Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thought Of The Day: Black & White Film Is Better

Black-and-white film is better than digitally created black-and-white images.

Why?

First, black-and-white film has a larger dynamic range than digital capture (typically by two or three stops!), which means it can capture more of the light and dark areas of a scene before losing details. Some will argue that digital HDR rectifies this problem, increasing the dynamic range of an image. My answer back is that HDR requires photographing multiple images (instead of just one) and produces flat, "noisy", cartoonish, haloing and unrealistic results--that is, unless the photographer spends significant time and care combining the images, typically using three different post-processing softwares.

Maybe you like spending hours in front of a computer tweaking photographs, but I don't.

Second, if you get a good quality scan of 35mm film, such as at North Coast, you have a higher resolution file than what you get with most digital SLRs. And you will have a resolution similar to that of a full-frame DSLR. In fact, you could take a disposable 35mm film camera and get a good quality scan of the film and have resolution similar to that of a $5,000 digital camera.

By using film and scanning the negatives, you reap the benefits of both 35mm film (dynamic range and size) and digital (quick and easy post-processing).

Third, you have a long-lasting back up of your photograph: the negative. Technology advances and changes so fast. 20 years from now you probably won't be able to view your digital image files that you currently have on your computer. A negative will last much longer than you will.

Fourth, film is more "fine-art" than digital. What I mean by this is that most meaningful and collectible photographs were taken with film. Digital has more of a seemingly temporary quality. I think that's because it's easy to take digital images (you can snap as quickly as your camera can record), it's easy to delete digital images, and new technology often leaves the previous decade's technology forgotten (or the butt of a joke). It seems like there is less of an "art" in digital photography. Whether or not that is actually true does not matter--it seems to be true, so for practical purposes, it is true.

Finally, film is cheaper in the short-term. A beginner can purchase an old (but good) 35mm film camera for less than $50. A roll of quality film can be purchased for less than $7. Development and scanning is less than $20. For less than $80, someone can get started in photography and potentially create amazing, gallery quality images. It's really tough (but still possible) to get started in digital photography for that price.

Those five reasons are why film is better for creating black-and white photographs than digital. That does not mean amazing black-and-white images cannot be made with digital (because they can), but it demonstrates why film photography is still relevant, and why you might choose film over digital.

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