Film vs. Digital

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Despite digital photography making continual leaps and bounds, film has never truly died off. In fact, it seems to be making a resurgence lately. Plus, there are a large number of photographers that never left film behind.

I started my journey in photography shooting film, 35mm film as it happens. At the time, film was the only game in town. Your options came down to how big a format you wanted to shoot; 35mm, medium format (6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9), large format (4×5, 8×10) or some odd-ball formats if you wanted to be different.

Jump forward a couple of decades, and for most photographers, digital is the number one means of photography. I certainly jumped into digital and have several cameras, numerous lenses and other accessories for them. But there has always been that curiosity to work with film again. And many may question why I would turn away from digital to choose film again. To put it succinctly, there is a different look and feel to photos shot on film, something that makes it stand out compared to a digital photo. You could liken it to the difference in sound quality of a record compared to a CD.

Plus, there is the whole issue of digital “darkrooms” or editing software. There are a few different options out there, and each one does things a little differently. Even the simple matter of downloading your images (especially if shooting RAW) varies wildly between the different software packages. To put it simply, there is no uniform standard. A RAW file processed in Adobe’s Lightroom will look different than if it was processed in say, Nikon’s software.

Then when you have your RAW file processed, you have to further edit it, or else it will appear to be flat and lifeless. RAW files are often likened to digital negatives; in that you have to print them. I have lost track of the countless hours I’ve spent in front of a computer screen tweaking my RAW files to try and get the best out of them.

And that is another of the reasons why I’m enjoying going back to film. While you can scan them into your computer and edit them, for the most part, I am just using them straight out of the camera and basic developing. And do you know what? The photos are as good if not better than those I’ve spent hours editing. This freeing of my time is very welcome as I already spend more than enough time sat in front of a computer screen without adding even more. It’s also more time that I can be either shooting photos or planning photo trips.

For those that may be interested, I am still going to shoot on 35mm film, but the bulk of my film work is going to be on 6×4.5 medium format. I have a Mamiya 645E with a 45mm, 80mm and 210mm lens setup. My films of choice are Kodak Ektar 100 and Portra 400 for color and a trio of Ilford B/W films in Pan F Plus, FP4 Plus and HP5 Plus, depending on the conditions and the look I wish to go for. I chose to go with medium format for the larger negatives and higher image quality over 35mm (larger negative means less enlargement needed).

And as a final word, I’d recommend every photographer give film a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results and decide that “film is not dead” and love it as much as I do.

Originally published May 14, 2018

Ian Mildon

Ian Mildon spends his days working as a software application developer. When not doing this he is a keen photographer, working with various formats; digital (full frame, APS-C), film (35mm, 6x4.5, 6x7), mobile (phone), instant. Ian is also a fairly prolific writer, mainly on subjects pertaining to photography, although he does not limit himself to just this subject matter.

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