I have been listening to some podcasts recently and the debate of the merits of digital vs. film keep popping up in the conversations. I honestly don’t think this is even a topic of discussion. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both have hidden costs and expenses. And both are embraced by many as the only acceptable way to capture an image.
I see it very similar to the way that Ken Rockwell discusses it in his post about the subject.
Neither is better on an absolute basis. The choice depends on your application. Once you know your application the debate goes away. The debate only exists when people presume erroneously that someone else’s needs mirror their own.
The question really is: What are you trying to accomplish when you take the photograph? Which do you like to work with?
In one of his posts, Chris Marquardt states that he has tested over 15 different cameras including different formats of both digital and film and admits that what he has learned has influenced his photography. The reasons he lists include aspect ratio, the focusing ability of the camera, the sound of the shutter, and the weight and size of the camera.
That all makes sense. Aspect ratio definitely influences how we see and view the world. The weight and size of the camera will determine how far off the beaten path we are willing to go for the image. The sound of the shutter may not be noticed in some situation, but will ruin the atmosphere in a scene in others. And the ability of a camera to focus can determine how quickly we can capture what we see and therefore determine what we shoot.
In a post on The Luminous Landscape, Charles Cramer discusses the quality of 4×5 inch film compared with a Phase One medium format digital back. He includes images showing quality comparisons. There is an obvious difference between the two, but in different ways. Film seems to have better resolution than digital, but digital has better color. Again, what are you looking for in a photograph?
With digital, you can shoot a lot without paying a any money for each image. If you use film, you pay for each exposure in film and development costs. On the flip side, digital requires a expensive software expenditure. If you buy a new camera, the current version of the software you are using may not support your model of camera. Digital cameras can become obsolete, while a film camera will continue to be viable as long as you have film.
Going back to Ken Rockwell’s statement, what are you trying to do with your photography? Once you have decided that, you can make the decision as to what medium you want to use.
The debate about digital vs. film will rage on, but remember, there is no right or wrong answer. There is a good, better, and best solution for you. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
Posted 2 years, 7 months ago at 1:34 pm. 3 comments
I listen to a lot of podcasts including Tips From The Top Floor with Chris Marquardt. Usually, it is a great podcast in which he answers a lot of questions on photography ranging from beginner to advanced and does a pretty good job with it. But I have to disagree with his latest topic on his show. In show #488, he reads one of his blog posts called The Post Digital Era.
Now I don’t have any issues with people who like or use film. Just like I don’t believe that there are any real good arguments for or against Canon, Nikon, PC, Apple, Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Chevy, etc. I think you need to find the thing that works for you for whatever reason and use it. I have written on that subject in the past.
I think that people are interested in film for a variety of reasons. One, we all like to go back in history. Look at styles of dress, cars, and movies. Film lets us go back and “re-live” the old days that we all love to do. Two, as people become more proficient with their cameras, they embrace the challenge of being more precise with film. Finally, I think that film, like Mr. Marquardt says, gives a different look to peoples images.
If that is what you are looking for, by all means, go out and shoot film. More power to you.
My issue is with the blog post is that in some ways, it makes individuals who use digital seem inferior. Chris talks about a clean darkroom vs. the digital darkroom. Cropping, framing, and getting it right in the camera. I agree. I think you should always try to get the image right in the camera, but with today’s technology we have the ability to crop, fix, alter, and enhance an image.
He mentions HDR and how it was over the top when it first came out. True, but if those are the type of images you like, produce them. It doesn’t make you a bad photographer. He goes on to say that digital photography has produced a “spray and pray” mentality. It has. For some. For others the spray and pray mentality has made their photography better. As they learn how use their camera to view the histogram, check the composition and framing, and control their tools to capture the vision they have, they start producing better and better images. And they do so with less shots.
All of those are fine and I can see his point. What I don’t understand is the idea that we should embrace imperfections. He claims that “you are bound to realize that for more and more photographers the digital way is becoming less and less satisfying.” Seriously, I just don’t see that happening. I think you see more and more photographers seeking a different look. Take a look at Flickr, there are tons of photographers who are posting images that look different. They have found a process or method that shows their vision the way they want it seen.
