Tag Archives: Film vs. Digital

Farewell to Film? (Part Two)

Let me preface this by saying that film is not dead.  This is a personal farewell, based on my own preferences and ways of working.  There are still many photographers who use film – more power to them – and film actually seems to be gaining popularity in some circles, probably as a reaction to the pervasiveness of digital photography.

In my own work – which now involves digital printing rather than traditional optical printing – digital capture just makes more sense.  Now that I have enough experience to prove to myself that the final prints I produce that start with a digital capture equal or exceed the prints I produce that start with a film image, I can make the choice based on other reasons.

One is the availability of materials in the analog world, which is on the decline.  The film I relied on for many years (Kodak TMAX in 4×5-inch ReadyLoad packets) is no longer available.  While there are other options, none offer the light weight, portability, and freedom from dust spots (large sheets of film have a tendency to attract dust when handled in normal environments) offered by that solution.  Film images also require development, and in my case high quality scanning, prior to printing – two additional steps (and expenses) when the result is going to be a digital print.

What do I miss most about film so far?  Two things.  One: the sense of anticipation (and sometimes suspense) when looking at film images for the first time – after all, it can be days or weeks until you see what you’ve captured on film.  And two: the smell of a freshly-opened canister or packet of film.

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Farewell to Film?

Black and White Landscape Photograph

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly, 2011 © Jim Banks

2011 marked a major transition for me.  It was the first year (at least since I could walk) in which I failed to expose a single roll (or sheet) of film.  I made plenty of exposures, but in 2011, they were all digital.

I began using digital cameras for my commercial photography in 2000, but until last year, I always used film for my personal fine art photography.  This changed in 2011, when I acquired a used digital back (a 39-megapixel Phase One P45+) for my old medium-format Hasselblad camera.

Arguments abound in the film vs. digital debate, especially on the web.  There are loads of comparisons between medium format digital backs (which currently provide the highest quality digital captures available) and large format film (which provides the highest quality film images available).  Results are all over the place, suggesting that this comparison may be less straightforward than it might seem, and that the conclusions may be affected by the methodology, the subject matter, the conditions, the specific equipment being tested, and quite possibly, the bias of those doing the testing.

I’m quite happy with my own experience with medium-format digital so far.  Based on my methods of working in real world conditions, and a judgment based on final prints, which is what counts, I’m satisfied that medium-format digital capture equals or exceeds the results I was previously getting with 4×5 film.  Results may vary, of course.

As things currently stand, it looks like 2011 will mark the transition from film-based capture to digital capture for me.  I think viewers of my final prints will be hard pressed to tell the difference.  For the time being at least, it looks like it’s farewell to film for me, although I reserve the right to change my mind, which is as it should be.

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