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Have advances in digital photography now made film obsolete
February 26, 2006 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Oranges & Apples Digital photography is amazing and impressive in many ways, but if you choose it over film, expect to make sacrifices. I've assembled articles here exposing these sacrifices. I do this not to make a case for film, but to temper the popular view that advances in digital photography have now made film obsolete.
posted by Lanark (78 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The linked article articulates very clearly many of the reasons why I am annoyed by the digital photography revolution.
posted by killdevil at 7:32 AM on February 26, 2006


I have to be wary of any article which ends with the words "may God bless you in your photographic journey"...
posted by runkelfinker at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2006


Im sure film will continue on in much the same way as vinyl - with a small vocal crowd telling everyone how their digital media is shallow and pale and lacks the warmth and trueness of the analog original.
posted by H. Roark at 8:00 AM on February 26, 2006


Nothing is perfect, eh? I switched for a few reasons: Getting film developed is a hassle, getting film scanned was a hassle, organizing my shots is easier, and I no longer have to develop and print bad shots aren't worth it. The points in the article are valid, but a lot of the specialty shots were not enough to keep me shooting film.

Digital will only get better with time.
posted by EastCoastBias at 8:00 AM on February 26, 2006


Isn't this all the same argument audiophiles had when CD's came out, just with different terminology?
posted by mkultra at 8:01 AM on February 26, 2006


Summary: Cameras are different, and he noticed.
posted by odinsdream at 8:02 AM on February 26, 2006


Good post - thanks.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2006


Film photography for casual or ephemeral purposes is, for all practical purposes, uneconomical and obsolete compared to digital, and I say that as a veteran of 30 years of film processing, doing my own negative and slide film.

Lanark is correct in pointing out that there are sacrifices to be made, but most of them I've made willingly and thankfully.

I've happily sacrificed fumbling with rolls of film in the dark, trying to get them properly threaded onto the developing reels.

I've happily sacrificed mixing, storing, heating and maintaining temperatures on a poisonous stew of chemicals, and timing to the second how long each piece of film remained in each bath.

I don't miss drying cabinets for filmstrips and the pain of trying to keep them dust-free.

I especially don't miss spotting negatives and prints with a tiny brush, painting in individual spots of missing film grain.

I don't miss losing an entire area in my living/working space to keep an enlarger and all the trays and paraphernalia needed to print my pictures.

I remember going to sporting events 20 years ago, and seeing a literal seas of yellow boxes littering the ground afterwards. I don't miss that, either.

killdevil may be annoyed at the digital photography revolution for his own reasons, but I disagree that it is inferior to chemical photography. It is different, yes. It is more technological, yes. Still, there are more positives than negatives (pun only semi-intended) by any rational criterion of convenience.

Life and everything else changes. We don't make tintypes and Daguerreotypes any more. Who would want to, other than for the the fun of exploring an old technology?

Film still has a place, but not for the kinds of things that most photography is used for. I expect that the digital revolution will continue, and film will eventually become the exclusively used in large format photography, and farther down the road, will disappear altogether. There will still be some who'll make their own film, but it will be for fun, much as there are people who experiment with pinhole cameras and cameras obscura today.
posted by pjern at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2006


Isn't this all the same argument audiophiles had when CD's came out, just with different terminology?
Yes It's pretty much the same argument. I shoot both film and digital and I buy both CD's and Vinyl when I can get it.

Also some comparisons from Photo.Net: Digital1, Digital2, Film1, Film2
The digital shots have higher resolution than the film scans but just don't look as good.
posted by Lanark at 8:12 AM on February 26, 2006


solopsist: It is more technological, yes.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this debate is phrases like "more technological."

I expect that the digital revolution will continue, and film will eventually become the exclusively used in large format photography, and farther down the road, will disappear altogether.

Well, there are people who still do oil painting, woodcuts and lithography, both for fun and as professional artists. I'd even argue that pushing off the majority of snapshots and professional photography onto digital could result in a creative renaissance for chemical photography.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:20 AM on February 26, 2006


The arguments made in the first link are mostly strawmen, and don't apply to digital SLRs. Most of the arguments are made regarding cheaper point and shoot digital cameras.

The only issue I'm really concerned about is the longevity of the media. Yes, you need to be more conscious of how you archive digital photos. You can't just throw the negatives in a shoebox and forget about them. You really should commit to moving your archive to a different format occasionally.
posted by mach at 8:26 AM on February 26, 2006


Currently, it's hard to find a CCD that can capture the dynamic range and saturation of, say, Fuji Velvia 50 film. I am an amateur photographer, but I go to the Baltimore Camera Club every Thursday evening and listen to people who've been shooting film for 20+ years, and guest lecturers who actually make money with their photography. Refreshingly, none of them have a sectarian view of the two media; they just use what's best for the job. They all tend to say the same thing - when a single RAW digital image meets or exceeds the quality of the best film, they'll happily switch. Until then, film is the clear choice for them to get exactly the image they want.

It should be noted that one can currently achieve the dynamic range of film by bracketing and then combining the digital images using savvy software. It's a lot of work, but it's possible if you really want to make it happen.
posted by sidereal at 8:26 AM on February 26, 2006


There will always be professionals who need that film thing, whatever it is, but unfortunately photographers who make money from their photography are a tiny, tiny niche market compared to the teeming millions of amateurs for whom digital really has made film obsolete.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:27 AM on February 26, 2006


lanark - showing completely unrelated shots, some of which are digital (and happen to look bad) and some of which are film (and happen to look good) is a poor test of the quality of film versus the quality of digital. Where's the proof that the film shots a) weren't corrected after the shot, b) weren't shot by a more skilled photographer, or c) weren't shot on much higher-quality equipment?

I could just as easily post an arbitrary set of 4 photographs where the 2 digital shots look better than the 2 film shots.

Also, "looks better" is an extremely subjective criteria.
posted by chrisege at 8:29 AM on February 26, 2006


you need to be more conscious of how you archive digital photos.

Amusing Anecdote: Before anyone heard of Monica Lewinski, there was a White House photo shoot wherein then-President Clinton was shaking hands and even hugging his staff, including Ms. Lewinski. 20 photographers were there. 19 of them were shooting digital; one shot film. After the shoot, all the digital people looked through their shots and deleted the boring ones. Only the film guy still had his negative a year later, when Ms. Lewinski made the news.

This anecdote was related to us by guest photographer Tony Sweet. I relate it to you as anecdotal-only. Caveat Filtor.
posted by sidereal at 8:35 AM on February 26, 2006


All 4 shots were taken by the same photographer

Note that the megapixels from a digital camera aren't as good as the megapixels coming from a slide scanner...This is yet another reason not to judge cameras by specifications alone.
Choosing a Digital Camera by Philip Greenspun
posted by Lanark at 8:41 AM on February 26, 2006


After the shoot, all the digital people looked through their shots and deleted the boring ones. Only the film guy still had his negative a year later, when Ms. Lewinski made the news.

This is why you archive the crappy ones in a separate folder instead of deleting them. Disk space is cheap!

Also, the workflow issues are largely solved by automation. You can't compare individually tweaking each digital raw file for particular contrast and color effects to film - you find your settings that replicate the film you want, and you apply them across the board. If that's not working for some images and you have to adjust individually, you'd probably be spending that time anyway, even if the source was film.

The backup considerations are important, but that stuff is getting easier every day. A portable card reader with a CD/DVD burner works wonders, and requires very little effort to back up your cards. You plop them in with a blank disc, and press the burn button. If you're on a trip, do it twice, and mail home a copy in case of theft, loss, or breakage. Try that with film.
posted by Caviar at 8:50 AM on February 26, 2006


re Lewinski anecdote: The photographer was Dirck Halstead

Halstead says he had no memory of the image later, when Lewinsky became a news story. But, he believes photographers have what he calls "lint on the brain." He said, "Whatever we have seen is lint on our brain. It can be triggered, maybe it was the red lips. I pushed the button. It was only a moment, one shot, no other frames of Monica around it." When Monica became famous, he had an assistant search thousands of negatives for the image he vaguely remembered.
posted by Lanark at 8:51 AM on February 26, 2006


I use primarily digital primarily for economic reasons. I can burn through $50-$100 worth of film and processing on a good weekend. However, I don't buy the claim that the current generation (or even the next generation) makes chemical media obsolete across the board. Perhaps the primary reason is that digital locks you into a range of sensitivity up front. If your subject pushes the limits of that range, you just can't swap in a different type of film.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:53 AM on February 26, 2006


Lanark, Greenspun used a Canon S100 and a Canon G1 from 2000. That's a really old article. And, sweet Jesus on a croissant, it's Greenspun. Smart guy, but a wee bit of a crank once he gets his teeth into an idea.

I get better pictures than Greenspun from the CDN$400 point and shoot Fuji Finepix F10 I picked up last summer. I'm sure there are good arguments to be made for film over digital, but that article won't do.
posted by rosemere at 8:58 AM on February 26, 2006


KirkJobSluder writes 'Perhaps the worst aspect of this debate is phrases like "more technological."'


Or "prosumer" (in the article).
posted by signal at 9:08 AM on February 26, 2006




The arguments made in the first link are mostly strawmen, and don't apply to digital SLRs. Most of the arguments are made regarding cheaper point and shoot digital cameras.

