Film vs. Digital – An argument against the argument

How dull! Another film vs. Digital argument! Actually, that’s not what this is. Instead, this is intended as an argument against the argument, because seriously, I’m so bored of the argument, I can’t bear it anymore. As much as anything else I just need something to link to when it comes up…

This isn’t going to be of one of my usual long meandering posts (not too much at least) – even arguing against the whole argument feels like a bit of a dull thing to do. As such, I’m just going to highlight a few of the common arguments and note a few of my thoughts on them. Just beware if you’re sensitive to this sort of thing, I turned down my swearing filter a little, and have gone a bit full-rant here… enjoy!

Film/Digital has more Resolution

The resolution argument drives me mad! Mostly because it’s largely completely irrelevant in real terms! Folks seem to take on one stance or the other, either claiming that digital is higher resolving, or film is. Most people don’t seem to have a bloody clue what they are talking about within the argument anyway, and even those who seem to also seem to understand what resolution is, often seem to have missed the glaringly obvious point that it doesn’t matter anyway, not really…

For a start – genuinely – when was the last time you judged a photo on its resolution alone?

“The other day I was walking around a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, and if there was one thing I was struck by in the 6×9 prints hanging on the walls, it was their resolution”.

Can you imagine anyone saying that? Ok, Bresson isn’t a photographer famed for use of resolution, but even photographers who take advantage of high resolution, don’t solely rely on it. Not the good ones at least. If the image resolution is the only one thing that stands out as a specifically obvious attribute, I’d suggest the photo is probably pretty shit!

The technical answer to the question is that, per square area of light-sensitive surface, film probably(!) does have has more potential for resolving power – it is after all analogue. But, you’re gonna need to be shooting fine grained film, drum scanning it, or printing it pretty bloody massive before any single possible discernible advantage is even remotely likely to rear its head – and even then, for the reasons in the last paragraph – seriously, who gives an actual shit? What real terms gain is there when it comes down to that tiny level of difference? Nothing of any importance!

Why would I shoot film when I can make digital look like film?

This question is another that drives me up the wall. There are so many technical arguments outside of the resolution one – none of them interesting enough to talk about in any real depth. the various merits of dynamic range, latitude, tonality, high ISO capability all come up when this question (and a few others) are posed. But the fact is, given the right circumstances digital can be made to look very similar to film, and indeed some films can look very similar digital – which is a fact that never seems to be talked about. (I talked about it in my RNI review here.)

The thing that confuses and frustrates me is that rather than simply thinking about creating an aesthetic, we seem to be obsessed with the idea of one thing simulating the other. Take the medium out of the equation and we’re just left with the desire to create a particular aesthetic. Processing digital in a way that looks like film, needn’t be about creating a facsimile, it should just be about making a photo that looks the way the photographer desires.

The aesthetic – and not the process – is the thing that is appreciated by the end observer of the image, and a very large percentage of the time, the end observer should know and care little or nothing about how or even why that aesthetic was achieved, but instead what that aesthetic evokes in them.

The point of me mentioning this is to highlight that the process – and indeed the understanding of how to take advantage of the various technical advantages of each medium – is something that belongs to the photographer, and is basically completely irrelevant to the end image – at least in the eyes of the third party observer of it.

The process is the photographers choice, and the choices the photographer makes in this context come down to said photographers enjoyment of, and level of experience with the various processes and technical attributes of the different media.

As such the answer to the question “Why would I shoot film when I can make digital look the same?”, is a simple one! At least to the person that is asking the question, the answer is “you wouldn’t!” If you’re asking that question, film obviously is not the media for you… and therefore the question is moot!

It’s not even that I don’t understand the anti-film perspective that many people who hold this view tout. Film is more expensive, it can be more time consuming (especially if you aren’t used to shooting it), it is possibly more open to more chance of failure (especially if you aren’t used to shooting it), etc. So why would anyone bother to shoot film?

Well, taking into account the previous few paragraphs, surely it’s obvious? Anyone who shoots film is likely doing so because it helps them create the aesthetic they are after in a way that suits them! Through their experiences and accrued know-how, they are able to harness certain technical attributes in a path toward creating the aesthetic they desire.

That being said, it might also just be down to the fact that they like doing it that way. Just like shooting digital and post-processing might suit one person, to the next, the process of shooting film might simply be more enjoyable. In this context, it’s as simple as ‘different strokes, for different folks’! Is that really that difficult a concept to grasp?? If we liked doing the same thing, the world would be a pretty bloody dull place!

The process of film photography is more pure, it’s more real and more hands on

I’ve said this myself, but in my defence, I usually reprimand myself for it later. “Get over yourself”, I say to myself. “How’s the view from up there on your high horse?” “What’s that? ‘superiority complex’? That’s a funny name for a horse!

Cynicism aside, I get it. I like stuff that feels like it’s done properly. Proper cider made by proper farmers in Herefordshire, proper single malt, real leather camera straps, analogue hifi. I love all that shit, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also like cheap Whisky from Aldi, my Mytek Dac that streams MQA through Tidal, and my iPhone. Life is a rich tapestry of options, variables and experiences! Why limit yourself with some sort of blinkered dedication to one thing or another?

Was Daido Moriyama any shitter as a photographer when he started using a digital point and shoot? No, of course he wasn’t! It’s stupid to even think of it!


Shoot film because it helps keeps the medium alive!

Right! … Wait, what … ok yeah, I agree with this! So many of the joys we have in life come from the options open to us. Not all options are a joy I admit, 27 verities of the same brand of toothpaste pisses me off no end, but its the price we pay for the real choices we have. Those who have these choices should feel enormously thankful for them, and should do what’s in their power to retain them for themselves and those around them. Shoot film, because you can, shoot film because if you don’t our children might not be able to. That is a very fair argument for the use of film in my mind!

