10 Jun

It is almost laughable that this could even be a debate in June of 2013, when certainly the commercial photography world as well as the consumer photography world both made the switch a long time ago.

Who's left that stil wants to shoot film? Well to my surprise, everyone in my office: Julius, Ivan, and the "new guy," Mo, all still shoot and covet film. I get it, I do. I had a BW darkroom in high school, and nothing was more of a thrill than pulling that film out of the tank, freshly developed, water and chemicals everywhere just to see that image on film. What a rush. But here's the thing: somehow, you have to get that image into digital form. Unless you are a true purist and are printing your film in an enlarger, old school style. But most people need to get their photography into their computer at some point, in which case, you have to scan.

This has been a problem with film for a long time now. One that made me take up the art and science of drum scanning a long time ago (mid-90's); an art I honed for many years (15?) before recently deciding I hated scanning film. It really is a pain, and very few people still shooting film were willing to pay the rates necessary to justify the labor-intensive process of drum scanning. I have since retired my drum scanner. It may see another day, but for now I rarely offer this as a service. But that's a side note...

With film, you have to scan, which means a generation loss. This is not huge on a drum scanner, but again, it's a time consuming and painstaking process. And drum scanners were designed to scan chromes, not negs, often resulting in "weird" color. Which leads to me to my point here: digital IS better than film. For starters it's THE original, not a copy (as in the case of a film scan), which means better sharpness, not to mention no grain. Ok, fine, I like grain too, but it presents all sorts of problems when scanning. There is always a give and take of sharpness versus noise when film scanning, since even drum scanners don't quite resolve the actual grain. And if you want your digital files to have grain, there is tons of 3rd party software out there to add grain and fake it. Where digital really kicks film's ass is its ability to use high ISO and allow for very usable shots from very low light. As a teenager when I first started learning photography (in the 80's, shooting mostly BW film) I was always frustrated by film's inability to see things the way my eye did. Our eyes are tremendous imaging systems, able to see in near total darkness. Digital "sees" the world a lot closer to the way our eyes do. This makes photography easier; less lighting (or with a little imagination with your use of available light, no lighting) is required.

Ansel Adams once said, "It's the negative stupid." In today's digital world, I'd say, "It's the print stupid." Which actually isn't true either, the file is the neg, and the file is everything, but when it comes to that feeling, that thrill of photography, for me, it's the print. Sure the file is important; garbage in, garbage out. BUT, a c-print from a digital file is pretty close to a c-print from a film negative. So when purists say they hate digital, I say, how are you printing? Ink jet prints can be very beautiful, especially watercolor and other specialty papers like canvas, but more often than not they leave me flat. I've blogged about this before, but I'll say it here again: ink on paper is NOT a photograph. A photograph is made from light, that is, after all the definition of photography: "writing with light." Ink splattered on paper is not the same thing. It can give the illusion of a photograph and come really close, but I only get that magic of photography that I felt back in my darkroom over 20 years ago from silver halide prints exposed with light (lasers) and chemically (conventionally) processed. To put it another way, digital cameras need light, digital-c prints need light, ink jet just needs ink.

So if digital photography is leaving you flat and making you miss the days of film, I'd ask, have you tried something other than your Epson lately?