photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Film vs. Digital

Dead, undead, undead.

in Film , Monday, January 31, 2011

It’s funny that the old film vs. digital arguments seem to be coming around again, maybe prompted by the loss of Kodachrome and the fact that with it we’ve lost a major expressive tool.  The digital protagonists probably thought that they’d nailed film’s coffin shut, but it does seem to displaying some strong undead characteristics.

The interesting thing, based purely on random observation, is that the demographic of the film follower crowd seems to be split into two parts: the older, traditionalist group, and the much younger crowd, who are maybe looking for something more “authentic”.  For example, ex-Flickr community manager Heather Champ shoots exclusively with film.

I’ve got a foot in both camps. I shoot film in my XPan (the only film camera I’ve got now apart from an ailing Ricoh GR1) and the rest is digital. Both mediums have their advantages, and anybody’s preference is going to be dependent on a lot of subjective factors.  However, one characteristic of film, especially slide film, which I think is a big deal (as does Bob Boyer), is that the creativity happens up to the moment you press the shutter, and from then on you’re pretty much fixed. On the other hand, shooting RAW with digital - and honestly from my perspective I can see little point in not shooting RAW - from an exposure point of view essentially comes down to cramming as much information as you can onto the memory card and sorting it all out later.

And this might be the critical point: digital photography requires you to spend more and more time in front of the computer, and opens up far more options than are good for you (here’s some compelling evidence of just how tasteless things can get).  Of course these days slide film goes digital too, but there’s a very critical difference: when I scan slide film, I’m trying to get the most accurate representation I can of the film on the lightbox.  I’m not trying to fix the white balance, or recover highlights or shadows (forget that!). I’m just trying to coax every bit of subtlety of tone, contrast and sharpness I can, while preserving the colours. I already know what I want the image on the screen to look like, because I can just glance over at my lightbox to see it.

For me this is far less tedious than going through a bunch of RAW files and tweaking them - and never really feeling quite sure that I’m doing the “right thing” - for example, I almost always add about 50% definition in Aperture. Why 50% ? I don’t know, just seems that more is too greedy and less is leaving money on the table.

It can take for EVER to scan a couple of rolls of XPan film to 48-bit, 4800dpi “archive masters”, but somehow it’s a good place to be, and every now and again the results just captivate me in a way no digital image of mine ever has.