Monday, June 05, 2006

Film or Digital?


Dusted it off
Originally uploaded by katzeye.
I was a dyed in the wool film fanatic until I tried digital SLR. I still see the value of film. It has a certain warmth and depth that is not always captured with digital. It's like the difference between listening to a vinyl record and a CD. But the differences are subtle.

Film has a certain, um, sense of permanence, in that every image that you take is on a negative and/or a print. You can hold that in your hand, hold it up to the light, and say, "Ah yes, here is the photo that I took of Uncle Bob doing the Marenga." The only things that can make that image go away would be: fading over time, fire or flood, or having the negative fall out of a box on the freeway while you are moving.

Digital images need to be backed up on the computer, on CDs, on an external hard drive, made into prints on paper that doesn't fade too rapidly, etc. And when one is shooting digital, one is making more images than one can possibly have the time to back-up adequately! I often have the sense that my digital images are not much more permanent than my thoughts. And often enough, I have lost images one way or another, through computer melt-downs, through corrupted files, and theft. I have easily lost far more digital images than film.

But all of these points, and more, have been argued by many. Here is my own take, as a lover of film and manual cameras, and the victim of the theft of my digital SLR.

About a week ago, I got out an old, refurbished manual SLR and loaded it with B&W film. I decided that without my D-SLR, I would return to my roots and shoot film and choose my settings manually. I expected some kind of glorious epiphany, some kind of back-to-the-land kind of simple joy.

While it has been an interesting experience (the smell of film was a fond memory, and I enjoyed the winding of the film around the spool, and then there is that wonderful click that occurs with the mirror), it has also felt like returning to a horse and buggy. While that may be fun, and a kind of novelty when on vacation, it doesn't fit in so well with our present-day lifestyles.

I found myself taking fewer and fewer photos because the joy of seeing what I had just taken, and trying again until I got it the way I wanted it was entirely missing. I was less experimental, relying upon tried and true (from several decades of photographing) compositions, lighting, etc. I was inclined to be more conservative because I couldn't take the risks I could with digital. I had only a set number of exposures on the roll of film, and would need to pay for every one of them when I got to the end of the roll.

It feels like I am simply sketching some ideas, and then, filing them away. With the digital SLR, the idea was there, and then there was the execution of the idea, and the immediate feedback, and the response, "Oh, that won't do at all! Delete that and try it this way," or, "Hey, look at how that one turned out, that is not what I expected, but I like it! Let me try pushing the envelope a bit more in that direction and see how that looks."

With the D-SLR, when I approached my subject, the camera and my eye experienced a kind of merging and they became a team. There was the seeing, the adjusting, the capturing, the editing, etc.

It seems that with digital SLR, my eye and my mind are working in a different, more creative, more energetic way. There is more synergy and more serendipity. There is more exploration, and more enthusiasm for risk.

So, what do you think? Do you prefer digital or film, and why?

8 comments:

kiera said...

you're making me miss my photography classes and being able to use a darkroom!

kat said...

Oh, heh. Sorry 'bout that. Maybe you should take a summer class and get access to a darkroom again. I'll send you my film!

JBL said...

You're right!!! Film DOES have a smell! I didn't think of that before! Wow, what an interesting thing. But what does film smell like, how could it be describe?

kat said...

jbl, I'm not sure how to describe it. It's not an unpleasant smell, kind of like chemicals, though, but not terribly strong. Hmmmm, maybe someone will be able to describe it.

Anonymous said...

I love the things I never get to smell anymore...film, New York, my grandma's house, Nadine, old books in my great aunt's garage and (what is that thing we used before xeroxes? It rolled on a barrell and the ink was blue?)

b.

kat said...

b. Nadine? Did you lose your sense of smell?

Anonymous said...

The smell of film reminds me of when I was a kid. I go back in time as soon as I smell it.

Franco C.

kat said...

Franco, are these good memories? And, you must not be very old, because film is not yet obsolete. But maybe your family switched to digital a while ago.