Digital v. Film: Random Thoughts,
Comparisons & Selling Points
The initial leap into the world of photography is an exciting step in pursuing a great lifelong hobby and potential profession. The cameras, gadgets and tech are so much fun to explore, and it becomes increasingly more difficult not to dive into specs, reviews and the sweetest deal you can find for gear on the internet. Another aspect of photography I found myself swallowed up rather quickly with some of the “political” issues that surround photography. Things like Canon v. Nikon v. Sony, the mirrored or mirrorless debate and even the deeper trending street photography issues that are rising to the forefront of social debate.
One of those fun and juicy political nuggets is between digital & film photography. To me this is a fun topic because I have consumed so much media related to this topic from all sort of content producers. There are few specialists I subscribe to on YouTube that I really enjoy, and I feel like their tips help elevate my game in both digital and film photography. Content Creators such as KingJvpes and Pierre Lambert are two examples that provide insightful videos with one primarily creating 35mm film photography and the other digital street photography. Other creators such as Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography channel is a great source for relevant tips, tricks and education that dives a bit more into both photographic mediums.
It did not take long for me to decide I wanted to pick up a film camera and add it to my bag. I had been shooting heavily for about two months and felt that I had the skills to successfully incorporate film into the mix without a tremendous amount of hassle. I scoured the internet for a few weeks and eventually found a beautiful vintage 1970’s Nikon EL2 SLR to pair with my Nikon D5100 DSLR. I purchased the camera, and it came with a standard Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4. A story for another day, but this body and lens was $35.00 on eBay and I later learned that the camera and lens I received are valued at $200 based on camera body and lens conditions. That made my purchase a little sweeter!
As of now, the D5100 and EL 2 basically come everywhere with me and they live together comfortably in one of my bags for easy grab and go usage. It presents me the opportunity to search for the best subjects to shoot the precious film with, while also allowing me to have a secondary or tertiary lens for the digital as the 50mm is compatible with both as a manual focus lens. Actively shooting both cameras has had an impact on my photography skills, and I have noticed better shots and an improvement in my technical abilities. I value the process associated with both mediums, however its infinitely easier and more efficient to shoot digital. With that in mind, here are a few random thoughts, opinions and selling points for digital and film photography.
Price: The cost of entry into photography is simple, clear cut and straight forward. Gouge, gouge, gouge. Everything is insanely expensive, so it makes gear investment a drawn out and mentally taxing process. Digital costs so much more upfront, but without expanding your gear collection, you can really get by with a camera, lens and memory card. Depending on what those are you could be limited in what you can do, but the buying process can end there. One of the worst parts about film photography is the reoccurring cost associated with buying and developing film. Sure, you can get an inexpensive body and lens second hand online and at thrift stores, but that’s only the beginning. Each roll is basically a $20 investment, and that is using the “bargain” end of the price spectrum of Walmart, CVS or other drug store retailers for film sales and developing. Home development kits and darkrooms if you are fortunate enough to have the space are great ways to help drop down the price of developing film, however there is still added cost associated with the process. None the less, it is much more economical compared to sending your film out for development. For most of us though, we pay $4-8 per roll of film and $12-$15 to develop that roll. If you shoot and develop a roll per month that’s an additional $240 per year for photography.
Shooting: I think it is a safe bet to say that when shooting, digital is clearly the easier and more accessible medium within photography. You have more ability to control your exposure and composition with in-camera aides compared to film photography. Another key factor in this is that with a digital camera, if you don’t like the composition of your photo, you can easily recompose and shoot again. Film photography makes this a little more challenging because you do not have the ability to see your photo and adjust based off the exposure. Understanding your light meter and the proper aperture with a film camera takes practice but it is key to taking better film photographs. Piggybacking off the price associated with film photography, taking over or under exposed pictures will become quite costly. It is critical to develop a solid foundation and understanding of the Sunny 16 principal when shooting film and examining your photos to improve on the next roll. I am also a strong believer that Sunny 16 is valuable in digital photography. By utilizing it as a base for initial composition along with understanding the light meter, it allows you to start out with a better opportunity for an accurate exposure each time. This is perfect because it will save abusing your memory card and shutter count on your digital, while gaining better exposures in film and saving time and money on poorly exposed rolls of film.
Experience: Shooting digital and film creates two unique experiences that have great crossover value. While hammering away at the shutter release button is a one way to hope you got the shot, emphasis on hopefully, film requires more patience, better composition and often results in more selective shooting. I find this to be directly related to what was already presented. To me it is not worth shooting like a wild man with film because I feel like I am speeding up my process and the shots will be out of focus, improperly exposed and ultimately a wasted effort of my time and resources. I generally carry both my digital and film camera in my bag, so I could shoot both, but for the most part I shoot digital while out on an adventure. The few shots I will take with my film camera do have an impact overall no matter what I’m shooting. Because of the patience in composition and the more selective nature of choosing a subject for my film camera, I can more successfully take better digital images based off my film principals.
Legacy: Obviously in the modern era digital photography is king… or queen… whatever you feel. The tech advances over the last 2 decades have catapulted this medium into a bright and shinning future. Mirrorless cameras, higher fps and megapixels as well as ease of use are some of the advances a film camera just can’t match. Film photography is also at a crossroads right now that is crucial to its survivability in the future. Impactful decisions like Kodak shutting down a handful of film manufacturing centers and Nikon discontinuing the F6 model film camera highlight just how deeply rooted we are in the digital age of photography. Analog is a thing of the past. That does not mean that there is not a resurgence in film photography. It is back and back in style but how much of a novelty it currently is has yet to be uncovered. The availability of these vintage film cameras is amazing. From Facebook marketplace to eBay, high quality film cameras are easy to find at great prices. For under $100 you can score a great camera and build your skillset in film photography. This resurgence is key to keeping film available and at reasonable prices. Digital might be the way of the future, but its evident that the love affair with vintage cameras and gear is not going away anytime soon.
In conclusion, photography is about creative expression, art and enjoying the world around you. Capturing those glorious people, places and things is really what’s important. I don’t think it matters what your shoot. The purpose of it all is the enjoyment, exploring your hobbies in different ways and challenging yourself to become a better photographer. Its difficult to say there is a clear winner but its obvious that digital photography has been the future for years and it will remain to be the future. Unless an EMP device is set off rendering digital tech useless, film will continue to sail into its golden years with a proud and long standing legacy, a resurgence in popularity and memories of a tech era that isn’t too far in the past.
Nikon D5100 Images
Nikon EL2 & Sunshine Supreme 35mm Film Images