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Digital vs. film

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Jay was talking about the photos Tom Weir took of our parents; a comment he made about digital photography prompted me to go look up the current state of the long-running argument about which is better, digital or film. I posted most of the following in a comment there, but then decided to re-post here in case folks are interested.

My general feeling about digital photography is that I can't tell the difference between digital and film if taken by a good photographer at sufficiently high resolution and with a good enough camera. Here are a couple of good articles on the subject:

  • Digital cameras vs film: talks about resolution, noise/grain, dynamic range, and color quality; suggests that the latest high-end digital camera at the time of writing (11MP Canon EOS-1D, a couple years ago) beats 35mm film in most areas. Gets very technical later in the article.
  • Film vs. Digital suggests that film wins if you're a high-end professional, but that otherwise digital is probably a better bet.
  • Depth of field and your digital camera explains that it's hard to get a foreground in focus and background out of focus with a digital camera, a nice effect that's relatively easy to get with film. Note, though, that the author says: "I'm not retiring my 35 mm SLRs yet. (2002 note: I'm lying! In the last year I went through just two rolls of film.)"
  • Tonal quality and dynamic range in digital cameras: very technical, but gives some hints on improving dynamic range in digital.
  • Digital vs. film: One photographer's experience gives some pros and cons, from the point of view of a professional, talking more about the experience of shooting and organizing and editing with each rather than about the quality of the resulting photos. Discusses shooting digital photos in Raw format (as does the dynamic-range article above); compares Raw to a film negative, and suggests that shooting in JPG is rather like telling a photo lab to send you the prints and throw away the negatives. Anyway, a lot of the problems he describes are problems with the tools (like not having a good photo-organizing system on his computer) rather than with digital per se.

Interesting that a lot of the prominent articles on this topic were written three or four years ago. I get the impression that more and more professionals are moving almost entirely to digital.

1 Comment

The digital camera I bought earlier this year (my first) certainly sucked a lot less than I expected it to. In principle I'd still like a Nikon FM2n ("Look, Ma! No batteries!"), but I'm not enough of a photographer to really do justice to one, and I have too many hobbies already without throwing photography back into the mix. Plus it doesn't fit in a shirt pocket.


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