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Thursday, October 21, 2010

When Film Is Better Than Digital—10/25/10

DPMag Published in Tip Of The Week
When Film Is Better Than Digital—10/25/10

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The digital vs. film debate is long over. For the most part I’d say digital has won. The digital camera has captured hearts and minds and market share. But before you bury film for dead, give it one more chance. There are opportunities when film, the same old stuff we loved for generations, still rules. Here are five situations in which film is distinctly better than digital.

1. When you want "the look."
Sure, digital can emulate the look of film, but film naturally has a quality that’s instantly recognizable. It looks like film, and different types of film look different too. When you want one of those "film looks," your best bet is simply to use film. (Especially if your digital-to-film conversion doesn’t look authentic.)

2. For making long exposures.
It used to be that if you wanted a moderately long exposure—say 10, 20 or 30 seconds, there was no comparison—film won the fight hands down. Then digital improved by leaps and bounds, and today it’s come a long way. Most moderate long exposures aren’t too noisy to be useful. Still, though, noise does increase with the length of an exposure. And if you’re doing exclusively long exposures, particularly if they’re really, really long exposures, you just might be better off with film.

3. For landscape photography.
If you happen to be a landscape photographer and you find yourself in a tent on top of a mountain or the middle of a remote desert for extended periods of time, you might find that film is more your friend than digital. After all, large-format transparency film has been the color landscape photographer’s standard for decades, and pro landscape shooters are among the last professional photographers who still use film by default. Because of the way it particularly meets their needs for color, contrast, sharpness and detail, all with limited access to electricity for battery charging, downloading and backup.

4. To easily store and find photos.
When it comes to archiving photographs for the long term, I’ll take film over digital any day. Case in point: I have a closet full of file cabinets holding decades of images. Images captured in color and black and white, large format and 35mm, transparency and negative film. It’s filed away neatly in folders marked by subject and client, even cross-referenced with paperwork, too. It’s stable and secure, and I can easily and instantly find any old negative in the collection. And my closet never crashes.

5. If you’ve got an excess of time and money.
Alright, fine, this isn’t so much an advantage for film as it is an acknowledgement of two major downsides of working with emulsions. For all the great reasons to use film, it does cost money and it does take time. Instead of checking the camera’s LCD for exposure information, you might have to wait hours or even days to see your results. And unlike digital, where shooting 10 exposures costs no more than shooting 100, every additional frame of film you shoot costs more money. Yes, I know you have to pay to process and store your digital images, but it lacks the same direct shot-to-cost correlation that shooting film does.

In the end, digital is clearly the capture medium of choice for most photographers for most things. But if you find yourself in one of a few specific situations, don’t forget about your old friend film. It’s been there for you since long before you were born, and hopefully it will stick around long into the future as well.
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