In conclusion…

Get over it. Stop with the arguments. They. Are. Pointless!

The reality is, no one who’s opinion matters when it comes to observing an image will be worried about the medium that created it. You’re not gonna get marked down because you’ve decided the digital route is actually easier, or indeed that film gets you the results you want quicker. Anyone who does mark you down needs to be asking themselves some serious questions about what photography is for!

The only question should be, is the photo good? Within that there might be a discussions about whether or not it is aesthetically pleasing, its tonality, colour, grain, composition, use of depth of field, how shutter speed was used, light, where the photographer was standing and why, narrative, lack of narrative, the fact that the photographer only has one arm, moral questions, questions about what’s outside the frame, the photographers intent, etc etc etc … all of these things are much more interesting and more important than whether or not it was taken with film or digital… so seriously! Get over it! Pick up a camera – any camera – and go and point it at some stuff!



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113 thoughts on “Film vs. Digital – An argument against the argument”

  1. YES – THIS…the argument is as pointless as discussing which lens or camera is best. The tools facilitate the image but its the image that counts, nothing else. I shall also be linking to this – frequently.

    1. Hi Hamish, I agree that there is no point in choosing one media with respect to the other, when you can use both.
      Each of them has some distinctive features that can be used proficiently by every user.
      We, at R&T Global Services Ltd, are developing a camera that will overcome this discussion: we are now prototyping a camera that allow the photographer to shoot both in film and digital, with one single camera body and the optics you prefer.

      1. Interesting. Will it be like the Leica R8 and R9 that had the Leica DMR digital back? It was 10 mpixels and superb quality. It was introduced about 2005 but I can’t recall when it was discontinued.

        1. The Leica DMR was discontinued, if I remember correctly, in 2006/7. And yes, the project has some similarities to that concept, plus allowing the user to decide which lens brand to use on the camera body

          1. Raffaello,

            It will be interesting to see the outcome of this project. Hasselblad has the facility to use both film and digital backs on its more recent incarnations, but one is limited to Hasselblad mount lenses.

            The Leica concept for its R8 and R9 models was very interesting and would certainly have answered a common critism of digital capture today, if you want more pixels, you have to buy a complete new camera. Had Leica continued with their design, they would only have had to introduce a new back every so often. But then they would have had to continue developing lenses for their R system, and with film use in decline, as well as financial problems for the company at some times, this would not have been financially viable for such a niche company. I believe history has shown concentrating on the M range was the right thing to do. As good as the R system and lenses were, they never made any major inroads into the film users market.

      2. The original Kodak DCS200 was a Nikon N8008s with a digital back. Take off the back, put an MF-20 on it, load with film. The databack connections served as the interface to the databack. Compared with film: The digital sensor and supported electronics is big, digital is power hungry, and heat has to be dissipated. I’ve taken the DCS back off the body, put an MF-20 on it, loaded with color film. The back I have is the DCS200ir, monochrome Infrared. The “Silicon Filmworks” digital-sensor in a 35mm cassette sized package ran into many technical problems, battery size limitations being a big one.

        I would like to see more on the website regarding the concept.

    2. Chuck Embrey

      Always use the right tool for the job. Sometimes the right tool is a view camera shooting reversal. Other times it’s a smart-phone. BTW, very often my right tool will be your wrong tool—because we are all very, very different.

    3. Well, isn’t funny how times have changed, uh?
      Sculpture vs Painting,
      Raphaelites vs Impressionists,
      Colour Emulsion Film vs B&W,
      Silver Halide vs pixelate,
      Strong Brewed Coffee vs Decaf,
      Automatic vs Manual Driving,
      Editorial vs Blog…And the list goes on, my dear children.
      I too was one of the earliest Illuminates, who claimed stupid to keep shooting in B&W once colour emulsion had arrived: Out with Old, IN with the New, yes!! Who needs Old Ansel when we have Kodachrome? It wasn’t until years later, that I rediscovered the POINT-OF-VIEW, the BEAUTY of B&W. It was after I read some old guy from Ancient Greece who said that personal tastes are not a degree of refinement; they are ONLY personal opinions. Then he continued to posit that ART, any form of ART, is an imitation of LIFE.
      Digital imagery in all its forms of manipulation is only another artistic imitation of LIFE.
      Let’s just be thankful that Leonardo didn’t use Snapseed to edit Mona Lisa. while Michelangelo was busy creating a 3D David…
      And see me, who used to write to an editor, here, writing to a blogger.

  2. As someone who isn’t really interested in camera equipment, does my hobby on a shoestring and uses both film and digital, I couldn’t agree more

  3. Well said! As one who enjoys exploring the medium of photography in many ways, from digital point and shoot to large format sheet film, it’s the picture that counts, and the enjoyment and fulfillment the photographer achieved, not what medium one uses to make the image. We had snow in North Carolina, and I used 4×5 press cam, digital SLR and 35mm point and shoot. Each will have their special result, at least for me, and I hope for those who look at and enjoy my images. Best review of this issue I’ve read!

  4. “I can’t bare it anymore.” That sentence always cracks me up. “I can’t bear it anymore.” It’s the difference between not taking all your clothes off and not being able to withstand the torment of something – two quite different ideas. TBH, I didn’t read much after that sentence.