Heck, even with digital SLRs the quality differences in the lens can make a huge difference. I have a (relatively old, now) Canon 10D. I slap a high quality prime lens on it and I get rich colors. I put a cheap Sigma zoom lens on, and I can't help but notice the subtly flat, washed out colors. I make that tradeoff when I don't want to be swapping fixed lenses every two minutes in the field.
posted by verb at 9:15 AM on February 26, 2006


Nikon's already made it's decision about digital vs. film cameras. It's not going to be making film cameras anymore. That should tell us all something about this debate.
posted by mk1gti at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2006


.. stop making all but their best film camera body and most manual focus lenses
posted by Lanark at 9:24 AM on February 26, 2006


Point 1 in the first linked article is what troubles me most.

I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer who makes a small extra income via commissioned work and image licensing, and I am extremely concerned about the longevity of my digital shots. Yes, I back everything up, yes and yes I get prints made of the really outstanding shots and save JPEG copies. But who knows what is going to be able to view my RAW shots in 20 years time? Going by the rate of technological change thus far and the total unpredictability of it all, it should be of grave concern to all digital photographers. I applaud Adobe's Digital Negative initiative, but I fear the message has not permeated the mass consciousness yet.

The only silver lining to this cloud is that with so many people producing digital images now, there is bound to be a demand (and therefore a supply) for file archiving and conversion services in the future. Then again, I love putting my shots up on Flickr, but how do I know it'll be around in 20 years?
posted by LondonYank at 9:26 AM on February 26, 2006


Thanks for the great post, Lanark. I met a man in the know in the photo industry (ok, photo processing industry) and he was adamant that after demand for trad films bottoms out it will come back a bit as digital is so 'disposable' and casual. I for one take casual snaps on my phone but other than that have stayed in the retro world of manual 35mm. Until I can get a full frame (16MP) SLR affordably I doubt I would bother. If I had a bit of cash to spend on a new camera and had to choose between an EOS 350D and a Nikon FM3A (a wonder of mechanical engineering) I would go with the latter in a heartbeat. Another thing that annoys me is the fact digital SLRs cannot have their CCD blocks upgraded. What I would love is a real film SLR with a full frame digital back. Leica offers it but not in my budget! Here's to electrochemical wonderment...I hope it survives.
posted by The Salaryman at 9:33 AM on February 26, 2006


I think the difference between the digital revolution and revolutions that preceded it is that as new formats become available, they tend to automatically allow you to transfer your information from an earlier format.

Admittedly, there are problems with that -- loss of data, etc. Yet, particularly for the amateur photographer, this will be less of a problem then, say, when Super-8 crept into obsolescence and video became the preferred medium, or when video plummeted into obsolescence and digital became preferred.

I know a woman who transferred her Super-8 to video, at considerable expense, and recently digitized the video. Believe me, it don't look good.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:35 AM on February 26, 2006


mk1gti: Nikon's already made it's decision about digital vs. film cameras. It's not going to be making film cameras anymore. That should tell us all something about this debate.

That you shouldn't link to an article in a debate without actually reading it?

"All because a maker of small-format film cameras (Nikon) is giving up on their consumer film cameras that no one is buying doesn't speak for all of film. Nikon's still making what they've always made, which is the best pro film camera there is, the F6."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:37 AM on February 26, 2006


mea culpa, me culpa, mea culpa re: link article on Nikon film camera discontinuation.

I second what salaryman has to say:

'What I would love is a real film SLR with a full frame digital back. Leica offers it but not in my budget!'
posted by mk1gti at 9:41 AM on February 26, 2006


Maybe for a pro, film's still best. But for the rest of us, digital is great. Cheaper and more fun.
posted by Sassenach at 9:50 AM on February 26, 2006


I'm a professional photographer. I only shoot digital. I have no desire or need to use film. The quality of the images produced depend not upon the camera, but entirely upon the photographer. I have friends in the business who work at newspapers too cheap to update digital camera equipment that dates back to 2000 or so, but they still produce award-winning images on a regular basis because they're total badasses and possess a mastery of their equipment, light, and toning.

Film must be lovely for people who don't have to deal with a 24-hour international deadline, but as far as I'm concerned digital looks just as good and saves me a whole lot of time and money.

With regards to archives, I have a hard time imagining manually going through thousands upon thousands of contact sheets when I can fine the exact images I want within seconds on my computer.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:52 AM on February 26, 2006


sidereal: It should be noted that one can currently achieve the dynamic range of film by bracketing and then combining the digital images using savvy software. It's a lot of work, but it's possible if you really want to make it happen.

Only if nothing moves in the shot.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 AM on February 26, 2006


Sometimes I'm not that concerned with photos replicating "reality". A "bad" image may be great starting point for something else. After all, pixels are like paint, ingredients, tools of expression.
posted by chance at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2006


Here's a thread on the Rob Galbraith site that delves a little deeper into this subject and if you take a look at the guys participating you'll know they have a clue.
posted by photoslob at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2006


That's okay.
They still make high-end turntables for audio purists to.
posted by HTuttle at 10:11 AM on February 26, 2006


(add an 'o' at the end there...or invent your own sentence ending.)
posted by HTuttle at 10:13 AM on February 26, 2006


mk1gti writes "That should tell us all something about this debate."

Nikon is also big into non full frame lenses and bodies, there is something seriously wrong with the water at Nikon headquarters.
posted by Mitheral at 10:19 AM on February 26, 2006


People, people, Please!

Let us not argue the minute differences between two dying mediums of the past, and instead focus our attention towards the technologicaliness of the future! Two-dimensional imagery!? Hah! I tip my hat only to those who delve in four- dimensional emotographs experienced in the form of intravenous nanobots!

And as usual, I fully expect, no, demand, that the breakthrough in popular implementation be pioneered by the porn industry.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Here are some really nice examples of the capabilities of digital. High Dynamic Range photography. Pretty nifty.
posted by mk1gti at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2006


lanark, those two film shots were on medium format. Nobody's claiming that digital is yet up to that quality for the mass market, especially not a Powershot.
posted by bonaldi at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2006


In other news, CDs don't sound as 'warm' as LPs and MP3s sound worse than CDs.
posted by mazola at 10:29 AM on February 26, 2006


But who knows what is going to be able to view my RAW shots in 20 years time?

Your RAW files themselves? That's troublesome, because raw formats are / can be highly proprietary. TIFF files? I'm willing to bet that any competent photo-manipulation software in 20 years will be able to read TIFFs.

The format issue shouldn't be one. It would not be difficult to create a simple graphics file format with a header (in plain ascii even) that says "I am a graphics file. I am X by Y pixels. Each pixel has 3 16-bit values for red, green, and blue respectively." And it wouldn't be that hard to add in "I am losslessly compressed using the following algorithm () and successful decompression should reveal the following check value calculated using this method..." Arguably, TIFF is already that.

Personally, I don't really give a good goddam how professional photographers and pseudoprofessional hobbyists feel about it, since I am not a professional photographer and have no intention of acting like a professional photographer. Their concerns are no more relevant to me than the concerns of actual SEALs are to me playing FarCry. This, from Lanark's second link, is really all I need to know:

"For novice shooters this instant feedback can shave years off the learning curve. I have never seen folks advance so fast in photography as I have since the advent of digital cameras."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2006


The digicam industry suggests, Now that you own a digital camera, purchase an inexpensive photo printer and print what you want, when you want it!

Well, maybe they do, but they're idiots. The cost advantage of digital isn't in printing at home, it's in never printing the shots you don't want to print instead of getting your film developed and printed a whole roll at a time.

Dump to the desktop machine, drag pictures that aren't shit to another folder, send to ofoto/walmart/whoever for printing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2006


I like this post a lot; started with the last link and worked backwards. Thanks, and thanks for the great discussion so far. This bit about RAW files is infuriating:

Camera manufacturers are not going to develop and implement RAW format standards on their own. Development and implementation of standards will cost them time and money, and it would also keep their cameras in service longer before users need to buy new models. Photographers need to pressure camera makers to devise and implement a standards for the digital RAW format. We are the ones who stand to lose our images and all of the work that has gone into them if this does not happen. If and when a standard is adopted, someone needs to write conversion software so all of us who shoot RAW files can convert the files we already have to that standard. Once converted to the standard, the files are essentially safe from obsolescence.

Adobe has already done some of this work. They have created a proposed standard format called DNG (Digital Negative) and they have offered it free of charge to anyone who wants to use it. Adobe has also created a converter that will convert all existing RAW file formats to the DNG format. So far, no camera manufactures have adopted the DNG format, nor have any offered standards of their own.

posted by mediareport at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2006


Cameras that include RAW formats usually also include conversion software. It's not really a big deal to shoot RAW, bring the files home, convert the whole batch to TIFF or JPG, and save both the RAW files and the converions to CD-R or DVD-R. There will be photo manipulation software that understands TIFF and JPG for the foreseeable future. The camera makers could improve the sitution immediately by just publicizing the algorithms and source code for their RAW converters, and in the long run by adopting standards for digital negatives. Some of the more popular RAW formats have been reverse engineered, and there will probably be conversion software available for those pretty much forever. The RAW situation, with its profusion of formats, is bad, but it's not the insurmountable bogeyman that some imagine.

As far as economics go, digital is cheaper if you take tons of pictures, and not if you don't, it's just that simple. Printing at home is expensive on a per-print basis, but that doesn't matter if you're only printing the print-worthy shots. And commercial digital-printing services are now quite cheap, even on a per-print basis.

