Why film is still relevant

Using film, thoughtfully, in the digital age

Recent studies show that while most pro photographers have added digital cameras to their arsenal, the majority of them also continue to shoot film. Why?

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Here are three reasons why film—especially print film--is still a very useful tool for any serious photographer.

1. Latitude: Latitude is the range of exposures, from underexposure to overexposure, that will produce an acceptable image using standard processing. Print film has an edge over digital image sensors here. Print film has a roughly 3.5-stop latitude as opposed to 3 stops (at best) for digital. Close, but sometimes you need that ½-stop edge. That’s why wedding photographers still use film (at least, some of the time.) When shooting a bride and groom, there’s usually quite a dynamic range from the details in the wedding dress to the black tuxedo. Film can handle this detail better than digital.

2. Grain: The latest mid- to high-end DSLRs have made great strides and out-do film in the grain department. But sometimes—especially when shooting in black-and-white—that gritty graininess that a film like Kodak Tri-X produces is desirable. Sure, you can add the look to your digital shots in Photoshop, but given Tri-X’s 4.5-stop latitude vs. digital’s (typical) 3 stops, Tri-X wins if you want the grain.

3. You can scan it. In fact, many photographers prefer scanning with a film scanner such as the Braun Multimag Slide Scanner 4000 (shown) and printing color negatives on an inkjet printer because it’s easier than printing them the old-fashioned way. Done with care, the results can equal a traditional darkroom. Many current color films have been reformulated to make them easier to scan.

4. A good quality film camera is dirt-cheap. High-end 35mm SLRs that just a few years ago demanded 4-figure pricetags now cost as little as $200 in the used market.

The main disadvantages of film are the cost of material and processing; lack of in-camera preview LCDs; no new technologies such as face detection and anti-shake; film can be affected by airport security X-rays; and you can’t switch ISO mid-roll.

But there are times when the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Remember that film cameras and film are just another option that you should consider to create top-quality images.


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