Perhaps an old tired question, but one that is hitting me hard right now about film and digital...

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by jeff_z., Sep 16, 2010.

  1. Although this is not likely the most un-biased place, I thought that because of the evident commitment and love for film in general here, and often, seemingly coupled with at least a moderate amount of experience with digital cameras as well, that it might still be the best forum in which to place this issue. I'm faced with a decision between a relatively very good deal on a quality Nikon scanner, or, putting the funds towards a digital dslr. Putting aside my specific needs in photography, I wanted to see what experienced people here think of the current differences in aesthetics and perceived image quality between images made with high quality digital slr's, and film photography also made with excellent equipment.
    Basically, one way I've been attempting to make this decision is by looking at photography books, both new ones derived from digital cameras, and a few of my favorites that are 15+ years old, and also, thinking about scanned images from film, both on the computer and in prints. The books I mentioned are mostly color, and are nature and people oriented. All things considered, so far, I feel that in general the film derived images are clearly more appealing aesthetically, and of course, I'm trying to mentally discount any differences in compositional skill, etc. between the photographers... For all the endless marketing, all the endless discussions, that's still the outcome for me... film still seems to have something special.. In nature images, there's a certain richness and tonality to the colors, especially the earth tones... In more high-key images, I actually don't see as much difference, if any.. One very recent book I'm thinking of in particular, and I'd rather not mention the author's name, but will say that this person is quite well known in certain nature circles, has images that really turn me off in terms of color rendition, the tonalities, and contrast, and it's supposed to be an inspiring teaching book! I suppose some of this might be attributed to printing, so if anyone can shed a light on this aspect, that would be great, too. But why in the world would printing ever be sub-par in a book for this purpose?
    Anyways, I hope what I'm asking is clear enough; I very honestly am asking if others feel the same way towards the aesthetic qualities of film images vs. those digitally captured, especially those of you also using top of the line digital cameras. I know that I've read in some forums of people saying that they defy anyone to tell the difference without knowing beforehand, but I still tend to think that there is a discernible difference, at least in certain (many) photographic situations and subjects. Experienced opinions that are as objective as possible would be appreciated. Thanks, Jeff
  2. Experienced opinions that are as objective as possible would be appreciated.