Egronomics? There are well-designed digital cameras and poorly-designed ones. Is that really any different than with film cameras, or with any other class of gadget?

The concerns with sensor size and image quality aren't really fair. It would make more sense to compare the quality of diminutive CCDs to the quality of the old 110 cassette film, disc film, or APS film, since those are the cameras with similar size and design goals. They weren't known for top image quality, either.

Chemical photography has been in development (heh) for close to 200 years. The fact that film vs. digital is even a debate less than 40 years after digital photography was invented, and less than 10 years after it became economically feasible, should tell you something. There may be growing pains now, but it's pretty clear that it's only a matter of time before digital surpasses film in virtually every respect.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:36 AM on February 26, 2006


Why choose? I shoot both digital and film. Film still has superior resolution, especially in the lightest and darkest areas of the scene. If you shoot zone system you can get more zones into the scene with film than with digital. Still, most of my shots do not require that extra little bit that film provides and with time digital shots will likely overtake film in these areas. Digital beats film in convenience, until you want prints, but who prints anymore? I can shoot many more pictures without added expense to get just the shot I want and in difficult lighting situations I can dial in the proper exposure right on the screen. As for film, it is a wonderful time to pick up high quality used equipment, stuff you never thought you could touch before. Each is great in its own way.
posted by caddis at 11:43 AM on February 26, 2006


I went digital for night photography. I was trying to get some pictures of a dozen jack o' lanterns on film. I'm sure if I was real experienced at night shooting, I could have guessed the exposure settings, but it's hard to even learn those by experimentation - and still get pictures that turn out!

The immediacy of digital photography tightened the feedback loop from a day to seconds.
posted by aubilenon at 12:13 PM on February 26, 2006


You can argue all day long about the relative merits of film vs. digital. Or you can browse some excellent images and recognize that film can be just as creative as digital.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2006


London Yank said: "I love putting my shots up on Flickr, but how do I know it'll be around in 20 years?"

I recently received several emails from Ofoto stating that since I hadn't purchased any pictures from them in over a year they were going to delete my photos... Put that in your digital pipe and smoke it all you who say that Digital will survive just as easily as film.
posted by Gungho at 1:19 PM on February 26, 2006


I thought it was understood that digital almost always needs a bit of manipulation beyond its "raw" state in order to bring the tonal range closer to that of film...

From looking at the samples provided on those pages, it seems like the digital versions could be made to match the range and density of their film counterparts with relatively little tweaking.
posted by numlok at 1:25 PM on February 26, 2006


Western Infidels: Chemical photography has been in development (heh) for close to 200 years. The fact that film vs. digital is even a debate less than 40 years after digital photography was invented, and less than 10 years after it became economically feasible, should tell you something.

That simpletons frequently prematurely predict the demise of older media when new media become available?

In the decade after telegraph went to mass market, people were predicting the doom of letters.

In the decade after photography went to mass market, people were predicting the doom of printmaking.

In the decade after radio went to mass market, people predicted the doom of newspapers.

In the decade after television went to mass market, people predicted the doom of radio.

The fact that older media tends to find a niche to survive these debates should tell you something.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:31 PM on February 26, 2006


For all you guys worrying about whether your "raw" files will be viable in a few years or decades, don't. The internet has "dcraw", which is Free and supports all the major RAW formats.

ROU Xenophobe: The problem with the format you suggest is that there is not a red, green, and blue value at each pixel. Most cameras use a type of sensor where 50% are sensitive to green, 25% to blue, and 25% to red. An algorithm, such as Bayer Interpolation, is used to assign a full RGB value to each pixel (by combining information about nearby sensors). The methods for doing this are an area of current research, so it's entirely possible that a method discovered 5 years from now (or maybe one that leaves patent protection in 20 years) would improve the appearance of all RAW images, but not images that are interpolated into any RGB image format. I assume, though, that Adobe's DNG format probably stores sensor values, not RGB values.
posted by jepler at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2006


Yeah, DNG stores sensor values. Otherwise it would be basically TIFF with another extension.

To get the most out of digital photography you must learn your way around Photoshop. The trouble is, most film photographers aren't used to developing their color film themselves; they had a lab do it. But the technician at the lab was just as responsible for how their photos turned out as they were. Now they're bitching because their digital photos require development in Photoshop. If they want someone else to keep developing their photos, that option is certainly available to them -- it just won't save them any money; Photoshop monkeys cost money too -- but to complain about having the tremendous opportunity to have such complete personal control over the image from start to finish is at best shortsighted. God forbid people learn something new.

By the way, everyone who does Photoshop needs a copy of Dan Margulis's new book on LAB color. I just bought it last weekend at Powell's and have never before seen such quick techniques for making your photos "pop." The trick is how easy LAB mode makes it to increase color differentiation. You want the Velvia look on your digital photographs? Get this book! He's got some good portrait recipes in the book too.
posted by kindall at 2:27 PM on February 26, 2006


I used to shoot a lot of E4 and E6 (30 years ago), and lord knows how many chemicals I exposed myself to, not to mention what went down the drain.

I've still got a boatload of film cameras, but any longer I grab for the digital.
posted by skeeter1 at 2:30 PM on February 26, 2006


gunho: You absolutely should not consider flickr or ophoto as a place to archive your photos. It's really tempting to make an awkward and unenligtening analogy, but instead I'll just say: Any data that is important to you, no matter what the medium, keep a copy of yourself.
posted by aubilenon at 3:01 PM on February 26, 2006


Image sensor size drives everything else. I know that from the HDTV world, where close technical comparison of the various professional HD formats (1/3-inch, 2/3-inch and 35mm) show how that even at the same nominal pixel resolution there are huge differences in image quality (and by "huge", I mean 80% worse performance at the bandwidth points that really make HD shine).

It's the glass. Bigger sensor means bigger glass. Once you get above a few megapixels, it's not the number of pixels that matter, it's the physical size of the sensor, because that drives the size of the optics.

Anyway, a fool and his money are soon separated, and pixel count will continue to drive the market for another couple years. Then it'll become ease of use, size of display, size of camera, et cetera, but never will sensor size (and hence optics size) become a differentiating factor.

See also politics and the bi-annual trotting out of culture war issues. Certain concepts resonate so well with the masses that we'll never get away from them, no matter how pointless they become. The best you can hope for is that the market continues to provide niche products for those that do their research.
posted by intermod at 3:50 PM on February 26, 2006


Aubilenon, I don't consider those places in the least archival...however many people may just be doing that. I have stated here before I shoot film for important stuff like weddings, and I get a CD made at time of development.
posted by Gungho at 3:57 PM on February 26, 2006


Kindall, damn right regarding Margulis's LAB color. It's mind-blowing. I can make a dull digital image pop like Velvia in about two minutes.
posted by notsnot at 4:04 PM on February 26, 2006


I recently received several emails from Ofoto stating that since I hadn't purchased any pictures from them in over a year they were going to delete my photos... Put that in your digital pipe and smoke it all you who say that Digital will survive just as easily as film.

Uh....


"I recently received several phone calls from the local photo lab stating that since I hadn't picked up my prints even after a year of the film sitting there, they were going to throw it away!"
posted by odinsdream at 4:36 PM on February 26, 2006


*sigh*

It seems that no one else is interested in Emotographs.

Mark my words, people! Mark my words!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:00 PM on February 26, 2006


In other news, people should pay more attention to what they're shooting. Mediums are mediums, they come and go. They are only devices which allow us communicate an idea, not the idea itself. That's why they're called "mediums."
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:03 PM on February 26, 2006


Digital has made it easier for the dabbler (e.g. myself) to take the large number of photos required to learn how to take better photos, especially as (as noted by the article) the feedback from the LCD does also make it easier to correct settings.

But it's really good to read, and to see, the differences between digital and film when used by a professional - I can see definite advantages in using film, though not for myself.
posted by jb at 5:08 PM on February 26, 2006


On Adobe DNG: I'd rather go for a true open standard. Adobe is a company and as such can't be trusted. I'd rather go for Open Raw.

As for digital -vs- film: well, true professionals choose what money making tools work best for them. Some demanding professionals such as John Shaw switched to digital recently, some others decided to move up to medium or large format, where digital is still too expensive for most and doesn't yield the results film achieves (at least for large format.)

The pictures I take now look better than the picture I took 5 years ago. 5 years ago, I was shooting Velvia. Now I shoot with a 5 6 years old digital. But it's just that my picture taking ability improved because I took a lot of pictures. Digital certainly helped me with that.

But do yourself a favor: go to a pro lab and ask to take a look at a well exposed medium or large format Velvia on a light table.
posted by NewBornHippy at 5:30 PM on February 26, 2006


The photons are burned onto the wall:
  • Die-hards hold out as film fades ...Film sales declined about 30% last year
  • Kodak's digital sales overtake film ...digital sales made up 54% of total revenue
  • Canon, Kodak face off in digital arena ...62% of U.S. households now own a digital camera
  • Konica Minolta Announces Withdrawal Plan for Camera Business ...traditional silver-halide photographic market is shrinking astonishingly by the surge of the worldwide digitization. In such a changing world, profits for camera and photo businesses worsened in recent years, and it became necessary to drastically reform business structure for the further growth of Konica Minolta.
  • 2006 Imaging Industry Outlook ...a high proportion of studios are already shooting only with digital: commercial - 41%; senior - 66%; sports - 76%; wedding - 49%; family - 56%. In this same study, 65% of these studios stated that they are using in-studio printing equipment. As a result of the ongoing decline in film orders, more and more prolabs are discontinuing their film services.
  • Is Digital the Death of the Independent Studio?...The last two years the economic climate of the independent studio has declined. Weddings are down by 30% across the United States. The high school senior portrait photographers are seeing a decline in their sessions. One large volume studio operator?s session count was down by 27% in 2003, and another 23% in 2004. In having lunch with one of Minnesota?s leading portrait photographers, they indicated their senior sessions were down by 100 sessions. Why now? What is the cause of this decline?
Film will never completely die—neither have daguerreotypes—but the vast majority of consumers and professionals will continue moving towards digital. It's not a matter of quality, which is only a temporary hurdle: film simply cannot compete with the sheer convenience of digital.

And as film declines and digital ascends, so must photographic manufacturers follow if they want to stay alive. It's a birth spiral.
posted by cenoxo at 7:21 PM on February 26, 2006


For all you guys worrying about whether your "raw" files will be viable in a few years or decades, don't. The internet has "dcraw", which is Free and supports all the major RAW formats.

Anyone knowledgable want to respond to jepler's comment about dcraw? Will it cover the lack of standards issue down the line?
posted by mediareport at 7:30 PM on February 26, 2006


H. Roark: But plenty of recording professions still record in analog, then transfer what's on the tapes to digital. I do a similar thing with my own photos, and the ones taken with the 35mm and played around with on the computer are usually superior to both the regular store prints and the digital photos. And I love talking to the people at the photoshop, including the guy who owns something like 65 cameras and can answer any question I possibly think of (regarding photography, that is).
posted by raysmj at 7:59 PM on February 26, 2006


Anyone knowledgable want to respond to jepler's comment about dcraw?

It's the one that is in the best position to ensure some kind of perennity: its source code is available under the GPL, as long as there is compiler support for the platforms of the future, executables can be made available, output formats can be changed and support for new input formats can be added.

Will it cover the lack of standards issue down the line?

It will mitigate the dangers of not having a standard, and a standard has be be defined by the industry nonetheless. It's good to have open reference implementation and dcraw is in a good position to provide one.
posted by NewBornHippy at 8:33 PM on February 26, 2006


mediareport wrote "Anyone knowledgable want to respond to jepler's comment about dcraw? Will it cover the lack of standards issue down the line?"

It's a bit complicated -- there are two angles of attack for the issue -- adopt an intermediate format that will have longevity or create software that can convert from native RAW that will have longevity. OpenRAW and Adobe Digital Negative are intermediate formats and converting your RAW photos to them today will theoretically put them in a format that will be readable indefinitely.

Besides being open source and free, there's nothing setting dcraw apart from Adobe Photoshop -- it's simply another piece of software that can interpret RAW images in their native formats and produce images from them. As long as the software is maintained, you'll be able to convert your native images in the future.

I personally prefer an intermediate format, and have been converting all of my RAW images to Adobe Digital Negative. I'd rather put my eggs into Adobe's basket for digital file formats than Canon's. This is especially important because of the stage in processing where the intermediate format lives -- RAW conversion is far closer to lossy than lossless from a data standpoint. Every RAW converter interprets information differently and produces different images. I'd far rather be locked into a standard RAW format than a standard piece of software's interpretation of my images, especially since the processing technology is always evolving -- Photoshop has still not evolved to be fully RAW-oriented, as many tasks can only be completed after moving from RAW to Photoshop's working format.

And a quick note about dcraw with the lossy conversion issue in mind -- all of the sample photos on the dcraw site put it against the camera makers' RAW converters. It's more or less accepted at this point that the camera makers' converters are lower in quality than the major RAW software in the market -- a fairer comparison (unless you're looking at it completely from a free software standpoint) would be against Adobe's Camera RAW software and the other conversion packages on the market.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2006


(I'm stepping off the "lossy" description slightly and revising to simply say "You will not get the same image from different RAW converters.")
posted by VulcanMike at 8:45 PM on February 26, 2006


go to a pro lab and ask to take a look at a well exposed medium or large format Velvia on a light table.

I have been fortunate enough to see some 2nd generation Velvia transparencies from these guys and that is enough to convince me that film is still the medium of choice for much fine art photography. I consider myself a dedicated amateur when it comes to photography (I have a D-SLR with a really nice tripod and some lenses) and have come to realize that photography is all about control-positioning your subjects, aiming your lights, manipulating your depth of field (see Scheimpflug Rule). The gist of the links is absolutely right; getting good results when you control the entire process from start to finish takes a signifcant investment in equipment and time. On the other hand, I have scanned some commercially processed 35 mm negatives into my computer, and when I printed them out I realized just how bad the lab had done with the original prints; a massive blue-green cast with very muted colors; this was obvious in the scanner preview even before any post-processing was applied.

