Digital has taken over from film photography. But what are we losing?
If you love taking photos, you may have run into the 20-year-long debate over whether digital photography can ever truly replace film photography. Obviously most people prefer the ease of digital, but are they missing out on something special that film offers? Or is it just nostalgia?
The truth is that the choice of film or digital depends very much on both what you’re photographing and how much professional training you have. Or to put it another way, it depends on how much time and effort you want to spend between the moment you set up and snap the shot to the moment you admire your finished photo.
In the hands of a talented professional, film does still allow for better photography than digital does. This is true even when comparing film to the most advanced and expensive digital cameras. That’s because film offers higher resolution than any digital picture, and allows for more shades of variation in light and dark (or color) than the digital medium can achieve. For example, when an area has strong highlights (bright spots)or shadows, a skilled film photographer can get a better, more nuanced picture than a digital camera could possibly take
However there are a lot of caveats to this. For one, “film” is not all one medium. When most of us say film we mean 35mm film format, which does not produce the same high quality as more professional formats such as 4×5”, 8×10”, and many others. Someone shooting on a standard 35mm film camera may not find a difference in quality from a high end digital camera, or only see the difference in certain circumstances.
Shooting and developing film photos are both harder as well. When shooting, there are many more settings and variables to control for. When developing, the best results often come from developing the images yourself, which almost no one but artists does. Sending your film to a lab to develop it means you are trusting the eye of the person doing the developing, and they don’t know what you had hoped for when you snapped the shot.
The result is that for most people, a decent digital camera with a little basic training will allow them to get amazing shots, and trying out a film camera won’t deliver a real difference in quality. Even a smartphone camera gives many people better shots than they ever got in their lives using film. Being able to instantly see and evaluate the photo is, to many amateurs and even some professionals, more valuable than the added resolution that film provides.
Of course, many of us are straddling both worlds—taking old film print photographs and scanning them into the digital world. For anyone except a professional photographer, digital has almost completely replaced film.