    Sure, and pigs might fly.
    The only way to assess this objectively would be to do blinded testing, to see if observers can distinguish between images captured on film, and primary digital capture. Even at that, you would have to be careful about defining exactly what your question is, because most commercial film printing in 2010 is from some sort of scanned image, and scanned images are digital.
    To my knowledge , nobody has done this comparison. In the absence of a study like this, all other opinions are personal impressions, and not evidence.
  3. It isn't about what others feel; it's about what you feel. If you love what film gives, stay with film.
  4. I've given up trying to rationalize my use of film due to any "quality" issue. Stunning work can be produced using either. Both have drawbacks, and advantages.
    The choice to me is down to two things:
    Simple aesthetics (I do think that images taken on Portra, for example, are very difficult to mimic in digital. They're not objectively better, but I aesthetically prefer them for people pictures. You're right, there is a discernible difference.)
    Camera mechanics (i.e. how big is the imager, how does the photographer hold and shoot?)
    I think in my own work, the second factor (camera mechanics) actually plays a greater role than the first. I shoot differently when working with a 6x6 Rolleiflex ... or a folding camera ... or a 4x5 view camera. The images have a different tangible feel because of the different "imager" (film) sizes. The use of a waist level finder or a ground glass influences how I see a scene. The results are such that I continue to use a variety of cameras for a variety of subjects. Digital is only one part of that. Perhaps I would be completely digital if every kind of camera could be digital. It's one reason I wish someone somewhere is still working on "digital celluloid", i.e. 135 and 120-film-sized digital images that could be loaded into any old camera.
  5. Dave, I take your point to a certain extent. However, I tend to think that a certain percentage of people have a level of aesthetic sense and judgement that enable them to look at these things perhaps both subjectively and objectively; they're the ones I'd like to reach.
    How was commercial printing done in the late eighties and early nineties?
    (I don't think that what you mentioned is related to this, but just in case, and because I wanted to mention it anyways, I see a very clear difference on screen, as well as in prints, between different film stocks when scanned. Again, I don't think that you'd disagree with this, but I wanted to mention it; I once had a photographer tell me adamantly that simply getting a scanned film image into the computer and processing it obviated any innate differences in films).
    I fear that a test such as you describe might be hopelessly compromised by so many different factors as to be impossible to conduct... But I could be wrong, of course. Interesting that no one has done this...
    Jeff, I appreciate it, but I think that as much as we love something, and please make no mistake, I do love almost everything about film photography, I think it's always wise to question our assumptions from time to time, and I'm interested in other's thoughts on this specific subject.
    Thanks David; interesting about Portra, as it's become a favorite of mine for people also. I'm not into the variety of cameras that you are, more documentary, nature interests in 35mm, but I'm considering M. Format for some future nature work.
  6. Jeff, I don't know if my answer will be of any substance to you at all, so I will just state my current experiences with all this. I had one of the first "high end" DSLR cameras, the Canon 1Ds. It was the first available with the 35mm size sensor and at the time the 12mp was far above anyone else. I used it, and "liked" the results I had with it, but never really felt they were the equal of medium format film, however, the digital was just more "useable" for the wedding work I was doing at the time. Well, I got out of that racket and found myself HATING the DSLR. I ended up selling it and getting a better Mamiya than what I had, and even went back to using my old, old Minolta X700 35mm camera. The joy of using the CAMERA was far beyond the digital. I also have a Nikon 9000 scanner and so have the capability to make high quality scans of the negatives / transparencies. BUT, the film WAS giving me issues of it's own that I had sort of put in the back of my mind while using the DSLR. Grain at any film speed higher than ISO 100 was all of a sudden very evident and unpleasing in people photos. Also, sharpness and detail was just not there, though you would have to compare it with a quality digital capture to see the difference. YES... film does have a certain look all it's own, but in some cases digital is just plain better. So here is what I have recently done, and I actually surprised myself that I did it. I bought a new Canon 5D MkII with a 24-70 2.8 L lens for all around work, and a 135 2.0 L lens for portraits. This camera is astonishing. It is LIGHT YEARS better than the old 1Ds ever thought of being. Here can be the rub though, it can be TOO good in some situations. Such as in portraits, you typically have to "dumb down" the photo, typically called "retouching". It is so perfect and sharp and clear that yes, it can look quite bad compared to a film shot because I have yet to take a film shot that has this degree of "perfection". I still use my film cameras, mainly the 35mm for general photography because I still like the smaller, simpler camera and like having real negatives for archival purposes. But when I want / need what I consider near un-compromised "perfection" in a photo, I use the 5D MkII. Shooting in RAW and using software to fine tune the image, (NOT to try to make a bad photo good), gives a degree of control that you just cannot do with film, even scanning with the Nikon. So which is "better"? Neither. They are both tools of photography. Just like my pinhole camera and Holga camera are photographic tools, but they are certainly far different than the medium format Mamiya, or the digital Canon for that matter. They each have their place, and the aesthetic of their output should be a consideration as to which tool is best for the job. I think the photographer of today needs to not lock himself into one or another format. There is no "right or wrong" or "better or worse". Is an abstract painting "worse or better" than an easily identifiable pastoral scene? Photography is an art, and cameras and digital or film are just the tools used to arrive at a certain vision / need. Sometimes film is going to serve this vision better, sometimes it will be digital. I say you need both, but yeah, that comes at a high price. To address YOUR situation personally, I would say you should stick with film and the Nikon scanner. It is obvious you have an innate love and skill with the medium. Use that and be happy. One thing for sure, digital never stands still. Though my Canon 5D MkII may be "state of the art" now, it will very quickly be yesterday's news when yet another "latest and greatest" DSLR comes out. So you can always jump into digital at a later time. It never stands still and whenever you feel the time is right to jump in, you will be at the then current state of the art, so there is never any "hurry" to enter digital. Get the scanner and enjoy your film. It is an established medium that I personally do not see as ever going away.
  7. Subjectively, there are those who swear by traditional methods. I personally am investigating trying to resurrect my 5x7" view camera, and not digitally, although I may not go so far as using wet plates.
    But on this matter there is no "truth" until the moment comes when Dave Sim's proposed testing the differences either reveals that no one can actually tell the difference, or reveals some differences which can then actually be debated on some sort of rational basis.
  8. So, you are considering either:
    A) film and then scanning
    B) digital camera
    It seems to me that when you go to print either A or B, you will be printing the digital version. Everyone will look at the print, in the end, so really, your question seems to boil down to "should I print digitally from film or from a digital camera?".
    For me the biggest difference between negative film and digital are the print results. I shoot both. There are certain styles that you get from film, but honestly, I think those can be reproduced in software. Kodak reds and yellows just looks a certain way, for instance. Again, though, I think you can simulate that digitally.
