Monday, May 4, 2009

Myth exploded: Digital verus Film Photography

Travelers, still using film cameras have asked me, "Is digital photography really as good as film?" They want the best keepsakes possible of their travel memories.

In San Francisco, in March, in a museum, a man came up to me to say, "I see you have one of those expensive DSLRs. I really want to move to digital, but it's just too expensive for the camera, software, and an expensive computer to edit the photos." That statement blew me away, as many travelers, have discarded their film cameras precisely because digital photography is much less expensive than film.

I think it’s time to dispel the digital versus film photography myths.
  1. Digital photographs are inferior to film photographs

    Delft: Nieuwe kerk Delft in the background in Delft PlazaEarly on, film was better than digital. Digital cameras in 2001 generally produced grainy, off-color images. Even a few years later with digital camera sensor improvements, the cameras’ internal computers still didn't interpret sensor output very well, and there were other problems too.

    Today, the better digital cameras in each price range, produce photos of equal quality, or better, to film. Professional digital cameras often exceed the capabilities of their film camera counterparts. Today's professional digital cameras can produce great photos, even when projected on large screens, or made into poster sized prints or larger. This isn't to say film isn't good anymore. It is good, but digital is now as good or better.

  2. Digital photography is expensive

    If you want to, you can spent a “fortune” on top level digital photography equipment and software, but then again, it’s possible to spend a “fortune” on top level film photography equipment and chemicals too.

    In the early ‘90s, some of the first professional digital cameras cost more than $15,000. Today, you can purchase a Nikon professional DSLR, the D300, for $2,000. Nikon’s top SLR film camera, the F6, costs $2,500, while their top DSLR, the D3X costs $8,000, but don’t let that throw you. The D3X or the D300, for that matter have features that F6 owners can only drool over.

    My professional DSLR costs more than a typical traveler’s point and shoot (P&S) film camera, but you can get a great P&S digital cameras for less than $300. For editing and touching up, I use Adobe Photoshop CS4 ($700), but Adobe Photoshop Elements, typically overkill for most non-professionals, costs under $70. You can also use an online program like Picassa for free. Prints at your local Costco or BJ’s cost about the same for digital and film. So please, don’t tell me how expensive digital photography is, because it’s not.

  3. Digital Cameras are heavy, bulky, and won’t rapid fire

    Nikon D200My DSLR with vertical grip and zoom lens is bulky and heavy, but the weight and heft is typical for pro level SLR or DSLR.

    Today's digital P&S cameras are light weight, and the majority are quite small. A typical Canon Powershot weighs 5.3oz, and is only 3.5”x2.3”x1”. It doesn’t have all the features my DSLR has, but it takes wonderful photos, to make a great pictorial travel log, share on a web site, or even print up to 8”x10” enlargements.

    As far as rapidly taking photos, DSLRs are equal to SLRs. Early digital P&S cameras had a serious shutter lag, but today, the lag is gone. Some digital P&S users complain that after they take each photo, they have to wait several seconds before they can take another. If they would turn off their multi-second photo review on the LCD, they could generally rapid fire their camera.

  4. Organizing and storing digital photos is costly and time-consuming

    I organize my photos in folders by location and date, using a program which also renames each photo with a name combining location and date, with a sequence number. You can’t get much easier. If you’re using a P&S camera, or a consumer DSLR your file size is small enough that your photos won’t take much hard drive space. To back up, you can write them to CDs, which is inexpensive.

    My DSLR photos have a large file size, and I take thousands of photos each year. My hard drive and CDs don't have a large enough capacity. I use a 1TB (Terabyte=1,000GBs) external hard drive which only costs $130.

  5. It’s hard to print digital photos, and they don’t look very good

    Hearst Castle: Neptune PoolThat changed quite some time ago, as the printer manufactures like HP and Epson, designed better, and more sophisticated photo printers, along with excellent professional quality photo paper and inks.

    I print my own photos up to 13"x19" with no trouble at all. Home users can make their own quality prints on inexpensive photo printers and for big enlargements send them to Costco or other companies online.


Mike O. said...

Ned, thanks for the great article. After reading it, I finally broke down and bought a digital SLR (D60). We went to the Shenandoah Valley and took the Skyline Drive last weekend and I got great photos with the D60. I'm going to mothball my SLR now, probably forever. I had so much fun with the D60.

I did notice there are technical differences between film and digital photography which I have to master. I'm going to do that then upgrade to a D300 or D700 which I probably should have started with. Ah c'est la vie.

