Perspectives on Film Versus Digital

One man's dawn is another man's dusk. Guanacaste province, Costa Rica.
(Camera: Horizon 202; Film: Kodak Ektar 100)

These are interesting times, no question about it. A New World Order has emerged and continues to evolve as one technology eclipses another. Much of the analysis has been focused narrowly on the hardware, but in fact, it’s really only the “software” — the human component — that matters. A camera is just an inert hunk of plastic, metal, and glass, until someone picks it up and takes pictures with it. As always, it’s what we do with the machinery that determines its artistic utility and, ultimately, its value. Call it a vision thing.

I’m not sure if the photographic community as a whole has reached some kind of watershed moment, but for some reason there has been a sudden burst of well reasoned, interesting bits of writing on the subject of shooting film in a digital age. Here are a few of the best examples that I’ve recently encountered.

One of may favourite landscape photographers is fellow Canadian, Gary Nylander. In a recent blog entry he mused about the relative merits of the two technologies and film’s place in the current photographic environment. I think he neatly summarizes part of the challenge/reward relationship when he notes, “I feel that there is a sense of accomplishment in that some film cameras are not easy to use, neither is playing a violin.” You can read more of Gary’s take in My Thoughts on Why I Shoot Film.

Bruce Barnbaum, author of the excellent book, “The Art of Photography,” and a hero to many, puts things nicely when he writes, “There is nothing about digital photography that forces lack of thinking, but there is much about digital photography that encourages it.” His essay, New Thoughts on Digital Photography, is a worthwile read.

Olivier Du Tré is another photographer whose work I enjoy. Like Gary Nylander, Olivier appreciates the virtues of both digital and film and talks about why he’s in the process of completely converting to the latter in his blog post, Why I Shoot Film.

Finally, Nathan Jones gives a moving, and nuanced perspective on film’s virtues in his two-part essay, Why Film Matters. Going from digital to film, he notes, “transferred the responsibility for technically competent shots from the near infallible machine to the very fallible me.” Be sure to read both parts.

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4 Responses to Perspectives on Film Versus Digital

  1. Yes, they sure are interesting times that we live in…… Thanks for linking my post with yours I’m in esteemed company!

  2. Ralf says:

    Thanks for the links, it’s great to read about other film enthousiasts and why they love film! So maybe it is not a coincidence that I play violin and also love film 😉
    Just a thought about photo sharing on Internet: since I started making my own darkroom (B&W) prints, I feel more comfortable sharing some images (scans) on Internet. It’s a nice medium to have an idea of the work of others, and at the same time you’re not giving away any originals – the negatives (and nice quality prints) are still there as “the real thing”.
    Digital files seem so perishable/nondurable by comparison. Of course digital cameras are useful and very convenient and practical, but for some reason I much more enjoy shooting a film camera. Even a grainy print from a half frame film camera seems more desirable to me than a perfect high resolution print from a digital file … it’s hard to say exactly why, but it’s certainly not nostalgia. I guess it has to do with the work and time that went into it and the fact that it’s not so easily repeatable.

  3. Hi Ralf,
    Keep playing that violin and shooting film! I do think that there is more personal self satisfaction in shooting film, even if no one else notices. Also the approaches to subject matter when shooting film is much different than shooting digital, from reading Bruce Barbbaum’s essay.

  4. ehpem says:

    Nice to find this article, and all those that you link to. I started with film, mostly for work related reasons, and was never very creative, thoughtful or good at. Then I got a digital camera and started to get more serious about photography, but not sufficiently thoughtful or creative. Recently I have started shooting with a very basic film camera and I find that many of things you and the people link to are true. I take far more care with my photos now and it has led to some creative ideas that were largely missing when shooting with the DSLR. The learning I am doing with film is transferring back to the DSLR as well. I recommend shooting film, at least part of the time, to anyone that is serious about photography – it will do no harm and could do a great deal of good.