A Second Look At The Film And Digital Battle
After shooting with the N65 recently, I will be quite bold to say that "It takes a better photographer to make a great image exposure with a film camera, and a digital camera can make a better image exposure than a film camera regardless of the photographers abilities."

No need to get upset with that statement... as I mean that for a photographer to capture a great exposure (with "exposure" being the key word) with a film camera, they will need to know the characteristics and results from having captured many rolls of film.

Yet, with a digital camera and the ability to preview the image after being captured, it allows you to refine the exposure value (EV) to even greater results than if you just captured it at what the cameras light meter suggest or even any adjustments you may have chosen to override the meter.

I have realized that with today's cameras, they are a lot like trying to visualize life without cell phones, as we seem to wonder how we ever got by without them. The same with the modern DSLR and some of its functions compared to the film camera of days gone by. As I found out when publishing Issue 2, when I shot with a Nikkormat FTn and the Nikon D600. It didn't take more than a few minutes to realize I didn't like the way the Nikkormat handled compared to the modern DSLR.

Since I have a freezer full of film and with an upcoming Film Workshop, I figured I would make sure the loaner cameras I have still function properly. Then, while I was at it, I would compare how much fun it is shooting with a modern film camera.

Enter the Nikon N65 which was announced in August 2000 which featured matrix metering, auto-focus, depth-of-field preview and a display window much like on a DSLR camera to show current EV settings. Although the Nikkormat has the DOF preview, it doesn't have any of the other modern day features we have grown accustomed to.

With the built in grip, controls and display, the camera basically handles much like my modern DSLR. With many options to override the cameras suggested EV, you would think it is pretty much no different than shooting with a digital camera.

Now, if only I can get past the fact that I will not see a preview image of the exposure after pressing the shutter and of course I will have to finish the entire roll and get it processed before I actually see the resulting captures.

Just as when I shot with the Nikkormat, one of the first features of a film camera does not have is the ability to change the ISO at any time for any given capture. With the Film camera, as in the case of this test roll, I was pretty much stuck with the Fuji films rated speed of ASA 400. Where this really affects your creative ability is for example: If your meter says you need to make the exposure at 1/30th at f/8, but in fact you really want the DOF of the image captured at f/22. Of course I could put it on a tripod and shoot at 1/4th of a second to allow an f/22 aperture, but the situation may not allow for that to happen. Especially if you don't have a tripod handy or there is some movement or action in the scene.

While you could rate the film at a different ASA and alter the development times, you can't change the rated speed in the middle of a roll. That capability alone in a DSLR makes the outcome of your photo captures have so many more variables to still get a great EV. With that in mind, I will just have to go out and shoot with confidence and recall what happens in certain situations with film, such as under and over exposures. Although color transparency film (slides) is a bit more forgiving with EV errors, it is not the case with print film. Especially with under exposure, that creates the graininess look just like noise does in a DSLR. But i a digital capture the noise effect is not quite as bad as it is with with film.

What Does The Future Hold?
Since there is no actual film vs digital debate, since they are 2 entirely different ways of printing as touched on somewhat in Issue 5. For one, even if you have film that is not totally fogged, useless or too far out of date, you also have to hope that the lab you take it to be processed in will have fresh chemistry. Although not an issue if you shoot black & white, but indeed for color prints it could be a factor in the quality of the outcome.

Unfortunately for me, the first roll of Fuji Superia 400 film was so crapped out that the images were not really salvageable. A fact you wouldn't know until you shot the roll and had it processed, and then it's too late to do anything about. This also caused me to donate the remaining rolls of that batch to workshop experiments since I also had the same results from a roll I shot with my Nikkormat in Issue #2.

Somewhat frustrated, I dug a roll of Kodak Ultramax with an expiration date of 3/2014 from the freezer and went on a journey to shoot again. This time as you will see in the resulting images, I was pretty satisfied with the captures.

