I am sure that this one will cause some debates. There are loads of articles about this, but I decided to weigh in as well. Comparing is a little silly. I always think of it like comparing a record to a wav. file. Both sound great but have different quality. Film purists will always argue that it looks better then digital and digital purists will always argue the advantages of digital and how it has surpassed film – but has it really?
I will look at this objectively. I use both and I most definitely have a preference, but I will save that until the end. Let’s look at some pros and cons to each first.
Film – Pros
• Makes you slow down – you choose your shots more carefully, this helps to really develop your eye
• Lots of different films produce unique tones and colours that digital struggles to recreate
• Great detail in highlights and shadows when exposed correctly
• Negatives have great latitude to bring details back if under/over exposed
• Positive film has incredible detail
• Medium and Large format film unrivalled in detail
• Details appear more natural – no pixels mean smoother, finer edges
Film – Cons
• Expensive – film costs are through the roof even before developing and printing
• Positive film is very unforgiving
• Negs need to be digitized through scanning, very few scanners can capture the full detail
• Is not practical for most professional work
• Film stock is disappearing rapidly
Now let’s look at digital
• Fast – see results straight away
• Practical – memory is inexpensive, so you can take thousands more photos compared to film
• Constantly improving – digital tech only gets better as the years go by: this means better photos, function and user experience.
• Creative post production – through Lightroom and Photoshop you can create unique looks and styles not possible with film
• RAW offers extraordinary control – you can recover a lot in RAW and control nearly every aspect of the shot – expect the content!
• Quick turnaround time – you can take a photo and share it instantly, essential for professionals in sports and journalism
• Post editing can be a frustrating experience – more time is spent on front of a computer
• 1000s of photos does not mean 1000s of ‘good’ photos. More time is spent editing to find the best shots.
• Digital archiving is not as secure as having a negative (although should last longer if stored correctly)
• RAW can be used with less skill as so much can be recovered afterwards – this can lead to over production and lazy photographers!
• Not all sensors are the same, so the same shot from several cameras can vary a lot
So, these are some pros and cons to give an overview of film v digital. And based on this the clear winner is digital, for everyday and professional photography film simply is not practical or convenient enough to complete. And I shoot digital every day and love experimenting with different styles and creative processes. However, we want to know what looks one better.
For me it must be film. Why? Well It naturally captures a high dynamic range without the need for post editing. It also has grain rather then pixels. This texture is unique because the light crystals in the emulsion are all unique and not in a pattern like a digital sensor. And simply the satisfaction of doing everything right in camera and the anticipation of the developed shot cannot ever be matched by digital. I love the innovation in digital tech, and seeing companies create better sensors and cameras but my heart belongs to film, even if it is impractical and expensive. It just makes those photos captured on it all the more valuable.