    1. This is exactly why I use Grammarly… it just keeps missing them at the moment… glad you got some enjoyment, even if it was out of my mild dyslexia

  5. Interesting…
    For one reason or some other photography (probably among many other disciplines) was always loving this or that other dichotomy: truth versus non truth (some argue if the famous Daguerre’s shoe cleaner photograph at Boulevard du Temple was or not staged … what does it matter?), art versus mechanical reproduction (remember pictorialism and those called “equivalents” -equivalents to what?, is my own reflexion- by Stieglitz). Etcetera.
    Now is the time (once the wave passed) of digital versus film… what is more “authentic” is perhaps the question.
    So, you mentioned the term “evoke”. Yes, because grain or sepia for instance seems resembling something (better, worst?… now people need old lenses and vignetting for their brand new digital cameras).
    And I agree: if you want your photographs look like film, why don’t you shoot film?
    But don’t agree with this:
    “The reality is, no one who’s opinion matters when it comes to observing an image will be worried about the medium that created it”
    Telling that because I really mind about all those photoshop works, for example. Yes, I like some of them, but are they photographs or some other thing?
    Or, … we’re very used to see photographs on a screen, but what about this mania of scanning analogs. Right, it’s complicated making chemical prints by yourself or finding a pretty good lab to do it. But, … even the masters print their beautiful film work with ink printers! So why.
    It’s not at all the same watching a screen, a digital ink print or a pretty chemical baryta print. Even less a cyanotype… yes, you can make it blue in your computer (so sad).
    Some thing obviated in your lines though is the practical side. Yeah, I make digital because it goes straight on to the computer and it’s easy to handle and it allows modifications, etc. And that’s very understandable.

    1. Hybrid technology is the most common approach to film, but one of the least convincing, and I say that as a regular film digitiser. First of all unless you have access to a drum scanner your results will be sub-optimal. If you only scan you’ll lose one of the main benefits of film, a hard copy print. Film was conceived as a neg-pos process, turning blacks into white (and vice versa) and colours into their complementary, a technology at which it excels. However it is times consuming, expensive and demands moderate-to-advanced skill to get then best out of a negative. So I can fully understand why people mostly shoot digital. However some photographers (like Junku Nishimura) do it the hard way, shooting film, printing in the darkroom, and scanning the finished print for on-line exhibition.

      1. However some photographers (like Junku Nishimura) do it the hard way, shooting film, printing in the darkroom, and scanning the finished print for on-line exhibition.

        You missed this part when you read the article.

        I’ve said this myself, but in my defence, I usually reprimand myself for it later. “Get over yourself”, I say to myself. “How’s the view from up there on your high horse?” “What’s that? ‘superiority complex’? That’s a funny name for a horse!

  6. An interesting post Hamish, as ever. But horses for courses is the phrase that springs to mind. I shoot both film and digital as does your good self and like you (I think!) I prefer shooting film. I enjoy the process more, whether I use a point and shoot such as the Canon Sureshot AF7/8 or my Canon A1 or T90. Film cameras also give me less variables than digital as you point out in “The Lure of The Uncomplicated Camera”. To me this can be important as well. Photography for me is a hobby and something I enjoy doing in my free time. Its just I enjoy film more than digital. Both can exist in peace and harmony (although I suspect film will out live digital as it has a 200 year advantage!!)

    1. Yeah, broadly I’d say I get more out of film photography – though the M9 has challenged that. But as I say, this is all process, and is therefore unique to the photographer. You’d never argue that film was better because the cameras are more simple – it’s an un-winnable argument, just as the rest of the argument is. But yeah… give me an M3 over a A7rii, any day of the week

  7. It may be that this argument says more about the practitioners then the medium of film or digital. I believe that HCB once said that the difference between painters and photographers is that when painters gathered together they did not talk about their brushes.

    1. For sure! I do think that the hobby of photography and the hobby of cameras get swallowed into one unfortunate combo though. I like to forget my camera when I’m actually taking photos, but like playing with them, buying them, reading about them etc when I’m not…

  8. Didn’t know we were still having this discussion. Bought my first pro dslr, the Nikon D1, 17 years ago. After 20 years of shooting medium format film, suddenly I needed new cameras every two years (D2H, D2X, D3) not to mention computers, software, etc. However, the biggest time/money suck was the workflow change. Although we gained control, we became pixel-jockeys instead of photographers. The industry became more about post-processing and less about image making. The latest Leica M10 is the most refreshing piece of equipment I’ve seen in years. Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.

    1. Nor did I, it all kicked off on my facebook page the other day… I wanted to share my opinion, but couldn’t be bothered on facebook, so wrote this

  9. Hamish, the digital v film argument is the present day equivalent of the format wars in the film era. Pick up any photographic magazine, or a club discussion, and invariably one would find MF and LF users denigrating their 35mm cousins. In some ways this was easier to “prove” as there was no doubting that a quality MF neg would produce a technically superior print than could be obtained from 35mm. But the impact of an image on the viewer is in the eye of the beholder, and this is where prints from 35mm negatives were often not at an artistic disadvantage, even though they may well have been technically.

    I believe people should just get on an enjoy whichever format they use, as surely their choice determines the end result they want, does it not?

    If I may put the cat amongst the pigeons, and raising the hackles of some, the digital v film argument is flawed anyway because invariably one is not comparing like with like, but rather an analogue/digital work process (film + digital scanning + inkjet print) with a clean digital path from capture to printing. And what makes it even more pointless is that using a full analogue chain from negative to print would introduce so many variables of their own to make the comparison invalid.

    1. I completely agree with your last sentiment. Far to many variables for good comparison anyway. I nearly added something about this to the post, but it was starting to turn into some epic waffle, which was exactly what I didn’t want it to be!

  10. in defence (?) of digital I feel I must say that digital has introduced millions (or should that be billions?) to the wonderful world of photography. Whatever equipment/medium we choose let us all enjoy the journey together.

    1. No need to defend it here, I agree! We have a lot more shite photography now, but I’d bet there a damn slight more great stuff out there too!

  11. This all reminds me of the electric guitar world, except there it started earlier. Not so much the guitar itself – there is still not a good popular replacement for the magnetic pickup – but the amplifier. The debates about tube vs transistor versus digital have been raging for 30 years now and it all goes back to personal preference and work flow. I know as much as I love my tube amps, if I had to play live I would probably rely on a digital amp simulator – nobody in the audience is really going to be able to tell the difference unless I make it painfully obvious. Similarly with film – I love my old film cameras the way I love my old tube amps, but if I had to shoot for work, I’d pull out the digital.

    There is another comparison… The tubes for guitar amps looked like they were going the way of the dodo in the 80’s, however the market for tube amps has grown to the point where more tubes are being made today than were made in the mid-80’s. I see the same thing starting to happen with film. We’re even starting to see specialty film cameras being developed (like at Impossible). Keep buying film!

    1. There is a lot of it, in a lot of areas I think… Tech moves things on, but perhaps a sense of nostalgia holds enough on to the past. We have just come to a point that what tech is replacing isn’t worse, just different, so when we move “back” we just find things as alternatives. Perhaps one day, we will begin to realise that we don’t always go forward, but often instead we go sideways

    2. Hi Kevin, agreed, the guitar industry has been trading off past glories and history for decades now, the modelling technology is getting better and better with things like the Roland Blues Cube and the Kemper profiling amps, but people still love valve amps. If I watched someone live and they were playing through such a device or heaven forbid using a midi guitar I guess I’d have an open mind, I hope I would…. but if the same player was using an old 60’s strat and a Fender tube amp I’d probably think it’s better! Again, wrong way to think, but I guess a lot of this comes from the fact that enthusiasts feel like these things are more important to them. Why are we still playing guitars designed in the 50s (and not much has changed since then) and amps using tube technology! I don’t know the answer but I think it’s because it feels right and they’re so nice to use. Same with cameras.

  12. Great article Hamish. As a film (mainly) and digital user I agree with every word and enjoy both. Ian said “although I suspect film will out live digital as it has a 200 year advantage” and that got me thinking about where photography will be after another 200 years. With camera manufacturers in the business to sell cameras to a public who seemingly love to consume the latest gismo, surely the manufacturers must run out of features (useful or otherwise) they can put on a camera someday? Once you have a camera that can create a “perfect” photograph what more is there to do? Will future developments eclipse even the film/digital debate?

  13. Blimey Charlie, who’d have thought that a bit of a rant this far down the road would have produced so much comment?
    I shoot film because I’m a dinosaur. I detest menu driven anything. I like proper controls. I like old cameras because there are two controls, aperture and shutter. Stick in a film and you know the rest. Focus and exposure. Post processing is not even n my consciousness.
    Also I like a hard copy. I like LPs and CDs/ DVDs. I would not pay for a digi download. Plus with negatives or trannies you have something tangable. That piece of film was millimetres from your eye when you shot it. That is pretty visceral. Even though a scan and inkjet print is digital, the actual film is a physical record is a remarkable thing.
    It is not about the convenience vs the “look”. As has been pointed out here both digital and analogue have their merits. A vegetarian won’t eat meat so what’s the point in arguing. If it is a personal choice then let it be that way.

    1. I’m in agreement with Jeremy North, as far as the physicality and the hard copy. That’s a big difference. Having something in your hands you can hold, versus having a file saved on a drive somewhere.

      I love this article, and the argument against the argument.

      But I must say, that I personally find that once many of my favorite photographers switched to digital, i lost interest in their work. Ralph Gibson, Bruce Davidson, the list goes on. Even Salgado (crazy as that seems). I know they’re different ways of achieving the same result, I know they’re still amazing photographers, but that’s just my preference. Digital rarely has “soul” and it only does when it mimics the qualities/characteristics of film.

      But hey, whats an argument anyway if there aren’t people standing on either side of it?


      1. This is interesting. Do you think a non-photographer who like the works of the photographers you mention have a chance of telling a difference, and therefore also losing interest?
        Was the change apparent in their output?
        The interesting thing here is how the medium impacts on the look of the results. If the photographers style was impacted, I could see how you might not engage with the work. But is that the fault of the medium, or is that just the photographer allowing it to impact too much…? Does that make any sense at all?? 🙂

  14. Hmmm, I agree with you but put it this way, if I’m looking at someone’s photograph and it’s been shot on film, I immediately think it’s has to be better than if it were shot on digital because, well, it’s film, and that I admit is very silly and quite stupid. I do things in a weird way where usually I’ll shoot film, dev it and scan it (or get the lab to do that) then work on it in Lightroom, so it’s a kinda analogue to digital workflow. I’m not printing anything either so I keep asking myself why make it more difficult! I’m trying to condense down my stuff into a portfolio of sorts and while in the past it’s all been film I’ve got a lot of digital in there too I’m happy to say, I’m looking past it and just asking is it good and do I like it and trying not to get too hung up if it wasn’t shot on a Leica or Hassleblad. So yes good piece and good advice.

    1. Cheers! Why make it more difficult is a good question… One answer is don’t, the other answer is because it forces you to learn and get better… again, different strokes

      1. I agree with you but here is an example of making it more difficult. I went to Windermere recently with some friends, we got there in the morning found the lake shrouded in an eerie mist, you could just make out a tree-lined island in the distance, and a few small boats. The whole scene looked stunning to me and I got really excited, you know when you see something and you just have to shoot it there and then because you know without any doubt it’s going to look great? So I pulled out my camera and pressed the shutter, nothing happened, nothing fired, no red shutter speed lights in the display, batteries I thought, so I changed them with some spares I had which is pretty awkward as it is. Right, here goes I thought, focussed, set the exposure, check, all good, breathe out, steady…. click – nothing, I’d run out of film. So I had to load the film again and then I got some shots off. In the time it took me to do that one of my friends had taken the picture on his smartphone, posted it to instagram and was already getting likes, the other mockingly waved his exposed Fuji instax print at me while he waited for it to develop!