    Slide film (positive film) is another story. That's got a special color quality that I wouldn't know where to start replicating digitally. It's saturated and vibrant but still natural, and I think that is worth scanning. Are you planning to use slide film exclusively? It's a hassle to do a lot of scanning, but I know several artists who use slide film and then print from it. I can see a difference in the color quality.
    I shoot film because I *love* the print appearance of darkroom, chemical printing. Either in black and white or in color. I think the saturation of color and the depth of shadows (in B&W) cannot be reproduced in the same way on a digital print. For a fine-art print, I really think that matters. For a client who is not a photographer and wants good prints from a special event in their lives, digital is perfect - it's reproducible to the last detail, I can fix any blemish or out-of-place hair without a paintbrush and a case of nerves, and I can print any number of them as needed, cheaply. Digital printing also allows me to make metal prints or use other interesting surfaces without learning a complicated in-house process or finding a super-specialized lab and paying a huge amount of money. I don't have to spend hours in the darkroom with digital either. For me, that's valuable time. I only want to do chemical printing for the images that I love - those deserve the extra time they will require. For me, the trouble involved in slide film is not always worth it, especially because I myself cannot get prints out of it without scanning, touching up, adjusting digitally and then sending the file to a lab. OTOH, when you get a great slide printed onto a super gloss paper, it's a thing of beauty.
    If you are really persistent and take enjoyment in a long careful process, then by all means, consider the scanner and slide film. That assumes you want to take all the trouble to properly expose slides, and use all the necessary filters that go with it, to get perfectly balanced color.
    For negative film, if you do not plan to chemical print, you might as well use the digital camera, in my opinion. Your print output will be digital anyway.
  9. Steve, Thank you! You've addressed well a few of the points I'm curious about. That "perfect" aspect is something I saw at an art fair about this time last year. A very good photographer was exhibiting (and selling a few!) color nature/landscape prints made from a near top of the line Canon Dslr. I thought that they looked kind of "otherworldly" perfect in a large sense; very impressive, and likely technically "superior" to what using 35mm in the same situation would likely have produced, I think. They were good compositions, too, however, it just wasn't for me somehow... It could very well be a bias, I am not sure, but I know that I do like the appearance of good images made on film, both my few keepers, and the favorite work of published photographers. I've worked with musicians in recent months, and they really like my scanned 35mm film images, and the ones that were published (albeit, newsprint) looked great to them the few times they were in the paper. So, I'm thoroughly convinced that the technical and aesthetic quality of 35mm film is at least quite adequate for any use I have.
    Also, I think that the fuss that we hear all the time here, and elsewhere on the net, seems exaggerated in the real world; most of the people I meet seem very open to film, and appreciate a good image, not whether it came from a digital camera or not; the several students I've met seemed to be especially interested in film photography, as is a college photography teacher and gallery operator I'm pretty well acquainted with. It seems to be the middle aged folks that give me the most grief, but one individual, after they seeing his image, became convinced that it was good because it originated with film, lol! No credit to the effort, it's always the equipment with this type it seems ;)!
    What you mentioned about the constant change with digital technology really resonates with me. Sure, film cameras evolved fairly quickly for years, but I've come to believe that at least for my sort of picture taking, very few features are actually needed. Good metering, auto advance, and one or two other amenities are all that I find are actually needed even in the most difficult situations that I encounter for my sort of photography. In most that don't require fast shooting, only a good basic in-camera meter seems to be helpful. I can think of a single image where auto-focus helped, and the fact that it locked on to the right area seems like luck as much as anything. I may well get a digital camera before long, but only if the limited amount of photojournalism I'm doing can somehow be made to pay, which doesn't seem all that likely! I think that the tactile appeal of classic cameras like the Canon F1 and the great lenses, and several others appeal to me also, so I will likely stay with film in a meaningful way just for that reason. I like things that endure, and there's something satisfying about the deliberate process that these cameras seem to bring out, and I seldom if ever feel that they hold me back at all... But I digress :)! I hope you continue to enjoy your various machines as much as I do mine!
    I think the photographer of today needs to not lock himself into one or another format. There is no "right or wrong" or "better or worse". Is an abstract painting "worse or better" than an easily identifiable pastoral scene? Photography is an art, and cameras and digital or film are just the tools used to arrive at a certain vision / need. Sometimes film is going to serve this vision better, sometimes it will be digital.​
    Absolutely Steve!
  10. If all you are interested in is aesthetic quality then I think you are the only person that can really answer that question.
    Personally, similar to you, prefer the look of film. Even when scanned and printed digitally, it looks like film. Back in the day, I had a slide printed at my local pro lab as a test of digital printing. One was a Ciba/Ilfochrome. All analog and arguably the "best" printing method available for slides. I also had the same slide printed with a Lambda. Same size. Both on a film substrate, and both very glossy. I got pretty much identical results. I was happy that digital prints using Lambdas were every bit as good as a full analog process.
    Native digital capture however has never appealed to me because it just looks wrong. The colours don't look natural to me and I have heard the same complaint from many other people. I think a part of this has to do with the spectral response of a digital sensor vs film vs the human eye. I think film is probably closer to the human eye in terms of perception of colours.
    Technically I think digital wins over smaller film formats. It has higher sharpness, less grain, etc etc. But aesthetically (and isn't that the main reason we take photos?), I think film is just more natural looking. And before any of you say I must not have seen a good digital shot, I have been to countless exhibitions where film and digital photographs were displayed. Some of these shows were held by very famous and highly regarded photographers. Regardless of how good the photographer is, all the digital shots looked unnatural to me, especially colour ones. In exhibitions where film and digital were displayed together, I could tell almost 100% which were digital. This was confirmed by looking at the equipment tag under the photos. Its not just me either. My wife could also tell with a very high accuracy.
    So I say go for the scanner if the only thing that matters is aesthetics.
  11. JDM, I hear you about testing.
    Jennifer, Thank you for the good and interesting response! I'd originally meant to limit this to trying to seek out thoughts on aesthetic aspects, but this is okay too, and I very much appreciate it! I've actually been scanning with a Nikon LS-40 (aka, "Coolscan IV"), for several years and doing a fair amount of printing with an Epson, too, although not too much printing lately. I agree with you about the prints that can be produced this way from positive (slide) film, but I've also had good results with Kodak Royal 100 (I'm not sure I'm remembering this name correctly..), and also with the 100 speed Kodak negative color film that came out just before the new Ektar 100. Although I haven't printed a lot from negative films, I don't recall any trouble with those two. I did have some challenges with getting accurate color from the 25 speed color negative film from about 12-15 or so years ago, but finally figured that out, too. But I just see no need to tweak color by using a digital camera.
