Film or Digital?

It’s been a while since the last article I wrote on JPeg or Raw – Part 1, and now we have yet another debate to bring to the table. It is a wonder as to why the topic as to which one, film or digital, has, till now, been a subject of much heated debate. A little bit like comparing apples to oranges perhaps? Let us have a look at some key differences between film and digital, and in a while, we will study the advantages and disadvantages of each.
A recent film photograph of my dog chewing an old slipper

A Short History of Film
Film has been around for so long, that it has been subjected to many many years of innovative breakthrough. It all began when Louis Daguerre who developed the first practical photographic methods, called ‘Daguerreotype’, which involved the use of sensitized silver-plated copper (the ‘film’) and fumed with iodine vapor. Exposures were extremely long, as long as eight hours! This proved to be somewhat impractical but was used to capture landscapes. The process and chemicals involved were adapted and improved over time. In 1839, the rights for the daguerreotype was sold to the French government.

Fast forward to 1889, George Eastman, founder of the Kodak Company, invented the roll film. The rest was history, and film continued to dominate for more than a century.

The Digital Revolution
The early digital cameras in the market were simply horrible, suffering for a myriad image-quality issues, resolution being one of them. However, in years that followed, tremendous improvements were made in digital imaging and digital has come to be the medium of choice for professionals. Improvements were made in terms of resolution, dynamic range and color, just to name a few.

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.

Detail Retention:
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.

Dynamic Range:
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.

JPEG or RAW? (Part 1)

JPEG or RAW? It seems that this is an ongoing debate with no clear conclusion in sight.

While doing a photo shoot for a commercial project recently, I had to decide whether or not to shoot in raw. Being somewhat of a purist, I used to abhor the idea of shooting in raw because I didn’t like the idea of spending too much time with post-processing work. I believed that it was better to get most of the work done right out of the camera.

After all, you can’t do much ‘editing’ on film right?


Ansel Adams developed his zone system to push the dynamic range of film to the limit. For that given reason, the same could be done on a ‘digital negative’, which is what the raw format sometimes called.

There are several advantages to shooting in raw:

  • Shooting in raw gives you more latitude in adjusting the image in post production.
  • Raw images are actually ‘raw’, unprocessed and uncompressed data collected right off the CCD or CMOS sensor of your camera. Because the data is in its purest form, it is virtually devoid of heavy-handed compression and noise-removal, usually done by the camera’s CPU, which is necessary to produce Jpeg files.
  • Images generated from raw files tend to retain finer details because the processing is done by your computer, and not your camera’s processor.

Shooting in raw has its drawbacks as well:

  • Large file sizes means you must be prepared to swap memory cards often, unless you have one of those cards that can store a trillion images (just kidding!).
  • Raw files cannot be read without proprietary software. In other words, raw files are ‘non-standard’, which means they vary according to the choice of camera model and manufacturer. In order to read these raw files, you will need to use the software that comes bundled with your camera. Adobe’s Camera Raw plugin is an impressive alternative that allows you to read raw file formats from a host of camera manufacturers. There is also growing support from the open source community in recent years.
  • It usually takes more time to work with raw files. Raw files are, well, raw after all.

Now let us have a look at some pros and cons of working with Jpeg files:


  • Smaller (relatively) file sizes makes Jpeg files more economical to store, although they seem to be becoming larger as manufacturers pack more megapixels into their camera sensors.
  • Jpeg files are easy to work with. Because Jpegs are universal, virtually any device can them.
  • Perhaps most importantly, Jpegs are ready straight out of the camera. Post-processing is optional.


  • Not much room to wiggle. With a Jpeg file, you are left with limited room to modify the image.
  • Jpegs images produced right out of a camera tend to be of lower quality.

That being said, the choice between shooting in raw and Jpeg is entirely yours. Professionals may shoot in raw because it allows them more freedom to make corrections later. On the other hand, if you do not intend to do a lot of post-processing work, then shooting in Jpeg is fine.

I will a closer comparison between Jpegs and Raw conversions in part 2 of this article.

WPPM Kuching 2011


On the 7th of May which was just yesterday, WPPM (Wedding and Portraits Photographers Malaysia) organized a 2-day workshop, for the very first time in Kuching, thanks to Alvin Leong and Patrick Low, two distinguished photographers renowned for their work in the field.
It was organized at the Islamic Information Center near Swinburne; an odd but nonetheless beautiful building that melds the designs and motifs of the various peoples of Malaysia. 1Malaysia? Quite possible.


Nice venue as you can see above. The above is a photo of the center’s activity halls, a modern rendition of the traditional Bidayuh ‘round house’. Very thoughtful of them.


It was an honour to have highly-distinguished photographer Jim Liaw of Jim Liaw Photography present to us his experiences in the field of wedding and portraiture photography. Learning from the pros was one thing, but it was certainly educational to hear them explain the dos and don’ts of the trade.
Launched in October 2010, WPPM’s mission is to educate and inspire photographers to move on to the next level. A mentorship program is high on the agenda and expected to begin shortly. Many thanks to Alvin Leong and Patrick Low for bringing WPPM to Kuching.


=== END ===

Shooting Spree at the Waterfront

On the 28th of May 2009, three suspicious-looking persons were seen walking up and down the Kuching waterfront shooting away at people, newspaper stands, hotdog vendors and even at little old ladies.

What were you thinking?

lumix_resized00018 The Kuching waterfront today

It was a great evening for a photo-shoot, so I packed up my photo gear, and with the company of my two ‘accomplices’ (my siblings actually), each armed with a camera, we had a splendid time learning ‘real’ photography, which was nothing like shooting indiscriminately at all things around. The photos bearing this site’s watermark were captured using the Lumix DMC LX-3, unless otherwise specified. In this post, I promise you, there will be more pictures, and less talking, so happy viewing!

VBrookeKuching Kuching in the olden days


The Tua Pek Kong temple


The Kuching Hilton. In the foreground is the James Brooke Bistro.



HarbourView Hotel, just behind the temple. To the right is the Cineplex building.


lumix_resized00008The Waterfront. To the left is Riverbank Suites, just opposite of Riverside Majestic and adjacent to Hotel Margherita.



One of the numerous riverboat ‘taxis’ that will take you across the river for less than MYR 1.00 each way.


lumix_resized00020 Sarawak River Cruise with the new state legislative council building in the background.


lumix_resized00025Kuching CBD.



I don’t know what this is, but it has been here for as long as I can remember…should check it out one day.


lumix_resized00046Observation tower at the waterfront.




State legislative building seen from afar.



The Astana, which was built in 1870 by the second white Rajah Charles Brooke, as a bridal gift for his wife.


nikon_resized00016 The Astana. This photo was taken with my Nikon Coolpix P5000.


lumix_resized00068Silhouette of river banks. Shot against the sunset. Seen here is the Sarawak River.


The waterfront at dusk. Photo captured with the P5000.

 lumix_resized00049  The Old Courthouse of Kuching. A must-see for visitors and tourists.


Thanks for viewing!

-Lionel Lam


Lionel’s Photo Gallery

Welcome to my photo corner! I am very passionate about photography, and I would post some photos which I would like to share with you on this page. You are free to download these photos so long as the intended purpose is not commercial in nature.

Mushrooms Growing on Log

Golden Retriever Dog

Bird’s Nest Fern
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Chinese Hibiscus
  The Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur