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Photography--Is Film Dead?

Aug 17, 2007
Over the years the popularity of digital photography has significantly increased. This is due to the leaping advancements in quality and the lowering prices of digital cameras.

The quality offered by top end digital cameras has all but matched that offered by large format film. Many argue that what small difference in quality film has over digital is so minuscule that it is undetectable to the casual viewer and only spotted by connoisseurs and fanatics - even then not so often.

The ease of use, ability to check ones work immediately and need for no film has also made digital cameras the "new wave" in photography.

However there are still aspects and advantages to film that not only keeps it alive now, but will likely keep it as a largely in-production form of photography far into the future.

I'm sure that any of you researching what to buy in terms of a camera, digital or film, have stumbled onto a side-by-side comparison online or printed in a brochure. What is not always understood is that in order for the picture taken with film to be put online or onto a brochure it needs to be scanned. The quality of that picture is greatly reduced by this scan. This is even more so the case when a home scanner, versus an industrial scanner, scans the photo as most consumer-graded scanners have a rather low resolution.

However when the digital photo is put into the computer it is put in at the exact resolution that the camera took it at. The film photograph is not "in its natural habitat".

Imagine having two TVs side by side, a high definition television and an older TV. You play a high definition movie on both of them. It will, of course, look better on the high definition TV. This is like a film photograph. If you were to take a digital photo and import it into a computer and open the file, then have a film photograph which was projected onto film paper and held it up next to the monitor, the film photo would be much better quality. This is based off the theory that both photos were taken at there best quality with the best equipment in each case. (Or the worst quality and equipment for that matter, just equal is what is important.)

Moving on. If you were to blow a picture up beyond its size you would loose quality as it grew bigger and bigger. Have you ever seen a low budget movie that seemed to just have a low quality look to it? This is what happens when the image is blown up from its original size to the size of the movie screen. The image probably looked a lot better to the people shooting the movie while looking at it on their much smaller screens used during the actual filming.

Although both digital and film pictures have this effect of quality loss with the expanded size of the screen, digital photos or movies will degrade at a much higher rate. Have you ever tried to blow up a picture on your computer? Once you get to 200% or higher of the original size, the photo becomes far to low quality to be used professionally. This is because the pixels are having to be created by the computer. Let's say that you have a very simple picture that contains only 1 black pixel. If you were to resize this from 100% to 200% it would expand to 1 or 2 black squares followed by 6 to 8 lighter grey squares fading to nothing. This is only double the size and already the loss of quality is greatly noticed. This process also occurs on film as the light is passed through but the quality is not lost nearly as fast.

This is one of the primary reasons that film is still preferred in movies and in still photography when being used for gallery showcases and slideshows. If the size of the screen you will be projecting onto is very large or is unknown to you it is always best to use film so that you have the best chance at keeping your intended quality.

Additionally digital cameras have yet to catch up on the shot speed of film cameras in terms of photographs per second. Now although this is not a feature needed by many, when it is needed it can be vital. Your leading camera companies consumer SLR digital cameras have a top end speed of 4 photos per second while their 35mm film counterparts have a top end speed of 10 photos per second. The cost of the film cameras is also significantly cheaper.

Currently the only two advantages in digital are the speed in which you can view the photo just taken and the ability to directly import into a computer instead of scanning and loosing quality. The price increase on digital cameras compared to their film counterparts is in the ranges of 300-800% which effectively, along with the cost of digital cards on which to store your photos, destroys the argument of film costs. This however is not the case in movie cameras, where the cost of digital cameras is far cheaper than that of film, however most people will still go for film because of the significant increase in quality.
About the Author
Steve Medley is an established photographer living in Los Angeles. You may view his work and get additional information by going to his website at http://www.stevemedleyphotography.com
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