Digital or Film? (continued)

Granted that digital cameras are cleaner, faster and more convenient than film cameras. So if money is no object, then of course go digital. For professionals who make a large quantity of children pictures, the speed and convenience become economical. The higher cost of the equipment is passed on to the clients. But for those of us who don’t have to earn a living from children pictures and do have a limited budget, film is still a very attractive alternative.

Manufacturers and retailers have a vested interest in selling new digital cameras, rather than competing against older film products still going strong on the used market. A recent brochure for a new “professional” digital camera boasts that their image quality is even better than 35mm film, and comparable to medium format film cameras. What the brochure fails to mention is that a good medium format film camera can be purchased used on ebay for one-tenth the cost of their new product.

We’re assuming that what the manufacturers are saying is true, and we’ll ignore the criticism that digital pictures tend to be flat and cartoon-like compared to film pictures. That’s a purely subjective criticism. Digital pictures may have less grain (or noise) than film pictures, especially at higher ISO speed, and more saturated colors in the shadows than film (sometimes called higher dynamic range), but is that worth paying 10 times the price? If you’re making money from the sale of digital cameras, it’s certainly worth it!

Many subjects (scenes) have more dynamic range than can be reproduced in an image. Much effort is sometimes needed to compress the dynamic range of the scene, and here digital technology is a big convenience. But how much dynamic range can be reproduced in the final image depends on the type of output (paper print, transparency, projector, monitor, etc.), not the type of media (film or sensor) used to capture the scene information. Interestingly, before digital technology professionals often preferred slide film because of its higher contrast, even though negative film can record more dynamic range.

We can consider the competition from digital cameras a good thing for three reasons: 1) film users have an incentive to move up to medium and large format film cameras, thereby improving the quality of their children pictures; 2) we can benefit from digital technology by using scanners and computer software for post-processing (contrast control, retouching, etc.); and 3) the prices of some discontinued film cameras and other film equipment on the used market have dropped (but are now rising again as people realize that digital cameras may be more expensive than they are worth).

 Kiwi Summer #3

Photo © Reatha Kenny from, taken with a Hasselblad 1000f camera and 80mm Zeiss lens on Kodak 160VC film.