        I took several pictures of the scene with my digital camera and the 35mm (Zeiss ikon / 50mm planar / Ilford hp5) – I like both versions but I ended up sharing the film one because it had more value to me. I guess I took some learning’s from that incident….get a backup camera body 😀 or a fully mechanical camera; I just wouldn’t like to miss something great because I wasn’t ready for it.

        1. Haha, yeah… you’d have been really buggered if your digital camera battery ran out, or you forgot an SD card … or whatever … … 😉

  15. Here’s some other perspectives:

    My older brother loves to fly fish. He’s been doing it for over 50 years. His favorite pole is a split bamboo, made by an unknown New England craftsman back in the 1890’s. You see, that pole works for him, his style and pace. He’s been given ‘advice’ by weekend fishermen outfitted with the finest equipment from stores in Maine & Vermont (I bet some of you will figure out who…) worth several thousands of $$. He’s polite, smiles, looks at their gear, but he knows what works for him (and the trout.)
    Our daughter is a professionally trained artist. She teaches on the university level, and has clients all over the world that buy her work. When digital programs came out for artists, she didn’t burn her brushes and squirt out all of her water color tubes. She, along with innumerable artists, adapted to the digital tools, and evolved…she creates with pen & ink, but will scan her work and connect with potential markets via digital media…
    So, I hoped we had reached the point that we photographers would find what equipment would make us comfortable (me, I like the film to print workflow…that is my methodology), and if we wanted, we would adapt to using new tools (full digital workflow/film to scan to…) and finally understand there’s room for all, and it’s each person’s individual journey in photography.

  16. Let me bring science to the argument, because honestly you have to reckon it is outrageously lacking in this regard:
    A professional psychic told me once, she could not get the “waves” out of an inkjet print whereas a true sliver gelat. print was like an open air, uncensored radio broadcast. The “wa-eh-eh-eh-ves” man, don’t you forget your science!

    Sorry couldn’t resist, took the the time to read it so I had to take the time to comment…

    Science aside, tools are tools, some are used to produce photographs, some others to produce images, yes digital monster, talking about you :)). For people interested in viewing images, then indeed why should they care?

    But I would argue those people will miss an important dimension of cave art (wait a sec there’s some logic to this): the artifact, the mind blowing possibility of touching what another human being was touching with his/her bare hands some 30 000 years ago. Also true of an antique sculpture, or an analog photograph, albeit more recent.

    The aesthetics can’t be totally detached from the medium because you’d loose the artifact, which in mankind history is pretty hard to neglect. Pure aesthetics is just a concept as it needs a support which in itself carries a message, a meaning or even just an information. Until we’re plugged into a the MATRIX tactile ain’t dead, and it speaks to the mind. If it can thereby evoke “a sense of beauty” isn’t it close to the aesthetics definition itself ?

    But that’s just me 😉

    Peace (don’t smoke it, I tried, it’s bad for your health)

    1. I get this, but the point is, some will create hard copies, some won’t – regardless of the medium. In 10,000 years time, in the unlikely event any thing of now exists, digital and film will have been created and used within a few hundred years. What’s left will no doubt be of equal historical importance… if you follow…?

      1. yes I do follow 😉 and yes IMHO you are entirely right saying they will both bear the same historical value. I can totally understand what I am preaching makes no sense to the vast majority. And I may be foolish to believe so, but I’m deeply convinced that our (mine at least) attachement to historical artifacts is due to the fact that they were produced by the hands of our ancestors, and that somehow we can still touch those hands, short of a real time travel that is.
        It is likely indeed that this information gets lost in time ie the fact that one piece was done by hands whereas another one is a pure machinery process coming from a dematerialised source.
        However, I hereby claim (to great risks Ah!Ah!) that our civilisation, is currently experiencing the beginning of a MASSIVE shift of our production goods, more of which are totally dematerialised. This has a huge historical significance, as in the future what awaits us is undoubtedly a mainly digital experience of life.
        If our civilisation prevails, I’m convinced this hinge in our history will be studied and its aritfacts kept in archival vaults of sorts.
        The digital world is all about capturing information, it struggles a bit for archiving it as of now, but IF our civilisation prevails so will this information.
        They will know the difference, unless we’re back to dinosaurs again…
        Shit, Dinosaurs! I’ll drink to that! 😉

        1. It is a very interesting conversation, for sure! It does make me wonder how much a care about what I create being saved… I suppose I print the photos I most care about (usually of my kids) to…

    2. “Let me bring science to the argument, because honestly you have to reckon it is outrageously lacking in this regard:
      A professional psychic told me once”
      Alexis, joining psychics and science, best laugh I’ve had in a while! :D)

  17. It’s a bit similar to books… sometimes one can get engaged with the object more than with the content and collects rare editions or (as it’s popular to say) “an ebook cannot surpass the experience of a printed book” when the content is the same…
    I shot both and use my pictures in film to help my digital files to get a reference to certain colors as those in the sky or the grass (I use ektar 100 and colorplus 200),avoid to take one thousand photos but get it right; and viceversa, in film I try to be as casual as in digital, to worry less about losing a valuable shot and just have fun. In the end I use different cameras to avoid to fall in the veneration of the object and just focus in the content, what I see and don’t want to forget.

