|A recent film photograph of my dog chewing an old slipper|
Film versus Digital
To say that digital has somewhat ‘caught up’ with film would be far from the truth. In order to draw a fair comparison, you need to first see the big picture. I have decided to split the pros and cons into a few sub-categories. For the sake of simplicity, I will only talk about the qualitative aspects of film and digital.
Film: Better at retaining detail, albeit grainier than digital, regardless of ISO sensitivity of film used.
Digital: Smooth and buttery texture. In other words, very clean images at the lowest ISO sensitivity. Loses some detail through interpolation and other internal processes, which vary according to make of camera.
|Film grain is more evident in film and is especially noticeable in enlargements. Notice how well detail is preserved.|
Film: Superior dynamic range to digital. Film overexposes gracefully, and does not blow out to white (as in digital).
Digital: Dynamic range somewhat limited, and causes highlight ‘clipping’. However, tremendous improvements have been made in this area in recent years.
|Better dynamic range translates to better handling of extremely bring and dark areas|
Resolution & Image Quality
Note: This one is subject to some degree of controversy, because it is one of the most misunderstood. The hype created by the marketing departments of many camera makers led us to believe that resolution, in megapixel terms, was a measure of how ‘good’ a camera is. In other words, we were led to think that ‘more is better’. Today, most of us know that is hogwash. The definition of resolution versus image quality is thus a complex one because a myriad of processes go on in a digital camera that determines how ‘good’ an image will turn out to be. To put it quite simply, two cameras can spit out images of the same resolution, but the quality may not be the same because different cameras may employ different image processing technologies. For the sake of comparison, I will do a basic comparison in lieu of detailed analysis.
Film: Resolution is virtually infinite, on the film itself at least. Putting a ‘megapixel’ cap on film would be an insult to a hundred years worth research and development that has gone into perfecting it. The quality of the final image will depend a lot on the equipment used (film scanner, enlarger, focusing lens), and of course, the size of the medium (in this case, the film). It is worthwhile nothing that while film has more grain (see the above, on ‘Detail Retention’), it (the grain) plays an important role in the aesthetic quality of film.
Digital: Resolution of a digital sensor is finite. A digital camera that is rated to have ’16 megapixels’ will produce an image that is composed of those number of pixels (usually an approximation of that figure). Digital images tend to be ‘smooth’ and ‘silky’ in texture, with grain usually almost absent at the lowest ISO settings. The camera’s processor may perform additional image processing such as noise reduction, which smudges texture and fine detail, making the ‘megapixel race’ somewhat irrelevant at this time of writing.
Film: Besides the traditional dodging and burning, ‘editing’ film was a difficult procedure and was often performed by skilled individuals.
Digital: It has never been easier to get creative, with Photoshop and a whole array of digital tools at your disposal.
To sum it up, comparing film with digital is really like comparing apples to oranges. Each has it’s share of advantages and disadvantages. The choice between film and digital is a matter of personal preference. The aesthetics of film can be difficult to reproduce in digital format, but digital photography has made the hobby more popular hobby than ever before.