Common film formats like APS and 35mm may well die out in the next few years (although no one has mentioned disposable cameras that may keep film alive indefinitely), but medium and (especially) large format film will continue to be available for the forseeable future because both the film and the cameras can reveal details that digital can't.

Of course, when it comes to snapshots, many of the arguments in the articles and this thread are irrelevant. I take a lot of pictures of vacations and family get-togethers and the main consideration there is not that the bokeh looks good or that the color is spot-on, but that you can recognize grandma in her last get-together before the stroke. The same goal could be accomplished with a cardboard camera, a digital point and shoot, or a Hasselblad, as long as the person behind the viewfinder has some idea of what they want to accomplish.

And just to throw another variable into the mix, it is worth mentioning that digital processing is less polluting than traditional silver based film. Of course, there are other options. In lieu of an apology for this long post, I would just like to say that I am indeed a fuckwit who should get their own blog.
posted by TedW at 9:13 PM on February 26, 2006


sidereal wrote "It should be noted that one can currently achieve the dynamic range of film by bracketing and then combining the digital images using savvy software. It's a lot of work, but it's possible if you really want to make it happen."

High Dynamic Range (HDR) images are not analagous to traditional film imaging and such misunderstandings are part of why I've seen people in the photographic community somewhat lamenting the rise of the technology lately. HDR exceeds what is capable in both film and digital photography, and as the Flickr links above show, is inching its way to a Kai's Power Tools sort of fanaticism among certain groups.

If your approach to photography is to capture the exact appearance of exactly what you saw, HDR may be what you're looking for... but if you're taking photos to... well, take photos and allow the camera to add its own piece to the interpretation, it's really important to ask whether HDR is necessary for your needs. No doubt, as the technology improves, HDR will be the "future" and will redefine what we capture and how we do so... but don't mistake it for traditional imaging, digital or analog.
posted by VulcanMike at 9:13 PM on February 26, 2006



If your approach to photography is to capture the exact appearance of exactly what you saw,


If that is the case then you are a photojournalist or a snapshot photographer as described above (I do not use those terms as perjoratives; I just want to acknowledge that some photography strives for an accurate depiction of facts while photography as an art requires some interpretation)

Most people who take/look at photographs have no idea that film, CCDs, and CMOS sensors all fall far short of the ability of our eyes and brains to look at and process images of the real world. The skill involved in taking a good photograph (and which I am finding difficult to learn) is not to capture every detail of the scene, but to capture the one small detail that sums up the scene and can translate the entire 200 degree human field of vision into a 2x3 wallet photo.
posted by TedW at 9:49 PM on February 26, 2006


although no one has mentioned disposable cameras that may keep film alive indefinitely

Yes, it would be stupid or next to impossible to take a digital camera with you on a cycling trip, say. A digital camera can fit into a small pack or pocket pretty well, and if you crash, well, whoop-de-doo, not a great loss. (I imagine the same rule holds for hiking trips.) Also, digital cameras and the average beach are often not a good match. Then you always risk getting the camera stolen in certain locales, so a disposable might come in handy.
posted by raysmj at 9:49 PM on February 26, 2006


I think they've made 35mm point-and-shoots obsolete, apart from the Lomo crowd. DSLRs haven't got there yet. I think the technical differences are academic to the vast majority of folks who just want a picture; digital is just more convenient, end of story.

I've shot 1000s of b+w, 1000s of slides, and now 1000s of digital images, with compacts and SLRs, and film and digital cameras are just different tools, starting points. It's what you learn to do with them that counts, and makes them fun to use, and I think there's plenty of things you can do with film that are hard to do with digital. Currently I'm thinking of working with film again, and thus my dilemma is presently between a buying something like a Lumix FZ30, and dusting off the FM2, excellent 24mm f 2.8, very cool 70s era Nikkor-P 105mm f2.5; and then pushing some HP5 to 1600 ASA, and buying a Nikon Coolscan ED V (which is just a bit pricier than the FZ30). I'm also thinking of learning to do some pin-hole work, and then scanning that too.
posted by carter at 10:02 PM on February 26, 2006


Plus, there's just nothing like zero shutter lag ...
posted by carter at 10:11 PM on February 26, 2006



posted by sharksandwich at 10:53 PM on February 26, 2006


Oh, shit. I just fucked around with some of my images in LAB. Damn, those are some dangerous tools.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:03 PM on February 26, 2006


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