  18. Well said! Why do people just stop arguing, enjoy what they do and leave others alone that what’s I’m thinking. I personally enjoy both film and digital as my hobby and really love the way film influencies my shooting style. In working days, that’s a film camera I bring with me ready for any moment, and when I shoot digital, whatever learnt from film will apply. It’s not about either one is better but they’re two different beasts that shine on their own strengths. Can’t stand anymore those arguments between film vs digital, Canon vs Nikon or DSLR vs Mirrorless. So pointless and waste of time they are. Remember that one Nikon guy told me even though I had no hate to Nikon so far “If Zeiss ever had the coating that as good as Nikon does, I’ll switch to Sony within a glance” (wut!?!)

  19. I have a hard time understanding why I like shooting film. It is partly the results, partly the process, partly the feel and sound of the camera (in my case, an M7).

    I like the film results. However, I worry that this is simply down to the investment of time and effort put in to the film images. For example, I can shoot the same scene with an AF digital camera and the M7. The digital camera gives an instant, effortless result, whereas the film camera needs careful focusing and then a tricky, expensive and time-consuming process of developing and scanning/printing.

    The resulting two images may, after processing, be for practical and artistic purposes identical – but I suspect that I mistakenly value one much more simply because of the effort that went in to making it. I doubt others see that distinction.

    To be blunt, the only reason that I shoot film is because I really enjoy the process of shooting and developing film – but that seems to be an uncomfortably indulgent reason to me…

  20. I shoot digital and film. I like film cameras better because they’re just a lot nicer to use. Both produce completely useable results. Most of us shoot for fun. If film provides more fun, why not shoot film? Both can produce very nice 12″ x 18″ images. But it is the image not the medium that matters. Use both and be happy readers!

  21. In my opinion there’s simply not a digital vs. film argument (simply solved by using what is better depending on the situation and what you want to achieve), but rather a digital industry way and film industry way argument. One of the main reason we like film is that any film is unique, so you can choose among a lot of options based on what you want to achieve: you want bitingly sharp BW? Delta 100. You want a pastel-like colour film? Kodak gold 200. You want a contrasty and insanely detailed BW? Adox CMS 20. And I could continue as I want, throwing in developers, pushing, pulling, etc… With digital if you exclude the usual yearly incremental upgrade there’s really a close to nothing difference between cameras. I mean, you can recognize a film only by it look, but with a digital camera? Why does this situation happen? Because film is a lot simpler and cheaper to develop. Tomorrow someone might wake up and say: today I will make a new film, and from that day you’ll have another option. This doesn’t happen with digital due to costs. Imagine what can be done with silicon: take a smartphone camera density and put it on a full frame sensor, make a black and white sensor, colour with standard array bayer, another one in groups of 9 subpixel, with more red sensitivity than bayer, with infrared, RGBW, etc. 500 megapixels, 2 megapixels and anything in between, I could continue for hours to list things that could be done, and they’re a lot more than what can be made with film! But there are some problems: first of all price to develop all those fancy things, second who is going to spend 2000-3000€ for something like that that is useful only in one situation? You can easily swap film on a film camera, but a digital one is a closed system, the whole machine is one only piece. Third, as with digital you’re selling numbers, a lower number on a benchmark won’t sell well. This created a market where the most exotic sensors you can find are the leica monochrome ones and the foveons, and they have a really tiny market share due to their specialization. That’s odd to say but film industry, the older technology, is more revolutionary than the modern digital that is too much on the safe side. I love film, but if I could have 4-5 different sensors on my pocket (and more on the market to choose from), and a digital camera that can swap them I think I’ll never shoot film again.

      1. A shame for “serious” photographers, yes. But would there be any profit in it for camera makers? Probably not, and it is that which decides what gets made.

  22. What a great article, there’s far too many clickbait articles written about why film is better or digital is better that pop up every ten seconds. I agree with the sentiment of this wholeheartedly, I shoot both and I like to shoot both, sometimes I’m in the mood for shooting film, sometimes I want the instant result of digital. At the end of the day both produce the desired result, (usually) an image I’m pleased with.

    1. Cheers Ed! … I got accused of click bate on Instagram … clearly the chap didn’t read the post. Ah well, pleased you did! 🙂

  23. Victor Reynolds

    I was in this camp for a very long time. I currently use film for the bulk of my shooting. Digital was strictly for work that the client had to have “yesterday”. However, I see this “film/digital politburo” on the internet telling photographers what they should shoot. And like you Hamish, it’s getting rather tiresome.

    I want to go from my town of Plainfield, NJ to Midtown Manhattan-a 30 minute trip by car on a nice day. There are numerous ways I can still reach Manhattan, and they don’t have to be by car. Lots of times I go by train. I can also go by ferry. If I were really adventurous-and not to give my wife heart failure-I could bike into Manhattan. Yes, one way is quick and direct. Whereas, another way is scenic and takes time.

    This is the same regarding film and digital: each is a different route to the same destination: a quality image. True film has a permanence that digital has yet to have; plus its tangible. Plus, I can enjoy shooting with either roll, sheet, or instant. I enjoy the hands-on with film that digital partially gives. I also don’t have file issues like I do with digital. On the other hand, digital is fast and I have mastered its workflow over the years from shot to computer. Plus digital is still a winner with dark/night photography. Both have their pluses and minuses, however they both help me to achieve the same goal-a quality image. Plus, I’ve used both to create gallery-quality artwork.

    My advice kids? Tell the politburo to shove it and shoot with what works for you.

  24. The fact is there are trilions of rather mediocre photographs either scanned or straight digitals to be shared, watched, commented.
    The introspective work of having a look at your own photographs, printing them perhaps, thinking of them,… writing on them, or letting them quietly rest inside their plastic or into the cd or wherever you store your digitals is often much more useful than being clapped in this or that site on a computer screen.

