narrow public roads - big bikes - Irish madness. Then to a nearby stone circle with a 5x4 view camera. 6 very enjoyable shots in an hour - maybe longer - time stopped. All day Sunday editing/captioning/burning bike photos. Shortly I'll process the 5x4s. Maybe I'm getting old (maybe ?!) but motor bikes are losing their appeal - they go round and round and then another lot go round and round. EXpressing what I feel at an ancient stone circle is a much more difficult job. And knowing that the 5x4 tranny is capable of recording the texture and gradation of stones and grass and moorland and misty distance makes it both possible and worthwhile. An artist could probably say as much with a burnt stick - there's a conundrum. A lifelong bike racing fan recently opined that the old photos were better - B&W grainy realism - "these photos nowadays" he said "all the bikes look polished" - which about sums it up for me. Until digital can capture all the colours and shades of which film is capable it is OK for journalism

  • Ed April 26, 2010 07:27 am

    I have to admit, I am very bias when it comes to this topic. I started out using 4x5 negatives and still have my old studio camra that can handle 8x10 negatives. The sad truth is, any film you can buy today is worthless compared to the film I used to buy (B&W or Color) 25-45 years ago. So to compare film to digital today is a waste of time.

    Color film today cannot produce nice bright colors. And if you want to talk about real romance, the old fine grain B&W film of 25-30 years ago, you still can’t get that with digital today. I guess as far as that goes, for color, I still have yet to see anything from digital that compares to Kodachrome from back then. There is just no comparison at all. It was truly art back then.

  • Kim Brebach March 9, 2010 03:32 pm

    Michael, that's a great story from Ireland.
    I didn't mean to stir up so much emotion, guys, but thank you for all your posts.
    First of all, I live in Sydney and the prices I quote are local. I hought that was obvious, but I'll make it clearer next time. If you live in the USA, you just don't know lucky you are when it comes to price, choice, service and freight. Believe me.
    Second, the point I'm really making here is that film has become to hard to work with as a mere enthusiast. Look at all the posts here from people singing the praises of film and scanning: they're old hands who have their own scanners and/or darkrooms. They've bought scanners because getting good scans from a shop is near impossible or too expensive.
    Thirdly, I agree that film gives photos a slightly different look but to an amateur it comes at too great a cost.
    The difference is most obvious with Black and White, and that''s all I shoot now on my F80 and I've found a lab that does a good job with the processing and printing, up to A4 from film.
    Just wanted to put my bit in to keep the peace.


  • Michael McGrath March 4, 2010 09:19 am

    Living in Ireland as a photographer , in Kilkenny 75 miles from Dublin, I can't get medium format film developed locally, only in Dublin, either by bringing it physically to the pro lab, or mailing it ( but they charge a hefty 6.50 Euro minimum postage for mailing the developed film back to me so I can scan and print on an excellent cheap Canon iP 1900 photo printer that I picked up, luckily, for 20 Euro brand new in the local Dunne's Stores supermarket chain - but I'n sticking to medium format ( Bronica SQA 6X6 and bacvk-up Maniya 645 ) for studio work with Reala 100 , and Portra when I can get it ! ( I still use my 'old' darkroom ) .

    I was lucky enough to find a hoard of 140 cassetts of in-date ( one month to go) Fuji Superia 200 negative fiilm in a local charity shop ( donated by Unicare chemists when they went fully digital ) for 40 Euro, so that's being used for outdoor portraiture, such as Church Confirmation and First Communion services ( all to 10X8) in my American N90S Nikon ( we're much closer to America here in Ireland than to the UK in more ways than you think ! ) . Backed up by loads of Superia in my Canon EOS 300V ( fastest and best outdoor portraiture camera I've ever used, lightest too) , I use the Nikon N90S principally because it's better with flash - Metz Mecablitz 45CL4 - as I have to dash in and out of the churches depending on whether folk want to be taken on the altar or outdoors in the church gardens. I also carry a Minolta Dynax loaaded with B& W as it's amazing that some folks prefer B & W these days ! For the more leisurely group photos after the Bishop has gone into his dinner with the parish priest, I bring along my M42 35 mm and 135 mm Zeiss lenses ( that everybody seems to be looking for all over eBay, and with good reason too, they're fab with film, no digital comes near ) and I usually have them screwed on my old full metal jackets, Pentax Spotmatic and Fuji 605n bodies . On occasions when I have the entire big group to take at the church , retained by the school, I bring along the big Bronica " tank " for that with full bellows lens shade - the sight of it simply bombs everybody out and blows out every other competing photographer around ( most of them with those pathetic-looking clear plastic awful-looking bodies right up to the new Canon D7 ) so I get almost all the business as my casual assistants for the day hand me whatever tool is required fully loaded, others take orders - and deposits- wuile I just shoot, often having to machine-gun those cameras, even the Bronica , in a hurry, as you've got to get through 40 or 50 shots in half-an-hour, every family group in, posed, out , next -


    I've tried with my Fuji S 2 Pro unsuccessfully, I've even tried with my Panasonic Lumix Leica 12X lens,bridge camera , a lot faster to work with than any DSLR I've used, bur still not as fast to work with as even the Fuji 605n, I 've found this on the job .

    Like my press photographer colleagues, my digital competition have to take down their cameras and examine the LCD screens after each shot, they're twiddling while I'm firing like a man possessed - because every shot means custom, and money, most of it paid over there and then as well .

    After it all, I'm fit to collapse, takes me 10 minutes to recover before I can even speak , but it's true, almost all the old pro's who work like me are retired or dead, there's just a bunch of kids now with DSLRs that they use as auto pint-and-shoot with Program set for everything. We're fading and dying away , and with us film, though I'm heartened to see some of the best young folk here and elsewhere across the net and in real life too , prefer and use film cameras.

    I am never happy either to use digital on weddings, because I'm not confident of its permanancy as against film no matter what the boffins employed and paid by the digital industry say, I've actually known a fellow pro lose most of a wedding when she switched to digital, and the pro's I know who went digital at the start are now drifting back to film.

    Digital cheap ? You must be joking, they eat up expensive batteries, the printing ink cartridges are dreadful prices, the paper is as expensive if not more so , great if your newspaper employer is paying for it all and when neither the photos nor the digital files have to last , great for point-and-shoot family fun, great for parties etc., but useless in my work scene, not much good either in arctic or desert environments, no good at all away from the sources of special and expensive batteries , useless for exploring where you need a good old hand crank to wind on - I use Spotmatic and 605n full metal jackets without batteries with handheld meter such as the Weston Master V with invercone , in such environments. So if you're shooting for National Geographic or similar out in the wilds, there is not a digital made that will do for you !

    As regards B&W, the Bayer filter on all digitals destroys any hope of capturing pure B&W on any digital camera, even if it costs thirty thousand dollars, to the best of my knowledge.I And I can get 1000mm lenses for a song . Learn to focus, learn to use a lighmeter, grab a good old full metal jacket film camera, and you'll be ready for anything. my two cents, nver mind the quality - feel the length :-)

    Michael McGrath, Photographer, Kilkenny City, Ireland .

    ( PS: The old Lee Enfield .303 rifle of the British Army that fought its way through two world wars is still going strong as one of the best snipers' rifles on the planet ! There's a moral in there . )

    PS : Most, almost all of what Ken Rockwell says is true, David Bailey says it too ! John Minihan who shot that immortal portrait of Samuel Beckett at the table of a Parisian sidewalk table, shot it with a Hasselblad, though his favourite camera , that he uses these days now in his retirement back home here in Ireland, is a Rolleiflex Twin Lens . And if Terence Donovan were alive, a great photographer turned painter, I believe he would kill himself all over again in an even greater depression at the sight of a digital " photograph ", God rest that master .

    Any movie maker knows that with digital every damn thing is in focus, you need medium format film to lift the subject out of the picture, or that cathedral out of its surroundings !!!

    Michael .

    David Bailey : " Figital makes everybody look the same, all computer people . "

  • Richard January 28, 2010 06:44 am

    I've been converting 35mm slides around 27 years old to digital. Forget scanning unless you have a lifetime to do it. Forget slide duplicating devices stuck on a dslr.
    Simply project the slides on a decent screen and photograpg them with a dslr using a 55-200 zoom, download to your computer and use a program like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to correct the following: brightness. auto levels and colour corrections.
    I used my Nikon D40 and needed to correct levels and exposure: increase required.
    Viewed on computer the pics are good, if not exceptional. This is a simple and time-effective way of preserving irreplaceable memories.

  • Nick T January 26, 2010 10:31 pm

    I'm just going to say this, every picture is Vogue, Vanity Fair, National Geographic etc etc up until about 7 or 8 years ago was shot on film.

