It would almost seem chiche for me to call this “not another film vs. digital” post, so I won’t. However – denial aside – this is more of a “why film” post. It is good for me to be clear on the outset. Let’s start with an example.
Remember grade-school, when the teachers forced us to learn cursive and we had to write letters by hand? It took longer than typing on the computer, and it was definitely harder to reorganize a paper when it was in ink, but they wanted us to do it anyway. There was something about the process of writing by hand that helps one to thing things through a little better. Even now, as I type on the computer, I’m suffering from trouble organizing my thoughts. It’s easy to delete the words I type and do it all over again. The ease prevents me – at times – from committing to my thoughts. Without that commitment, there is nothing worth reading; nothing meaningful is produced.
When I take pictures, I like to use film. Why on earth would I do that?! Digital is supposedly superior in every way, right? Film is harder to expose perfectly. It takes more time and effort, and you’re stuck with the mistakes. You have to commit to each shot because you can’t use an eraser on film. However, the slowness of the process helps a person to focus. When I use film, my own cluttered thoughts clear away, and I’m only aware of the world around me. It makes me feel like a little person again, like when I lived in the present.
This is all great and very nostalgic, but what about the nitty gritty? What about the technical side of things? It’s easy to think that “newer” technology might be automatically better than the “old” stuff, but that is not always the case. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can stop counting pixels and silver grains because digital will win there (if it already hasn’t). There is a limit to the resolution of a 35mm negative or transparency, but I don’t think resolution makes an excellent photograph. There are other factors. Film still surpasses digital technology in areas like dynamic range and color depth. Digital sensors have a linear sensitivity to light, while film is logarithmic. For example, digital sensors will approach black or white and suddenly clip. Film has a nice gentle curve that allows for a diminishing sensitivity to darkness or brightness. What it eventually comes down to is that, aesthetically, film wins in color, dynamic range, and grain/noise structure. Digital wins in resolution (sometimes). I would argue that resolution doesn’t matter all that much after a certain point. Try enlarging digital pictures too big; they look nasty. Then try that with film; at least the grain looks natural.
So I use film because I like the way it looks. I’ve tried digital cameras, and I’ve tried working with huge images in Photoshop (actually, Gimp), and there’s just nothing that really appeals to me about digital photography. Digital is too fast and commercial. It’s just not as fun. I hate how it’s opened the door for all sorts of manipulation of the image. Whatever happened to making interesting pictures that don’t have some kind of color cast and heavy vignetting? Don’t even get me started with HDR… It’s just rubbish. Compare a nicely exposed picture in good light to a so-so picture in crappy light that’s been “fixed” in Photoshop. The world is beautiful as it is, so why try to change it?
I’ll end with some of my own pictures. I hope you enjoy.