Film Vs Digital Photography – What’s the Difference?
Film and Digital Photography Each Have their Own Unique Properties
Over the past decade or so, digital photography has replaced traditional film photography. The main difference between film vs. digital is how the photos are stored. While conventional photography uses positive and negative film as the medium for capturing pictures, digital photography uses a digital sensor to capture and store images onto an electronic storage device, such as an SD card, hard drives or a cloud.
At the Milton H. Greene Archives, you'll find the best of both worlds as we digitally restore Milton's timeless photos that were taken on analog film. Whether you are an amateur photographer looking to decide between mediums or an experienced photographer looking to learn more about both, here are some of the primary differences between film vs. digital photography, listed in no particular order.
To maximize the dynamic range of color or black and white film, the photographer had to figure out how to bring the 12 zones (white to black and every shade in between) into a two-stop range. Conversely, digital has the ability to capture all 12 zones automatically. In fact, the result of a high-resolution scan of a piece of film is somewhat compromised by how the original film was exposed.
The most common example is having a bright blue sky, a landscape with some sun dancing across the trees and a foreground in shadow. The best way to darken the sky and balance the exposure was to use a grad filter. With the digital capture, the best way is to merge three different exposures together. With this as a baseline, and thinking as a printer, now we approach the high-resolution scan of the film and the high-resolution capture in variations of post-production with software.
Film photography is timeless - many vintage cameras are still operable today and continue to produce beautiful images. Traditional film is much more forgiving on minor focusing and exposure issues, whereas digital is not. This method of photography is also more dynamic, as it allows the photographer to create eye-catching contests, higher resolutions, and richer colors, just as you will find in some of Milton's works.
While digital cameras are pricier than traditional cameras, the initial investment is slowly mitigated by the savings in film. It is often much cheaper to buy a film camera rather than a digital one. However, the costs can quickly add up, as the film needs to be processed in a dedicated darkroom with special chemicals and tools for processing. Alternatively, you can manually develop photos taken on traditional film with a digital tool that mimics the function of a darkroom.
Although no power source is required to operate a film camera, the number of photos you can take is limited due to the available exposures on a roll of film. This means that traditional photographers must give more thought to their images before shooting them. On the other hand, traditional film cameras are better able to withstand long trips and cold conditions, which may not be ideal for traveling photographers using digital.
One of the considerations that we deal with at The Archives is knowing the type of film and camera that was used. Film was a manufactured product based on the recipe and subject to shifting variables. In other words, you can take five batches of Kodak color reversal film and every one of the five will be different and have a color shift as much as 10 cc’s. It was like a good batch of wine, with no bottle being the same.
If you include film from different manufacturers (i.e.,Kodak, Fuji, Agfa), their process has color shifts, but there is also a difference in their recipes. Agfa is a bit more neutral and gray while Fuji is a little more saturated and loves warm tones and saturated greens. Kodak always strived for perfect color, which was normally boring and drab.
Cameras such as a 1950’s Rolliflex with an uncoated lens was soft and had a romantic dreamy quality with very little contrast versus a 1960’s Haselblad which was crisp, sharp and saturated. These are characteristics of the film and camera combination. When we restore old film, we have to keep the source in mind in order to more faithfully replicate what the original film looked like at the time of its creation.
In order to do a fair comparison, you want to take a quality camera and lens and compare apples to apples ie an 85mm prime lens on a 35mm Canon F-1 camera vs an 85mm prime lens on a full frame Canon body such as a 5DS R or equivalent.
There are many benefits to digital photography - for instance, you can instantly view the photos you've taken instead of waiting to develop them manually. You can also edit and post-process them later with apps like PhotoShop. Point-and-shoot digital cameras, if set-up properly, can make 11x14 prints and possibly 16x20. Full-frame 35mm cameras can print 16x20 and possibly 24x24. Always shoot in the “Camera Raw” format (it is equal to the raw film from an analog camera) using 16-bit, maximum quality settings. These are fine art print standards where sharpness and color values and resolution are of the utmost importance.
Unlike the limited nature of the film, you can typically store many images on a digital camera at one time, allowing you to take as many as needed during a photoshoot. Today, digital cameras are often more affordable. With modern analog cameras, the choice of film has become more limited due to fewer manufacturers producing the proper chemicals and paper that would be used in a traditional darkroom.
In terms of picture, digital cameras are often less dynamic than film when it comes to colors and contrast. To replicate the natural features of a film photo, most digital images require a notable degree of post-processing and editing.
Hardware and Software
Digital cameras generally weigh less than film cameras, making them easier to transport and carry around. In some cases, you may even be able to edit your photos directly on the camera, as many offer built-in filters and presets.
Digital photography also offers many built-in, user-friendly features like the ability to easily adjust film speed and zoom. You can also export photos directly to a digital device for post-processing.
Blending The Best of Film and Digital
Although traditional film has a specific, dynamic look, working with it can be tedious, and digital photography aims to eliminate such problems. The movement from film to digital has arrived, as most digital cameras are superior to film cameras. Depending on your style of photography, you might prefer one over the other, or both.
Our team blends both worlds by using digital tools to restore Milton's original film, bringing never-before-seen images to life for a digital-first audience. See for yourself - check out our collection of restored photos and order authentic prints of timeless icons shot on film to accentuate any space.