    Nobody thinks that work is now substandard or not sharp, Film provides a different quality, and can frame for frame completely match Digital, but it takes skill. If you're a happy snapper, it's true, you really don't need film anymore. And the time effort and cost probably isn't worth it if the majority of your work is seen by friends on social networking sites. But for people who love different aspects of photography it's infectious and valid and a joy.

    Look at the lovely work that's coming from Holga users at the moment or the Polaroid revival that's starting to get underway. Film / Digital ultimately just depends on the brief you give yourself.

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  • B January 14, 2010 12:12 am

    Kind of surprised this conversation is still going.

    Here's the price list of the lab I use for digital prints (opens in PDF). They're full service so you can see prices for film services. Feel free to check out the whole thing, but to save some time:

    Processing slide film is $8.50 (24exp, sleeved) to $11.00 (36exp, mounted) per roll.
    A contact sheet is an additional $7.50
    Prints are $0.68 for 4x6" and $1.02 for 5x7" ($24.48 to print a 36exp roll at 4x6").
    High resolution scans of slide film are $49.44 (24exp) or $74.16 (36exp). Individual negative scans are $5.50.
    Higher quality film scans -- if you want to print larger than 16x20" -- start at $33 per negative.
    There are some discounts if combining services; processing a 36exp roll with 4x6" prints is $29.61.

    There are some real world prices for you.

    As for self processing, good for those who are doing it but not all of us have the means to do so. Some people live in apartments or otherwise don't have the room for the equipment and chemicals. Don't forget to factor in the cost of properly handling used chemicals. Speaking of, there's an environmental cost associated with processing film, even with the best recovery methods.

    It doesn't really matter, because nicholas has the right idea. Film and digital exist side by side. What matters are results.

  • Marcus Hast January 13, 2010 06:23 pm

    Those of you who claim that the article is wrong could prove that very easily by simply providing links or references to where you buy film, develop and scan. It's worth noting that the article is from Australia as well.

    If you develop yourself that's a bit hard of course. But I really doubt that you can develop a film and print or scan+correct it faster than someone who uses an all digital workflow. There is a reason why professionals who work with time limited work have moved from film. (Ie people who do sports, weddings and such.)

    But if you like the smell of developer and feel of film then by all means use that. Hopefully it will continue to be around for quite some time.

  • Nicholas January 13, 2010 12:36 pm

    The answer is simple. If you like the look of film, shoot film. If you like the look of digital, shoot digital. There is no reason for petty arguments about which is "better".

  • FrankG January 13, 2010 07:19 am

    Oh my God! I'll have to sell all my pristine film gear so that I'll be able to afford a super-sharp, digital point-and-shoot.

  • Dave January 13, 2010 02:07 am

    This article has no truth to it what so ever!
    Who pays $30 for a roll of film and another $30 to develop and then up to $50 for each scan?
    This article is surely written by someone without much knowledge about photography let alone film photography.
    It is very pro digital and actually lies about film photography and quality and costs.
    Please remember before digital came along all photography was film.
    There are thousands and thousands of magazines that are stuffed with high quality film photos from just a few years ago.
    From your article an amateur would think that film is useless.

  • Dan January 12, 2010 10:25 pm

    You seem to complain a lot about the cost of shooting film, almost to the point of going out of your way to say that shooting film is just not practical from a cost perspective.

    The prices you have quoted above are way to high and with a little research you could have easily found out that pro film can be purchased for 1/10 of what you quoted and developed for way more than 1/10 of your dev price.

    I develop my own colour negative and slide film. Each kits costs me approx $20 and I can get about 40 rolls from each. Thats 0.50c per roll. For B&W even less probably about 0.05c in Rodinal. My time developing is probably far less than the time digital shooters spend in from of a screen processing raw files.

    Each to their own. However I feel your article somewhat lacking in research and biased.

  • Mako January 5, 2010 04:18 pm

    >>>Film still has limitations but it’s easier than it used to be: when you reach the end of the roll, the F80 tells you so on the top screen and promptly rewinds. Open the back to take the roll out, lay the new roll in, close the door the F80 feeds the film into winder and forwards it to the first frame.<<<

    This is why I left Nikon. For years I used Nikons professionally. Went through many bodies, starting with the F and ending with the F3's. I had 16 Nikkors. But when I realized that I would have to buy new lenses to get the most our of the I believe N90, I decided to rent some Canon gear to try out. During my first shoot with it, the camera stopped working! I was wondering what was going on when I realized that the film had run out and automatically re-wound! WOW I thought ... that's so cool. One of the reasons I put up my Nikons for sale. They DID fetch more then I paid for them on eBay ... that was nice. It was obvious to me that Nikon had lost their innovation ...

  • Marcus Hast January 3, 2010 11:26 am

    I'd just like to point out that Ken Rockwell isn't really full of shit, the site isn't intended to be "for real". It's supposed to be something like "the onion" for photographers (only it's not particularly funny). It's basically a big troll (look up the original meaning of that term) on the entire online photo community.

    And he says as much on the about page on his site:

    "This site is purely my personal speech and opinion, and a way for me to goof around. Don't take any of this as true; I like to make things up as much as any other kid."

    It's a rite of passage for newcomers to the online photo scene to read and be "blown away" by his knowledge only to find that anything attention grabbing on his site is likely made up. Once you know that he tends to leave little clues in the articles which makes it easy to spot.

  • Erik R. December 25, 2009 09:04 am

    Kodak stopped making film? They stopped making kodachrome, APS,and B&W paper, but they still make Film. I use film & digital, and both have ther advantiges & disadvantiges. I mostly shoot B&W, and I shoot KODAK B&W c-41 film only. When it comes to color, I use my digital camera. B&W digital is still not up to par with B&W film (YET). Great article!!!!

  • D. Travis North December 22, 2009 04:42 am

    I know I'm a late comer and much has been debated already...but I think the first order of business is to debunk Ken Rockwell as an expert/guru. I think he knows a lot, but I think his writing style is intended to be controversial. In turn, I suspect that a lot of what he states is exaggerated or at least he's taken some artistic license. I personally don't believe he's that talented as a photographer, and I would never consider him an expert. As a few of the readers have already pointed out - film's real advantage is the organic feel. Doesn't matter what you do to digital, film has a different quality - much like your painter friend. You could never match the feel of his paintings with a photo, no matter how many filters you threw at it.

    I just hope that this whole experience hasn't completely turned you from film. I shoot digital (I need to disclose that so you know I am unbiased), but I learned on film and continue to shoot film when I can. But film has it's place, and if you really want to take it for all its worth, you should create your own in-house lab...and you'll save a bit, plus have complete control over the process. If you really want to see what you can do with film, you should follow Brian Auer at Epic Edits.

    A slightly related post was just made by Guy Tal at his blog titled Subjective Observations on Print Size - a great read on the topic. And Guy Tal (unlike Ken Rockwell) is an incredibly talented and experienced photographer...someone I would trust.

  • Phil December 20, 2009 04:43 am

    Very interesting debate. After falling in love with Ansil Adams work I read most everything that I could about the man. This leads me to wonder if he wouldn't have embraced digital. His spectacular prints were the result of a lot of processing in the dark room, along with an artists eye when he pressed the shutter.

  • Julie December 20, 2009 04:37 am

    This has been mentioned a couple of times above, but what do people honestly think about getting a lab to develop their film (without prints) and then scanning the negatives into their computer to work on?

    I am thinking of getting back into film photography, but like being able to work on my images digitally as well. I don't have enough money to go somewhere really good for processing and scanning, so have been checking out some scanners such as the CanoScan 8800F, which can handle negative, slides, 120 and 35mm film. They seem to be able to scan at a pretty decent dpi and have had a lot of good reviews.

    I figure that then I can choose to get prints from the files when I see fit... rather than shelling out for 36 prints and finding that I only actually want physical prints of 10 of them.

    Part of wanting to do this is the complete inability of most photo labs to be able to process more 'unusual' requests. If I take in film from my Diana Mini (which shoots half frame or square pictures on 35mm) they just look at me blankly and say there's something wrong with my camera. It would help things a lot if they would just develop the film and let me do the rest digitally!

    Anyone think this is a good idea, or am I just going to be disappointed?

  • Toe-Lin December 19, 2009 10:30 pm

    "Film is a lot more work, and it is work that I thoroughly enjoy. I absolutely love that I have to do everything myself, and every cent I invested in my equipment proves its worth every single day.
    Shooting film is about control, not comfort."

    I think you are totally doing something wrong. Digital is the total control! I spent a lot of work to process and get best results in digital. And I came from the analog world, shooted my last film in 2003. The control in analog is only that you press the shutter, and then let the lab do the rest. isn´t it? And if you are scanning the negatives by yourself-you can´t tweak them like you can do with an Raw File. So I think you have a lot more control by going the digital way, because you can controkl everything-from getting the raw data to the print that you make with your own printer. No one (no monday lab worker) can ruin your result, because you have the total control of everything. And if I want grain in my digital images-I add grain. If I want the tonal curve of an analog slide-I add this to my digital image. So no need for getting back in the old times.

