Film vs Digital

I was reading a piece the other day, written by a photographer who offers both film and digital capture to his customers. I am always interested to hear other professional photographer’s opinions on the subject. I was a film devotee for over 30 years, and only made the switch to digital a little over three years ago.In the piece I mentioned, the photographer/author sited the fact that film is more ‘forgiving’ than digital when it comes to proper exposure. This is certainly true. Especially in the highlights of the image. You can overexpose negative film by more than two stops, and still get details in the highlights.For those of you who aren’t familiar with photo-geek speak, for any given scene framed in the viewfinder of a camera, there is a correct exposure to the light coming from the scene and onto the film, or digital sensor. Over exposure by one “stop” means twice as much light as should be getting to the film or sensor, is getting to it. Two stops over is twice that much more, or four times the amount of light as the correct exposure.Do that to your digital capture and there’s no recovering data from the highlights. Sorry, it’s gone! Actually, positive film, or “slide” film also has a much lower tolerance to overexposure, so not all film is that much more ‘forgiving’. But the point here is… ta DA…”Forgiving”, (and may I finish the thought), of bad exposure!The author of the piece I refer to here also is a photographer in Hawaii, as I am. He writes of how the light here changes so quickly and frequently with the trade winds blowing the clouds over the sun, then away from the sun, etc. And it is true that on many days, especially in the earlier afternoons the brightness and intensity of the sun can vary quite a bit.Personally, my solution is, knowing that about the light and the sun, clouds and trades, 1) be aware of it, and 2) know your equipment so you can make rapid adjustments, and then, 3) make the adjustments as needed!Then there was the assertion that, “Prints made from negatives have more ‘depth’ than prints made from digital files.”As I mentioned, I was a film devotee for over 30 years. And I used medium format cameras using negatives over 3 times the size of 35mm negs. Print quality was one of the main factors that kept me from converting to digital earlier than I did. I insisted on seeing my own images printed digitally, that matched the quality of the prints I was used to from my film processing labs.The simple truth is that prints are two-dimensional. Prints have no depth. What creates the illusion of depth in an image are the contrasts in the image. Shadows and highlights, perspective, and the human mind. It is up to the photographer to shape, frame and capture the elements that create the illusion of depth. That’s why professional photographers create images, while others catch snapshots.The other evening at a meeting with some art directors, when I was asked, “How do you feel about digital? Has the quality caught up with film yet?” I unhesitatingly responded, “It has caught and surpassed film!”Of course I was speaking from the perspective of a professional photographer. When you have a correctly exposed image, and you use state of the art printers, you simply cannot beat digital imaging. My big, medium format negative film prints would start to get grainy at 30×40, but my 6 mega pixel digital images, printed on Epson Stylus Pro printers look tack sharp at 40×55.So, strictly on an image comparison, print to print, film and digital, I would have to say there’s virtually no difference up to about 16×20, or maybe 20×24. Larger than that, digital is superior.All this being said, visual arts are very subjective, and this is my opinion.

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