    I agree with you that there might be something special about the traditional printing methods for B&W, although this is something I've only been interested in as an observer so far. Really glad that you're getting a lot of satisfaction with this; I could easily see myself doing that at some point.
    Chuk, Thank you for responding! I so identify with the things that you've mentioned, but didn't really know why. You've explained what I've been feeling all along in more empirical terms.
    And I hear you about digital perhaps beating film technically in small formats, but that this doesn't equate to a more aesthetically pleasing experience. I've exhibited landscape prints from scanned films, and also music performance images, and had very positive reactions. I have been in a gallery where both digitally captured prints as well as others like mine were on the walls, and you and your wife's reactions seem the same as most peoples' were there, as well.
  12. I shoot film and digital. I see no reason to think of it as a one or the other type thing. I use both and find there are certain aspects to each format that I find appealing. I shoot 75% film these days but If I had to choose one format for everything then I would go digital as it's where the future of photography is now. I do not scan film myself. I gave it a whirl for a couple of years and quit as I do not enjoy the process one bit. I think that film and digital have a very different look to them on print. It is much easier to snag a decent snap with digital. The camera's are like giant point and shoot snapping machines and the AF, meters and flash systems are perfection.
  13. Hi ross, I think that I can understand where you're coming from. Perhaps the difference might be that I don't enjoy just snapping, there usually has to be a good reason that I want to make an image, and for this, and because of very fast, high quality, and reasonably priced processing here, film seems to suit me very well in many respects. Yes, for volume, scanning can be a drag, and as mentioned, I'd use a digital body if somehow my part-time photojournalism picked up and paid decently, but I'm not getting my hopes up about that. I love the kind that I do, which is human interest, and performance, none of which usually requires fast turn around, so the time involved in scanning is manageable, but one reason I'm considering this scanner is that it might speed things up a bit. But I'm really not trying to find an answer to that here, I'm more interested in the aesthetics, and it's interesting that you also see a discernible difference in prints... And even if it came to using a digital body for photojournalism, I think that I'd still shoot film for most everything else.
  14. I delivered a dozen large, BW prints for an art museum exhibition early this summer. As the photography curator was checking in my prints she said "These are beautiful. I had the mistaken understanding that you were shooting digital." The prints were from a Canon 20D and 5D. I occasionally ask visitors, photographers and non-photographers, if they can tell which of the photos hanging on my walls are from digital and which are from film. The answers are all over the place. The one print that almost always gets picked as digital was printed by hand in a color darkroom from Kodak Gold 25. Digital is just a new tool, and some folks know how to use it better than others. People disparaged film the same way when it was new. Less than perfect photographs are very common from all technologies. I once worked only with medium format and 4x5 in my home darkroom. Today I use all digital gear and processing. At first my digital efforts did not look so good. With time, practice, and experience they have improved. In the end the real magic always comes from somewhere outside the gear and process.
  15. Dammit, I knew the crayons were going to make an appearance . . .
    LOL, Les, this is not the experiment I meant. What you'd have to do is choose a series of subjects, maybe with different brightness ranges, and then make properly-exposed photographs under these conditions:
    (a) film back, traditional optical enlarger
    (b) film back, drum scan, laser-digital enlarger on the same paper (or as close as possible)
    (c) digital back, laser-digital enlarger, same paper
    The next step would be to get a series of observers, expert and otherwise, to rank the images for quality. Incidentally, I should add that you could do this comparison using either color or black-and-white materials.
    I doubt that the experts and connoisseurs would be able to tell film from digital capture (b versus c) or optical versus digital printing (a versus b). But I don't know, because nobody's done this, and until somebody does, discussions like this are personal impressions, handwaving, and mysticism. If anyone has some free time and several thousand dollars to spend, it would be an excellent retirement project. :>)
  16. Jeff,
    I don't know if viewing books shows you what each media can do under the best circumstances. Publishing photo books is a whole different world. I would think gallery showings, exhibits, even camera club displays would give you a better idea as to film or digital capabilities.
    One important thing is how the artist uses the media. There isn't any cut and dried approach when it comes to art. You can take 2 B&W photographers and their works will be completely different. It matters less whether they use film or digital than their views of what they want to express.
    I think you can probably express your vision whatever you choose.
    I'm lucky in that I can use either. I have a collection of over 20 SLRs from the late 1960's to early 1970's. I also managed to buy a Nikon Coolscan V before Nikon stopped production. One can do a fine job with this equipment. I also have a Canon Rebel XSi DSLR. It can can also do a fine job. I don't think there is that much difference aesthetically between film & scanning and straight digital.
    There may be a larger difference between film and optical printing than incorporating digital into the process. I will say that I am much happier with my digital printing that with my optical printing.
  17. Les,
    I knew we would see the crayons.
    I wonder if we could do a better job with real world testing. Find a subject under difficult setting and see each media capabilities. I think I have found that subject, nighttime drag racing.
    I certainly have found it to be a difficult task to find the correct exposure when I have tried it. I also know that Les has done some shooting of these drag races and has some examples on his web gallery.
    So here is my example with my Canon Rebel XSi DSLR. This is of a Nitro Funny car. The flames shooting out of the exhaust can be challenging. I was surprise to be able to make out detail on the car decals under the flames.
    Let us see what film can do. Is it better? Is it worse? Or is there no real difference. Is it all a matter of using the media to it's best ability?
    Les, could you post links to your examples?
  18. I really wish I could stay with film. Honestly. I had some great film SLR and rangefinder cams for over forty years. But the quality of film scans I can afford just doesn't match my digital. And buying/processing a 24 exp. roll of film at our only specialty store 38 miles away is $1.00 a shot. The bottom line is what works better for me as a serious amateur at an affordable price. I know that others here can afford the exceptional processes to make film sing. For me, it's out.
  19. Jeff,
    I don't think it's possible to emphasize enough what Jennifer said. The technical superiority of digital is now -- as in the example of the transition from the Canon 1D to the 5D Mk II -- unquestionable. The sensors can resolve beyond anything the lenses can provide or that film can even approach, at least in any format but the largest. But if you are printing digitally then you are producing digital images because it is the printing that shows the difference. For me, particularly in b&w, the look I'm striving for is softer and of lower contrast than most digital imagery wishes to provide (and yes I can and do sometimes play around with certain images in photoshop).
