Analogue Or Digital

FilmDigiFirstly the title, get the comparatives correct; the term ‘Film Versus Digital’ irks me somewhat as to its ambiguity. We typically know where this discussion might be going, but what are we referring to, moving image or stills photography. Is it a ‘Super 8 Vs. Bayer Pattern CMOS sensor’ or a ‘120MF E6 Vs. 24MP CCD’? Generally though this line of dialogue deals with shooting film either on a 35mm or a medium format camera and comparing it with a high end DSLR in a Grain to Noise showdown in an attempt to ascertain what medium is perceived to be the superior.

Well I’m going to be blunt and say that neither is better than the other; they are both tools for a job and either one placed in the right hands will produce stunning results. It is reminiscent of a statement that the uneducated masses say often to professional photographers:

‘Oh your camera looks expensive it must take great photos…’


Right I think I’m going to stop now, as I could probably waffle on for ages about sensor size resolutions compared to grain patterns, film photography as artefact, dynamic range, the ecological impact of each medium, etc. etc. It may have even been interesting to explore actual scenarios where one medium would be more suited than the other and scrutinise their various practical applications, but alas I wont.

However, what I will draw your attention to is the technical process of Sebastiâo Salgado’s project ‘Genesis’, which for me is quite an interesting if not convoluted method that yields stunning results. Upon investigation you find out that Salgado’s recent work has all been shot on high-end Canon DSLR’s and been processed via a piece of software from DXO called FilmPack.

According to this article, once the images have been chosen, standard digital post-production techniques are applied then the images are processed through FilmPack to emulate the look of Kodak TriX-400 and Tmax-3200. After this the digital files are then turned into negatives to then be printed in a traditional darkroom. So the summary is, shoot digital then manipulate and print it onto film. I wonder, why not just shoot straight onto film? If you read this interview repost Salgado gives some good reasons.

My own stance over the years has changed more times than I can remember; my first taste of photography was with film, so I fell in love with the magic of light and chemistry, yet I also appreciate the many benefits of digital photography. Generally though it does not matter what you shot on, only the final resolution is what really matters. We are image-makers and it is the picture that should be our primary concern and it is the picture that should speak in volumes and not what gave it existence.


  1. jsumb 30 June 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Well Russell, I was certainly stunned by the prints that I saw at Genesis show in London last year. Stunned by how poor they were by comparison to their lofty ambition – I wrote about it here though the subject matter also concerned me…. but that would be the subject of another post altogether.
    However, I think I agree with your overall point that to suggest it is one medium versus another is to entirely miss the point and one which is likely to pander to the marketing positions of camera manufacturers and, now, software designers…. Sponsorship is a valuable commodity

  2. jamesjosephlloyd 30 June 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Well I don’t agree that two identical things are necessariliy the same independtly of how they came into being. There are plenty of examples, but for instance shed-boat-shed is not the same as shed and erased De Kooning is not the same as a blank piece of paper. I don’t think we should think of ourselves as image makers, nor that the picture should speak on its own. We should be idea makers/explorers who use images as one facet of what we do and as part of the process of communication.

  3. oliviairvine 3 July 2014 at 9:54 am

    I can only speak from my personal experience. Quite some time ago I took part in a fantastic experimental film workshop with Christoph Janetzko from Berlin. We shot on 16mm. Several years later I made another 16mm film and one of my favourite bits was editing on the Steinbeck. Even in 1995, not many people used them any more so i got unlimited access to the suite at Edinburgh College of Art with back up from knowledgeable technicians.
    I loved the physicality of the cut and splice and really got into a rhythm with it. I have since toyed around with video, but the editing software defeated me. It requires far too much time sitting at a computer which really does not suit my temperament. I did make a video recently and got someone else to do the editing, so that is maybe the way forward, but it is just not the same. Sadly, the Steinbeck at the college is no longer there. It is a case of update, delegate or give up. I guess I will give digital editing another try, but I do miss the trim bin, the bit of film round my neck and other one between my teeth and both hands full of other bits of possibilities.

  4. oliviairvine 3 July 2014 at 9:56 am

    I also liked the whirring noise of the plates and the faint smell of metal.

  5. Ashley Cottle 3 July 2014 at 5:02 pm

    so he shoots digital, applies some fake filter and then converts back to a negative again? A physical film negative? Doesn’t that completely negate his filter effects? What a load of pretentious nonsense. Much like his Genesis that i saw last year. Chocolate box top generic images of which several were so overly processed as to actually be hard to look at.

  6. Andy O'Farrell 4 July 2014 at 6:00 pm

    I dislike the Film v Digital ‘debate’…I sometimes think the Film corner belong to the flat earth society and are simply prejudiced for whatever reason -snobbery? I see the attraction of the ‘process’ with analogue and love the feel some films produce…but a good photo is a good photo, regardless of the kit…or whether it was shot ‘manual’ or ‘automatic’…who cares???…avoid these discussions like the plague… bit like the histogram fascists…but that another days rant….

  7. stephenbarney 28 July 2014 at 10:48 pm

    Well I love film and I only do it because it pleases me and I really enjoy the process isn’t that partly what making art is about the which is better argument is kind of void for me as the answer is most definitely neither they both are what they are I do both but the film camera has slowed me down and improved my technique the digital camera made me lazy I now use a similar process on the digital camera when I use it and the results are better because the technique is better. Oh and I just love the clunk of shutter!


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