Lifestyle

Film vs. Digital

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I‘m often asked in interviews the difference between film vs. digital, if film is dead, and how I choose which medium I want to shoot with. Film photography will always be a part of my life. It was how I was raised to take pictures; it is my roots in photography. It feels different to take a photograph on film than on digital even though so much of what they accomplish is the same.

When I shoot on film I am looking for a depth to the final image…quite simply, I find film images to have a soul. Maybe that has something to do with how you take the picture. We go through thousands of digital photographs weekly which feels like the next image diminishes the value of the one before. With film, even when I feel like I’m shooting a lot, it is only in the hundreds and when I push that shutter release each time, that shot is thought-out, composed, and one where I waited for that perfect moment. My friend Adam who had a show this past fall at the Sasha Wolf Gallery said if he ever had to teach a class in digital he’d make his students shoot on camera cards that only hold 36 frames to train them to think about each shot.

However, digital has this beautiful clarity, this “reach out and touch it” ability that I find so beautiful. The velvety texture of flower petal, the saturation of color in a blushing rose. Digital puts you there, in the moment, feeling the light, and seeing even what the human eye can’t. The speed with which we can capture, document and share with digital photography is so astonishing. Recently I tweeted, “Every two minutes, we take more pictures than the whole of humanity in the 1800s.” I alway say, photography is a right, not a privilege, and thanks to digital that has never been more true.

On a day where I just don’t want to sit at a computer editing or writing emails, or I need a break to get in the zone creatively, I find my favorite thing to do is photograph flowersFlowers represent so much about life to me: the beauty, the aging, the individuality and sexuality. I wanted to illustrate the difference between film and digital, so on my last flower study I took (as close as possible!) the same photograph on a digital Leica M with macro lens and then again on a 4×5 Toyo View Camera on Ilford Delta 100 ISO black and white film. I used natural light and did a variety of shots using different F-stops for a varying depth of field.

You tell me what you prefer: Film or Digital?

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Simple natural light setup in our studio, white textured cardboard background. Above, using the shutter cable release to avoid my hand shaking on the shutter release, which  causes motion blur. Most of the 4×5 exposures were between 30 secs and one minute. Below, focusing view on the 4×5 ground glass. 

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The outcome. 

at f/45

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f/16

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f/8

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Below. With view cameras you can play with the plane of focus and distortion with the tilts and shifts of the camera. Here is a good guide for what each position does. 

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Then for digital. Same setup and positioning. I enjoy using the Leica M for still life shoots because of the quality of the image and lens glass causing less distortion, making for cleaner shapes and lines. 

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Taking the raw image out of the camera and giving it just a small bump in contrast in Photoshop’s Camera Raw program. 

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The outcome.

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Then to change the overall feeling and effect, I played around with the image in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom where I can apply film effects onto digital images. 

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Below, with the VSCO filter Fuji Provia 400x Balance Warm for Leica 

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Then again to match the effects of black and white film.

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Below with Agfa Scala 200 Contrast +++ for Leica as a base along with a series of individual tweaks you can control such as the amount of film grain, contrast, etc.

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Below, to compare:

Left is film, center is raw digital turned black and white with some contrast added, right is digital image with Lightroom film effects applied. 

CLICK TO ENLARGE

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More photography love:

Tintypes // Darkroom Adventures // Large Format DIGITAL photographer



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  • Dallas

    Wonderful post, Jamie!

  • Mandy Stewart

    The first image, at f/45 is breathtaking. I love that the beauty of the flower still comes through even though the image is black and white. It’s my favorite of all of them. The digital image with the VSCO filter is also really beautiful, but there is something so captivating about the clarity of that first shot! Love looking at your work!

  • Thank you so much. I have never been one to pay close attention to the technical details, but your images are breathtaking and your post is inspiring me to do just that. Thank you !

  • I can’t even begin to explain how much I love this post.

