Film V Digital

A comparative review…..

I have a friend (just the one) – who shoots film almost exclusively.  He says that you can’t get the same quality of image from digital that you can from a film camera.  He insists he’s right – won’t hear a word said against film (and I’m not going to here either).

The thing about this, is that the production of an image, has nothing to do with the medium on which it is taken. It’s a mechanical thing, whichever way you look at it.

There was a time, when I bought, shot, developed and printed from film.  There’s a time now when  I buy cards, shoot, process and print digital images – and the difference is?  I can do it in the daylight, instead of sitting in (what was at the time) a stuffy little built in wardrobe, with the smell of chemicals wafting on the air.

When I did my photography courses at college – one of the first things we did, was go straight back to the lab, and process a film – ahh, you say – nostalgia….. nope – same old darkness (in a larger room to be sure) but with the same chemical smell that lingers long after you get home.

‘But”, my friend argues “we did it all ourselves, all the famous photographers of our time did”… well sorry to disillusion you…… but most of them had assistants, even if they oversaw the whole process.

Think this way as well.  We didn’t make the film, as much as we didn’t make the memory card.  We didn’t make the lens for the camera, or the electronics that are in there today.  Someone somewhere along the line helped us to make that photograph.  If we digital shooters produce a JPG, then the camera has done some editing in advance – if we shoot RAW, then we end up with the equivalent of a negative, to edit as we wish.  I suspect it’s no coincidence that Lightroom has a ‘Develop’ module, or a library for that matter.

What I notice is that my friend does not print his own images, nor does he process his own film, and yet argues that his image making process, is  more ‘pure’ than mine,

As photographers, and creators of images, I don’t think it matters if we leave some things to our virtual assistants – get our images printed elsewhere for example – it is entirely our choice, but if we leave the film to be processed into prints at the time we send it off -then we are leaving the final edit to the chemistry lab operators.

In the end though, it’s our creative vision, and the print, (if we choose to go that far) is our end product.

Put a film print and a digital print side by side, and most times I would defy you to tell which was which !

Feel free to argue the point – I’d be interested…….. 

Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

7 thoughts on “Film V Digital”

  1. An interesting article Diane and until only recently I would have agreed with your friend, that you couldn’t get the same quality from the digital process as came from a film camera and wet processing. I had a home darkroom for over 30 years and really enjoyed the process, but I wouldn’t go back to those days now as the digital route is so much easier. I think it’s only in the last few years that digital, and I’m only talking about printing, has caught up to and overtaken the quality that could be obtained from an experienced wet processed (human) printer.
    I was interested when you mentioned the “Develop” function within Lightroom, the trend now is for photographers to produce composite images made up from “bits” of other images, to create a new, sometimes fantasy image. Well, back in the day (darkroom days) we used to do the same, but in a different way. We would make several prints and then “cut” parts of them out and “paste” them onto a “background” print. Finally we would re-photograph the finished “composite” but to avoid getting shadows around the edge of the cut-outs we would “feather” the edges with sandpaper to blend them in and “flatten” the composite between two heavy books overnight before photographing it. So, there are many aspects and terms used in modern digital photography that owe a lot to the old wet process.
    I found it interesting when you said “Put a film print and a digital print side by side, and most times I would defy you to tell which was which !” While that might be true of Film V Digital you would not be able to say the same were you to place two, three or a dozen wet process darkroom produced prints, of the same original negative, alongside each other. Even with an experienced darkroom assistant printing them for you, no two wet processed prints were ever identically the same, as it was a hand made process and impossible to replicate precisely. It makes me smile when I attend a “professional” speakers talk and they have examples of “limited edition” digital prints for sale, often costing £300 to £500 or even more when, at the touch a button they can produce an exact clone of the original. No skill required to produce something that resembles the original picture at all.

    So, while I find digital so much easier than my old B&W darkroom days, and now accept that it can produce pictures just as good and even better than the wet process, I don’t think there is as much skill required, no individuality in the resulting prints if replicated. I would never want to go back to the “good old days in the darkroom” but I think the experience gained then has made my conversion to digital so much easier.
    You asked for people’s opinions and these are my observations on a long argued topic.


    1. Hi David – yes, I was comparing something like – ‘like for like’ in the print process. The production of the collodion process for example, I think is almost impossible to replicate in the digital age.

      It’s interesting that you mention limited edition ‘digital’ images. I do know that as some film photographers destroyed their negatives, so no more prints could be made – some digital users delete the original RAW files so no more can be made.

      I did read about Sherrie Levine who photographed a series of images, originally taken by Walker Evans. She photographed the images from his catalogue and exhibited them (after Walker Evans) – interestingly, Walker’s images were not copyright, but hers are…… strange world.


  2. I really don’t know why some photographers, like you friend, takes such an entrenched position. Does a film produce a better image? I do not think so. Does it produce a different kind of image? In my opinion, often it does.
    I sometimes take out my medium film format camera, shoot a few images, thoroughly enjoy the process and, if I used monochrome film, develop and enlarge in my miniscule, smelly little shed.
    Sometimes I take out my little gem, the Ricoh G111. Shoot my head off and enjoy being amazed at the quality of the camera (not always so pleased with the composition!)
    I have no prejudices against/for either processes. Love both equally!


    1. Hi – I would hardly say my opinions are ‘entrenched’ as you say – I’m very open minded, and have no issue with how images are made, and processed. I don’t think I would consider using film these days, as, as I said in the blog, I don’t like the dark room or the chemical smells.

      It’s just a personal thing….. I’ve done both, and at least I can make an informed choice – the ‘friend’ of which I spoke does not have, nor ever will have, a digital camera – and that is his choice…. I just love digital, and the ability to work in the daylight….

      I do agree though that film can produce a different kind of image – in the right hands….

      Thanks for your comments though – it’s nice to have another opinion….. keep them coming – I can take it…. LOL….


      1. Diane,
        Just to correct your misreading of my comment! I didn’t say *you* had an entrenched view but that your friend appeared to have one.


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