  • DErek Simpson December 19, 2009 10:26 pm

    Film has a much wider/deeper colour palette meaning it is capable of capturing more subtlety and gradation in an image. I learned this at an Adobe demo where sRGB Adobe RGB and Velvia palettes of a full spectrum were displayed. Velvia went off the screen while the other two were puddles in the middle.. I believe the difference is perceptible . Each requires great care in exposure and of course digital is vastly more convenient and I use it almost exclusively - almost. Very few markets/buyers give a damn about ultimate quality and whilst I do there is little point in spending hours of a limited life giving people something they cannot see. To some people the Beatles remixes don't mean a thing - it's just tunes the same tunes. Given a benefactor and time I would work exclusively in film - I look back at my early library shots on a 1D and feel inadequate - the bar has risen and will continue to rise with developments in digital technology but scanned slides from twenty years ago still cut the mustard on a good scanner.

  • Pio Danilo P. Cuadra December 19, 2009 03:16 pm

    Hi guys. To be frank with everybody, with the present financial crisis I can only lust for the best full frame digital SLR camera, ie Canon 5D mark 11 OR Nikon D700. My lenses purchased(Im on the Canon side) were programmed to be for full frame only. Sigma EX DGs and Canon EFs (with one L to my credit). To shorten the story I have to contend myself going back to film to fully use my arsenal of lenses.

    I bought from Ebay USA a mint Canon EOS 1N professional camera and Im glad I did. It has a 100% viewfinder, fast frame rate(6FPS), and a rubost heavy body. Oh my God, when I used my sigma 24-70 2.8 EX DG the field of view seems like that of a 17-40 f4 L at the wide extreme when used on my EOS40D.

    Browsing on its history, I found out to my surprise that this was the legendary top of the line model introduced in 1994 which drove many professional photographers to switch from Nikon to Canon (which they never recovered except in the last two years when pros switched back to Nikon D3). My oh my! its a wonderful camera

  • Mark Carroll December 19, 2009 12:54 pm

    About two years ago we got out some old albums from when we used shoot film with a SLR back in the 70s. When we viewed the work of the film SLR, I was astounded at the difference in it and what I was seeing in the point and shoot digitals- color, control, impression, impact. Alas, my 35mm had died long ago.
    Later that month I came across a Yashica FX2 in an antique store and picked it up. Since then I have acquired several other manual and automatic film cameras, both SLR with several lenses, and a good point and shoot, for amazing deals on ebay with very satisfactory results.
    Nowadays, I may pack three cameras, my BB phone for instant blogging, a Nikon Coolpilx, for higher quality digital and readily available shots, and my finally my film Yashica FX-3 Super SLR or Zoom Image 90 for higher quality, and can enjoy the best of both worlds.

  • Harry Joseph December 19, 2009 05:37 am

    That's why I rarely bother to scan Film either B&W or Color although my Epson V750 does a pretty good job of it for 8X10 prints or less. I still kept my enlarger when eveybody was ditching their stuff on eBay. I have an old Beseler with a brand new Dichoric cooor head that I purchased from an estate. I use a Durst RCP20 processor that does both color and B&W. With about $40 worth of Color developing chemicals I can put out about 60 8X10s, that is allot cheaper than you pay for the Inks on an Ink Jet Printer. With a little replenisher I can maybe get 80 8X10 prints. If a negative is really bad I might scan it in and try to repair it in Photoshop, but I usually keep film and digital seperate.

  • df December 18, 2009 10:00 pm


    printing film stock after first scanning it is going to produce inferior results.

    Print film from an enlarger with good optics and see the real diffrence.

    The reality is these labs are no longer doing this, so results look poor. It's not the hardware that is at fault but the service.

    Regardless of this it is still less expensive to generate images from digital stock...

    Cost is the moving factor not quality. Like it or lump it Betamax was better quality than VHS, people get what they pay for.

  • Jim December 18, 2009 08:57 pm

    Learn how to develop and print yourself and stop moaning. Film is far superior to digital in every way except convenience. If you are obsessed with sharpness (for whatever reason), then look at medium or large format cameras. Keep this in mind though before you trot of to invest in a medium format camera that you won't understand how to use.... It's not how sharp your image is that matters, or how deep your blues are or how pea-green your greens are.... It's about what you are photographing and why you are photographing it. My advice? Stop obsessing about equipment and get out and do it.

  • davidaj December 18, 2009 05:15 pm

    "Digital is more cost effective if you are a hobbyist or casual photo-taker. But if you are serious about your photography, you’ll know that a good digital photo has also had a lot of processing in photoshop. White balance, contrast, re-touching, sharpening… the backend work is seeminly endless. As a wedding photographer, I’m looking at transitioning to film so that all the work is done in camera, instead of spending my life in front of a computer."

    Deann B,

    Obviously you never shot a wedding on film. Better be prepared.....Allow me to let you in on a different beast. Have any idea what the costs are for D+P ? Say you go into a wedding shooting digital, say you shot on an average 1,000 to 2,000 shots , in digital thats just time @ the monitor. Processing that from a pro lab will be cost prohibitive. You'll have to curtail your shot count, coverage suffers .

    Proofs....added cost= less profit.

    What happens when your assistant lights the floor instead of the subject and it is an important shot ? Guess what ? Custom prints= scanning out of house digitally. Or repeated attempts to dodge and burn from a master printer ....they aren't going to give that away , you'll pay for it.

    Lets go with white balance for a second. I have worked in wedding studios and 100 % the time the labs will give you machine prints that give an overall decent print. generally cool because of to many factors to list.= Returns, Loss of time =Unhappy client= Less profit
    It takes a lot less time to do it in house . It is cheaper than having to return a bunch of rejects.

    I am not trying to dissuade you from shooting weddings on film , just understand what goes on before you change your setup.If you know what works for you , why change ?

  • davidaj December 18, 2009 04:27 pm

    This whole discussion film vs. digital is getting so tiresome. They both have their place. I went digital the day I couldn't process my own film anymore. Reasons , I moved , couldn't get my wet room back and I couldn't print. I love film but do to the constraints of the powers that be I had no choice.

    Plus , all of the "purists" out there , think about something. Is it ok to dump tons of chemicals down the drain ? How about the amounts of money that you don't get back from not having a silver reclamation solution. I cringe about how much money I dumped down the drain , but the environmental impact that I caused makes me glad to go digital and I printed lots ,that included c-41 , B+W , E-6 and Ciba or Ilfochrome.

    Also , because of the advent of digital , does it make it alright to just blast away with that shutter release and delete away ? Don't think so. As a photographer , I approach every shot with a digital camera as if i was still shooting film . Every frame is important. I still frame the dSLR like I would my beloved Bronica ETRS. Every frame is costly , in time , my efforts ,my time in Lightroom , and my electric bill.

    As artists, focus on the art . Who is to say water colors are better that oil paint ? It's what you are into. The when Ilford stops producing black and white paper , is the day analog dies.

  • Kim Brebach December 18, 2009 12:44 pm

    I'm grateful for the enormous feedback to this piece. A couple of clarifications:
    - yes, I meant Kodachrome
    - yes, I should've done more B&W shooting in hindsight, I think film has a potential edge there
    - yes, film and digital are fundamentally different. I used to shoot lost of film and have quite a romantic streak but I wrote this from a practical perspective
    -you're right about sharpness not being the key issue but, when testing and comparing technologies, you need to look at something you can measure
    - we all seem agreed that scanning is a showstopper unless you buy a decent machine and DIY
    - we also seem agreed that developing film is becoming a lost art form
    - and we definitely seem agreed that Ken Rockwell is a dangerous man.

    Thanks so much

  • Alan December 18, 2009 12:13 pm

    I would say it is better and cheaper to scan your own films. I'm not real great at keeping dust off the negatives, so even with digital ice it still takes me quite a while to do a scan and then produce an image that is clean. My large scans from 35mm are some over 70MB. Medium format depending on if it is 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 go from around 150 to 200MB, 4x5 are over 450MB. I use an Epson V750 for scanning everything. Initial outlay is quite a bit for that scanner, but others have been mentioned that I'm sure do nice work as well. I shoot a variety of different film cameras and I very much enjoy them all. For commercial work I have an RB67 ProS and an old 4x5 Crown Graphic, as well as a Canon 40d digital. I also have a Rolleicord which is quite capable of producing very good results.

