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Should You Learn Film Photography or Digital Photography?

By Jon, published on 21/02/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Photography > Photography Courses: Film VS Digital

It is human nature to follow the latest trends. That is why we brandish our smartphones, every chance we get.

For instance: taking pictures of the food we ordered in a restaurant to post on social mediaitself another popular trend.

Of course, there are always those who buck the tide: opting for a flip phone with minimal digital capability. Oddly enough, in some cases, that creates enough of a stir to merit headlines.

Kate Beckinsale is just one example of people reverting to phones being for phone calls; not used as hand-held computers!

What does all of this have to do with cameras and photography?

Well, that’s just it: on the one hand, you have people who crave the latest gadget, laying out cash for something that, perhaps, they won’t derive the full benefit from.

And then, you have the people who prefer what is considered by the mainstream to be passé: objects or activities that seem to have no place in these modern times.

Maybe some activities are best left in the past: we dread to think what would happen to children playing hoop and stick in today’s crowded streets!

The debate rages in the realm of photography: film vs digital? What about analog photography? do film SLR cameras have any place in this increasingly digital world, where Photoshop edits images more efficiently than any darkroom retouching ever could?

Let Superprof now chime in on the merits and drawbacks of each of these forms of artistic expression.

Can you use all of the features and settings on your digital camera? Advances in digital photography permit crystal clear shots Source: Pixabay Credit: Piro4D

The Pros and Cons of Digital Photography

I’ve got to have my toys! – Robert DeBeaux

Anyone obsessed with ownership of the latest and greatest quite possibly has no idea what the item in question’s full capabilities are.

To wit: owners of DSLR cameras who steadfastly shoot on the auto setting, neglecting – or perhaps unaware that they can manually set aperture and exposure time.

Maybe they just don’t know how to set up their camera for natural light or night photography…

More advanced photographers will have taken workshops or photography classes in order to fully grasp what their compact or hybrid camera is capable of.

Professional photographers will have graduated from photography courses with a BA Honours degree.

After their years at university, it is certain that they know how to use every feature and setting of their cameras.

And that they will have discovered the differences between shooting with film and shooting in digital.

Digital cameras are grouped into three broad categories: compact, DSLR and hybrid.

Although professional photographers carry several types of camera, most of their money shots are captured with the digital SLR.

Digital SLR Pros

1. Image quality: if you are shooting in less than optimal conditions – maybe a bit of landscape photography on a cloudy day or street photography at dusk, this camera will compensate for the lack of light to render amazingly clear shots.

Of course, you have to set your white balance to compensate for the light conditions.

2. Focus and shutter speed: these cameras are very quick to focus on your subject and permit multiple shots per second.

3. Interchangeable lenses: for every shot, there is a lens!

If you are a wildlife photographer, for example, you would want a focal length of at least 300mm.

Conversely, if you are a macro photographer – shooting images of jewellery for a catalog, as an example, you may reach for your 30mm lens so that you can get all of the fine detail in sharp relief.

Digital SLR Cons

Cost!

The cash outlay for a quality appliance and all of its kit – lenses, filters, spare batteries, memory cards, mono- and tripod can run into the hundreds of pounds!

And then, purchasing image processing software, such as Photoshop or InDesign, along with a computer system that has enough processing power and memory to permit working RAW files or running Lightroom…

If you are a professional photographer, or just starting out in photography, you may want to print a few of your best shots to place in a portfolio, for your clients to see and appreciate.

If that is the case, you will need a printer capable of delivering the quality and depth of colour you’ve achieved on your monitor.

And, you should invest in a calibration probe to ensure faithful reproduction of what is on your computer screen.

No Adobe products or memory cards are needed to photograph with film!

Have you ever used such a disposable camera? Disposable cameras such as these are still available for candid snaps at family events Source: Wikipedia Credit: Jud McCranie

The Pros and Cons of Film Photography

To be sure, you can buy point and shoot digital cameras equipped with minimal zoom capability, but the most popular of this type of camera are those that use film.

Probably the most renown of such are single use cameras. They are still very popular for candid snaps at events such as weddings and anniversary parties.

You can even buy occasion-themed cameras: their cardboad sleeves match the occasion at hand!

Beyond those, you can buy Nikon or Canon point and shoot cameras, although they are by now considered vintage camera gear.

And, of course, there is the classic Leica, with its tradition of excellence in photography equipment!

For intermediate and advanced photographers, and professionals who find film a relevant art form still today, there are SLR cameras and lenses for every scene.

Interested in reading about photography? Find out the best photography books.

Film SLR Pros

1. Believe it or not, film yields truer print quality than anything off a memory card.

Here is why:

Every digital camera has sensors which are programmed to find balance in what they see.

Thus, if you are a nature photographer shooting fall foliage, your camera may compensate for any excessive red or yellow it sees by toning the colours, so that they are closer to what the sensors expect.

By contrast, film sees what it sees according to the settings you’ve established prior to snapping.

