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Film or Digital?
March 17, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Can you guess if it's film? Can you guess if it's film? Or digital? This is an old(er) quiz and the answer has been... answered but if you haven't seen it and you think you know your stuff, this is a good way to test it.
posted by SylviaAspevig (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not surprising. They all look digital!
posted by schmod at 8:05 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I missing something, or is it absurd to *digitize* film and compare it to a photo taken with a digital camera? Wouldn't you need to look at actual prints to do this comparison in a meaningful way? This seems like not a test of film v. digital, but a test of scans of film v. digital. That's a huge difference.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:25 AM on March 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


They're all film. Of course, my computer is connected to a slide projector instead of a monitor, so that may have something to do with it.
posted by The World Famous at 8:34 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Am I missing something, or is it absurd to *digitize* film and compare it to a photo taken with a digital camera? Wouldn't you need to look at actual prints to do this comparison in a meaningful way? This seems like not a test of film v. digital, but a test of scans of film v. digital.

Exactly. This reminds me of when I have seen ads extolling the virtues of IMAX over regular-size movie screens (shown on a movie screen) or when VHS movies used to occasionally pitch DVDs as a superior format by showing us a DVD resolution and a VHS resolution, both filtered down to VHS resolution. Um, yeah.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:42 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's in the prints where it really makes a difference. And to people who notice the difference, digital prints are nearly always inferior and sad making. Of course they look the same on a monitor! It pixilates everything. Because that's what it does.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:55 AM on March 17, 2011


mcstayinskool: This seems like not a test of film v. digital, but a test of scans of film v. digital. That's a huge difference.
That's true, but I think when most photographers talk about "shooting film" they actually mean "shooting film with the intent to scan." That was already overwhelmingly the case in the 1990s, before the rise of affordable digital cameras. For better or worse, a genuine film aesthetic, with old-school chemical processes culminating in an old-school chemical print, is something that most of us are only likely to experience in a museum or gallery setting today.

Which is kind of ironic. The history of photography is a litany of movements toward greater reproducibility. But digital has so completely leapfrogged film in that regard that now film is cherished and celebrated for its irreproducible qualities.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:55 AM on March 17, 2011


That might have been the case in the 1990s, when there was a huge resolution advantage to shooting film and then scanning it on a film scanner. You could get more pixels that way than just about anyone except the NSA could afford. Even up until a few years ago you could still do better by shooting slide film and scanning, and the latest generation of slide films were designed with film scanners in mind.

However, since you can now buy a digital SLR with as many pixels on the sensor as you are likely to get off of most films (before you hit the grain structure), and depending on your lenses maybe even more detail than your glass can deliver to the sensor, there's not much of an advantage to shooting film and scanning.

Most people I know who are still shooting film now are doing so for artistic reasons and are actually doing the darkroom processing. Interestingly, this means that I now see more people shooting B&W film than color, since the B&W chemical process is much simpler. Still, it's only a few very dedicated people. I have all the equipment and chems to do B&W 120 and 135 and I haven't used it in a while; digital is just so seductively cheap and easy by comparison.

I predict an upsurge in Ilfochrome once the last of the RA-4 labs shut down (which will take a while, since there are a lot of them) and switch to dye-sub or inkjet or some other cheaper method. If you're going to muck around with chemicals for color prints that's really the only one worth your time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:14 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


A note to all internet critics of digital:
Please remember that when 35mm came out, it was considered a toy and a joke.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:20 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can do it, easily, but it requires much higher resolution than the screen provides.

To be honest, tho, I was looking for grain, odd colors and exposure issues stemming from film processing inconsistencies. Only saw three obvious ones, and a slightly off-kilter color balance threw me on the digital winter scene. Anything smaller than 6x7, and if displayed on a monitor or in a print publication and there's no point to it - digital just wins.

There's still a ways to go to catch up to large format, and advanced black and white techniques allow you to do more than your inkjet can on smaller formats, but seriously. Even low-end DSLRs do creamy skintones to make the most die-hard Vericolor fan weep.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:40 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently bought an Olympus OM-1 film camera and I have a lot of fun with it. Haven't yet done my own developing, and at-home scanning sounds like a big investment, but I like having an all-manual film camera around because it forces me into limitations that help me focus on the image rather than the technology. I still use my Panasonic LX3 far more often than my OM-1, and it, despite not being a DSLR, can produce lovely images.

