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Digital vs. Film ... not again!!!

Posted by DigitalDarrell, 05 January 2007 · 782 views

Some may feel that it is harder to learn photography by using a digital camera, since a newbie will just shoot hundreds of images, with no thought to how they were created. That is a valid point for some, but there are some other thoughts along that line. I had a few of those thoughts recently, and am now blogging to you about them:

I basically gave up most film shooting in 2002 when I bought my Nikon D100 DSLR.

In my experience, the process of shooting digitally opened up photography to me in a way that film never did. I understood the basic relationships between aperture/shutter speed. I knew about Depth of Field. However, I still shot most of my images handheld. I honestly never knew how sharp a picture could truly be until I went digital.

Digital changed my shooting, because I could immediately see my mistakes. Before, I would do a shoot, and then a week or three months later, I'd see the results. I'd see a film shot and say, "hmm, this one is not sharp." But, I did not make associations as to why it was not sharp, I just tossed it in the never throw away bin with hundreds of other unsharp slides. The slides that were sharp went into carefully maintained slide trays and boxes. I never made the connection between my camera handling techniques and unsharpness, because too much time had passed from the shoot, to the development of the film.

With digital, and the chimp/zoom-in process I could immediately see that my picture was not sharp. So, I would delete the picture and reshoot it. I discovered quickly that I could never really make a tack sharp image without putting my camera on a tripod. Now, I rarely shoot without a tripod. Could I have learned this with film? Sure, I could, but I learned it faster with digital.

Proper exposure is another of the things that digital excels in. I always shot Kodachrome, Provia, or Velvia slides. As anyone who shoots slides knows, even a 1/2 stop exposure in the wrong direction can make the slide much less satisfying. I would shoot my film carefully, and was generally successful, but a good portion of my exposures were still not quite right. Only when I started seeing the immediate results of my shots on the rear LCD of my DSLR did my exposures start being right on the money more often. Then, when I discovered the histogram I was in exposure heaven. I could now guarantee a good exposure on every shot, unless the range of light was too great for the sensor. Then I could see that and shoot multiple shots, with a wide range of light values, for later combination in-computer. Three images into one, with 9-12 stops of light range. No film on earth can do that.

I agree that film has a romantic effect on a shooter. And it is delightful to see a perfectly composed and exposed slide. However, do not look down on digital, as if it is necessary to shoot thousands of useless images and never learn to use one's camera. A person who is interested in photography is interested in learning about photography. A person who wants to simply take pictures will never be interested in learning the proper techniques of photography. Film lets them take a few crappy images and pay a lot of money for the development of those crappy images. One out of ten may be usable. With digital, they can shoot a hundred pictures, and get a good one every now and then. At least they don't have to pay for the bad images, but can simply delete them.

I feel that a person who is interested in photography will learn how to use a camera properly; whether they use film or not. The process of chimping (looking at images on the rear LCD) allows ANYONE to see their mistakes and learn from them immediately. Instead of looking at a pile of out of focus prints from a film camera, three months after they were shot, the photographer now can see the image immediately and, if they care, slow down and shoot better.

Digital photography is a great teacher. I gave my boy a Nikon CoolPix when he was 6-years-old. He shot a LOT of images. A good portion of them were junk, hair up the nose shots, roof of the car, dog's butt, etc. But, in the process of getting immediate feedback, he learned to control his camera. He knew nothing about apertures or shutters, and still doesn't. Now he is shooting with a Nikon D50 and does excellent pictures regularly. Here's one he took with his Nikon D50 last year, when he was nine-years-old:

Attached Image: EthanFoothills1.jpg

He learned camera control, steadiness, and how to compose by looking at his little pictures on the back of the camera. No film camera can teach in that manner, except maybe a Polaroid, and they are bankrupt. I think that someday he make take an interest in shutter/aperture, Depth-of-field, and all the finer aspects of image control. But for now, he can shoot with abandon and have fun with his camera. Before I got him digital he would run off a roll of film of the back of my and his mom's head in the car, before we got to the place to take images. He would take 12 images of the same rock or snail on film, but, when he could see the image on his digital, would only take enough pictures to get the one he wanted.

Listen, I'm not against film in any way. I, too, feel romantic about it. But, it is just that ... romanticism. In reality, very few professionals use film anymore. The laws of economy and time are against it. Too much time is wasted in the scanning process to make film a viable means of imaging in 2007. If one is simply shooting to enjoy photography, and already has command of his/her camera, film is a pleasure. But, for the average newbie film is an abject waste of time and money. Digital teaches! I know that from my own personal experience, plus from viewing the images of my children and friends.

EternaL, one of our members is a friend of mine. He was never heavily into photography, until just recently, when I convinced him to buy a Nikon D50. Before, he would shoot with a film camera, but was not a heavy shooter. Now, with his D50 he is shooting stock, and has been accepted by a major stock agency. He came back from a trip to Nicaragua with hundreds of simply breathtaking images. He used the camera's dummy mode most of the time, but composed well. To my knowledge he only has a basic understanding of shutter/aperture and DOF. Yet, he is creating art. His camera's LCD allows him to see the image, make adjustments where needed, and delete the junk.

Do you realize that no one is making a 35mm film camera anymore. Also, did you know that most medium format companies are either on the verge of bankruptcy, or have switched to digital. Sadly, film is dying, and will die quicker than most expect it to. Companies cannot afford to make film when so few people shoot it anymore. Even Fuji is finding that out, having lost more money than they expected recently. The MASSES of amateur photographers have switched to digital. Most pros have gone digital. The only regular film shooters left, are a few pros, and people with a romantic feeling about film cameras. When few people buy film, the costs must rise. When film costs rise, even the ones who were hanging on from fear of digital finally switch, or do a lot less photography. How long has it been since YOU saw anyone shooting with a film camera (except maybe yourself, Mr. Romantic rolleyes.gif )?

If one wants to continue shooting film, and I guess I do, like you; now's the time to start buying the film bodies you always wanted. They cost very little on eBay. You can buy a Hasselblad and lens for less than most "consumer" digital camera bodies. Mamiya RB67 and lenses are being dumped by the thousands on eBay. Most people who are selling them say something like, "This camera is spotless...the only reason I am selling it is I've decided to go digital." I bought a ProSD body in spotless shape, with a back and waist level finder for $135.00 USD not too long back. That tells me something!

Shoot film as long as you can, but realize that it is a dying technology. Never feel one cannot learn photography from a digital camera. My experience is exactly the opposite. It teaches photography to an INTERESTED person far easier than any film shooting, with the processing delays, ever could.

Keep on capturing time...
Digital Darrell

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