Film vs Digital

Moving back to film?

Ricoh GR1v Ilford HP5
Ricoh GR1v Ilford HP5

Almost all the photographs on this site are shot on digital cameras. I haven’t shot on film for a long time but I have hundreds of negatives I’ve taken over the years a few of which I’ve scanned and appear on this page.

I used to develop all my own films, both colour and black and white, and whilst it was time consuming, wasteful and in the case of colour, very expensive it was also very rewarding. I gave up on colour a long time ago though. Printing black and white was enjoyable and most of the techniques learnt in the darkroom transferred readily to Photoshop. Dodging and burning, changing contrast grades applied just the same in the analogue world as it does in the digital world.

Of course, digital has many advantages and film is now relegated to a niche market.

However, in the way that vinyl has seen a resurgence in a world of digital downloads and streaming there does seem to be a growing interest in analogue photography. I share this interest and am seriously considering buying a film camera and shooting film alongside digital.

Scarborough 1980's Olympus OM2n Ilford HP5
Scarborough 1980’s Olympus OM2n Ilford HP5

So what are the advantages of film?

Very little in practical terms. I think the main thing in film’s favour is psychological. It encourages slower shooting due to the limited number of frames available. Slower shooting usually means more considered shooting. 

There is also a more emotional involvement with film, especially if developing and printing your own work. Digital can lead to a ‘disconnect’ between the photographer and the image – there’s always the feeling that there’s a computer as the middle-man; whether that’s Photoshop or the technology in modern cameras. Of course this is only an arbitrary distinction – swap the CPU for chemicals and there is little distinction. It just feels that there is.

Paradoxically the imperfection of film is one of its greatest benefits. Digital can seem ‘too good’, sometimes unrealistically so. The reduced tonal range and grain in film images can give it a more human feel. The fact that there are several companies offering plugins and presets purporting to emulate traditional films (they don’t really work!) seems to back this up.

One final thing that appeals to me about shooting film is that the cameras are so much nicer. There is something about a traditional manual focus film camera that that is unmatched in the digital world. Modern cameras have so many features that the instruction books (or more likely the PDF download) run to 500 pages. I’ve never read one yet so no doubt I’m missing out on a lot of useful features that the camera offers. Basically cameras should be simple and intuitive – get it in focus, set the correct exposure and press the shutter.

Olympus OM2n Ilford HP5

So it’s film from now on?


Despite all the above I’ll still be shooting digital the vast majority of the time – 100% of the time until I pick up a second hand film camera. In reality, the benefits of digital far outweigh the benefits of film. 

In the meantime I’ll post new digital images and a few scans (like those on this page) from old negatives and darkroom prints.

Black and white film
Canon EOS3 Agfa Scala

A few more photographs taken on film can be found on my Facebook page

7 thoughts on “Film vs Digital”

  1. Lucas Thompson-Murphy

    Great post. I had an LCA lomo in bakerlight. If I remember rightly it was a leica fixed point and shoot, about 20 year ago mind. A real feeling and clunk when you opened the shutter.

    Wish you well with it.

    1. I think the Olympus OM2n was my favourite film camera, 35mm anyway. Had a couple of TLRs and a Bronica in medium format.

      1. Hi John – I was musing along similar lines and actually purchased a mint Olympus OM2n only last week and so far have only take a handful of shots – I’m not exactly at the ‘enjoying it’ stage but love the look and beauty of the camera itself. Hopefully I may get the bug and begin enjoying the shooting experience.
        Phil 👍📸🤔

        1. I had a few Olympus ones back in the day – OM1, OM2n, OM4 but the OM2n was always my favourite.

          If they’d release a digital version – not too bothered about autofocus, multiple frames per second – I’d definitely buy one.

  2. Somehow, I’m not surprised that your writing is as interesting as your photography. Excellent post which made me think back to the ‘daze’ of darkrooms, enlargers and the smell of fixer. I don’t miss it much, but I agree about the difference in approach. With 36 exposures and the cost of the processing process, I had to be way, way more economical with my shooting. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but, as a university student, I don’t think I could have afforded to practice as much as I have using digital cameras.

    1. The advantages of digital far outweigh the advantages of film, I certainly take far more pictures than I used to. A bit of nostalgia doesn’t hurt though 🙂

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