    As far as film versus digital I would say it depends on the look you are after. If you just want convenience get a point and shoot digital. I used a Canon A1000IS early this summer for a couple of weeks and it produced pretty ok results and it was super easy to get them with it. I also shot a Canon 5d Mark II for a couple of weeks. You can produce extraordinary 20x30 prints from those files. But, for sheer depth and beauty the 4x5 negative is hard to beat, but very expensive to shoot if you have the film developed out like I do. Individual preferences and I would say there is no "one size fits all", but that is my opinion. I'll keep shooting both as long as I can still get the film developed.

  • Brodie Weeding December 18, 2009 11:04 am

    one of the best article's i have ever read on here, it really brings out the factors involved n the debate between film VS digital

  • Tom S. December 18, 2009 10:48 am

    There is no need to spend that kind of money based on Ken Rockwell's site. The same excercise can be done using a disposable camera. I tried it. I also tried it using my old film cameras and lenses.

    For digital v. film, Rockwell says any number of times to use digital for snapshots and sports and when making smaller prints (most people making family shots); use large film, medium format or 4x5, if you want to beat digital (hobby, fine art, etc). He recommends a specific lab in San Diego for hi-res scans. I could not get that result at the local drug store, so I tried North Coast, the place Rockwell recommends. I have yet to find the same quality processing and hi-res scanning at a reasonable price in New York City. I am sure it exists, so I would love someone who has found it and tried it to tell me where. In the meantime, I either send film to the San Diego lab or scan my processed color film using an Epson 4990.

    The kernel of truth in this article is that film has suffered a premature death blow from the 95+ percent of film processors that have been providing us indifferent low quality film processing and printing over many many years. Back in the day, Kodachrome 25 slides sent to Kodak were my cure for poor quality processing of negatives and prints. The results were predictable, consistent and technically outstanding.

    Today we come closer to the colors and look we imagined when we took our pictures using an all digital or a hybrid film/digital process than we could in the past with print film and local drug store or photo processing. And, that is by using the local drug store to make the prints for us from the digital files.

    Try it first, without buying an "expensive" film camera. Beg or borrow a nice old camera or just buy a garage sale special. Have some fun. Then, if you like it, buy a nice old camera. The quality of the equipment you can get for dirt cheap prices cannot be beat. Just don't expect an all digital work flow and all that that means.

  • Jim Green December 18, 2009 10:27 am

    No offense, but film and digital look different. Film is better for some things and digital for others. I use both and have to admit that I like the look of film for many things. That being said - I like the way you did the test for yourself and made your own conclusion based on your decision points and criteria. I don't agree with the way you did the test - but I respect the fact that you did it and didn't re-hash some old internet rumours!

  • B P Maiti December 18, 2009 09:01 am

    It appears to me that while the article is well written ,factual and authentic the subject is a matter of perpetual confrontation of attitude of photographers.Film is normative -mostly centering on creativity while digital is matter of fact and a good teacher for the photographer. I am not considering the majority of digital photographers shooting on default setting as they constitute the backbone of photo industry today.But in the real world of art and science of digital photography ,the enlightened minority is the pathfinder to whom digital system is a boon.Necessity is the mother of invention and therefore the film shooter should endeavour how to bypass the apparent difficulties.

  • Gerard December 18, 2009 08:46 am

    Your article is interesting. But I think the article is somehow flawed. Let me explain myself: You are comparing a film camera with automatisms, with a digital camera from today, which has the same automatisms, but with at least ten years more evolution. That fact places the camera bodies in different leagues. Also, you have a "new" body and a "new" lens...compared to a body and lenses that have been around for a while (years!)...since you ebayed them, odds are they are in less than optimal condition. The odds for your film camera to be left behind in a comparison begin to be too much for being ignored.

    So basically, you are comparing two different things that cannot be compared, at least fairly.

    A M7 vs M9 leicas, which can be both brand new, with the same exactly new lens, now that would be a fair comparison to judge a 36x24mm frame of film vs a 36x24mm full frame digital sensor.

  • Joel December 18, 2009 08:09 am

    Thanks for the great read!

    Film is good for the exact opposite reason outlined in your article: not for high quality but for low quality. Toy or vintage cameras are a lot of fun, plus they're great for education purposes - I've found that most people are are so used to digital cameras they're blown away by the inner workings of a simple camera.

    Rock on.

  • LCS December 18, 2009 03:55 am

    the only thing I miss from Film is Canon's Eye Control Focus.. its a shame that its not around anymore. selecting focusing points is so frustrating with the joysticks they give us now.

    I don't miss film from that one morning when I was shooting a sunrise loaded with Velvia50, and a wolf hopped out from the treeline 20 feet away. by the time I got 400F loaded, it was still too dark, and he was spooked back into the trees.

  • SusanG December 18, 2009 03:52 am

    Must be something in the water! I didn't read Rockwell's latest (though I do enjoy his way of looking at things) but two weeks ago decided to return to film. I've got my eye on a Bronica XTRSi and am researching things like scanning. But, as someone that loves both film and digital, I would caution that we try less to make one work like the other and focus on each for what they offer. My reason for returning to film is I used to shoot film medium format, and want the options it gives me. And also the challenge. One becomes more disciplined before clicking that shutter when you know it's a one off chance you'll get the image and the cost of not getting it. And also the delight of actually taking that shot. But if I could afford something similar in digital I would give that serious thought.

  • Ted December 18, 2009 03:37 am

    Eric Mesa -

    It's been done, in fact it's been done on banner sized prints, and it's pretty much a dead heat - the difference between film and digital by the general public is indistinguishable.

  • Jeff December 18, 2009 02:25 am

    Okay, I shot some Velvia recently. Barring minor exposure issues since I was new to the film, it came out great. The slides look like they should, and my pixma (a freakin' photo printer) gave me better scans than what you've posted. If you invest in a dedicated scanner, you'll get even better results. If I needed a high quality scan for some reason, I could pay to have a couple specific slides scanned at high resolution, which of course would cost much less than scanning the entire roll.

    However, you absolutely must find a lab that can properly process your film. I'm not entirely clear, from your article, if they were processed okay; you said the colors on the slides were correct, didn't you? If they screw that up, you have no recourse. This also means learning each type of film you want to use, so that you know what to look for; your Velvia shot at the end of this post is underexposed, likely due to the sand and the reflection on the water. And yes, if it's underexposed, the colors come out wrong. If you screw it up, you have very little recourse there, either.

    Pick your films for their specific characteristics. Spend a few rolls getting used to how they react to light. Well shot Velvia will give you image characteristics that people still can't create in digital; it just depends on what you want, and what process you enjoy. And invest in a photo printer or scanner; I think mine is a pixma mp640 or 620, don't quite recall at the moment.

  • Álvaro December 18, 2009 01:36 am

    Lots of mistakes in this article. Is nice to read about well-made comparisions, but this is not the case.

  • mark December 18, 2009 01:27 am

    Thank you for writing this post. I went through the same process after reading Ken's posts. I hate to ascribe motive but I wonder if Ken is actually a believer in the idea of using film and scanning. Ken doesn't really understand that the rest of us do not have relationships with local labs and used camera resellers such that our costs for this model just don't make sense. As you point out, Costco processing is not worth doing. Using a small local lab like Ken does is just too expensive. Finally, I agree that it would be great if Nikon would make a digital camera that had the size, feel, and ease of use that their old film cameras provided.

  • Eric Mesa December 17, 2009 11:03 pm

    I liked the article a lot and I thought it was well written and well documented.

    I'd like to do a visual test for those who claim that film has something special that digital doesn't. I'd like to print a shot from film and digital and then have people pick out the film one. Because I think it's all in your head. Scientists have done studies and had people listen to MP3s and vinyl with headphones. 99% of the people couldn't tell the difference as long as the bitrate was good enough for the recording. I bet it's the same for film v digital.

  • Matt Needham December 17, 2009 10:56 pm

    "This phenomenon is described as a ‘crop factor’, which works much like the ‘digital zoom’ ‘feature’ on pocket digicams."

    No, not at all. Digital zoom is like cropping the photo on the computer or during the printing stage. It reduces resolution. Crop factor is a format difference. It does not reduce resolution. Cameras have always come in different formats (110, 35mm, 6x6, 6x7, 4x5...), and photographers have always dealt with it, but with the introduction of DSLRs some non-photographer guy in the marketing department decided we needed "crop factor" to make the format difference easier to understand. I'd say it's been a failure, as not many folks seem to understand what "crop factor" is.

  • Matt Needham December 17, 2009 10:45 pm

    "Kodak stopped making film this year..."

    Kodak stopped making Kodachrome, and it was about time. I worked in a pro lab in the early 1990's, and I remember a Kodak rep telling me "...if it hadn't been for that damn Paul Simon song we would have dumped Kodachrome decades ago." Even then Kodak had already stopped processing Kodachrome, and there were only 3 labs in North America that were doing K-14 processing. For the last 10+ years there has been only one lab in the world that would process Kodakchrome. People like to wax nostalgic about Kodachrome, and lament it's passing, but the reason it's going away is that no body uses it, and the reason no body uses it is because there are many newer, better choices.

