Creative Portrait Photography

Film vs. Digital: Fight!

Are you ready to rumble?

Starting a conversation on an online forum about the merits of film or digital over the other is a surefire way to get some heated opinions. Then again, starting a conversation on an online forum about anything is likely to do that . . .

Let’s do some poking, shall we? Like anyone else, I have my opinions on this topic, so here goes:

I carry a film camera on me at all times (nerd alert: sometimes I have TWO). I fell in love with photography through a film camera’s viewfinder. So, I’m a little biased toward film. However, I do 99% of my Cahoots work with a digital camera. The simple fact is that I don’t believe one format is better than another. With my digital camera, I can shoot a thousand photos and toss away all but the best 10 shots. No big deal. If I did this with a film camera, it would result in a loss of hundreds of dollars in film, processing fees, and print fees. With my digital camera, I have a vast range of options available to me before I even hit the shutter release. I can easily upload images without waiting for them to be processed and printed. I can manipulate the images with just a few clicks of my mouse. Why on earth would I ever want to use film?

A lot of photographers ask that same question. I use film because digital image quality can be brilliant, sharp, and saturated, but there’s a definite quality that only film can give an image. It’s one of those things that’s hard to describe, but if you know it you can often easily tell the difference between a film image and a digital image. I also use film simply because it is expensive–I can’t be sloppy or careless. Every frame has to count. This forces me to think harder about the shot I’m taking, and I have to make my choices about the shot more consciously.

It has been a source of some amusement to me that so many of the Photoshop actions available to photographers for processing their images mimic the look and feel of film cameras. Light leaks, color shifts, selective desaturation, and especially black and white imagery–I buy a $1000 camera, a $2000 computer, the very expensive Photoshop program, and these actions to replicate the exact look I can get with a $30 thrift store camera, $4 in film, and $15 in processing and printing fees.

I really don’t believe that film is better than digital, or vice versa, but I do firmly believe that the mediums complement each other and that it benefits photographers to be skilled in both. I work with digital because of the ease and convenience, and because of the effects I can achieve. I also work with film because I learn something every time I shoot, and because I can more easily and authentically achieve specific images (and also because it’s a lot of fun). To each their own favorite format. I think this is one argument where there is no right answer, just preferences, and our time would be better spent taking pictures than debating someone else’s choices.

Happy shooting!

The below images were taken with a Pentax ME purchased at a thrift store and shot on 35mm film. Yes, I know they are oh so very hipster. I live in Portland, after all!

Click to biggify!

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2 responses

  1. Peter

    A well thought out ant expressed opinion.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm

  2. Peter

    As opposed to my horrible post. It should read “and” not “ant”.

    June 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

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