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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Film Vs. Digital


A look at some of the differences between shooting in Ansel Adams’ era versus today

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We’ve succeeded at making things easier today. Not to diminish the skill and accomplishments of today’s digital photographers, but zipping through RAW images by clicking a few presets can’t even begin to compare with the intense labor required to coax the full dynamic range from a 4x5-inch black-and-white negative while making a contact print on sensitized paper. Once again, the variables were overwhelming—paper type, developer, exposure time, dodging and burning, etc. It’s a miracle that so many wonderful, masterful prints were created under those circumstances.

Clearly, we’ve gained so much by going digital. Digital photography is immediate. It has given us the ability to replicate images with 100% accuracy and consistency, and has dramatically created new avenues to share images. And perhaps the biggest gain of all—the technology has expanded the art form and has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to create high-quality results with little or no formal training.

But we’ve lost some things, too—at the very least, some of our ability to visualize how a scene will appear as a monochrome print. Thanks to the immediate feedback provided when we review images on a three-inch LCD, we no longer require that level of perception. We’ve also become less deliberate. We can shoot and shoot, and even fill cards with 1080p video at 30 fps, and then delete 95% later. In the old days, every shot counted. Today, the question is less about what to shoot and more about which images to keep.

Getting Digital Colors Right
When film was the medium of choice for photography, and transparency film, in particular, color management was something that the lab took care of by making sure your slides were processed in good chemistry at the right temperature and by using your filter of choice on your lens. If you took your film to a good lab, you got predictable results. With digital technology, to get your best output, color calibration is a necessity.

Calibration ensures that the colors you record in-camera are the same colors that display on the monitor and, in turn, the same colors that you get in your print. If the system isn’t calibrated, predictable results are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, and you’ll waste time, energy and money trying to fine-tune your prints. With products from companies like Datacolor and X-Rite, “what you see is what you get.”

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