Thursday, March 27, 2008

film vs. digital

Spending the afternoon in front of the computer, sorting through various files ranging from my first digital camera, to my current camera and some images scanned from film, I find myself with mixed feelings on the whole digital vs. film debate.

The instant gratification of digital lures and delights me. Viewing an image within seconds of having pushed the shutter release still thrills me--"ooh, ooh, let's see!!" These days, images flash around the world as they are happening; we see our world evolving as it's happening. No more waiting for film processing-just load and send anywhere in the world. Wondering whether your pictures of your great-aunt Betsy's 100th birthday party came out or having the lab ruin the pictures from your amazing vacation is also a thing of the past.

But will it last? Film has a certain durability that, so far, digital hasn't proven as technology constantly outgrows itself. Yesterday's technological breakthrough becomes today's relic-quickly discarded as technology moves on. While we can still create stunning prints from 100 year old negatives, I'm not so sure about digital images from even 10 years ago.

Looking at my own images, I sigh, knowing that by scanning in my slides and negatives from even 20 years ago, I can have better quality images than the ones I shot just 5 years ago on a new 7MP digital camera. Of course, today's hand-held cameras go up to 39MP, which would certainly outrank a scanned 35mm slide or negative (if you have an extra $40K burning a hole through your pocket.)

Another thing I consider is the electronic components of digital photography. When I first started learning photography, I bought myself a completely manual film camera (ok, so film was the only thing available back then...) that worked without batteries. That camera worked no matter what-as long as I pushed the button, the shutter clicked. I even dropped it a few times and never had a problem with it.

These days, my teachers tell us to be ready for something, anything, to go wrong- and have backups. Batteries die, flashes don't work, cameras drop (and break); but for anyone shooting digitally, I'd say backing up your files ranks at the top. I've heard stories of students losing all their work because their computer or hard drive crashed. Ouch. It would be like having all your negatives go up in flames-you can never get those back.

Of course, digital has its benefits (as I mentioned before- one of my favorites is the instant gratification!!) It also affords one so much flexibility in manipulating the images that it becomes fascinating to play with an image and create all sorts of effects without ever distorting the original. Using traditional film and processing, this would not be possible (for example, in cross-processing, you can never go back and re-process.)

Digital capture also freed many people to experiment in what types of shots they are taking without having to worry about the cost of processing. I mean, how amazing that someone can take hundreds of pictures without worrying about the processing cost? This serves as a double edged sword though, because along those lines, potentially less thought is given to what is being photographed, with the idea that "i'll just delete what I don't like." Photography, at its core, is about seeing and communicating that through the medium, not just clicking away; that prohibitive cost of processing also made the photographer think a bit more about what images he/she recorded.

So, both have their advantages. I'm certainly not about to give up my digital camera because the technology has not yet surpassed film. But I'm not getting rid of my film cameras either.

P.S....I've turned on word verification because it seems spam is picking up a bit (and I don't need no stinkin' spam!!) 


Willowtree said...

I agree totally with what you say. Both have their pluses and both have their minuses. Even though I haven't used film for a while, I won't sell either of my AE-1 SLRs. Nor would I dream of getting rid of my Rollei 35T trip camera as it works without power.

Glamourpuss said...

I'm with you on this one - I have mixed feelings, too. Our best photographer at work uses film by default and you have to specifically request digital, which I like - very old school.


Blathering Idiot said...

Another that agrees with your mixed feelings. As a complete and rank amateur, though, I have to say I enjoy the non-processing money cost of digital. However, you are certainly right about the pondering of the composition that film brought. Somehow the ability to manipulate the digital images (though nice) seems to take away from the time spent in the actual initial composition and the attention to detail that used to be present prior to the actual shot being taken. That being said, I am not ready give up the digtal SLR.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I like the warmth of film. Digital can be kind of flat where as film seems warmer, fuller. But that's just me. They are saying digital will last 10 years - or you can count on it for 10 years so....

James Burnett said...

I've always felt film to make the whole picture-taking experience more personal. I feel more involved when I use film.

Claudia said...

Willow, you get it.

Puss, it's nice to know that a professional uses film first. The impression I've gotten is that they're as rare as the yeti, but it doesn't make sense to me.

Blather, I am not ready to give it up either. Not by a long shot, but I have the feeling that I need to start honing my skills and confidence with film. It's one thing to shoot digitally and know right away, it's another to shoot film and know.

Claudia, film has a different look without a doubt. I know that my black and white negs, even scanned in, give a much better range than my DSLR. It's almost tangible. If a digital image has a 10yr shelf life, I can't even imagine how much will be lost soon.

James, why do you suppose that is?

Jon said...

There's something romantic about film that digital just cant emulate.
I adore my digi camerea for the instant images it produces, but I'll never get rid of my old film cameras.

Doppelgänger said...

I am a big fan of film for two reasons:

1. If I take or receive a digital picture, there is a 99.99999% chance that it will remain on whatever computer I downloaded it on to and once that computer is gone or dead, so are all those pictures.

2. I like to physicality of actual photos, photo albums, etc. There's nothing like paging through a book of memories...especially the ones with Mom's thumb or the big flash in the mirror.

Those pictures don't exist anymore since they are so easily discarded in digital format.

Now when I take pictures, I use film, have them developed and sometimes have a cd made as well (for picture sharing which so many people insist upon these days).