Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Still Arguing about Film Vs. Digital

I read a blog post by Eric Kim here in which he talks about the experience of using film to shoot street work, and vows to never go  back to digital. Well, we'll see about that. To be sure there are esthetic reasons that film is beautiful to shoot for any type of photography. I will never sell my Leica M6 because I know there will be some time in the future when I just want to throw some Fuji Neopan 400 in there camera and have a fun day. All the advantages that Eric Kim poses for shooting film are true. But ......

1) He mentions that shooting film removes the impulse for immediate gratification he could get by looking at the lcd on the back of the camera, and it increases the joy of anticipation to see what was actually captured. So don't look, or better yet turn off the lcd - it will save battery power. Exercising discipline and restraint are key factors in growing as any kind of artist or creative person.

2) He says it forces him to give more consideration to his shots and work slower. It's not the camera's or medium's fault - again, discipline and restraint.

3) He points out that if someone were to ask you to delete an image, you can't because it's on a roll of film and you can't just delete one frame. But, if the person doing the asking is an angry 6'5", 250 lb. behemoth, I don't think that answer will wash. What's to stop her from grabbing the camera and ripping the whole roll of film out of it!

4) When you put a roll of ISO 400 film in a camera, that's what you have for 36 exposures. If you expect to shoot on the street, but find some dark alley with deep shadows you're out of luck - unless you want to rewind your film and replace it with a roll of ISO 1600 film.

5) If you have a roll of b/w film in the camera and just happen across a scene that screams to be produced in color (admittedly this happens very infrequently, but still .....) again, you're out of luck, see #3.

6) After you have shot your roll of film in lighting conditions that were consistent and you want to develop the film in a tank, whatever development you choose - water temperature, degree of agitation, length of development time - for any particular frame on that roll will be the same for every other frame. There's no way to control the development contrast for any particular image. This particular parameter was at the heart of the zone system which required separate development for each negative plate - sure there were many people who attempted to modify and adjust the zone system for 35mm photography, but none of those really worked out. Digitally, it's a piece of cake.

7) Lastly (for this particular blog post), while analog processing (as in - with chemicals) may have a certain nostalgic appeal for those who didn't come of age during a time in history when there was no other option, I, for one, don't miss the hassle of mixing chemicals, putting up with the smell and mess, or the expense of film and darkroom materials. I would certainly agree that software costs money too. But the flexibility offered by that software and digital processing far outweighs all the romantic nostalgia to which Kim espouses in his blog.

And by the way, have you ever started working on developing a digital image and been interrupted by a phone call, a call of nature, or needed to take a food break? Developing film? Forget about it.

Here's a shot from my most recent photo walk. It's not perfect by any means, the focus is a little soft. But I  just like the shot. The message on the woman's bag seems to me so contrary to the unfriendly look on her face.


  1. A very amusing article our good friend Eric has written. I thought that discussion was over many years ago. I did my last darkroom work in 2002 and I haven´t miss it a day since. From 2002 - 2004 I scanned my 35 mm film and I don´t miss it. But if Eric Kim can make better photos analog, than digital - let him do it. Eric is a great street photographer - he has produced so many good photos digital, and I think he will go back to digital within a year, when the first enthusiasm has gone. But I will wish him luck with it. In the end when you look at a photo and it is a great one, you don´t care about if it is produced analog or digital.
    The only arguing for analog I can see - is if you are a proffessionel photographer and you can get more money for your photos because you also can sell the story about how the photo was made and all the work you have to do in the darkroom and some people would pay for it.

  2. Darkroom, dust, scanning. In nostalgia, the annoying details of film somehow fade away.

    I hate that digital is immediate disappointment -- I missed the shot, it's out of focus, it's just off in composition. Film just softens the blow.

  3. Good article Gene,it was fun with film SLR,but now it is even more fun with DSLR.But I keep my oldy for the memory of old times.