A Photographic Journey

Film or digital that is the question.

Coming from an extensive background of using film for almost twenty years, I can be as bias as the next man. I have used the common film formats extensively, such as 135, 120 and even 4×5 sheet film. I have used the finest grain slide film to the modern wonder negative films like Kodak Ektar 100. I am enamored with the film options that are available today, they are of such quality and value compared to the distant past, I think film is far from dead but currently having a sort of renaissance. The options are less than when there were no digital option, but by and large the options that are available are technically superior to that of the past.

To cut a long story short, digital especially 135 format digital has surpassed 135 film format but a fair way. Even with a drum scan you would be hard press to compare it with most semi-professional DSLR output. The dynamic range of the digital sensor well surpasses that of film, capturing color more accurately and giving you a file that so much more malleable. Not to mention cutting your running costs and greatly simplifier your workflow. There are now very few areas of photography where film is absolutely necessary. The only situations I can think of where film is still a necessity are architectural shots for architectural projects where many firms still request 4×5 film outputs of me and a few exclusive online stock photo companies. But for the most part, newbies can take photographs happily for the rest of their lives without touching a single roll of film. So why bother with using messy film at all?

On the large end of the scale, 4×5 film scanned on a drum scanner will still out resolute even a 50 mega pixel digital back, not to mention using film even bigger than 4×5 inches. So at this end of the spectrum current 2010 consumer digital technology hasn’t quite caught up. I own a betterlight scanner digital back for my 4×5 setup that is 133 mega pixel and its resolution is astonishing and its color reproduction is the best I have ever seen but its bulk and slow scan times still keep film well in the running. In the medium format range the entry cost of a digital back can be very excessive for the serious amateur and using a home scanner, will it be a Nikon or Minolta dedicated film scanner or an Epson V700 flatbed scanner will produce a pretty good enlargeable images. Most medium format digital back in excess of 30 mega pixel will have the resolution edge over their film counter part not to mention better color reproduction. The downside of medium format digital backs are you’re dependent on batteries and they are much more bulky to use in the field. Reliability is also going to be a factor.

At the small end of the scale, 135 film although has been beating soundly isn’t quite ready to quit. You can emulated much of the grain and color affect of film digitally, but there is a kind of nostalgic value when using a film that simply can’t be replaced by using a modern digital camera & digital post-processing. The level of concentration and thought required when using film can be meditative and the satisfaction of a beautiful print, slide projected onto a wall or a good negative scanned into a computer can’t be understated. I have said elsewhere that it is this satisfaction of the photographer towards his or her work that is the primal essence of a good photograph. (This is probably why I love my Epson R-D1s so much, it has manage to retain some of these film camera shooting qualities with the convenience of digital.)

Of course then there are many wonderful cameras and lenses that don’t have a digital counterpart as yet and these beautiful antiques would be wasted if film was to die. Looking at my camera cabinet, I would be extremely sad to see my Rolleicord or Yashica Twin-lens-reflex camera, or my Olympus pen ft, or my Hasselblad Xpan II, or my Leica iiig, CL, M3, M6TTL, M7, or my Minolta CLE, or my Hexanon RF and my many film point & shoots become just icons of the past. I doubt that I am alone in my sentiments and I suspect the multitudes of film camera lovers won’t ever let it happen.


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