    Ken Rockwell is the Rush Limbaugh of internet photography. He may need a 25mp, full frame DSLR to match 35mm quality, but many experienced photographers are having no problems surpassing 35mm film quality with 8mp APS-C DSLRs. In fact many of those experienced photographers have sold their medium format film gear, because they are getting medium format film quality from their top of the line Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Folks like KR want to pretend that pros and advanced enthusiasts switched to digital because it's easier or it's a fad. People switched because they were getting better results, and the only thing easy about it was that it was easy to see the difference with their own eyeballs. I was a die hard film-geek with my own full size, home darkroom. I truly believed there was no way digital could ever match film, but by 2005ish it was impossible to pretend that was true anymore. 35mm film matches the quality produced by a 12mp 35mm format DSLR like the 5D or D700? Give me a break!

  • Ben Prestney December 17, 2009 08:23 pm

    Might I humbly suggest that, whilst this experience has taught you a little about film, it has probably taught you a great deal about Ken Rockwell? ;-)

  • Esteban December 17, 2009 07:37 pm

    Hi, long story short:
    I like the article, but I think it is wrong in 1 detail, there is in fact an "affordable" way of achieving Kim's romance: I have a Nikonscan 5ED film scanner. It costs ~US$400. I used Velvia 100 (not 100F) and a lovely EOS Elan II body. I lived very happy submerged in this romance for a few years. Great results, I do nature and landscapes. The digital images I got in Australia or Costa Rica with this setup, really 20MP of color beauty and perfection! I could keep and make good use of my EF lenses, specially my wideangle. I mean, I spent a nice deal of $ in lenses that have good saturation up to the edge and I never wanted to let that value get lost by an APS size sensor. I still have the scanner, it has great restauration features by the way, it is the most faithful thing for film with an amateur prize. This dream is possible guys.

    As I said, long story short. Like every romance, it ended with a lovely blondy I saw passing by :-p I could afford a EOS 5D Mark II...

  • Caitlin December 17, 2009 05:30 pm

    @robert said: My 10-day vacation saw me return home with about 5000 digital images from my DSLR. No way I would pay to develop over 200 rolls of film for a 10-day trip.

    Wow! Why would you take so many photos? I can't imagine the editing process would be that fun and storage, while not too expensive, is not free.

  • Caitlin December 17, 2009 05:27 pm

    In the US I can get four packs of film for $10. That's negative film not slide film though. Processing costs $3.50 if I just want the negatives developed - it's extra if I want prints or if I want the lab to scan to CD for me.

  • David Kirba December 17, 2009 04:19 pm

    Nice article. Last week I picked up my first camera body after a long time, bought myself some film and started shooting again. It's a Nikon FE2 that I bought in mint condition for a lot of money when I was in college. I love the camera and it's been a good, sturdy workhorse for almost 10 years in my hands now. It's as old as I am and frankly, I'll be very sad when there's no more film available to use with it.

    For digitizing I used to get the roll scanned at the lab, but their scanner seems to be down this week. There's a Nikon LS-2000 film scanner at work that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't so if it's in the mood to work today I'll be scanning in my first roll in a year.

    Sorry for blabbering on and on, I was just so happy to hear of someone using film again. Would love to get a DSLR, but as you said, the ones that I want are way too expensive.

  • Darby December 17, 2009 12:54 pm

    I, too, was thinking of going back to film and had similar results. However, I am still playing with the idea (if I can afford the investment) of going back to film in a big way - with a 4X5 view camera. When I was shooting large format, I may have clicked the shutter a lot less, but the zen of preparing, composing and executing that one photo was more a part of the photography process. Now, with a dSLR, I shoot so many frames because it costs me nothing!

    I also have to believe that the large format film will scan better than 35mm. 35mm film, by its nature has a tendency to curl while the 4X5 film remains rigid allowing for sharper scans...and all those megapixels with 4X5!

  • Robert December 17, 2009 12:40 pm

    Good post.
    A motivated, learning, photographer will no-doubt run across Ken Rockwell in the pursuit of knowledge. Searching on Google for bodies, lenses, etc will inevitably land you on Kens' site. Fair enough. Sadly, Ken has driven many into ditch with his "expert opinion" and "takes" on the subject at hand. Your experience is no different than mine, or many others. The Film vs. Digital sounds good in theory, but in practical applications, it fails. My 10-day vacation saw me return home with about 5000 digital images from my DSLR. No way I would pay to develop over 200 rolls of film for a 10-day trip. The net result is many more quality images overall than shooting film could ever produce, even if your last name was Kodak.
    Risk vs. Reward. Digital changes the equation in the photographers favor.

  • Peter December 17, 2009 09:53 am

    To put it lightly, Ken Rockwell is full of crap.

    He's responsible for some poor purchasing decisions I've made, and if you really dig into his website you learn he's a point-n-shooter playing with dSLRs. Okay, maybe I got a *little* from him, but, really, he's a guy with lots of money who can throw down on the latest toy and give off-the-cuff reviews you can find at a train station.

    A prime example (and my albatross) is his recommendation of an sb-600 over an sb-800 (from before the sb-900). If you know nikon equipment well, or even somewhat, his reasoning is flawed, and further inspection of his "methodology" will reveal a fraud.

    Okay, enough, slamming Ken.

    The truth is, if you want good "high megapixel" counts via film, you either buy your own scanner - even a high-level consumer epson with film tray - and learn how to use it with film, or splash out on "professional" scanning company, which will be more expensive in the long run, if you go this route.

    Among the things you have to be aware of when scanning yourself, you have to remember to match the dpi to your output method. If your printer prints at 300dpi, then you scan at 300dpi output. That doesn't mean you set the scanner to 300, it means you set the dpi; the RESOLUTION is what you set to scan a high MP.

    IF - a big if - you REALLY want to go film/scanner route, you should try to make a reference frame with a white card in the same light and/or scene of what you're shooting. Then, when it's time to scan, you can balance your color using the reference frame to grab your white point.

    Before I could afford a dSLR, this is how I did my digital work-flow, and it worked like a charm. Even on screen, I got WAY better results than I am now with my d90, so far as fine detail goes. Shooting at 1600 ISO is the proof in the pudding (though I expect the newer dSLRs will prove me wrong!)

    As many state above, it really is apples to oranges--how deep do you want to go? Go to costco, walmart, or whatever, and you'll get crap. They won't love your frames the way YOU do; they aren't married to them. They deal with 100's of people a day, and could give a rat's ass.

    If you REALLY want "higher megapixel" go medium film, and get filesizes around 80-120MB! Of course, you'll want to go TIFF, not JPG, so expect, maybe larger!!!!!

    I'd *love* to have time to play with film/scanner combo, but for what I'm doing my d90 rocks. Where the film scanner REALLY comes into it's own is when you want a picture of YOU taken by a stranger whom you might not trust with your high-ticket gear.

    Then, it's only a matter of handing said stranger your pharmacy box one time use camera and "would you mind taking a picture of me next to this statue? Thanks.!"

    The optics might suck, but you'll get a decent pic of yourself without worrying about your gear.

  • dick. December 17, 2009 07:11 am

    If I had the money to, I would put a darkroom in my house today. (I do still have most of the equipment for one) I plan on starting to shoot more film... but mostly black and white. To me there is still and art about it and a romance...
    I agree thought with the comments on how its more of an expence to shoot color film on average. That is the main reason that I sold my motorcycle and bought my first digital SLR. I knew down the road while shooting portraits and weddings that it would pay off bigtime in cash and time.

  • shelly December 17, 2009 06:31 am

    As mentioned, Kodak still makes film (the aforementioned Ektar; plus, their excellent Portra line is still available as well as their normal consumer films); they've merely discontinued Kodachrome.

    The cheaper way to shoot colour on film is to use colour negative film, not slide film. Colour negative film itself is cheaper to buy and cheaper to get developed, which you could probably still do locally. (To keep it inexpensive, do not order prints; just ask the lab to process/develop the negatives. Good scanners are inexpensive, as are good photo printers.) With B&W you can either have someone else do the developing, or you can make it DIY.

    (For what it's worth, I started on film. My first camera was a cheap-as-hell 110 (remember 110 film?). Nowadays, I shoot 35mm, 120, instant (yay Impossible Project!), and digital.)

  • B December 17, 2009 06:10 am

    I thought this was a good post, and some people are missing the point.

    This is a great example of why Ken Rockwell is full of it.

    This post took Rockwell's advice and ran with it, using the logical suggestions he made, and came to the logical conclusion the average person would.

    The truth is, film is great, and digital is great. But it takes a lot more than Rockwell suggests to get these great results from fim, just as we've all found it it takes a lot more than we initially thought to make great digital images.