As he states, some photographers are adding grain to enhance the feel of an image. He lists programs and apps such as Hipstamatic, instagr.am, and Best Camera add a look to your photographs that you can’t get straight out of the camera. Does that mean we all need to return to film or that we are unhappy with digital? No.
In fact, I think it implies just the opposite. With the programs we have available today, we can take the picture and then add a variety of filter and affects to achieve the image feeling we visualize in our mind. Take the picture, apply the filter, get a certain look. If you don’t like it, you can go back and start over with the same shot at no cost of time or money. You can’t do that with film. Ok, you can take the film, scan it, import it into a program like Photoshop and then manipulate it, but isn’t that extra steps in the workflow just to work digitally?
He goes on and discusses the music world and how we seem to like our flawed products. He states that we like the impure sound of music that is produced by an amplifier or a “humanizer circuit”. I disagree. I think that we like a sound that is real. We like images that show our vision. We want images that produce a certain feel in the viewer. Just as the music industry wants a certain sound to create a feel for the song.
He writes “Instead of fully controlling every aspect of their work, more and more photographers deliberately introduce elements into their workflow that are hard to reproduce exactly the same way. Look for instance at some of the instant film materials you can get through the Impossible Project at the moment. Predictable results? Hardly. Or look at double exposures. Taken by different photographers. Did you know you can buy exposed film on eBay to add your own second layer of exposures, then develop it to find out what you’ve got? What an element of surprise! Some deliberately shoot film that is far beyond its best-before date and take advantage of the interesting characteristics some aging film materials get. Some expose the whole 35mm film, including the sprocket holes, and some even partially remove the lenses from their cameras and tilt them to achieve effects similar to lensbabies and tilt lenses – that’s called “freelensing”. Or the deliberate manipulation of the medium, as seen in the emulsion lift, where integral instant film is taken apart and the photo emulsion gets transferred onto a different material.”
He is right, more and more photographers are trying new and different things. They’re thinking outside of the box, but I think the question is why. I think the answer is because they want to be different. They want to make their images stand out while still showing their vision. And in some cases, they just want to see what happens. They experiment and experimenting is good.
Mr. Marquardt is right. I think film is becoming more popular again, but it isn’t because we are dissatisfied or unhappy with digital or that we like imperfections. It is because it is different and “new”. It is a challenge to get the shot right in the camera the first time. And because it is unique, not a lot of people are using it. And I definitely don’t think you are inferior if you shoot digital. Or film. Or Canon. Or Nikon. Or medium format. Or you use a Chevy to get to your shooting location. Who cares! Use the tools that make you happy and help you capture the image that matches your vision. That is the bottom line.
I will continue to listen to Chris Marquardt on Tips From the Top Floor. I recommend that you do also. He is informative and entertaining. If anything, he will make you think once in a while. And that is a good thing.
Posted 3 years ago at 11:49 am. Add a comment
In all fairness, after I posted my final thoughts, I gave the professor a call and asked for his point of view. I thought we had a great talk and he had some very valid points.
He pointed out that he was teaching in an art department and that the goal was for artists to be able to produce works of art. There is NO doubt in my mind that black & white photography is a great form of art. Black & white forces the artist and the viewer to concentrate on the subject and not be distracted by the colors in the image. Black & white brings out the textures and details of an image.
He also pointed out the communal experience of a darkroom. In a large darkroom, it is possible for individuals to work together and collaborate on both technique and composition. The students get feedback on the image right away.
We also discussed the differences between an art program and a vocational ed program such as those found in a community college. In a vocational ed type of situation it is all about learning how to capture the image; the process. Art is not about the process, but more about the final product and is VERY communal. It takes the artist and the viewer to create a piece of art.