    Consider the very great photographer Sebastiao Salgado. He's begun shooting digitally because airport security was subjecting his film -- parituclarly his medium format film -- during his travels to so much x-ray degradation despite repeated pleas for hand examination etc etc that he finally turned to digital (there was also the problem as he traveled more and more extensively of bringing along that sheer volume of film). But he then has the digital images turned into film in a lab and printed as of old, chemically. Which sounds expensive and strange.
    Finally, speaking of expensive, typically no one has mentioned the money issue, I notice. If you want to take a lot of E6 film and have it processed it costs a ton of money that the digital system would provide free. It seems to me if you're scanning the film anyway.... how much different can the film be that it's worth that kind of money, especially since only 1 out of 50 pictures is going to be really to your standards?
    Have you used a dslr? do you think you'd like to own a good one (by the way, at this moment, if you're not locked into a set of lenses of one kind or another, then, despite my being a MF Minolta/ Nikon/ Leica guy, I have to say you can't do better than the Canon 5D MkII. It's stunning).
    I have a D300 and a slew of film cameras. I take a lot of film -- b&w that I process myself. I love the mystery of film and I love the particular look of b&w film, the silvery quality. But for color? I'd buy a very very good DSLR and a decent cheap scanner (like the Epson V600, which does medium format as well as 35mm) ; use the scanner for film and, then, for the dozen or twenty pictures a year that you want to print in large format have the images scanned professionally and printed professionally; or professionally chemically printed. Otherwise let the digitalization be just a good filing system and easy way to view what you've got.
  20. Matt, I don't mean to disparage digital. Sorry if I came across that way- my intent was to see what people thought of possible aesthetic differences. I have seen digital B&W work in Lens Work that was very, very impressive, but the color work I've seen, both in prints, and in books and magazines, so often appears to me to be lacking and/or somehow strange. I tend to think that scanned film might offer unique advantages, especially for my particular situation, love of classic equipment, and more; it seems very adequate, at the least. And I think that I can get the enjoyable experience and results that I desire much more simply and directly, overall, by staying with film. But I find your thoughts and results to be interesting. Could you please elaborate on why you made the switch?
    ...In the end the real magic always comes from somewhere outside the gear and process.​
    I couldn't agree more!
  21. Marc, Interesting, thanks. I think the fact that you're saying that one really needs to study this might say something in and of itself, basically, that both are plenty good enough. I think Les makes a great practical point about the exposure latitude of negative films.
    Howard, I'm really sorry to hear that. Are you really sure you need to go to a specialty store? Around here, many of the chains seem to have trained their people well, and the cost is very reasonable. I usually get develop-only and an index print for most of my purposes; E-6 gets sent out. I worried for a while that I needed to bring the film in only when the first person that processed it for me was working at a particular store, because he'd done such a good job for me. Then, I had film that had to be processed on the weekend and he wasn't there. I was scared, but when I let the teenager on duty know that this was important to me, he let me know that he was trained, and went on to do a fine job. This local low-cost store does better work for me than a certain well-known place that has been mentioned in the forums (not Dwaynes). So, if you have anything like that around, I would at least give them a try. Also, can't you buy your film from one of the biggies, i.e., B&H, Adorama, Freestyle, Unique, etc? This just doesn't make sense to me unless you are in a really remote area... And can you get your own scanner? I recently saw a factory refurb Coolscan 5000 for about $900 or so...
  22. Jeff - I'm in Iowa. It's quite rural here. The part time staff of the Walgreens and HyVee photo depts. here are not anywhere close to what I find satisfying for printing, and even $900 for a scanner would be very high for me. But I do enjoy what I can do on the Mac with my raw files and DPP very much. Occasionally I send files to Mpix or make a book though Apple and they do a good job. I will retire in a couple of years, and plan to be in or close to a metro area. Who knows, I may re-start the film experience then. I was in it happily for many years.
  23. Hi Vince, Thanks for the good input! I hear you, and believe me, I will have all of this in mind, but I still find it very hard to warm up to using a digital body- I just get great results with scanned film. I'm not new to this either; been scanning and digitally printing for over 8 years, and have exhibited a fair amount too. Biggest and only drawback that I can think of is the time involved in scanning for those occasions when several rolls need to be processed.
    I wondered if you'd ever shot any of the modern color emulsions, then scanned on a quality scanner? I've been getting great results this way going back to the films Kodak was putting out at least 6-8 years ago. Plus I love my film cameras; my classics seem to grow on me every day! I tried a loaned Nikon D80, but it really didn't do anything for me, but maybe I didn't give it a fair try... Yes, afraid I am locked into their lenses, but I'll keep that in mind about Canon. Really though, I'd have to see something more than technical superiority (which I think I explained in another post) to convince me, as 35mm suffices a plenty for any use that I have... No, I don't do much volume, especially in E6, so thankfully, film photography is still affordable, and although I love E6, the little that I do is not a factor.
    Very interesting process that Salgado's going through.
    Don't get me wrong, and I'm glad that you and so many others seem to get a lot of pleasure with those wondrous new bodies, but I find hybrid film photography very satisfying, and it's hard for me to change right now. I would get one without hesitation for fast turn-around photojournalism if somehow it paid financially, but I think I'd still shoot film for all the reasons mentioned for pleasure.
  24. Hi Howard, Yes, I hear you... There is expense involved in start up costs for what I'm doing with scanning and a digital printer, and a learning curve. The good thing is that once these are surmounted you're set for awhile; I'm still getting great results with 8+ year old hardware.
    Glad you're having fun with the process you're using now, though. That's really what it's all about I think, but I find it sad that the situation that has transpired leaves you few options, at least for the present. And it's very interesting that you, like many others that I've read about and personally know, still seem to want to shoot film. I've read and heard these sentiments many times, and that in itself says a lot about the enduring appeal of film photography, I think.
  25. It would be great if any further input was focused on the aesthetic issue that was really my original purpose. While I appreciate and still welcome anything really interesting about the technology, much has been hashed out before about many of these things.
    As far as the aesthetics, I think that in the limited amount of color work I've seen, that there is a difference (I haven't seen much digital B&W at all), but I am very open to what a previous poster here said about it, basically that the work flow is very important. Also, I'm interested in what people that are actually working with these different processes think, direct experiences, and observations, not really any citing of what the well-know "guru" types have to say. Many thanks, Jeff
  26. Well Jeff, as I say, I've thought a lot about this aethetics issue with black and white, but I don't know enough about color and don't yet love it enough, to know for sure. I think it is easy to tell a digitally processed print from a chemical one in b&w -- the depth, the edge, and the always present faint glow of ink on the paper. Unfortunately I don't have a darkroom or know how to print/enlarge, but someday I hope to. I am a huge Ansel Adams fan -- not just the pictures but the writings about technique. And Eugene Smith. These guys were magic in the darkroom, with the print, and both considered the print to be the true photograph.