    Since I’ve only begun to dabble in photography over the last few years, I’ve almost always shot in digital, but I am such an admirer of film photography. The grain and depth and antique feel that it brings to a photo can never be replicated in the same way by digital photography and it’s so apparent in the comparison you’ve presented here. Digital, of course, does have that ‘realness’ that you’ve described so well, but even in the raw digital black and white photo, the depth of the rose is lost and is still so perfectly captured on film… it amazes me! I’ll have to get some pointers from you on working backwards from digital to film! :)

    And aren’t flowers the most naturally perfect subject to shoot?! They’re my favorite, too! (http://scrapsofmylove.com/post/74848956419/more-afternoon-roses)

  • Lisa

    More than a decade ago, I had a Minolta film SLR and sold it when I no longer had time for it. Having recently acquired my first DSLR, I wish I had kept my film camera to refine my techniques. Here’s to learning something new.

  • Christine

    I love film for black and white. The large format image is stunning, gorgeous detail and tonal range. This quality is something you can’t quite emulate in digital, or the feeling of surprise and magic that happens in a darkroom. I do feel that digital, as it is now, works wonderfully with color. This is a wonderful post!

  • Love!

  • Great post!! Surprising how little the raw image can hold it’s own against the other two. Or at least that is what I think :-)

  • Abby

    Wow thanks for sharing this!

    Abby
    http://www.champagneplans.com

  • Katie

    i love learning about your techniques and photography wisdom, more please! thanks for sharing your insight. i honestly like the film shot best. :)

  • Adore. When I was a student, the question that came up again and again was ‘What is beauty.’ I would roll my eyes every single time I heard it because I knew that my answers were never ‘cool’ enough for the chic students in my classes. But to me beauty is so many things and a flower isn’t just beautiful because of how it appears but everything it represents.

  • Kate H.

    I shoot weddings in film and I shoot all my commercial work in digital. Recently I experimented by shooting an entire wedding in digital. They were fine, but I agree with your comment, they did not have soul. What I learned: When I shoot in digital, I’m documenting what I need to. When I shoot in film, I’m making art.

  • Kelsey

    I think I actually like the film photograph best!

  • Rose

    I like your shot a f/45, honestly! I studied film in college but have only really had the opportunity to work in-depth with 35mm and it’s hard to get the time to work on anything else when I work full-time! Have you printed at Print Space NYC before?

  • François Bresmal

    Definitely the film! Thank you for sharing your love of photography, the technical aspects are very interesting through your words and feelings ♥ F, Your Belgian Fan

  • Dominica

    film is great and I used to work with it, develop and stay for hours in my doka. Nowadays I’m back in school to discover all there is about digital photography, photoshop and lightroom, I must say .. I got addicted. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • JG Furukawa

    The processing on all three are slightly different so its tough to make a direct comparison. Of course using a 4×5 as a representative of film isn’t very fair. Shooting both digital and film when people ask me which is better, usually my reply is this. Other than the workflow, digital has more pop that film. You can really accentuate colors and textures better. However, film has ridiculous dynamic and tonal range. You can have a lower contrast photo, but still see all the textures and patterns that would get lost with digital. Eventually digital will get there, but for now from a pure quality standpoint film is still state of the art.

  • MJ

    Sorry, but the digital actually looks better here.

    The whole film has a soul thing is just us human beings being overly subjective and sentimental. Just like a lot of us practice anthropomorphism with our pets.

    It’s a nice comfortable illusion to have that makes us feel better, but their really is no legitimate reason for preferring film over digital in terms of the resulting image.

    • goodtobehappy

      Plus, a digital image can be manipulated to give it a film “feel”.

      • Fred Herion

        If you want to give your image a “film feel” why don’t you shoot… film ? Trying to give your image a “film feel” with a computer is not photography but computer art. Anyway, film vs. digital comparisons are nonsense, it’s ike trying to compare classic painting vs. digital art.

    • Fred Herion

      MJ. Please don’t feel sorry :-) I don’t feel sorry because you have to spend hours damaging your eyes in front of your computer screen instead of living the real thrill of developping film 😛

  • Becky and Jade

    wow! honestly we prefer film photography better! :-)

  • ChrisQuijote

    I am impressed with all three images in the conclusion. I think my favourite is the f16 further up the page. However, that is sitting them side-by-side. I would be happy with any of these images. For sheer pleasure in the photographic process I like film processing and capture. That, however, is just preference. Modern digital cameras are superb.

    A very interesting post – thank you.