Finally, and probably most importantly, he said that he surveys every class and in every survey the overwhelming response is that students want to learn how to develop film and make prints in the darkroom. Honestly, I can’t argue with that. I got into photography because I loved watching the image rise out of the paper in the developer turning a blank sheet of white paper into something that I had created. It is a magical feeling when you create something with your own hands.
I would still argue that an artist is only as good as his skill with the tools he is using and a beginning class in any art medium should cover the mastery of those tools. I have said all along that film and other photographic mediums have a place in the classroom and should be introduced to students, but after they understand how use the tools to capture their vision.
I kind of consider this like photographic subjects; not everyone is going to like every subject. I like nature and landscape photography and others like street photography. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the effort and craft of a good street photography image. It just means that isn’t the type of images I want to look at and I don’t want to go out and make that kind of pictures.
The bottom line is that he is teaching the class and doing what he thinks is right for the students and the program. Being a teacher, I have to respect that. I don’t agree with it, but I respect it.
I found the instructor very open to discussion and more than willing to share his point of view while listening to mine. I hope I can maintain an open dialog with him in the future.
I welcome your comments and look forward to the discussion that could be created from these ideas.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. Add a comment
In my last three posts, I have been discussing a local university’s basic photography class and my opinion of the mandatory use of film in the class.
I have pointed out the following:
- The cost and expense of film.
- The instant feedback that digital provides.
- Use of the camera as a teaching tool.
- The stifling of creativity that can come with film.
- The fact that the future is digital.
Here is a copy of the course from page 102 in the online CSUSB catalog:
290. Photography I
Fundamentals of black and white photography including manual camera operation, black and white film developing and printing. Emphasis on composition, content and image-making for creative expression. Two hours lecture and six hours laboratory. Formerly ART 390. Materials fee required. (5 units)
According to the catalog, Photography I is the first class that a photography art student has to take to continue with photography at CSUSB and according to the description the emphasis is on composition, content and image making for creative expression.
This is the first photography class that a student takes in the art department and it should be geared toward making students better photographers. The first class in any subject should hook the students. It should make them want to take the next class and the next class and the next class.
When I teach biology, my purpose is not only to cover the subject matter, but to do it in a way that makes the kids want to learn more about the subject. I do that using whatever I can find that captures the imagination of the kids. That same passion should be found in ALL educational settings. Technology is one of the tools that is available to the university to do that with photography.
The history of any passion is important. To know where it comes from determines where it is headed. The history of an art allows the students to see what has been done so that they experiment with what was done and discover what hasn’t been done, making it their own. But you don’t have to know how to develop black & white film in order to learn photography. As a matter of fact, with today’s technology, black & white film hinders the process.
But if you’re going to teach B&W, why stop at “traditional”? Why not daguerreotype? Or calotype? Are you going to teach dodging and burning? NO. Why not? Because the teacher needs spend time teaching students how to develop film instead of how to master their camera.
Beginning students should learn how to capture their vision. They need to learn that if you change the aperture, you change the depth of field and how that can be used to bring attention to your subject. They need to learn how to use the shutter speed to show time; slow speeds allow motion into the image and a fast shutter speed freezes the action and allows the viewer to see things that they can’t see with their naked eye.
Beginning students should be able to see the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. They should learn how lowering one causes the other two change and you can change one and determine which of the other you want to change and how it affects the image.
They need to learn how to use aperture priority and shutter priority and that each of those modes have advantages and limits. They need to learn how to frame a shot and why one composition works better than others. And they need to learn to see the light in the scene and how to capture the image that the see in their vision.
How are they supposed to do that when they are limited to 36 exposures that they have to focus on developing, printing, and then trying to remember what they did in camera that is different from the last shot? By using digital, they can get that feedback after each shot. They can compare shots with other students and examine EXIF data for ways to improve their images.
Finally, digital is the future. It has surpassed the quality of film a long time ago and film companies have either gone out of business or have stopped making many of the traditional films. Why? Because almost no one uses film any more.
I think that a beginning photography class at the university level has to embrace technology. It has to allow the students to learn with the best tools available at the time. Film is not it.