    I just shot a roll of Velvia with a Minolta X-700. I am excited to get the film back and see. It's been about a year since my last color slide work.

    In color print film, I use Kodak Ectar 100, which has a real richness and depth, compared to a kind of dull flatness that I detect in other color print films. What do you use? Certainly aesthetics begin with the film. Do you use any higher ISO print films?

    If the expenses and the workflow of film don't drag you down and you love film (I love film too but can't afford to use color film all the time) then in all I agree that the final product, at its best, has a kind of visual authority even in its relative "imperfection" -- like the wise and accomplished older man who outshines the young, talented, handsome one.
  27. Hate crayons? I bow to no man in my affection of a good box of crayons.
    Like all my subjects I strive to present crayons in the best light. I like deep natural colors. I like to see every detail.
    I present my favorite box of crayons.
  28. I think a really good way to view the aesthetic differences between a DSLR and film camera is to go out shooting with some one who had a DSLR and shoot the same scenes with both digital and film, using RAW for the digital shots. Get the film scanned and then see how close the digital shot can match the film shot. A lot of the issues that people have with the images from DSLR is the colors will often seem a bit dull compared to film, if you keep the default setting for saturation and contrast on the DSLR, but these are easy to adjust.

    On the other hand if you really just want to shoot film then shoot film, there is nothing wrong with that.
  29. I don't doubt that digital is better in what is more accurate but that does not represent what is the preferred way.
    Based on economics, I will use digital for portraits, sports etc .. but I don't shoot much of that. My famiily are not into photog so they just want a magazine look for portraits.
    For my own work in landscapes, I like Velvia due to the colour and that in PP there is not a over million adjustments involved. Ie., one could adjust down to a "1" kelvin, haha. I don't shoot much maybe 1/2 a 135 roll per day out, therefore I am looking at 120 format for my main camera and even going to 4x5 :)
  30. Jeff,
    On aesthetics, I have to say that I can now easily and cheaply show the world how bad I am at printing good negatives. That's the main aesthetic disadvantage of digital for me; I have to become a better printer, not just a better photographer. The main aesthetic advantage for shooting film is the enjoyment of pressing the shutter: because it involves imagination, I can imagine the shot that I think I took. (The effect is more pronounced with rangefinders!) This isn't an aesthetic advantage for the final print, in fact, it can be a source of disappointment when I develop the negatives.
    As a matter of practicality, I shoot a large amount of digital because that is the way I will become a better photographer, faster. Life is short, and I'm not going to forgo instant feedback on composition, lighting, exposure, or technique. Obviously cost is another reason.
    I will cheerfully shoot film for four reasons: When I need more dynamic range (which is another way to say, when I can't meter right), when I need to be free to destroy a camera (messing about in boats), when I need bigger prints (medium format instead of a DSLR I can't afford), and when I need an innocent looking camera. (DSLRs look like weapons to a lot of people.)
    You asked about perceived image quality. I can't say anything about the difference between film and digital in terms of ultimate image quality. What I perceive, is that I respond to a photograph, as a photograph, regardless of source, unless there is some specific giveaway that is "unfamiliar." You know, jagged diagonals, jpeg smearing, posterization. Alternatively, large format contact prints are also distractingly unfamiliar*, as are pictorialist soft focus techniques, 70's era star filters, and other dated stylistic tricks.
    I am often more delighted with my black and white negatives than conversions from digital, and I am more often baffled at the odd color casts with my color negatives than my digital files. It might be significant that I use an Olympus, which allegedly has nicer colors than other makes - certainly the auto white balance is very accurate. In my opinion, you will find that there is much more variation within models of digital cameras, and within different type of film, than there is difference between film and digital.
    *not bad, just unfamiliar. I just haven't seen enough.
  31. The aesthetics are something most people don't understand, or can't see. Which is why most people talk about resolution and latitude. Digital is higher quality in number of pixels (in small formats), but looks completely different. Whether or not you like that look, or can even recognize it seems to vary from person to person. Sometimes, I don't understand how people don't see this 'quality'. It's not colours or contrast, since different films have different levels of these. It's just something else, in both neg and slide. I just use film since I like that quality, even though I don't know what it is, and I know I can't get it any other way. If you don't see it, or prefer the digital 'look', you'll be happy with a dslr.
  32. Hey Vince, I'll take your word for it about b&w prints, and I have friends that feel the same way. As I think I mentioned, I've seen beautiful digital capture b&w in Lens Work magazine, but the only prints I've seen were non-digital in all ways, including both Weston and A.A. exhibits. They were mpressive, to say the least! I have printed b&w on my Epson derived from C-41 process b&w, and one from TMY. By all accounts the results were pretty decent, and in prints as well as on screen, the respective characteristics of each film were apparent. Yes, I'm a huge fan of both of those guys you mention, too.
    It seems clear that you like vibrant color from your film choices! That's great for many subjects. Recently, I've become a big fan of Kodak's Portra, but the NC (neutral color), not so much the VC (more saturated). I'm not sure if they would fall into the "dull flatness" area you mentioned, but I find the colors understated, usually, and I've come to like this, but I guess it's mostly evolving personal taste and preferences, and maybe subject matter. You might not like them if you really like the color to pop. But the VC version comes in 160 and 400 speed, also, and they may be to your liking. The contrast in all seem perfect. I generally shoot whatever speed is needed, and I really like all of them. I hope your Velvia results are pleasing; I've grown to like that look more and more, especially for certain landscapes, but I'm a big fan of Kodak's e100g, too. If you're not acquainted with the work of the late, great Galen Rowell, you definitely want to check out his many books, and google his gallery website to see some samples. He used a lot of Velvia, and I especially like the work he produced with it from around his home in Bishop, CA.
    ...I agree that the final product, at its best, has a kind of visual authority even in its relative "imperfection"...​
    Well said!
  33. It's just something else, in both neg and slide. I just use film since I like that quality, even though I don't know what it is, and I know I can't get it any other way. If you don't see it, or prefer the digital 'look', you'll be happy with a dslr.
  34. Jeff, from my experience, vast is it is from over 40 years, I shoot what I have.
  35. There are many digital prints that I print as a printer that others cannot tell if the input source is a digital capture; or scanned film.
    Once the input source is mentioned all the 2 decade old dogma and bias comes out.
    It is really often not a technical issue; but one of folks bias; hatred; ignorance and agenda. Once the input source is revealed; the deep hatred come out.
    There are many prints that folks are wrong; what they thing is digital is film; what they think is film is digital.
    This whole subject is now over 21 years old for me; we got our first 35mm slide scanner in 1989.
    On and other places; there are a million dialogs already on film versus digital.
    Tomorrow the same question will be asked again.
    As far as scanning is concerned; newcomers to scanning film are from another planet. One can tell them that scanning takes time and they never listen. After the Honeymoon phase reality sets with many new scanner users; duh it takes more time than I thought.
    Got it?
  37. I'm an amateur, and a film user. For me largely it's an issue of aesthetics, particularly for higher ISO shots (800 ISO or higher). I regularly shoot Tri-X and HP5+ at 1600 and 3200 ISO, and do my own development and scanning.
    I have looked at examples of higher ISO shots from numerous cameras, and I just don't like the way the sensor noise looks vs. the film grain. The technology is improving, but it's not there yet for me.
  38. Sorry I haven't been able to get back to this until now. Thanks for the interesting comments. Right on Andre! I'm just hard-headed sometimes!
    "...Once the input source is revealed; the deep hatred come out..."​
    Sounds kinda like what those pesky "haters" do to a certain Sarah, Kelly, doggone them! : )
    Hey, check this out:
  39. Hi Jeff,
    Here are a few opinions from a mostly digital shooter who still shoots Velvia on occasion.
    (1) EFFORT - The DSLR will give you images quickly and with potentially less work. I say potentially, because if you have your film printed at a lab, that's less work than doing digital post processing yourself. But if you scan your film, that process starts out with a labor-intensive workflow, and afterward you end up doing as much digital post processing as would have with DSLR images.
