Digital vs. Film Photography

Glenn Reynolds has a thoughtful post, with many links, on this subject. There are arguments.

Most of the arguments are silly. Use the technology that’s best for you. Image resolution is far from being the only dimension of comparison or even the most important one.

I carry a camera partly to capture interesting sights and scenery that I run into, but mainly as an aide-memoire. Keeping a record of where I’ve been and who I’ve been with seems increasingly important as I get older. So while the easy workflow of digital cameras is important for pros who make large numbers of images, for me it is most important to create a permanent record. Film, especially conventional B&W film, is good for this. (Digital archiving requires, at best, regular attention to transferring files as computer equipment is upgraded and standards change.)

For the unplanned slice-of-life and people photos that I like to make, small digicams are too slow to use and have mediocre viewfinders and too much depth of field, while digital SLRs are too big. The kind of camera that best suits my needs is the old-fashioned compact rangefinder, for which there is not yet a good digital substitute. I suspect that such an substitute will be introduced eventually, and when it is another bunch of film diehards will painlessly convert. This kind of switch-over should occur with increasing frequency as photographic subspecialties catch up with technological advances in the mass market.

However, some people will probably continue to prefer film, if only for its archival properties. For this reason alone it seems likely that film, particularly silver-based B&W film, will be available for the foreseeable future, even if only as a boutique item.

Also note that whatever cameras people use, the files generated by scanning film are practically the same as digicam files. And note that Photoshop and similar software are already well on their way to replacing the traditional darkroom. In other words, much professional and high-end hobby photography has already been digital for years, so does it really matter what kinds of cameras were used to produce all those digital files?

3 thoughts on “Digital vs. Film Photography”

  1. I understand that professional “art” photographers (as opposed to news photogs) are taking photos on film and then scanning the film on high resolution scanners so they can photoshop the final.

  2. Jonathan:

    Interesting comments…and thanks. I’m making myself crazy with rocking back and forth about switching from film to digital.

    My biggest issue is not that taking of the photo, nor the storage, nor the editing and “processing” My issue is how the devil to get that beautiful image out of my computer or camera and transfer it onto a piece of paper that I can display with pride. Without spending megabucks on a professional-level printer.

    And what about the costs of bringing the media into a shop and printing only those shots that you want…compared to doing the same thing with a film negative.

    Any thoughts will be hugely appreciated.


  3. Mike,

    I don’t know much about printing, except that a lot of people do it successfully from digital files, either via their own printers or professionally. From what I have read, you can get good prints from an inexpensive printer if you use high-end ink and paper. There’s a lot of info on this subject available on the web. Also, there are many how-to books about digital photography and Photoshop, and I suspect that most of them cover printing (the couple of books that I have do).

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