5 arguments for film reconsidered


[T]his is not a film vs digital post, nor a film is dead post. It's a post about some arguments that film aficionados uses that just doesn't hold up in my view.

1) Chimping
Chimping is when you look at you picture as soon as you took it. Filmers pride themselves that they cannot chimp. Never mind the fact that many film photographers always used Polaroid hum to chimp? Ansel Adam's El Capitan, Winter was shot on a type 55. Means he had his negative and positive pretty much instantly. When he used to shoot Leicas, wedding photographer Jeff Ascough had to rotate his camera bodies for fear that one was multifunctional during a wedding. You loose more by not chimping than if you did. It's call FEEDBACK, and is a design rule of prime importance, you need feedback or else you cannot compensate for anything. Imagine if you bled to death and did not have feedback (pain). Get the image, who cares if you knew you got it in a second or a year later?

2) Better enlargements
Yes of course, better enlargements, print up to 5000000 feet. The question is, do the advocates of such arguments ever print that large? No. Most go to A3 and any good dslr can rival film at that size in the resolution department. Printing more than human size means that you will have to be further from the picture to look at time, a place that you will not really be tempted to look at it up close. Billboards are not sharp, not sharp at all, but they are perceived to be so because of viewing distance.

3) Better dynamic range
Absolutely does film have better dynamic range. But most of the time you are not shooting in dynamic range stretching situations, for these situation which compose the bulk of shooting, digital can do fine with it's limited dynamic range. Makes you ever more careful about exposure

4) LCD Composition
If composing with an LCD is amateurish than geez all users of Twin Lens Relexes are amateurish! It's called ground glass, Large Format users and TLR users were composing using a screen since who knows when!

5) Everything looks good out of camera
This argument comes from a misunderstanding of the two mediums. The film cameras has interchangeable preset looks called film. Provia has it's way with tones that Velvia does not have, etc. If the photos look good out of camera it's because the film as DESIGNED to handle images a certain way. If I used some HP5 I doubt that I would need some heavy post processing, but it's because someone designed the film to look a certain way I like. Digital is different, it cannot take different films but can only output what it saw (not factoring in manufacturer effect). So it cannot look good because nobody touched it out of camera whereas film stock have been pretouched, prepared beforehand. It's only when I put in my presets that it can actually look good, just like film. Presets are nothing more than an emulation of what film stock is. Saying that everything looks good out of a film camera is a categorical error in my opinion, comparing pre and post effects. Film looks good because it was PREprocessed, Digital looks good only when it has been POSTprocessed.

Bonus round: Digital looks mechanic and cold
Digital is like putty in your hands, you do whatever you want with it. If you can't make your digital photographs have soul that's on you. Looky here:


This superb print by Brooks Jensen. Also check out Lenswork where many not so cold looking digital photographs go to gather.

Digital production means are not up to par with film so far. Shoot analog and then scan, view, edit, and print digitaly makes you loose lots of information (Photoshop for example can only handle up to 32bits, printers have limited reproduction capabilities), so there is also a division to be made within the film folks between 100% analog and Filmital.

As a closing comment: I LOVE film. It's just that some arguments just don't hold water in my opinion. I'm just sick of people making me feel bad because I shoot digital. Shoot what you want, leave me alone.

Cover image by Ivarno

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5 thoughts on “5 arguments for film reconsidered”

  1. The last point (5.) is very interesting I’ve never thought about it in such a way, you’re right! Diffrent film, diffrent preset. In film there isn’t such a thing like raw….

    1. Thanks man, it is a common misunderstanding that I see repeated over and over ๐Ÿ™‚
      When I import my pictures they all go through a custom BW preset I made so it’s pretty much the same thing you would get with film stock….but you always have the option to change things around if you want to.

  2. Hi Olivier,

    > Iโ€™m just sick of people making me feel bad because I shoot digital.
    > Shoot what you want, leave me alone.

    I was very surprised to know that there are still people who make you feel
    bad because you use Digital … In Japan most professional work are done
    with digital camera.

    I know there are people who are still struggling but even if you want to
    use films it is hard to find a good lab which does a reliable job. They
    work as if assuming all customer use T-MAX, and process with T-MAX
    developer, and so if you want to use Tri-X with D-76, there is no way but
    to do it yourself. (I know there is one which still uses tanks and work
    manually but that’s expensive)

    So there is no point to use films unless you have a darkroom and are
    able to complete the whole process at a darkroom. By that I mean if you
    were to have a scanning process and make it digital at some point there
    is not much point to use films.

    In that case it is better to use a digital camera from the beginning. I
    have a Nikon scanner but Nikon does not provide a software for it which
    runs at 64 bit platform. I have to interpret it that they think that it
    (film) became a past (product) I will need to buy Vue Scan if I want to
    keep it.

    Stephanie Calabrese Roberts refers to Elliott Erwitt’s comments in her
    book and she says that Erwiltt (MAGNUM) said to her ” I will do digital
    with an assistant (because I don’t understand those cameras) if I have
    to, because of an assignment ..(as everyone knows he likes film Leica)
    In the same book Ed Kashi (VII Photo Agency) was also interviewed and he
    says that he works with 5DII with EF L 24-105 lens, and that’s the only
    gear he has.

    I think we are going through the extremely interesting time.

    I personally think that there are more good things than bad things since
    it became digital. For me high ISO sensitivity of digital is the best
    thing achieved but its Black & White still has a room for an improvement.

    Incidentally, Olivier, I was surprised to see that you refereed to Ansel
    Adams. I thought your rival was that Japanese photographer who shoots
    around with his tiny Ricoh.

    So, everyone, let’s leave him alone for a while : )

    No, he’s got a big job in improving “Digital Black & White” with his presets
    and I am one of those who appreciate your efforts and commitment.

    Best regards


    1. Hum very interesting info Atsushi,
      My only rival is myself ๐Ÿ™‚ The only one I try to outdo everyday ๐Ÿ™‚
      But this guy (Daido Moriama) has gone digital with a Nikon I believe….
      Thanks for the compliments but they need to be shared. Don (www.streetshooter.net) does the bulk of the presets. The ones you like (Street Thug) happen to be some of the ones I did ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hi Olivier,

    > My only rival is myself ๐Ÿ™‚ The only one I try to outdo everyday ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oops, Sorry. But don’t push your self too much, please.
    I know Daido Moriyama have had hard time with alcohol in the past (he
    says so in his DVD) W. Eugene Smith also had problems with alcohol.
    In his case he actually had really hard time in the shooting spot as well

    (in Japan to report and shoot *Minamata*)

    > But this guy (Daido Moriama) has gone digital with a Nikon I believe….

    As far as I know he still uses Ricoh, but as you say he switched to
    digital. An editor of a major local photography magazine says “as far as
    I know he has never bought a camera by himself”

    I don’t think he looks cool with a big Nikon. (or did you mean a compact Nikon?)

    Another famous Japanese photographer said “if he had a Leica in his hand it looks a fake”
    (I have never seen his picture with a Leica in his hand)

    It would be great if I could become comfortable with a small Ricoh or SONY.
    It is hard/difficult foe me to shoot with a small camera. (even E-M5 is a little too small for me, but still would like to try NEX-7 one day)

    > Thanks for the compliments but they need to be shared. Don
    (www.streetshooter.net) does the bulk of the presets.
    The ones you like (Street Thug) happen to be some of the ones I did ๐Ÿ™‚

    Then please give my best regards to Don !

    Best regards


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