With film usage and adoption on the rise, we wanted to resurrect the debate of digital photos versus analog photos. As a film processing lab, we obviously have a bias, so not going to say which is better, but to present the differences and list advantages.
While in Eastern Sierra Nevada, we shot two photos, one film and the other digital. Both the digital photo and the film photo were taken with the same settings. The left image was captured on Velvia 50, taken with a Canon EOS 3, a 50mm lens at f/4. The photo on the right was taken with a full-frame Canon 6D with 50mm, 100 iso, and f/4. Both images are unedited. As you can see, Velvia 50 has a very fine grain and has rich, vibrant colors straight from the scan compared to the unedited JPEG from the Canon 6D. And yes, you do have the option to edit digital photos, but there’s something special about making a beautiful image in-camera on film and not having to spend any time editing!
Also, if you’re looking for a little less saturation, there are other great film choices, like Provia 100, which isn’t as saturated but still has great color and fine grain, or you could go with a color negative film which will give you more subtle colors and has a wider range of exposure latitude.
Film Photography Advantages
- Lower initial cost than for a comparable digital camera
- With a higher dynamic range, film is better at capturing white’s and blacks’ details and can’t be replicated with digital cameras. Also, film can capture subtle details lost in digital photography.
- Film is more forgiving of minor focusing issues and exposure problems.
- Film captures photos at higher resolution than most digital cameras.
- Analog film can be pushed or pulled multiple stops when needed, but the amount of contrast within the image is affected. Some photographers use this to their advantage to create the ideal look they desire, but this method still does not allow extremely high ISO speeds without impacting image tones.
- Film photographers with a limited number of exposures available on a roll of film must think more about their images before shooting them. Digital photographers tend to take pictures first and think later. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an advantage or disadvantage.
- Unlike digital cameras, film cameras are future proof and don’t become obsolete.
- No power or batteries needed. Long trips and cold conditions can be limiting for digital cameras.
- The Darkroom photo lab scans your film photos, now allowing you to edit your images on a computer with photo-editing software or share on social media.
Digital Photography Advantages
- The resolution in even point-and-shoot cameras, which is often 12 to 20 megapixels, is high enough resolution for large prints.
- Digital cameras also have the advantage of being able to change film speeds between individual photographs.
- The cameras are generally lighter weight than film cameras.
- Memory cards are tiny and can store many images.
- Instant gratification and images can be viewed immediately. Some film photographers consider this a disadvantage.
- You can edit your images directly on the camera.
- You can choose to print only the images you like best.
- Many cameras offer built-in filters.
Film Offers Color Consistency and Dynamic Range over Digital
Film is the golden standard of photography. Nothing compares – not even digital. A good example of this is when a film company like Fujifilm tries to match film’s beautiful color consistency. Such an ‘advancement’ in technology is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
Film is the golden standard of photography.
Take Provia and Velvia, for instance; when Fujifilm tried to replicate these stunning film stocks into their mirrorless digital cameras, it was a sad day indeed. Rather than making more film, they halted production and turned their attention to replicating the color science in camera. Digital mirrorless owners rejoiced as they could now take photos enriched with ‘Veliva’ and ‘Provia’ simulations. Looking at these cameras’ digital photos, the film simulation effect is merely a punch in contrast and saturation with some embedded metadata text. This type of marketing ploy has nothing on the traditional film stock we have been shooting for years. That’s why when you pick up a roll of Velvia or Provia, you know that nothing is going to beat the original. The color consistency is famous in film and not as a digital reproduction.
Adding to this, the film can capture a wider dynamic range (13 stops, to be exact) than most digital cameras. Because of this, you won’t have to edit your highlights, lift your shadows, or increase saturation. The image is perfect in every way. You can’t get the same results on a digital camera.
Resolution of Film is Higher Than Most Digital Cameras
The title above may seem far-fetched for those new to film, but let us explain it to you. Film is manufactured in various formats to suit a variety of cameras. This is much the same as the sensor sizes on digital cameras. However, unlike digital cameras, film can capture and store at greater resolutions. More specifically, when the film stock is larger, so is the photon count on the film stock’s surface.
For example, if we were to put a 120mm negative against a 35mm full-frame digital sensor, the film’s resolution would trump the digital camera. This will be more evident at lower ISOs; however, as you increase ISO, the signal-to-noise ratio drastically changes, and the digital sensor will win in terms of resolution.
So if you are looking to shoot film at lower ISO’s (Under 800, let’s say), then the resolution you can get will outperform a smaller sensor.
Film Processing And Editing Is As Creative As Taking The Shot
One of the key elements of film photography is the creative control offered throughout the processing and editing stages. Rather than being a bulk-edit workflow as experienced in digital, there is a staged process involved with film. It is a process that is both enjoyable and challenging but still one that you have full control over. One of the biggest advantages of film editing is the greater level of light management within the darkroom environment. Film offers a significant level of dynamic range with less blowout of highlights and loss of detail in shadow areas. Digital files can be impossible to recover from such issues.
While it is convenient that digital editing can be done in-camera or on a digital device, it is often done on the go. There is fulfillment and enjoyment in our busy world to be gained in slowing down and working within a darkroom a lab. Alternatively, many are now taking the time to work on high-resolution scans from film photography outings. With the right processing flow, film negatives will last a lifetime and can be used for scans or prints numerous times. Those in the digital world live in constant fear of computer crashes, hard drive failures, or even memory card corruption. There is nothing worse than a memory card read error while in the field or while trying to import images onto a computer.
Editing should be far more than simply pushing around sliders on a screen. Film processing and editing impacts all the senses and brings you closer to creative outcomes.
The Cost Of Film Photography Is More Manageable and Less Jarring Than Digital
Like it or not, the costs involved in photography’s creative pursuit are a key consideration for many people. Both film and digital have unique cost considerations worth exploring – however, film photography has a gentler approach with a lower financial burden. With film, your up-front costs are far less as film cameras’ price is significantly lower than that of a modern DSLR or mirrorless kit. The price of some of the high-end models is staggering and would place most under financial strain. Plus, you are shackled with the other drawbacks of being locked into the digital medium.
Film photography spreads its costs out throughout your life as a photographer. Aside from the camera, the ongoing cost of film is a low-cost element – buying in bulk is always a smart choice as you are more likely to get out and shoot with a bag full of film. Plus, you save a little on each roll with a bulk lot. From there, you are looking at lab and darkroom costs depending on how deep you want to dive. A popular solution is to manage lab costs by opting for digital scans of your film. These scans are of the highest quality and retain all the quality and detail of your original shots. Plus, you now have full creative control of which direction you want to head and how much you want to spend.
You can now take your digital scans and edit them further with your preferred editing software – or not at all. You can opt to print your scans at home or through a lab in any size and format you want. And, if you are so inclined, you can, of course, share your work on your site, blog, or via social media platforms. Either way, it is evident that you will invest much less with film throughout your photography life than you would through digital. Film cameras last lifetimes while digital-only last as long as their circuits hold-up.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.
This was originally posted on our Instagram (instagram.com/thedarkroomlab).