    (2) LOOK - I think it's safe to say that film and digital images look different. One is not inherently better than another. That said, there are so many potential steps and variations in between capture and the final print that it could be difficult to tell the difference when it's mounted on a wall. Was it taken with MF film or a 24 MP digital sensor? Good luck telling the difference depending on how much processing happened in between.
    (3) PARTICULAR ADVANTAGES - Both film and digital capture have numerous advantages over the other. The crayon example shows the latitude of color print film, but slide film has less latitude than digital sensors. So depending on which film you use and how much latitude you want, digital could be better or worse. Even though it's technically a limitation, the extremely shallow latitude of slide film has creative uses.
    Film has grain. Digital sensor produce noise under certain circumstances. Two different issues, but each a potential problem that could be noticeable in large prints unless you handle them properly.
    Some digital cameras can produce very clean images at ISO 3200; I don't know of any film camera that can do that. That said, film handles specular highlights more gracefully than digital sensors do.
    Film and processing cost $$. If you take 1,000 shots at a sporting event but only end up using 20 of them, with film you have to pay for all thousand exposures. However, film is self-archiving. You don't have to buy multiple hard drives to store your portfolio. That said, you can keep an extra copy of your digital photos at a remote location in case your house or studio burns down. Good luck doing that with your negatives.
    Digital permits combining images easily into panoramas, focus stacks, and HDR images. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad. Full disclosure: I loathe HDR, but that doesn't make me a bad person. :)
    (4) EXPOSURE - Print film, slide film, digital sensor. Each requires a different approach to exposure. If you expose a digital sensor like slide or print film, you won't get an optimum result. So, you need to understand how digital works in order to get the best out of a DSLR.
    (5) POST PROCESSING AND PRINTING - If you scan your film, scan post processing is nearly identical to digital post processing. A DSLR lets you start the process with a RAW file that can offer a few advantages for recovering shadow detail, etc., but otherwise things like contrast and white balance will work identically on a scanned image as with a digitally captured image. The advantage of digital post processing (whether from a scan or DSLR) is that everything is repeatable and adjustable, and in the case of something like Lightroom, completely non-destructive to your original file.
    The chemical darkroom and optical enlargers are only available to film shooters. In the right hands these tools can produce amazing images. I was a big fan of the look of Cibachrome prints before they disappeared. I have yet to find an equivalent in the digital world, but digital offers other beautiful paper options. Plus, Cibachrome was not exactly environmentally friendly.
    B&W chemical printing is still unparalleled (in my own humble opinion). I have yet to see Adams-like contrast in digital B&W prints, but I always keep an open mind in case the digital B&W guys want to demonstrate to the contrary. That would be a happy day for the digital camp.
    Jeff, I wasn't clear as to whether or not you own a DSLR now. I would encourage you to try using one at some point. As a film guy, I can tell you from experience that it takes a while to learn how to get the most out of a digital camera. First, you start using it like you used your film cameras, but that's like driving a Jeep like a road vehicle (or vice versa). You need to learn how to get the most out of a new and different technology, and that takes some experimentation and a willingness to work in new ways.
    If you want to scan, the Nikon scanners produce very good results. Just be prepared for a lot of tedious hours of work.
    Anyway, that's my two cents. My goal was to be as fair and accurate as possible - except on the subject of HDR. ;-) Hopefully these comments will provide you with some useful information.
  40. Dan South, you've just posted the best analysis I've seen on this topic, after reading thousands of posts over the years. -Hope it gets a lot of hits.
  41. Hi Dan, Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think Les makes some good points, too, and I think the fact that it's such a hard thing to draw precise conclusions about might say something, as well. Jmho.
    I still think that what David Austin said might be valid. At any rate, the fact that so many of us think that film still provides an appealing aesthetic that may very well have a different quality than images derived through digital capture- despite the incredible efforts of the engineers- says something interesting, too.
    I purchased another book recently in which the images were definitely shot on film about 15-25 years ago (it was printed in the last few years), and besides great compositions, there is a "certain something" present, I think, akin to the "quality" that David mentions. I simply don't see this sort of appeal in any of the books that I know originated through digital capture, with the exception of some impressive looking b&w images in Lens Work (although I am inexperienced in b&w, and although LW is a magazine, it seems comparable to books in quality of printing). Perhaps this is simply due to the somewhat limited universe that I've actually viewed, I'm not sure. And I'm not in any way saying that this quality is necessarily "better", just that I still feel it, and it seems that others have had similar experiences.
    Bottom line for me so far: there is certainly nothing wrong with this real or imagined "film aesthetic" and a lot that is right, I think, so if at all possible, I will continue to shoot and enjoy it.
  42. Glenn Mabbutt , Sep 18, 2010; 06:05 p.m.
    I'm an amateur, and a film user. For me largely it's an issue of aesthetics, particularly for higher ISO shots (800 ISO or higher). I regularly shoot Tri-X and HP5+ at 1600 and 3200 ISO, and do my own development and scanning.
    I have looked at examples of higher ISO shots from numerous cameras, and I just don't like the way the sensor noise looks vs. the film grain. The technology is improving, but it's not there yet for me.​
    The point for me is that film grain is noise is ugly!
  43. I have thought about the same issue aswell, and it was around 2.5 years ago when I was weighing up the Canon 5D against the Nikon F6. I think that you can only make this judgement subjectively, in as much as that there is no objective test of a good hi-fi system either (blind listening tests are still subjective!).
    There are several areas in which I believe film is better than digital (even scanned). They are:
    Depiction of highly-detailed images, particularly nature scenes. I think the organic nature of film is better at depicting organic nature, and the electronic heart of digital is better at depicting man-made objects. The reason is that digital often makes decisions for you - as it as to interpret the image from the bayer array
    As has already been mentioned: noise. There is more of it in film, for sure, but it's nicer than digital noise. On the whole, digital noise is something to avoid at all costs (hence the extensive use of noise reduction - which I think is nausea-inducing), but film noise can often add to an image. I can't explain why this is, but most people don't mind film noise.
    Artefacts: Apart from grain, there aren't any other artefacts! And if you don't mind grain, then film is effectively artefact-free. Digital has moire, maze, blooming, CA is worse, noise reduction, sharpening, banding, pattern etc etc artefacts.
    I won't go into all the downsides of film, but scanning is one of them!
  44. "There is more of it in film, for sure, but it's nicer than digital noise."
    I generally shoot low ISO film so perhaps you can help me. This is a digital shot at ISO 1600 with no noise reduction. I have added a crop to show more detail.
    What part of the digital noise is most objectionable? What film do you recommend that would be more aesthetically pleasing?
  45. Now the crop.
  46. Duncan Murray,
    I agree with you, and I'd say that two characteristics that digital has going for it is that it produces very smooth transitions very nicely, and it picks up edge detail at enlargements where it would otherwise be invisible. Which is to say, it does an excellent job of "making stuff up" at precisely the point film gets too grainy to really "see" things. Notice I said "produces" smooth transitions, not "reproduces".
  47. For iso 1600, I use pushed provia 400x for colour and neopan 1600 for black and white. They both look nicer to me, although I'm sure they're 'objectively' worse. I'll see if I can upload one of the images (I've not tried this before).
  48. Jeff -- I think you've set yourself an impossible task in trying to decide which is better aesthetically: film or digital. It's the photographer and their abilities with either format and the skill in processing the image that really have the greatest aesthetic impact on the final result. Film and digital are different processes -- it's somewhat like trying to compare large format to 35mm. There are pros and cons to each -- it depends on how you like to shoot, what you're trying to shoot and the effect you're trying to achieve. Since you're not sure which way you want to jump, I would suggest renting a digital camera for a few days. It might not be long enough to completely master using one but hopefully it should give you an idea of whether or not you enjoy shooting digital -- and knowing that should help you to be able to decide between the scanner and the camera.
  49. "...
    Anyways, I hope what I'm asking is clear enough; I very honestly am asking if others feel the same way towards the aesthetic qualities of film images vs. those digitally captured, especially those of you also using top of the line digital cameras...."