    So yeah, film still has a place, but that's not what this post is about. It's about doing things right instead of The Ken Rockwell Way.

  • E.G. December 17, 2009 05:58 am

    Yah, I was going to say BW, but everyone else said it. Oh, and I just did too.

  • Alex December 17, 2009 05:50 am

    and perhaps I should also mention that I haven't seen a digital sensor that operates below the ISO 100 range? Kodachrome was available as low as ISO24 back in 2002 or even ISO6 with the original Kodachrome. but perhaps that has changed?. though it seems the focus is more on attaining ridiculously high ratings such as 102400

  • Alex December 17, 2009 05:37 am

    For a start, "It was only a matter of time before analogue to digital conversion hardware with more bits and smarts silenced those voices" has never happened.. the closest you can argue to that is that most of the people who are major consumers now are too young to have ever listened to proper vinyl, so don't know to make the argument. Good vinyl on a good setup is warmer, and has a fuller range and hasn't had the hell compressed out of it straight out of the studio before it ever sees MP3 or whatever digital compression the end-user with their iPods etc are likely to use. but that's a whole other argument.

    Unfortunately the same exists in the film industry, it's harder to get good results because it's apparent most of the "lab techs" these days don't know anything past "insert film here" most of the true pros are either retired or dead. to get true proper results you would need to learn how to do the processes involved properly with your own equipment.. but there again, there aren't many people who can teach you that for the same reasons as above.. and most schools are dropping darkroom classes as well.. I will admit that I don't have a lot experience with film because there is admittedly a lot of cost involved.. but I've had limited experience with medium format (I love you, Holga) and got more atmospheric and interesting shots than I would have likely gotten with my D80 and months spent in photoshop... and once I'm able I have some shots on a TLR that should likely be quite interesting.

  • Deann B. December 17, 2009 04:42 am

    "Compare that with about $1-2 for an A4 print on a home printer, and zero cost for film or development."

    Digital is more cost effective if you are a hobbyist or casual photo-taker. But if you are serious about your photography, you'll know that a good digital photo has also had a lot of processing in photoshop. White balance, contrast, re-touching, sharpening... the backend work is seeminly endless. As a wedding photographer, I'm looking at transitioning to film so that all the work is done in camera, instead of spending my life in front of a computer.

  • Jolene December 17, 2009 04:15 am

    Fascinating article- thank you.

  • Nick December 17, 2009 04:05 am

    I'm sorry, but this post is awful. It lacks research, context, and good methodology.

    Ken Rockwell is, to put it gently, a crackpot, and arguments for shooting 135 film based on megapixel counts of scans are nonsensical.

    Here are the reasons why I'm shooting film -- mind you, as someone who started out on digital cameras and who know shoots almost entirely on film:

    * I've found some film stocks that I love, and can rely on to produce excellent results. Kodak's Portra line, and Fuji's Astia and Reala, for color, and Kodak's Plus-X and Tri-X for black and white, fit my needs excellently, and give me dependable results.
    * I have my own scanners, and I know how to use them.
    * Film lets me shoot cameras that I couldn't shoot in the digital world. There's no digital equivalent to an Olympus XA or Koni-Omega, and I can't afford the digital equivalents to my RB67 or my Bessa R. These cameras let me do work I couldn't do, or do as effectively, with a DX or FX DSLR.
    * Film gives non-millionaires like me access to the world of medium and large format photography.

    Now, should everyone shoot film? Of course not. But nothing in this post comes anywhere remotely near the real reasons one might want to still shoot film.

  • Eric D. December 17, 2009 03:41 am

    Err... I realise this is likely "off-topic," but I don't know where Kim got the idea that "voices were silenced" in the whole vinyl vs. CD debate. Vinyls are currently experiencing an incredible revival right now precisely for the same quality reasons that CDs have apparently "fixed" with all these "bits and smarts." There IS no debate: analog wins hands-down. Digital audio is --an approximation-- of the original sound wave.

    For all the "bits and smarts" that exist with a digital medium there is also still a human element, and CDs are subject to ridiculous amounts of compression causing clipping and distortion at obscene levels (you can thank record labels for that). Vinyls aren't subject to the loudness war being waged in the CD/MP3 world now. Perhaps if it wasn't about trying to compete with everyone else's overall volume CDs might come close to touching vinyl's sonic quality.

    And "more bits?" Really? The audio CD spec hasn't changed since its creation in 1980. It's still 16 bits, 44 100 Hz. I don't care how an album is recorded. You can record it at 24 bits and 192 000 Hz... it's still going to end up at 16 and 44.1k on a CD.

    Cracks and pops are a result of not taking care of your vinyl... they aren't inherent to the format, only to the care that is provided to them. Those same cracks and pops can actually add character to a recording... in the same way that faded/sepia-toned photographs can add elements of romance and nostalgia.

    Otherwise, a very intriguing article.

  • Jason December 17, 2009 03:18 am

    You've missed something - low light. No DSLR at ISO3200 will come close to the beauty of Ilford Delta 3200.

  • Ted December 17, 2009 03:18 am

    Of all the photographers I know and work with, both pro and amateur, most use digital because of it's cost effectiveness and convenience. A few of the pros will play with film a bit as a side project, but no pro shooter I know uses film full time.

    There are some people I know that do shoot film almost full time, and they are a very select group. Sadly, the group is predominantly a bunch of early twenty's who consider themselves Atrists, all took a simple 10 month photography program, (none with a degree in fine arts to accompany this) and work in a local select camera store. They like to bad mouth pro shooters, and then kiss up to them when they walk into the shop, and regularly post insulting notices on facebook about their customer base, they are very quick to inform anyone who is within earshot just how much more any of them know than any pro in town, and how mediocre all the local pros are. They will happily beat anyone in the room over the head about the 'finer points' of shooting film, and how only they are real photographers because of the use of film, and some of them process the film themselves (a task I'm quite glad I no longer have to do, because it's expensive, messy and time consuming - yes I have processed a lot of my own film in the days before digital)

    To this end, I have a bit of a low opinion of those who profess to be 'film purists', as I come from a time before digital. I saw the transition to digital as amazingly liberating, with so many more options for post process work and speed of workflow, the slight misgivings of digital capture quality are easily dismissed or addressed while shooting. While there may still be a place for film for those who are hard core hobbyists, I feel there is more film used by those who are more interested in bolstering their personal image rather than those skilled enough to take truly fine images where the small advantages in dynamic range become a real issue in the final product.

    As for prices, sure film cameras are very inexpensive now, but if you compared the cost of a good slr back in the 70's or 80's with adjusted dollars, a good digital SLR comes in at about the same price point after 30 years of inflation. One must adjust for the fact that the average income was about 22k a year then and a GOOD slr Kit cost about $600, so about 2.7%. Now the average income is about 50k and a GOOD kit is about 1500, 3%. Very little change. I'm sure the same is true about the professional lines of cameras, which the big nikon and canon full frame cameras are.

  • Jason Collin Photography December 17, 2009 03:08 am

    About the costs, this is what it seems to come down to . . .

    Digital - pay much more up front for the body

    Film - pay much more on the backend for film and processing

    I would say that digital is the cheaper option in not even the long, run, but the short run, if one shoots a lot. When I heard those costs of developing and scanning (as most clients want digital copies) I just thought of how much I'd have to increase my current rates and how much longer the client would have to wait for delivery of product (assuming editing of scanned film shots in the digital darkroom as well).

    In a sense I can understand the monkey comment, as it is much, much easier to produce a good shot with minimal photography knowledge. Or rather I should say learning how to produce a good shot is much, MUCH easier as trial and error is free and results are immediate. Anyone that I meet that came from the film days, however, I always give a bit more respect and feel they have "earned" their photog credentials in a way someone (like myself) that has only shot digital never had to.

  • Chris December 17, 2009 03:05 am

    Why do you need it to be ~19mp? I scan my films at 3mp at a local place, and i don't notice a big difference in the sharpness compared to a 3mp reduced image from my EOS 450D. Maybe film just can't do ~19mp? try, like, 10mp first? Then again, i rarely do prints, and 3mp is way more than enough for internet/blog. Sure you can print 3mp pictures quite large also though.

  • nana December 17, 2009 02:49 am

    I'm a totally amateur but I still have my soft spot for film. Despite the prices, inconvenience or whatnot, film has sth that drawn me into. I actually favor my Pentax k1000 over my Canon Xsi.

    Shooting film is totally different from digital. You shot less, spend more time composing. You have the excitement of waiting for your prints to come out. Sure it's inconvenience sometimes, but in this digital world, we need to slow down at times. That's why I still stick around with film.

  • Bjorn December 17, 2009 02:44 am

    I don't think these Digital vs. Film discussions have much left in them. But then enough people believe what Rockwell writes, so perhaps there is still some point...