With the Nikon N65 being very similar to todays Nikon DSLR cameras, the basic operation was not something I had to adjust to, as in the case when I shot the vintage Nikkormat. In fact it the controls and shutter release handles a lot like the Nikon D3100 I have.

It didn't take as long as I though it would to get over the fact I can't change the ISO in the middle of a roll or for just one shot. Since I was shooting with ISO 400 film, I did at least have a little bit of EV variance I could choose, as compared to if I were shooting ISO 100 or 200. And with no nice LCD preview after the shot, you really have to shoot with complete confidence that you exposed it the way you want ti to come out. Another variable to take into account is the limited number of captures per roll and cost of processing compared to the unlimited amount you can take with the digital camera.

Color Balance & White Point
One of the great conveniences of shooting RAW Digital, is the ability to change or adjust the white balance of the capture. Back in the film days you could choose color balance mostly just by shooting Kodachrome for reddish warm or Ektachrome for blueish cool balance. Each film had some degree of color balance and could also be altered by shooting with a certain filter over the front of the lens. Such filters were essential when shooting daylight balanced film under tungsten lighting.

The only drawback when now compared the digital, is the the color balance that you ended up with is the one you got. Unless you developed and printed your own color film, then you had to be happy with the printed color balance results you got. As in the case of todays film capture/scanned/digital captures, the color balance can be adjusted almost as much as if it were captured in RAW with a DSLR.

The same could be said for the white and black points in your film captures... you pretty much had to be happy with how they came out unless you were developing and printing your own color. As for Black & White, the you most likely developed it yourself anyway and could develop and print to the levels you desired. And again, with film captures scanned into digital, you can alter those values to your preference also.

As I covered in Issue #5 about Analog Film Effects... once you have scanned a negative to digital format, you really don't know exactly for sure just where the whitest white and the blackest black regions of the image are. Especially since you are going to scan it to some degree of dynamic range that pleases you.

To give you a good visual understanding of this, you can see from the image here that the color balance is a little on the greenish side. And in the days of film, you would have to be happy with this or try and get it custom printed to correct.

Fortunately for those shooting film, you can see in the second example of this image some slight change in color balance that makes the image quite a bit more pleasing once the green tint was taken out of the whites.

With some further tweaks made to the image you could end up with a quite pleasing color balance from what may have been though to be a lost cause when you saw the print from the lab.

But... it also is very likely that you would have gotten a much more vivid and closer to correct color balance since the film wouldn't have been expired and the lab would have most likely had fresh chemistry.

Film Grain vs Digital Noise
It is often said that "noise" in a digital capture is like "grain" in a high speed film capture... maybe in someones mind, but there is a major difference in the effect it has on the image.

As you can see simulated in these examples how in the first image the graininess that the image has is actually not that displeasing. But then, in the second image where a DSLR would have had "noise" when captured at a high ISO , it actually is comprised of multicolored pixels and can be quite a bit less pleasing than actual film grain from high ISO film.

Although you can use Photoshop to reduce the noise of an image, you actually compromise the quality of it in the process and end up with even less pleasing of an image as you can see in the third example.

Either "in-camera" or in processing, when you reduce noise, you are basically blurring the image slightly to lower the visibility of the noise but also lessen the sharpness of the image at the same time. One of the most awesome features of the newest line of DSLR cameras is their ability to capture at very high ISO. It is commonplace now to be able to shoot at ISO 1600 with virtually no noticeable noise. I was able to capture dirt track racing with a 300mm lens with EV's of 1/250, f/8 at ISO 25,600. Those are numbers never even possible with film, or at least to get a usable image.

Tack Sharp or Thumb Soft?
One of the most common phrases used by photographers when commenting on a very sharp lens or image is that it is "Tack Sharp".

One of the coolest factors in scanning film negatives into digital images is the "sharpening" that naturally happens once you convert various grains of film in layers of dyes into evenly sized squares (pixels) of color.

Due the the inherent property of the structure of a digital image compared to how light was beamed through layers of dye onto light sensitive paper in analog images, you end up with a slightly sharper image.