  25. You should know that slide film has narrower latitude than even digital. Then again, you probably never shoot it.

  26. Well dag nab it, from what i understand in my extensive research is that the superiority complex may be linked to soup on the brain, problem is no one is quite sure which brand, nestle’s, campbells….? Hence leading to such common and sad refrains as: George? Oh absolutely gorgeous images. But he’s gone soupy and can be be heard muttering when he’s out shooting his landscapes about how Leica shall yet have a man repossess the throne and the monarchy at which time the kingdom shall be purged of all analog simulators snd collaborators. Sad really, George was such an affable fellow…..
    I am a photography neophyte Hamish, but your mouldy dyslexia was refreshing. I cant make virtually any authoritative pronouncemements about photo making in my newly born state. I can make some early observations. After 2 and 1/2 yrs shooting only digital, an x100, the other day while looking at some film photos I realized I like grain…sometimes. I like sharp, but I’m pretty sure I also like soft sometimes. I love colour, but golly gee whiz there is some black and white that is sensational. Can that be done ONLY via film? I like order and organization in a photo but thank God for the folks who have a knack for for presenting the off kilter and quirky in a masterful way, and on and on. Can all this be done ONLY via film? Finally, i have about 40 film cams collected in my short time because i cant help myself though they are all unshot till i get some resources for self developing, a notebook, scanner, etc. No place to develop nearby and for me money is whats holding back this stable of horses from being set free for the time being. I use an x100 solely at present. When I start shooting film will I drop the x100 and ban all its other digital siblings from my presence? I trow not! Why would I ban myself from great tools? I cant see it. I have read lots in the last couple of years, and confess to reading holy latherings here and there by ordained priests of the craft on the greater glories of film vs digital, and I dont doubt truth is in some of it. But honestly there are times the sickly sweet worship of film over digital is just that: too sweet. And we know what happens when you o.d. on sweets: it makes you a bit unwell. I very much look forward to getting my act together snd shooting my film cameras, Lord hasten the day, and but I also plan on continuing to shoot this or some other digital. Will I have a heavier leaning toward film. Likely I will be leaning more to one side, we’ll see which side that is. In the meantime, yes, I agree, its about creating a pleasing, interesting image. Do a simple test. Round up a crew of film leaners and/or digital leaners, present 100 (or whatever number) images both film and digital (and lets assume they are quality images) to them, present no info on whether they are film or digital, tell them it is a collection that belonged to a homeless man and no one has a clue what type of cameras he shot. From the film leaners carefully document their unwitting droolings over the digitals, and vice versa the digital leaners. From there, have them prosecuted, putting the fear of God in all who dare engage this controversy anywhere in the kingdom. Thus will peace rule again and the agitators silenced. Am I nuts?

  27. Whatever you want to shoot, just shoot and have fun. Film or digital, you’ll grow from the experience. And online…a wonderful community of photographers to learn from and share with.

  28. I’ve worked with Digital Imaging for a long time. 12 years ago was taking portraits for my daughter’s Kindergarten class for Christmas using a Polaroid SX-70 Sonar and a Nikon N8008s. Would give the Polaroid shots to the kids so they can watch them develop in front of their eyes, and had 5x7s made for the school to give to the parents. One of the Dads had a high-end Digital, looked at me and stated “Still using Film, huh. I have 3 SLR’s back at home.” Looked back and told him, “This camera USED to be digital. I converted it to use film.” The camera had started out as a Kodak DCS200c, the back died. When his kid was up, he shot a picture- was showing it on the back of the camera, I gave his kid the Polaroid to hold and watch develop. The dad- “Okay, you can’t beat Polaroid.” We had a good laugh. Told him I shot “digital” since 1981, when it was still in the research lab.

    These days, I mostly shoot Digital with the M9, M Monochrom, and Df. Not as convenient as a Polaroid, no magic watching the image materialize in front of you.

  29. This article is very poorly written. Film is dead get over it, end of discussion. Sorry but true.

    1. I wonder what makes you so anti-film? Did film kill a pet when you were young? Are you angry at film, and therefore so satisfied by your perception of its passing that you wish to deny other people the right to use it? Why is it not possible in your world that film as a medium can coexist and not impact on you in anyway?
      I find your idea that I – someone you don’t know – should get over a death that hasn’t happened very odd indeed! Does my desire to shoot film upset you? Does it remind you of the passing of your long lost pet? I’m sorry if that’s the case, I didn’t know!

      As for my poor writing – I accept that. I’ve never been that great at spelling, grammar or sentence structure. Though, I do feel that I pay some consideration to what I write down. I think it through, try and perceive the perspectives of others. Just as I have here by relating my reply back to the death of your long lost pet.

      I do hope you get over it soon, as at the moment I feel like it might be marring your ability to to think real cohesive thoughts, and is certainly inhibiting your perception of the world around you.

      1. Nothing much wrong with your grammar, spelling and sentence structure. You write well, and you have worthwhile things to say.

    2. Dear Alice, did you wake up on the wrong side of the digital universe? Did you get a film cut on a pinky?
      There’s a bit of aggression in your brief, but edgy reply.
      I deeply distrust of anyone [mostly politicians & religious leaders, but also arm chair pundits who declare their statements ‘sorry, but true.] You see, I tend to look for professional or working credentials that would give credence to a person making such a definitive statement.
      You provide no such link. So, feel free to criticize my grammar, click on my name and view work by a film dinosaur, and enjoy your self-elevated position as a seer and arbitrator of visual tools.