2. Film is more forgiving of minor issues with exposure and focus.

Of course, not even film can save your shot if someone jostles your arm!

3. Film offers a higher dynamic range; ideal for shooting in black and white.

Compared to film shots, digital black and whites seem strangely lacking in depth!

4. Finally: there is a lower start-up cost with film photography, but one must inevitably factor in the cost of replenishing film stocks and developing images.

Film SLR Cons

The most obvious disadvantage to shooting with film is that you must wait for development to see if there is a money shot among anything you’ve snapped.

Second to that comes the continuous cost of film and developing… and the question of whether you would trust your work to a lab!

Lab developing means that you have absolutely no control over how your film gets developed, and you would have no opportunity to retouch any photos.

A sign of the times: many companies have discontinued production of several types of film, meaning that there is less of a selection available.

That creates a constant challenge for film photographers who have for years been loyal to a certain brand, or whose particular style of photographic art demands a specific type of film.

Film SLRs tend to be bulkier than their digital counterparts, and one must account for proper storage of film – out of the heat and away from damp.

If you are a photojournalist or travel photographer, every bit of extra weight matters, especially when trekking across vast distances while on assignment!

It sounds like we’re making the case for digital over film, doesn’t it? Read on before deciding!

Learn about the history of photography.

Look for photography courses in all the major UK cities on Superprof:

  • Photography courses London
  • Photography courses Glasgow
  • Photography courses Manchester
  • Photography courses Birmingham
  • Photography classes Leeds

At one time, this type of camera was cutting edge Once considered cutting edge, cameras such as these are now called vintage Source: Pixabay Credit: Richard Ley

A Study in Close Up

1. Anyone earning their living as a photographer – be it specialising in portraiture or photojournalism, will tell you that it is exponentially easier to store memory cards than rolls of film.

2. It is obviously easier to upload digital images, and image editing is a snap with editing software – provided you learn how to use it.

There are tricks and a certain level of creativity to using Adobe Lightroom that quite nearly demand an instructor to learn them from.

3. On the other hand, digital images lack the nuance that, to this day, entrances fans of film photography.

Digital images have an in your face quality: they dare you to challenge their veracity, after having worked so hard to compensate for flaws inherent in the natural world.

We love those flaws! We need them to reflect our less than perfect selves – which has been a bone of contention of software photo editing since its inception.

Too gorgeous, too skinny models dramatically draped, flawless complexions and fabulous hair…

By no means are we saying that fashion models shot with film were never enhanced in post processing; only that the practice exploded and has actually caused harm with the advent of digital image editing.

4. Whereas a professional photographer who works with digital equipment can press the shutter button as often as s/he’d like – memory cards can store countless images, photographing with film requires extra mentation.

A roll of film has, at maximum, 36 exposures, meaning that framing a shot, posing a subject and metering light all require deeper consideration.

Unless wasting film is a favourite pastime, the SLR camera photographer will carefully consider every element of the shoot before taking a single picture.

This aspect of film photography is the crux of the argument for capturing images on film.

5. Knowing how to photograph using this medium takes every bit of artistic instinct and photography skills you possess.

Rules of composition, lighting techniques – even out of doors!; how to shoot in any conditions: these are all vital skills for any photographer, but weigh especially heavy on the shoulders of the film photographer.

6. These days, everyone is armed with a camera of some sort, from a Smartphone to a tiny, monopod-mounted Go Pro action camera.

That is why some photographers are returning to film: in this digital world, taking quality pictures on film is a silent, screaming testament of technical skills married to fine art.

This is a real photo that I shot on film myself – Edgar England, West End Cameras

Other reasons for film over digital photography include:

  • grain: film images look less polished – more gritty and real than digitally captured images
  • format: film delivers a higher dynamic range; similarly capable digital cameras are substantially more expensive
  • control: photographers like being involved with every little step in the creative process of image capture, from analysing subjects to determining ISO – what speed it should be captured at
    • It is a bit like transitioning from manual to automatic gears in a car; with the former, you have a measure of participation in driving: you are one with your machine.
  • The magic of seeing the image you’ve captured called forth in its chemical bath

That alchemy that, even now, when we know the science behind it seems magic, is what inspires passionate photographers to pursue perfection with every shot.

Those who learn to shoot with film apply fundamental photographic techniques with every click of the shutter.

They are more focused on their art, avoiding the constant back and forth between taking a shot and inspecting it for viability on the camera’s LCD screen, deleting as necessary.

Through film, their passion for purity in imaging serves to enhance their storytelling ability.

Is film photography right for you? You won’t know until you try it.

Why not sign up for a photography course or workshop; get hands on with developing: discover for yourself the feeling of awe as your pictures emerge out of what was blank paper.

Investigate the Film Photography Project; become a follower and help keep this art form vital and alive in this digital age.

Who knows? After lugging around a set of digital cameras for so long, you too may find in yourself an avid film photographer just begging to fly!

Discover 20 famous photography quotes.

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