Film vs Digital
27 Jan 2010
A few months ago this article probably would have turned out very differently, that’s because a few months ago I didn’t own a digital camera. Well, that’s not entirely true; I owned a 2 megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera that I bought back in 2002. I don’t count it since I haven’t used it since 2005 or 2006 in favor of a number of film cameras.
When I got that digital camera back in 2002 I loved it. I hadn’t really used film cameras aside from an old 110 format film when I was a child and a few single use cameras. I took tens of thousands of photos with that camera, mainly because I could. Just put a memory card in the camera, shoot for a few hours, put the photos on a computer, rinse, repeat. There were absolutely no limit to how many photos could be taken, and after the initial cost of the camera there really aren’t any other costs. I loved the instant gratification too. When I first started my photoblog I would often take photos one night and post one of them the next day. Add the fact that the camera had a full manual mode where I could set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, and I had a great camera to learn photography on. The only thing I really didn’t like about it at the time was that it lacked any way to set the depth of field on photographs. I certainly wasn’t about to spend money on a DSLR at the time though.
Luckily my brother-in-law gave me a Nikon N70 (35mm film SLR) that he no longer needed. This had everything that my point-and-shoot digital had and I could create depth of field in the photograph. I remember the first roll I took with that camera; I was obsessed with having something in a photo be out of focus. The only thing this camera really lacked was the instant gratification that I had with the digital. It really didn’t bother me though. I could go shooting and then drop the film off at the shop a few blocks away. Then a few hours later, and sometimes overnight, I would pick up the film and scan it in to my computer. All in all, the process wasn’t much longer than the previous process. Of course I did have to finish a roll of film before I took it to the shop, but I usually tried to finish any rolls before being done shooting for the day. Film really grew on me, and I started buying more 35mm film cameras. I started to think that I would never move back to digital again.
This thought became more concrete when I bought a medium format film camera in 2008. Not only did this have everything that my 35mm cameras had, but the medium format negatives were roughly 4.5 times the size of a 35mm negative. Of course this comes at the expense of having only 10 shots per roll (my camera takes 6×7 sized negatives, results will vary from 4 to 16 shots based on camera) of film. By comparison, a roll of 35mm film can take 36 shots per roll, and a digital camera can take dozens or hundreds of photos per memory card.
In 2008 I also decided it would probably be cheaper to develop my own film. So I purchased some chemicals and supplies to develop film, furthering myself from digital even more. And just a few months ago a friend taught me how to develop color film. I enjoy developing film; it’s fun to control another step in the process. This extra control comes at the cost of waiting even longer between taking the photo and having it on the computer. I usually wait until I have about 6 or 8 rolls to develop before I bother mixing some chemicals to develop it; this can sometimes be weeks or months. This waiting period really makes digital cameras attractive; instant gratification is pretty nice.
And now after 2 years of developing my own film I have a digital camera and am enjoying the instant gratification. I can now take photos and see them on the computer the same day again. Only this time I also have depth of field and interchangeable lenses. Prior to owning the new DSLR I didn’t care for digital cameras at all. I’ve changed my tune quite a bit since then and now use my digital as much as, if not more than, my film cameras. I even bought a nice lens that I never would have thought about buying for my 35mm cameras. The only thing I worry about (constantly) is having a hard drive failure and losing all of my photos. Film is tangible, and I like tangible. If I have a hard drive failure I can just rescan the negatives. I’m attempting the calm my fears by backing up the photos on 3 different hard drives though.
So what is better, film or digital? I’m basing my decision on the fact that it’s not all about the end result, but the overall process. Photos aren’t my hobby, photography is. That includes all of the steps: finding a subject, taking the photo, developing the film, scanning the film, editing, and finally sharing the photo(s) that I like. Which is why film ultimately wins out over digital for me. That’s not to say I dislike my digital camera; I love it and it makes photography amazingly easy, but film is just more fun to use through the entire process.
Does anyone else have an opinion on the subject?