  30. No need to argue. Digital and film have their own place under the sun, like cars and horses. Horses were very popular, then cars came out. Everybody went for cars, but horses did not disapear. You can buy and keep a horse even today! They are fun, jump better than cars, you can whisper into their ears, and they are in the Olympic Games.

  31. Since most current camera club meetings look like old folk’s homes, the film versus digital argument won’t die soon.

  32. May 8 update: your article has a link on DPreview, and it ignited a mini-firestorm between the film-haters and more rounded multi-format photographers. Dpreview is an odd place, and three topics ignite a lot of impassioned doo-doo: 1. Film photography; 2. Black and white photography; and 3. Leica anything. The haters seem convinced if they spout a lot of pseudo-technical statistics, it will prove their point about the inferiority of the object that they despise (which usually means don’t know how to use or can’t afford). It’s a real shame.

  33. @35mmc
    A disproportionate number of people that are active on Internet forums seem to have a deep need for the whole world to agree with their opinions. Once you realise this it stops being something that bothers you. In the real world people are not so insecure.

    @Kodachrome Guy
    You have forgotten to mention (amongst other things) nthe ritual “dissing” of most things Canon and gushing praise for all things Sony


  34. I have photographed using everything from a Leica III, through the M-2, M-4-P and M-6. I went through a Canon F-1N with FD lens stage, A Nikon AF film stage, A LEICA R stage, a Nikon digital phase and now a Canon digital stage. While this is heresy to some, digital has given us a level of consistency we could only have dreamed of. It is not always better, but it is better than the One Hour developer of film processors where every roll was a roll of the dice. Technology has been a massive disrupter. For most iPhone users, the images they are getting from their phones are superior to every camera they ever had. They can share them instantly with their friends In a way that was not possible 15 years ago. Only the absolute best commercial photographers will survive in the world we live in. Shoot film if you want to, but be under no illusion, it will get harder to get the results you want. I shot Kodachrome for years, it was always predictable and great, but it is gone now. Try to remember how hard it was to shoot available light inside compared to today. Every major manufacturer makes great cameras and lenses now with levels of control that was never possible before. People used to get hung up on Summicron vs Sumulux and Brand N vs Brand C, none of it mattered.

    1. A few points: Firstly, for many, inconsistency is part of the joy. For me, I have removed many of the variables so get great consistency out of Portra 400 – I always use the same lab to dev it as I trust they keep their chems fresh. I then scan it myself on my Noritsu LS-1100. I know how to expose it to get the look that I want. I can’t see how it is going to get any harder to get these results – what’s going to change? I’m not sure what you mean by “try to remember”. I know how much more difficult it is to shoot in lower light with film – sometimes I work with the limitations, sometimes I just choose to shoot digital. Though even when I shoot digital I prefer my M9 to my Sony A7rii – I prefer working with the limitations it give me too… and still get good results. Finally, on your point about none of it mattering – this vs. that etc. – thats my whole point here! As photographers we should just shoot what suits us and the environment we are shooting in. Sometimes digital does bring advantages – I would be stupid to deny that, but those advantages don’t make film redundant – especially in a world were image quality is as infinitely subjective as the enjoyment of the process of photography itself.

  35. Boieriu Bogdan

    I am just an amateur so please go easy on me: I think one of the main advantages of film is the learning process. It raises awareness on each shot taken by the photographer. It is the same thing as comparing stage/theatre acting with screen/film acting. It adds responsibility to the work. I don’t think you get the same results starting with digital. Giving live performances can be taxing on stage actors. In digital, performances do not happen in real time. One challenge of film (120 film) is that scenes are often shot out of sequence due to budgetary concerns, time of day, or weather. Photographers may have to shoot an intense scene with lots of running. On digital just shoot 1000 photos and you will have a lot to choose from. For me it is like comparing a real soldier to a guy that plays Counter Strike. It’s not the same feel. If you like, it’s comparing an operation performed on a body versus a living human being.

  36. James Merecki

    It is meaningless for those not experienced in film or pre-film to argue any points. I have experienced film and digital for many years and love both but have explained in the blog (link below) how technology in cameras has really killed the true spirit of technology. You have to experience film to really understand. Yes, I love digital but it has increasingly become more dissatisfying as years go by…please read the article…

  37. One thing I hear a lot is ‘film slows me down’ which I find a bit annoying. You can be ‘slow’ and methodical with a digital camera, just take fewer shots and think a bit more. And if you want to shoot a load of stuff I don’t think it’s a massive chore to delete files once you’ve reviewed them in lightroom or whatever you’re using? Select all, ctrl+click the ones you want and press and delete, big deal! I’m a hobbyist and if I shoot digital or film my ratio of keepers to crap is always the same, I just prefer film because it works for me.

  38. You got it with the one sentence: “The aesthetic – and not the process – is the thing that is appreciated by the end observer of the image.”

    And the “end observer” may only be the photographer (usually the case with me).

    I happily shoot film and digital, whichever I feel like using at the moment. Sometimes I do no post-processing, or a little, or a lot — until I get the image I want (regardless of which technology it came from, as Hamish suggests).

    Thank you.

  39. When I started to get interested in photography I looked at this amazing pictures and wanted to make them myself too.
    That´s when it get technical and over the years stuff like that gets out of hands I think…….
    Good news for me that I started to look at my pictures while getting bored with digital results ruled by postproduction
    tools like Photoshop and went back to film with my personal projects.
    Took me a while again to find out that this wasn´t the holy grail too because looking trough a viewfinder and pressing to button
    catched a moment but a lot of the time not the picture I saw at that moment.
    What makes me take this picture and what do I want to show with it ? This seems a important question before I think about how to get it.
    Right ?

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