photography and photographs understood

A Comparison Idea about Film

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: Apr 2010; revised: Oct 2017; readers past month: 539
Comparing Film to Memory Cards

There is one main question about film cameras that comes lately to mind, or rather a set of questions, that I’m considering: If I want both printed images and digitalized images, is it better to use a film camera or a digital one? I have equalized many factors among my equipment by purchasing a good film camera which uses the same lenses as my best digital camera and was made with fairly current technology (e.g., through-the-lens light meters).

Consider this experiment: I take a photograph of something with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, using one of my L series prime lens on a tripod and properly exposed. Then I put my Canon EOS 33v (Elan 7n) on the tripod in the same position, with the same lens and same settings as I had on the 5D MII—using top of the line film, mind you. I then take my memory card to a high quality lab and have them print the digital image for me. I also have the lab develop the film, scan the negative to a CD, and print the image from the negative for me. If I were to compare the digital images of both cameras and compare the printed images of both cameras, would they be identical, or very close at least? Would the digital camera produce the better digital image and the film camera the better printed image? That’s what one might think: digital begets the best digital and analog cameras begets the best analog images. However, the Canon EOS 5D, Mark II is pretty impressive. Would it beat the older Canon EOS 33v on both counts? If I used a Canon EOS 1v, would that help to equal the results? If I set up my own dark room, could I get the film results to measure up?

To me, comparing the results from film to digital cameras has been like comparing oil paintings to colored pencil drawings. They’re different mediums with different results. However, as I’m working through my deficiencies with film, I’m getting results close to that of my digital cameras, but with an artistic flare to them. As I’m learning how to use Adobe PhotoShop and related components over the past year, I know how to get an artistic flare from digital camera images. One could say that I am abusing my film images when I get them into Adobe, and that I’m creating artificial images when I tweak my digital camera images to look like film. I would first argue that that’s art. More practically, though, what I am doing in Adobe is similar to what Kodak and Fuji are doing with chemicals at their factories when they make the films I use. Kodak makes two professional films that I like: Kodak Portra 160VC and Kodak Portra 160NC. The VC stands for vibrant colors and the NC stands for natural colors. This is like using the Picture Styles in my Canon EOS digital cameras or playing with the Saturation and Vibrance settings in Adobe PhotoShop. The only other effect that film can have directly on the results are related to grain and clarity. Better film and better processing of film can reduce grain. I can add graininess to digital camera images with Adobe.

The point is, besides the delayed results of film and not immediate feedback from an LCD panel on the camera, do I get better results from film? It certainly costs me more money. Well, film cameras are now cheaper than the equivalent digital cameras. Where the costs hit me is in the charge for the film and developing it. So, given that film costs me more and I already have good digital equipment, once I have my routine and the components at their best, will I get better for printed and digitalized images from film? A decade ago that was an easy answer of ‘yes’. Now I’m thinking that the answer is ‘no’ and that the best I can hope to do is to get almost equal results at a higher cost per image (above equipment costs). If I’m wrong, anyone reading and inclined to do so, please correct me. If I’m right, please reinforce what I’m saying by emailing me with your own observations and thoughts.

Update

I followed through with this idea and did this experiment. See the article entitled, .