    I've never used a digital camera, and consider the digital workflow beyond my means.

    With respect to the "aesthetic qualities" of the images, I know there are many things one can't do with film in camera. Furthermore, I've acknowledged some digital images as indistinguishable from a good slide.

    And I agree with Jennifer Spencer.

    Jennifer Spencer [Subscriber] , Sep 16, 2010; 06:42 p.m.
    Slide film (positive film) is another story. That's got a special color quality that I wouldn't know where to start replicating digitally...."

    My apologies to the other contributors, but I only had the time to read the first page of responses.

    Do you have slides? Do you still shoot slides? I have slides, and I love transparency film. I would choose the scanner. Or use the money to have someone else scan for me.

    In terms of the aesthetic qualities of my images, I find transparency film simpler. I find it simpler than color negative film as well.

    BTW, I've been a computer guy for nearly twenty years, and for me, using a film camera with slide film, and shooting manually, is simpler. In this case, because the emotional demands of the equipment and workflow are limited, I can easily devote my attention to getting a shot. And for me, the "aesthetic quality" of my keepers fits easily within my cost/benefit ratios.
  50. Thanks for posting that crop Marc. It gives me a chance to type "YUCK" today for the first time.
  51. Karissa and Brian, Thanks very much for the considered input!
    Karissa, Yes, I'd tried out a friend's Nikon D80, but probably did not give it a fair trial. I was turned off from the start with the cords, cd's, and perhaps wrongly perceived complexity, at least relative to my film cameras. At this point I am again considering a new generation digital body for photojournalism (for long-term economy and faster turnaround when needed), but only if this difficult field can be made to pay, and that does not seem very likely right now. For me, a lot comes down to the fact that I very much enjoy both the results obtained, and the tactile feel and simplicity of shooting with my 35mm machines, especially my growing collection of "classics". I love things that endure, too. I agree with you that it's the image that really matters.
    Brian, I agree about transparency film, and I used to shoot a lot of it, although I think modern negative emulsions are pretty impressive, too. They all seem to scan well on my Coolscan IV. Really interesting that you find using a film camera simpler! My instincts tell me the same.

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