I'm a regular reader here at your Blog and over at Tripso, where I first found you. I got started there because of Chris Elliott, but when they hired you, it was a needed breath of fresh air. You may be a wee bit dry every once in while, but you really know how to move an article from start to finish logically. I guess it's your engineering background. Very few journalists today can do that. The quality of journalism seems to have sunk to an all time low, with all these iReporters who think they actually know how to write. They need to go back to school. Enough of the rant. I look forward to your Monday column and your new Blog articles.

I have a couple of suggestions. Over at Tripso get Chris to let you pepper your articles with more photos like you did in the San Diego Wild Animal Park column. That really added to the article. Do you know that couple in the photo feeding the giraffes? They looked like they were having so much fun. Because of that photo, we're taking our twenty-something kids and their spouses to the Park when we go to California in June. I had them read the article and they can't wait to go. They're regular readers of yours now too.

Here at your Blog, I think you should do some instructional videos if you can. I'd love to hear what you sound like. If you're ever doing a workshop or lecture in the Pittsburgh area let me know. I'll be in the front row.

Keep up the great work. I look forward to your Monday column each week and your Blog articles too. Thanks again.

Best regards,


Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Mike,

Wow...thanks for those very kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed your jump into digital photography so much. I love the Skyline Drive myself. Mrs. N. and I have taken the drive, and continued on the Blue Ridge Parkway down to the Smokey Mountains several times. If you haven't been to the Smokeys, it's worth it.

I got started reading at Tripso and participating in the forums there because of Chris myself. He once interviewed me, several years ago, for an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal about air travel.

I'm really enjoying this 2nd career.

I've been thinking about doing some videos for the Blog. You might see me start that in the next few months.

I don't get to Pittsburgh very often, but if I do give a talk there, I'll let you and my readers know.

Again, thanks for your comments.



Unknown said...

Some how i find something missing in digital photos. I like the film. I cant explain why but i do like the look of film more than digital.It seems that you have not observed closely the advantages film gives.Or maybe quality of a photograph doesn't matter to you. However i agree to the point that digital is convenient especially for a travel photographer.

Ned S. Levi said...

PPP, film and digital are different, in my opinion. Each has advantages and disadvantages. I've published your comment despite its clearly insulting and demeaning nature, because I believe in honest discussion.

That being said, at the 35mm size of a negative/slide/sensor, I personally don't see any advantage of film any more. Some people say when they print, they prefer the look of film. I can believe that only if they print their own film, not if they send it to a lab, because the look is different, and judgment is in the eye of the beholder. You can get what you want in your own darkroom, but labs do everything via a common denominator. When I did film, I did my own prints; color and black & white. Through poster size, I print my own "art" digital photographs. I also use labs, for other work for prints.

I can make both film and digital (35mm format) the same.

If you're talking about larger format film/sensor, such as medium format (around 120 to 4"x5") or large format then using film can make a difference today (the difference is quickly narrowing). Heck, even a glass plate photo from the late 1800's has better resolution than a 35mm DSLR, as does a photo from a medium format digital camera, but any resolution, highlight, and color gradient advantage disappear at 35mm.

On the other side of the issue, are the prints. If you're not going larger than 13"x19" there is not going to be a difference either.

In professional travel photography, there are other factors to consider. First, many of my photos are made to be shown on the web. In this case the resolution of the "print" is way below that captured in a DSLR or SLR, so film doesn't matter, and there will be no difference perceived when viewed. Many photos are actually sent from the "field" for publication which is virtually impossible with film. Finally, I post process every photograph published, and they are post processed differently according to the end product. In my opinion, in 35mm photography, through expert post processing of digital, vs. expert post processing of film I can equal film quality.

To be honest PPP, when I read your statement, "Or maybe quality of a photograph doesn't matter to you." I was "taken aback!" I think that's a rather outrageous, insulting, and unfair, statement, made thoughtlessly, in my opinion.

As a professional photographer I take my work seriously. Your statement infers I do not, nor others who use digital cameras, instead of film cameras.

Over at the National Geographic Society, as far as I know, only 1 or 2 or their photographers still use film. Are you saying the National Geographic Society and their incredible photographers don't care about the quality of their publication?

On the other hand, there are publications such as Arizona Highways, who essentially don't accept digital photographs. They don't consider them good enough for their full page reproductions. But then again, they typically don't accept 35mm format film either. They want photographs taken via a large format film camera (4"x5" or larger). As I said, large format film, has definite advantages over digital at this point in time.

The time will come, and I think it might be sooner than later, that large format digital cameras will be developed that will supplant their film counterparts, and perhaps end the life of film cameras for professionals.

Had you said you prefer film output over digital I would have said, that's fine, that's your prerogative. Unfortunately, you went much further and have showed your photographic ignorance.

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