Sunday, March 19, 2006

Film vs. Digital (Confessions of a Film Snob)

There is a spirited discussion these days among clients and photographers over whether film or digital imaging is the best way to go. In my opinion, it depends on what you are shooting.

For instance, if one is shooting architecture, large or medium format film is still king (even though the new digital backs are making inroads). And there is nothing like a B&W platinum print to stir my creative juices.

Before 2004, I was a die-hard film kind of guy. I was working in the motion picture industry in 1981 and I remember the early attempts at digital video. They were pretty deplorable. Sony, who was a frontrunner in the video revolution, set up a very expensive demo for cinematographers and other film-industry types in Las Vegas. They built a two-story set painted in brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. There were a million lumens of light on it (okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration) so that the image would pop.

I took a Sony rep aside and asked him what would happen if I shot outdoors at high-Noon on a cloudy day and he admitted that there would be “some contrast issues” (in other words, the image would be pretty muddy). I swore never to use digital anything until there were vast improvements. Okay, I was in denial in those days, but now I can say it: My name is David, and I (was) a film snob.

Aside from my occasional forays with a point-and-shoot, I didn’t touch digital until I looked at the Nikon D2H in 2004. To make a long story short, once I had the camera in my hands, I was hooked. While the D2H was not perfect (nor is any digital camera today), it delivered consistently good images, and that is my first and foremost requirement of any system.

Digital systems tend to have a useful lifespan of about three years before they are replaced with something more advanced. In the coming years, we will see vast improvements in digital imaging.

As for me, I am sold. My digital workflow is much faster. What that means is that I can deliver an image to a client almost immediately. I also don't miss the carcinogenic chemicals I used to breathe and handle in the darkroom.

In closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that there is a certain nostalga involved in shooting on film, and that is often what keeps us shooting. Me? I am 100% digital these days. I still have my film-based camera bodies and will hold onto them for nostalgic reasons, but digital has transformed my world in a way that I cannot ignore.

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