Thursday, June 18, 2015

Film Is Better Than Digital

Backyard Feed - Palo Verde, Arizona
Captured using a Canon T70 SLR and Ilford Delta 400 film. 
In yesterday's post I said, "Film is still superior to digital with regard to pure image quality." Several of the "big" photography blogs have published articles recently stating the exact opposite of that. They have claimed that film is dead and digital is much better.

Who is telling the truth? Is film better or is digital better? 

One thing I can say with certainty is that digital is more convenient. In the long term it's probably cheaper, too, as the cost of film and development adds up over time.

But what about the image?
Purple Beretta - Tehachapi, California
This is a digital image, and it's not too hard to figure that out just by looking at it.

One thing that I despise about digital photography is that it sometimes looks digitized. I remember about 10 or 12 years ago I could easily pick out a digital image. Place two prints in front of me, one captured with film and one captured with a digital sensor, and I could tell you which was which. Digital pictures looked digitized.

Camera sensors have improved by leaps and bounds since then, but sometimes digital images still look digital. Film looks organic. I can still sometimes tell just by looking whether an image was captured using film or digital, although it is so much more difficult than it used to be.

I've heard some use the analogy of MP3 vs. vinyl. Digital music is cleaner but vinyl is warmer and richer. It's similar with circuitry vs. vacuum tubes in amplifiers. Or electronic drums vs. real drums. I think there's some truth in those analogies, but they fall short for me because I'm not a musician, and because we're talking about visual art and not audible art.
Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Is this image film or digital? Can you tell?
What I find about film that is superior to digital is that film looks organic--it looks to my mind how a photograph should--while digital sometimes doesn't. There is something about the silver grain and film tonality that is "right" and there are sometimes aspects within a digital image that are "wrong"--all of which are extraordinarily subtle.

With all of that said, 99% of my photography is digital nowadays. I occasionally shoot film, but digital is so much more convenient that I trade the look of film for the look of digital. I then use software in post-processing (Alien Skin Exposure 7) to mask the digitalness (is that a word?) of the photograph and make it appear more analogue. I'm not always successful and I still occasionally cringe when I can tell a photograph of mine is digital.

So, yes, film is better than digital. It's not easier or cheaper, but the image looks better when captured with film. Even if it is incredibly difficult to tell. Does it matter? Not really. For the most part, we're talking about tiny, almost imperceptible differences.

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