That being said, I think large format film really is difficult to match digitally, for reasons both mechanical and chemical.
posted by jnrussell at 9:44 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bah, digital luddites! Your primitive pixels are no match for the resolution and reach of my quantum camera! I am photographing you right now!
posted by oulipian at 10:06 AM on March 17, 2011


Am I missing something, or is it absurd to *digitize* film and compare it to a photo taken with a digital camera? Wouldn't you need to look at actual prints to do this comparison in a meaningful way? This seems like not a test of film v. digital, but a test of scans of film v. digital. That's a huge difference.

Yes, but it's a difference worth noting. At the very, very least, film still has a superior dynamic range, which scanners have less of a problem with. Also, film emulsion does tend to produce an image with a somewhat different "texture." We're getting better at reproducing this texture and color reproduction using software, although a lot of films are still shot on 35mm, scanned, edited, and then burned back onto 35mm film for distribution. Personally, I do feel like I can easily identify movies that are digitally filmed. On the other hand, photo software (ie. Lightroom) has gotten a lot better at reproducing the "film look" with minimal effort, and dynamic range is slowly creeping toward film.

Also worth mentioning that filming on 35mm is expensive as fuck. Thousands of dollars per minute. I cannot even fathom what IMAX must cost.
posted by schmod at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2011


This test is a little like that megapixel test, where they said which of these is six megapixels, and which is fifty? But they'd reduced the 50-megapixel picture to six megapixels and then printed it out cheaply at a size too small to tell the difference anyway.

I mean not quite so bad, but flawed in a very similar way.

My personal feelings on film vs digital? It's not vs. in the first place - but there's something personal and powerful about developing your own film and prints. I fully intend to have a black and white darkroom as soon as I have a room for it. But I'll still shoot digital for 99% of the time, and I'll love it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:56 AM on March 17, 2011


film has more dynamic range than digital - and no, you're not allowed to go on about hdr.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:24 AM on March 17, 2011


film has more dynamic range than digital - and no, you're not allowed to go on about hdr.

It's not an inherent property of film to have more dynamic range than digital. The best sensors, such as RED's new 'mysterium X' that goes in their new cinema cameras, have a comparable dynamic range. And if they're not quite there yet, they will be very soon.
posted by gonna get a dog at 11:37 AM on March 17, 2011


I like to get close enough to see the grain or digital artifacts at art galleries just for my own amusement. It's interesting to see who uses which medium, and when. I thought it was interesting how people looked at the colors to make their determination, because I never do that. I guess I've just assumed that color can be adjusted, and is unreliable.
posted by autoclavicle at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2011


It's not an inherent property of film to have more dynamic range than digital

Thanks for your expert opinion.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2011


Yes, we are allowed to go on about HDR. Why would you deny yourself a key tool that allows you to capture the image as you envision it?

And which film? Chromes are very persnickety, and exposure bungles of a quarter-stop in some cases can have a big impact. How are you scanning it? What kind of contrast control do you need to apply to the image? How about acutance? How are you applying it: in camera, in the film tank, or in the enlarger? Which paper?
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:49 PM on March 17, 2011


sgt.serenity: "It's not an inherent property of film to have more dynamic range than digital

Thanks for your expert opinion
"

There's actually a profound logic to this. Both film grain and sensor photosites receive and react to photons. There's no rule of physics (or chemistry) saying that film grain can receive and correctly register fewer or more photons than a sensor photosite.

And, as was mentioned earlier in the thread, modern sensors are comparable in dynamic range to the best film. Red's Mysterium-X sensor has basically the same dynamic range as 35mm motion picture film.

There's also the much-ignored fact that even though film has a lot of dynamic range, you can't use all of it. Film becomes wildly nonlinear at the bottom and especially at the top (which is why it has so much dynamic range, it's effectively compressing highlights). So you might be able to register detail in the extreme highlights, but trying to correct those highlights to a more reasonable level invariably leads to a grainy mess with weird contrast and non-linear color variations, and is basically unusable.

(And yes, I'm some sort of expert.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:24 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, we are allowed to go on about HDR. Why would you deny yourself a key tool that allows you to capture the image as you envision it?

I think what he means is that due to the tone mapping used in HDR photography techniques, the final image usually doesn't actually have a higher dynamic range. It is just able to show information outside the camera's dynamic range. Wikipedia.
posted by Quonab at 10:11 AM on March 18, 2011


While we're talking about "high dynamic range" techniques and the technology from RED, I'll just drop this in here. In short, the latest Red cameras have an HDR mode that isn't just a gimmick — it makes really nice images, not just cheesy ones. Couldn't get that shot with a film camera.

Stu Maschwitz's great blog has more info on how this works.
posted by Joey Bagels at 11:21 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and holy crap, that HDRx shot is pretty amazing.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:46 PM on March 18, 2011


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