Again, I welcome your comments and thoughts.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. Add a comment
In a previous post I described a situation at a local university where the photography teacher was requiring students in a beginning photography class to use B&W film. This thinking is wrong.
I have already listed two reasons that digital is better in the classroom:
- Instant feedback.
Here are three more reasons that the technology of digital photography is better used in a classroom than film.
- Teaching tool. If the instructor was really doing his job, he would be using a camera tethered to a computer/projector in the classroom to demonstrate how changes in the camera, lighting, model, etc. affect the final image. I saw this several times this year at WPPI. The speaker would set up the lights, model, camera and take a picture. Instantly, it would appear on the screen and he could point out the problems, make an adjustment or two, shoot another image, and we could see the results and why he made the changes. It was almost as good as working with the camera yourself. In a beginning photography class, how could an instructor NOT use such a tool?
- Creativity. Bill told me that he wanted to take a chance and try some different things for his final project, but was unwilling to do so because of the limitations of film. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes because of the cost and time involved with film. He is right. With digital, he would be able to experiment, challenge himself, and further his photographic skills. He could try different situation, compositions, and techniques. But because he was limited to film, he took the easy way and just did the minimum to accomplish the task required for the assignment.
- Preparing students for the future. The future of photography is in digital. There is nothing wrong with film, but if students are going to learn for the future, and that is the purpose of education, they have to be able to shoot in digital. Film is fine in a an advanced class, but for preparing students for the future, it is wrong.
I will give my final thoughts on this in my next post, but until then I welcome your opinions and thoughts.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 7 comments
In my last post I described a situation at my friend’s university where the photography teacher was requiring students in a beginning photography class to use B&W film. I think this is a travesty.
Here are two advantages of using a DSLR in a beginning photography class:
- Expense. If a student can even find a film camera, it isn’t going to be cheap. Buying and developing film isn’t cheap. I am assuming that students go into a photography class because they have a camera and want to learn how to be better photographers. Forcing them to use film is counterproductive to that goal. And making them better is the goal of education.
- Instant feedback. By using a digital camera the students are able to get an idea if the adjustment to the camera or lighting or composition worked. If the assignment is to take a picture using a shallow depth of field, the ability of a student to look at the LCD on the back of the camera and see the results instantly is an education. They can make an adjustment and try to capture the image again, getting instant feedback on their input. If the students are forced to use film, they have to wait for the lab to get the film developed and back before they have any idea if their technique worked.
I consider these two points the most important issues for not using film in a beginning photography class. Remember, a beginning photography class is supposed to be about learning the art and craft of photography. Anything that can be used to help the students progress toward achieving that goal.
I’ll be writing more about this tomorrow.
I encourage your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to leave them below.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 2 comments
I have an ex-student of mine, Bill (not his real name) who is attending Cal State San Bernardino and taking a basic photography class. We were talking the other day and we started to discuss what he was doing in class.
I found out that his instructor REQUIRED that all work be done on B&W film. I find this offensive. I might not be a great photographer yet, but after 21 year in the classroom, I know something about teaching. To use film in this day and age in a beginning photography class is a crime.
Don’t get me wrong. I think film is cool. I used to use it. I liked it. I don’t want to use it again. I am fine with people who do. This is NOT a criticism about film or a anti-film rant. It isn’t even about film vs. digital. It’s about photography teachers who are unable to accept a better teaching tool because they, like the dinosaurs, are unable to adapt. Specifically, it is about film vs. digital in a BEGINNING photography class.
With proliferation of DSLRs in the market place and the instant feed back it gives the photographer, using film in an educational setting is detrimental to the students. Using a digital camera in a beginning photography class would further the education of the students so much more than using a film camera and isn’t that the goal of a photography class?
I am not shying away from this, but I have not (and will not) contact the individual directly. I am more than willing to discuss it with him if he wants to contact me.
I will be discussing this further over the next few posts and I welcome your comments and thoughts on this subject.
Posted 3 years, 8 months ago at 8:00 am. 2 comments