    IMO, comparing film vs. digital as your main working media isn't the way to go. They are not replacements, but rather compliments. I shoot both frequently and for different purposes. I shoot mostly B&W and develop it myself. A $200 Epson v500 does a fine job scanning the negatives for use on the web. Very low cost.

    Costco does a horrible job scanning IMO, which is why I use them strictly for colour developing, at $2 / roll. Then I scan my own negatives.

    Neither my FM2n's nor my Cannonet Rangefinder nor my Holga are ever going to replace my D300. But I'm glad I have them and I use them all at times.

    Film, especially on a fully manual body, can teach many things:
    -careful composition
    -clear consideration of focus, aperature and shutter speed (given that ISO is fixed once you insert the roll)
    -the value of taking your time

    All can be learned and enjoyed via digital, but for me, they came to the forefront shooting my fully manual FM2ns (I ended up buying two :) ).

    I'm sorry that people like Rockwell are on their soap-boxes and are sending what IMO is the wrong message. Don't try to replace your excellent digital setups with film, but instead use film as another medium and another way to change the way you look at photography.

    And enjoy the results :)

  • Tom December 17, 2009 02:28 am

    I'm a 21 year old photographer and I have only been taking photos for the past 2 years, I taught myself everything I know through blogs and websites and shot exclusively on Canon DSLR's.

    I will agree that for convenience sake Digital is the clear winner, no question. It's the medium I use for almost all of my paid work.

    Having said that I find shooting film to be a vastly more rewarding experience than shooting with my DSLR. I use primarily B&W film and disagree completely digital has exceeded the quality of film, especially B&W. I love the medium so much I know develop my film at home and buy in bulk to save money. I load the film into the rolls, shoot the film and develop it myself, the hole process is wonderfully organic and you feel connected to the images in a way I have never been able to replicate when shooting purely digital.

    As well as using a lot of 35mm film I also use quite a lot of medium format film - the quality of the negatives you get for a MF camera far surpass even the most expensive SLR's (D3x, 1D etc) and is akin to $30,000 + plus digital MF backs.

    I used to care about things like 'usable ISO's', bit depths, lens sharpness and megapixels - but the time I unfurled my first roll of hand developed TRI-X from my Mamiya 6 changed how I look at photography for ever!!

    Don't give up on film just yet :)

  • John King December 17, 2009 02:28 am

    I agree with Nick and Clubhouse Kid above. There is no doubt that digital has revolutionized photography, and moved the masses of professional and amateurs alike away from film. But it has also opened up opportunities to acquire "pro-level" film equipment at a fraction of their original cost. And if one concentrates on B&W you can even develop it yourself and get the film scanned to digital on the cheap.

    B&W film can be a very cost effective and creatively challenging way to create "old-school" expressive photographs. As the article points out, you can buy top of the line "pro-level" bodies for a couple hundred bucks and pick up a couple lenses for the same investment again.

    I think trying to compare film and digital on the technical performance level is a comparison of apples and oranges. There is no way film can compare technically to the now well-developed, albeit expensive, digital technology. The point that should be taken from Ken Rockwell's comments is that because of the advent and development of digital, "state of the art" film technology is now available at bargan basement prices.

    I focus on motorsport photography and there can be no doubt that huge vibrant razor sharp images are what is commercially in vogue. And they want it overnight. So now, digital is the only way to go. (Same goes for faction and commercial photography.)

    But if you look at B&W racing photos of the 50's, 60's and early 70's, they were commercially in vogue and are still artistically relevant. The emotion the photo's evoke become more pure. The emotion comes from the composition and not the color.

    On thing that digital does not do as well as film is B&W. I would be interested to see you repeat your comparison but with B&W and see if you come our with the same conclusion.

    Though I have jumped head first into the digital pool, in writing this comment, it has made me consider wading back into the pool of B&W film on the cheap....

  • Ron Warren December 17, 2009 02:27 am

    Fascinating article! After reading the Rockwell, I thought about the possibility of retaining film in my repertoire. But this, on top of the instant verification of exposure settings.... well, I'm sticking with my beautiful, wonderful dslr! Thanks!

  • Paul Deveaux December 17, 2009 02:26 am

    Interesting article. The issue is that the expertise is developing film is gone. A few years ago I shot film exclusively because that was all I had. I got some fairly good results by scanning the negatives myself and working in Photoshop. Developing was dirt cheap because I would not ask for prints, just the negatives.

    If you really love film (for whatever reason) you will find a workflow that works for you. I would recommend developing the film yourself. If it is not worth the effort then you probably don't love it as much as you think you do.

  • vvk December 17, 2009 02:19 am

    I don't know, I get outstanding double prints from Kodak 100 (or any other film) from WalMart for $5 a roll. Even better from my local photo store at slightly higher cost. Excellent, accurate colors, razor sharp and much, much better than digital prints I also make. Not sure about scanning but seems like author skipped the simple solution of buying a good negative scanner for under $100....

    When I go on vacation I always take my $20 manual focus Minolta X-9 with my $25 Rokkor 50/1.4, $9 Rokkor 135/2.8 and a $60 Hoya polarizer.... And 20-30 rolls of Kodak 100 at $1.49 each. I would not want to throw my $1000 DSLR on salty sand anyway.

  • Henning December 17, 2009 02:15 am

    You're doing it wrong!

    Film and digital are two completely different things! The argument from convenience is a fallacy. Film is a lot more work, and it is work that I thoroughly enjoy. I absolutely love that I have to do everything myself, and every cent I invested in my equipment proves its worth every single day.
    Shooting film is about control, not comfort. Also, it is NOT as expensive as you say. I bulk load my film and develop in Rodinal, which comes down to maybe two or three cents a frame. And bear in mind that with film, you tend to shoot less not because it's expensive but because slowing down the process with a manual camera makes you think about your shots more.
    You have a few good points but all in all, this article is very much behind the standard of writing that I'm used to from you.
    Also, your comparison of Vinyl and CD is quite flawed. :)

  • Bostjan B. December 17, 2009 02:12 am

    Well, speaking about sharpness, I can not agree more; but as well as dynamic contrast is concerned, my D700 can not produce so tasteful images than my very cheap Nikon FE with even cheaper Fuji Velvia 200. So talking about all that, I agree the economic side is way on digital, but picture quality is on the analog/ film side. IMHO.

  • Larry Eiss December 17, 2009 02:12 am

    Wow, Darren, what an interesting post. I read Rockwell all the time. Over the years I have come to see him as you do; a purveyor of controversial points of view. This article of yours really helped me in my own thinking about the benefits of film vs. digital.


  • Lon December 17, 2009 02:10 am

    I appreciate the time, energy and investement Darren took to document his experience with film, and I think his approach is the same as many readers here would take. But I don't think he is giving film the justice it deserves.

    Where it comes to cost and convenience for the majority of us shutterbugs I agree completely that digital wins hands down, but the pics he used are horrendous examples of the capabilities of film. It may be a good example of what the typical consumer experiences when dropping off a roll at costco (and obviously Ken Rockwell never actually looked at the pictures on his CD). But high quality digitized scans of film simply require a different (and more time consuming) workflow than shooting with DSLR.

    A decent digital photographer is not likely to print off camera RAW files directly - they'll either use software to process the "digital negative" themself or else let the camera's cpu do the processing (color balance, sharpening, noise reduction) itself. Likewise quality film scans require some post-processing (beyond what the lab may do) too. It is up to the artist to make that happen, but its not as difficult as this article alludes, and there are unlimited examples of beautiful, sharp, dynamic and vivid film images on the internet.

  • Chris December 17, 2009 02:06 am

    I couldn't live without film. It's a cheap alternative for a full frame camera. These days i shoot prolly as often on film as i shoot on my digital EOS 450D.

  • Dan Wolfgang December 17, 2009 02:05 am

    Good article, though I have one point of contention: the F100 was the pinnacle of film bodies, not the F80!

  • Thomas Fitzgerald December 17, 2009 01:55 am

    I used to love shooting film. for me it was never about capturing the extra detail that Ken claims film has, but it is about a different, more organic picture. I do my own scanning with a canon FS4000 film scanner. The problem with shooting film though is two fold. First it's very expensive, especially here in Ireland. Developing a roll of slide film is about €10 (which is about $14) and getting it scanned at source is around €20. On top of that it usually takes a week to get films done. Print film is a little cheaper but still very expensive.

    The second problem is that no one can develop films properly any more. The skill is simply gone. Everyone throws stuff into mini labs and the negatives come back scratched and covered in dirt. Its just not worth the effort any more, at least for me anyway.

    It's a shame because there's a beautiful feel to film that you just can't capture in digital, but it's not so different as to be worth the extra cost and time.

