Was having a conversation with my good friend Dav yesterday over coconut juice and samosas, when he said that he was contemplating not buying an M6 (since he already has the M9) and getting a digital or film compact instead. And it got me thinking about something that has been swirling around my head for quite a bit. This whole debate on film vs. digital that’s been going around. I’m not talking about the crop body digital vs. film, but just something that is relevant to the full frame M9 (or any other full frame camera) vs. a film one. I’m not even going to go into the whole rangefinder vs. slr vs. compact discussion cos its also irrelevant here.
From a rational point of view, shooting on digital is way more practical. You have a whole range of ISOs to shoot on, and the fact that it’s almost free is kind of great. I mean yes the initial outlay is crazy high, but after that you can shoot to your heart’s content without worrying about development or printing or chemicals and the big motherlode of timesuck – scanning. And with post-processing (don’t shoot me), you can replicate a whole range of films and look too. You want grain? Move a slider around and BAM! You want it to look like Astia, Provia, or even Superia, move some sliders around and BAM! You have it. There are even presets for it. Yes yes it’s not the real thing, but for the 99% of the people who are going to see your pictures, they won’t be able to tell the difference.
I mean, sometimes I honestly think people use film because of some romanticized notion of film. Yeah with film you get full frame for cheap (but remember that’s not what we’re saying here) but seriously, not many people can tell if you used film or digital. Admit it, how many of us process our digital files to have more of a film look? Why? Because we somehow just prefer the look of film. What is this look? Organic? Grain? Or just something within our hearts that makes us want to emulate film?
To summarize, I think the digital vs. film debate all boils down to this – convenience vs. that irrational, romanticized notion of what it means to shoot film. Sure you can argue that with film, one is more selective with shots since its only 24 or 36 frames (and I do admit, I’ve become way more selective with what I shoot since I started using film), but that self discipline can be self imposed with digital too. One can also say with film you can’t chimp and have to rely on your own gut and skill to take the shot, but hey you can do that too with a digital one. Switch off the damn screen or preview. With a little self discipline, you can simulate the act of shooting digital as if it’s on film too right?
At the end of the day, we just have to ask ourselves, why do we shoot on film? After all that talk, I have to confess that for me, its cos a full frame digital camera is just way out of my budget. I might say that I just like the look of film too, but honestly its cos I can’t afford a full frame camera. Haha!
I guess what I’m really trying to say here, is that many of us use film because we just “prefer” it. We can’t really articulate why, but it’s just something we “prefer” [Thanks Kiely (who incidentally writes a blog called Film Wins) for helping me clarify my thoughts!]
Since I wrote this, I’ve realized that my article is rather shallow (for that I apologize). I’ve received lots of comments from friends on FB and Twitter on my post. With their permission, I’ve included those which I feel add to the discussion.
Callan: “Even at the small size of an 8″x12” print, the difference between film and digital tones, especially in black and white, is blatantly obvious.
It is also an artistic “handcuff” if you will, basically restricting myself to specific conditions. It enforces a certain discipline that most people who have stuck to digital does not appreciate.
Is it better? No. Horses for courses, as the Brits say. Unless a client demands film, which has never happened thus far, I use digital for work. It’s convenient, and fast, and very controllable, provided you know how the camera will react and capture that scene.
It still boils down to preference of aesthetics, and familiarity with your chosen equipment. That matters more than the false dichotomy of film vs digital.”
Eric Kim : “Still find with film it is easier to separate the shooting/editing portion. Makes it a lot easier to work on projects. And having an M9 – the fact of having an LCD will cause you to chimp (or have the urge to chimp). Film has totally eliminated that for me. And also it is nice to not worry about not having enough megapixels ;)”
Jing Wen “it is really about the experience and look as well”. He also shared a couple of really great reads online. I encourage you to read them up.
Ken Rockwell on film vs digital and Oleg Novikov on film vs digital and also on character.
Thanks so much everybody for your comments. Feel free to add more if you want to add to the discussion.
Dav: “At the end of the day to me, it’s still about the photograph. If it’s a great shot, it’s a great shot, regardless film or digital. For others, people love film because it might be the color, rendering or the process etc etc. Perfectly fine with that. Everyone who is into photography should try both film and digital, then decide what is their preference or use both mediums. Have fun with photography. That’s what it’s supposed to be when we first picked up the camera.”
Adam: ” isnt it about the difficulty too? Be it price, or the general time consuming nature of develeoping and scanning. When you put in all the effort, say shooting full manual on film, getting that perfect exposure, composition, developing it, scanning it.. everything. Doesnt it just feel so much more fulfilling? Thats why I love film now”