In the example images shown here using a technique of my own and not one of the "filters" as I talked about in Issue #5 about "film effects", you can see how in the second image of the pairs I tried to simulate what the capture would look like as an analog print.

It's the glow in the highlights, slight softness and rich shadows of film that we seem to associate it with. Since with our DSLR the shadows will be filled with tons of minute details, very sharp edges and highlights that are crisp and clear.

Is Film Similar To RAW or JPEG
A film capture is no where anything like a RAW file, since a RAW file is not yet an image. It is a file that contains the data of how an image can look when interpreted through a program such as your cameras RAW converter or Adobe Camera RAW. A film capture is final, just like a JPEG image, as in you do not have the data to open up shadows or bring back missing highlights from a capture. While you can make shadows lighter or highlights become gray, you wont have the data to show the details as if you had captured the image at a different EV.

As shown in this example, notice the areas in the red boxes on the enlarged image. The highlight details and shadow details in those areas can not be brought back. The image is final and the only adjustment you can make is like in a JPEG image, whereas you can overall lighten a shadow or make a highlight become gray. You simply do not have the RAW data to make this image appear as if it were captured at a different EV.

As shown here, you see that you can lighten a shadow area, but you do not have the RAW data as if it were exposed more. What you end up with is grainy looking shadows with noise.

If you have never shot film before and have carefully observed the image characteristics of this project so far... you may be wondering, why even shoot with film?

For the most part, it will be the pure nostalgia of it and the fact that not nearly as many photographers shoot with film as they do digital. And again to repeat a statement I made at the beginning "It takes a better photographer to make a great image exposure with a film camera, and a digital camera can make a better image exposure than a film camera."

I personally can not find one aspect of image quality in a film image that is better than a digital image. And if it is the soft glow you like from film captures, you can easily obtain that from a digital image and you can even get those unique color balance looks from the assortment of analog film effects that I mentioned in Issue #5

The Best Photo Instructor Known To Man
Now for the single greatest reason to shoot film... Would be the potential to learn the full craft of photography. Not just composition and pushing the shutter. You will become aware of color balance in a whole new way.

The ability to learn how light can be mastered in your mind well before you have taken the capture or saw the recommended EV in your cameras meter. As in the example image shown here I knew that with the face of the subject in shade and the strong sun light coming from behind, that the meter would have a tendency to under expose the scene due to the intense light entering the viewfinder.

If I would have captured this scene with my DSLR, then I would be able to salvage the capture when converting the RAW image to apply the EV that would retain the surface of the subject and not be dark and extremely shadowed. Whereas in the case of shooting film, if I had not of compensated for what I knew would happen, then I could in no way get this same image with the details in the face of the subject as I did.

Yes... I do very much love my Modern DSLR, but they have made the ability to get great images much like "point and shoot", once you take into consideration of what EV alterations you can make in a RAW editor. And with that being said, it takes even more knowledge to get great captures on film from a Vintage Film SLR.

It's A Challenge... Not A Debate
Shooting Film vs Shooting Digital is not really a debate, especially if you are not printing your negative in an analog darkroom. There really is no comparison, since both are cameras that operate on similar principals. They both capture rays of light on a light sensitive surface through several layers of glass lens's. If there is an aspect of one you feel is better, it is all subjective and what you personally feel you like best. Some people may prefer a super sharp ultra high dynamic range and others may like a muted image with a soft glow to the edges. No one is better they the other, but unfortunately so many photographers feel that the method they use is the correct an proper way.

Shooting with a film camera (especially color film) is more of a challenge, and I personally challenge you to go out and see what happens. The object of the challenge would be to get incredibly good EV's on a majority of the captures due to you being aware of what tricks the light will play on a scene.

As an added task, you will find out just how well you can capture on out of date film and most likely stale chemistry from the lab.

Cover | About TPE | Previous Issues | Workshops | Gallery 5
Website Designed & Powered by Doctorsid Visual Media