Film vs. Digital Revisited - Opposites Attract

For my street photography, I predominantly use an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II - alongside this but less frequently, I use a 1958 Leica M3 - for me these are close to being the best cameras for the way I take pictures - but they couldn’t be more different.

Olympus O-MD E-M1 mkII

The Olympus is a very fully featured camera, dependant obviously on batteries but also on selecting the correct modes and settings among a huge array of options prior to taking the photograph, from focus and metering, to shooting modes and shutter options. The Leica M3 has just three things to change, focus, aperture and shutter speed. But of course the greatest difference is the choice between a roll of 35mm film and a micro four thirds digital sensor.

Photography discussions were dominated by film vs. digital some years ago, in much the same way as they are now with full frame vs. “crop” sensor debates, I don’t consider film versus digital now, but some of the old arguments continue to happen.

Today some people are still predicting film will be dead in a few years, although not so much due to it being out-resolved by digital - digital has clearly surpassed 35mm film - but in terms of the validity of it as a genuine photographic medium, as opposed to a hipster fad. Despite the gradual rise in film sales recently, it still results in sales that are a tiny fraction of what they were at their peak.

I think in fact the two mediums can be complimentary - and will continue to be for quite some time - of course photography as a hobby and art form remains popular, it is never just about highest quality, commercial production of images where obviously digital is ubiquitous.

So why film?

There is a different look to film, but I believe this can be replicated easily using one of the many presets available. It has to be more than that. And perhaps the attraction is the minimal post processing needed to achieve a distinct look, particularly with black and white - I certainly have never bothered to try and make my digital photos replicate film.

I still believe film is the best medium to learn from, or to continue to learn from - whilst I accept that you lose the instant feedback and the ability to infinitely iterate and correct as you can with digital, you can focus on the exposure triangle and composition, with no other distraction. Perhaps equally importantly, experience in film developing and printing translates surprisingly well to some of the most crucial elements of digital post processing.

I have written previously about my ongoing use of film from time to time, I still continue to find something special about having a tangible rather than a digital negative.  There is something to be said for the permanence of a negative, despite working in technology and living and breathing backup. There is no doubt that I will be moving digital files from hard drive to hard drive forever in order to maintain archives, when I stop, they stop. And formats, whether JPEG or RAW cannot be assumed to continue forever.

How important is it that the negative contains a permanent chemical imprint of the actual light that bounced off the subject?

And then there is the film cameras themselves. Again working in technology, I do have a love for the escape of a purely mechanical camera, no reliance on batteries. I have yet to find a digital camera that comes close to the simplicity in operation of an older SLR or rangefinder.

Last week I received another small batch of prints from the The Print Space - again something tangible - and there continues to be real excitement about seeing the prints, so very different to “just” being on the screen - maybe this “tangible” is really important.

Predominantly doing street photography - and my way is normally to be moving rather than waiting in one place to build a scene - the speed of good continuous autofocus makes a difference to me, together with the depth of field on a micro four thirds sensor making this a perfectly usable alternative to zone focussing, even in somewhat lower light - there are benefits to digital as a medium and it accounts for the vast majority of my images.

My film photos are somewhat different - probably because they are slower.

Leica M3 and Leica 50mm f2.4 Summarit-M

Using Format