  • Some Guy December 17, 2009 01:53 am

    There are several venues that have not been covered in this article, but one thing that hits home the hardest is the cost of film. $30 a roll? maybe in australia, but here in the usa, Velvia is about $6/roll, provia about $7. Almost all films, slide and print, are under $10 except for specialty films, like high-iso pushable slide films and infrared stuff (Check,, etc...) and they keep practically FOREVER if you keep them in a fridge, in the dark. Don't sweat the expiration date if you know how to handle the stuff. Getting them developed (again, in USA) from places like sam's club: print film develop with one set of 4x6 prints: $8 Max for a roll of 36 frames. Slide film: $7 Max for a roll of 36 (sadly no prints).

    Don't pay for crappy minilab scans from where you get stuff developed. Ken Rockwell says it's great because he only wants 72 dpi, 640x480 scans for display on the internets (He has his own consumer-grade scanners for higher-resolution stuff...which he talks about constantly on his site). And for display on the internet, minilab scans are fine, but for printing, you need to do optical printing or get yourself into contact with someone with a dedicated film scanner (or buy your own for ~$200 US) and touch up the photos after you scan them if you need tack-sharp photos (photoshop smart sharpen anyone? KR has a tutorial on it, for crying out loud). Zoom in on your D40 scan to the same size. Which do you prefer--slightly softer photos or annoying artefacts as a result of sensor interpolation? For REALLY important prints, get a drum scanner, or, better yet, get yourself a non-amateur camera, like a medium format 4cmx5cm or even a large format camera, with film FILM that's 8inches x 11inches in size.

    On to gear: I started with film in this past August. Now I have 3 film bodies (Canon A-series -- a man, learn to turn a focus ring), a bunch (4+) of lenses, and 4 flashes. I have a Plustek Opticfilm 35mm film/slide scanner, which I paid about $200 for new. All told, I've paid: $450 for gear. Film (in the USA), I've calculated at about $.50 max/frame. That's $.50 a shot...which good incentive to not waste 100 shots on pictures of my cat sleeping. Sure, I take crappy pictures, but I look at them and learn from them.

    I'm not saying that film is better, but I do want to point out that it's not as much trouble as it's made out to be here. Maybe it is in australia, but not at all so bad in the USA, where I'm just going to guess now, a lot of people are reading this website.

    The main advantage of digital is processing speed, which is why it has taken over the news, most consumer stuff (Weddings, portraits, etc...), and the 'Mother taking snapshots of the kitty, children, and flower macros.'

    For the photo hobbyist, such as myself, who doesn't have a deadline, and who enjoys the technical aspects and the ride to the result (i.e. getting out and taking the pictures, and chatting with people about photography) as much as the result itself, film is still an extremely viable option. And should I choose to get into a larger format, I will not be shackled to the digital workflow, forcing me to spend $30,000+ on a digital medium format camera. I can spend $300, or 1% of the cost of a digital MF camera, and get myself an entire medium format system, including lens, back, body, and metered finder and already be familiar with different film options, and know which films I like and which to avoid.

    Sorry for the rage post...but...well...whatever.

  • Tyler Wainright December 17, 2009 01:50 am

    Ken can write some compelling arguments but this article definitely helped put some things into perspective. I had ~50 Velvia slides scanned a few weeks back and it was great to see them on my computer screen but I wasn't too impressed with the results...I was expecting them to be much sharper...looking through the loupe the slides are dead on but the scans are too fuzzy for my taste. I'm at the point now that I'd rather save up money for a nice full-frame DSLR and forget film all together...well, maybe I'll just shoot some black and white film :-)

  • irene jones December 17, 2009 01:36 am

    Nice article! In my heart I still hold a candle for film also, but since I'm not willing to drop any dough on one last fling, your article gave me one more reason to continue to look forward and not backward. More then film I miss Polaroid! Oh this things you could with that medium! I used to spend hours with emulsions transfers. They were like snowflakes...

    My newest regression? Pinhole photography. It's perfect because while I still need to scan the stuff to share it with anyone, the film is 120mm and each frame is already soft so I don't feel the need to stress about the sharpness. If you're looking for a cheep blast from the past, that's my suggestion. Plus there isn't any way I know of to get the magic of pinhole in digital photography. I've seen the "pinhole" lenses, but that's not the same. That's the equivalent of adding a grunge texture to a desaturated photo and calling it a van dyke brown print. Oh technology...

  • Jacob December 17, 2009 01:34 am

    "Kodak stopped making film this year..."

    Just FYI, Kodak hasn't stopped making film. In fact, they introduced a new film, Ektar 100, in 2008 (with a 120 version released earlier this year). What the author might have been referring to is the discontinuation of Kodachrome.

    Corrections aside, excellent article. I always enjoy an informed discussion rather than the "why digital sucks" or "why film sucks" forum topics i see regularly.

  • Anthony Petty December 17, 2009 01:24 am

    Unfortunately, the average joe consumer is who the camera companies make their money one. They can probably sell a hundred $100 digital point and shoot's to every single $3000 pro level dslr they sell. So that is where they development and energy go... so to that end - ease of use and a low price point will win every time. So, just like cds did with vinyl (and mp3s are doing to cds), digital cameras will do to film. It's inevitable.

  • Nick T December 17, 2009 01:12 am

    It's really interesting, because I used to use a D80, then progressed to the D3, which luckily I managed to get for a ridiculously cheap price, But I also have an F5 an F90x I had a great F601 before it bit the bullet and two FM2's which I love.

    I love film and I won't turn my back on, if you shoot digital Raw, you know that what you you've shot you're going to manipulate and tweak, even just a little, the end result is never what you shot in camera. The same with film, in developing we always fooled around, burning and dodging in the darkroom and we still use these tools in the digital darkrooms of our computers.

    I get bog standard film developed at ASDA the UK equivalent of Wal Mart, and get a CD with both Hi and Lo Res Digital files of those shots, it costs just a few pounds. I take those Hi Res files into Photoshop or lightroom and develop and work up my own prints, just as I would with Digital, the difference is the remarkable level to which I can pull back and recover info from the highlights in a way that Digital can't. The images on that CD aren't the final product just a digital version of a negative to work from. And I get great results.

  • skink74 December 17, 2009 01:08 am

    I agree, interesting comparisons, but I've got to pull you up on "Kodak stopped making film this year" - this is totally untrue. Kodak stopped making one particular film - Kodachrome - but is still the largest supplier of film worldwide.
    I think the cost argument is clear in favour of digital, and sensors, particularly full-frame, are able to exceed the resolution of all but the finest grain film up to even medium format.
    But on the other hand it's the analogue qualities of film that make it so attractive to me - I'm not going to say "better" but there is a look to film that I can't get from digital shooting, and the fact that black and white film at least has a much higher dynamic range than digital. B&W film is also very much cheaper to both purchase and develop than colour film.

  • Farrell December 17, 2009 12:44 am

    This takes me back to my film days...

    Years ago I used to work in a dye transfer printing lab in NYC. We made color prints -- from film -- for ad agencies and the like and the color work was very rigorous. It took a team of highly trained printers about a week to do what a fairly capable amateur can do in Photoshop today in 10 minutes.

    For image control, film is nothing at all like digital. You get what you get.

    I do agree with the commenter above about B&W. Much easier with film and fun, too. It'll make you film gear worth the investment.

  • Brandon Oelling December 17, 2009 12:29 am

    We still love both film and digital!

    Our good friend Mike Gray at keeps the film flame burning!


  • Nick Coyne December 17, 2009 12:28 am

    Forget about colour. Buy yourself some tri-x and shoot grainy black and white. Lots of atmosphere and you won't care about resolution or colour casts.

  • Steven Lilley December 17, 2009 12:27 am

    An interesting post, thank you. Over the Christmas Holiday I hope to play with B&W film, developing and printing at home. Why? Because I hate to see my FM2 unused. I'm hoping to find some magic in doing so, and reading around, it seems, the effort required can contribute to improving ones photography.

  • Mark December 17, 2009 12:24 am

    Great article. Ken almost had me at the beginning, but you clearly refuted it. Film has it's place as does digital.

  • the clubhouse kid December 17, 2009 12:22 am

    People are still waiting for the death of the movie industry because of that thing called a "televisor". And that other thing called VHS...

    And vinyl has never been so inexpensive, accessible and attractive (specially within the independent music scene). I see myself buying more vinyl than CDs right now.

    I see no reason for film to die, just as I see no reason for it to be as popular as digital.
    I shot film as a kid (because that's what we had) and I at the time (here in Brazil of course), I'd only hear about a ASA 800 film. You could not get it, unless you were a pro. It wasn't on a shelf at your local store.

    The possibilities I see on eBay now are endless.
    Not only I'm still shooting a bit of film, I'm doing it on a toy camera.
    And I love it!

  • Stephen December 17, 2009 12:17 am

    Excellent article with plenty of food for thought!