Is film better than digital?
There is plenty of acrimony out there in the disagreement between film and digital photographers. There is also plenty of people for whom the medium doesn’t matter in the slightest.
In my case, I feel the need to pontificate, mostly because I can’t help being opinionated and I like to share those opinions. So there.
I think in some ways, film is indeed superior to digital for recording images.
Why? First, the look of a film image is different. The medium as well as the camera and lens combinations lends a more unique look to the images. Digital tends to bring a sameness, a uniformity to the look of an image, as does the processing that follows. True, you can’t tell with some. But overall, there is a difference and with digital, I find you lose something when you lose those unique qualities that film, let alone alternative capture methods, brings. Why else are film based filters so popular for digital shooters?
Not only is there a diminishment in unique qualities, there is also a loss of serendipity, unique results, happy accidents. While you might make mistakes, digital doesn’t have real flaws nor can you induce unknown results by playing with chemicals or processes. And messing about with Photoshop doesn’t count I’m afraid.
Second, there is the process. Film, by nature of it’s scarcity, (as few as 12 shots in a roll let alone single sheets), requires you to slow down, think abut your shots and make them count. Yes, you can do that when you shoot digitally, but how many people do? While the bountiful nature of digital does mean some additional freedom is possible in your approach, how many rely on number of frames versus quality of frames?
Professsionals used to shoot film, they got the shots, and did so without needing to take 5000 images. They also engaged in plenty of experimentation. I think photography has actually lost something with the ease of digital capture. It’s lost people really learning the skills of a photographer in knowing their gear so well, knowing how to create great images in camera, knowing how to get the shot the first time.
Third, digital has led to a lot of people with cameras calling themselves photographers who really don’t know much about photography or even how to really use a camera. Anyone can get lucky shots and if they shoot enough frames maybe quite a few good ones, but it takes more than that to create with intent. And that is the difference. If you count the number of people using digital cameras vs the number of film shooters out there creating images with intent, I think you’ll find they are proportionally a lot smaller the the film camp.
Before you object, I’m not talking about all the pros out there making their living with a digital camera, they are beside the point. I’m talking about everyone else. Pros don’t have as much choice these days as client expectations require digital compliance unless you get some exceptional clients.
Given these points, in many cases I say film is superior to digital and here’s a finger to all those old farts saying “thank God I don’t have to be in a darkroom anymore”. Lazy buggers.