The perennial question on forums, in person, in emails, and at client meetings… Which is better, film or digital? With its inevitable followup, which do you choose to use for X, or Y shot.
And the answer is, like with so many things, it depends. Better at what? Better for whom?
I’ve touched briefly on this before. (Film is not dead) and how for certain photographic needs it may just be perfect. But what I didn’t explain why it may be perfect for your needs too… so more detail is in order.
So first. What are the major factors influencing my decision to use either a digital solution or a film solution for a client need.
- Timeframe and Workflow
- Technical Requirements and Merit
Lets tackle each in turn, starting from the top.
Timeframe and Workflow.
On the surface, this seems obvious. Digital has an absolute advantage in terms of getting the image from the camera, to the computer (and thus potentially to the client). Nobody argues this.
Where it becomes interesting, as we look at the other elements in play, whether the timeframe is really so important.
Yes, it’s brilliant to have images available to review on screen immediately. But do you need this? For some client work it’s very helpful, especially if an art director or client is on scene or in studio reviewing as the shoot progresses. Even off site, the ability to review soft proofs that evening in an email/onscreen to make selects really is reassuring. But that said, many film photographers will use multiple systems of proofing – layout matches from a secondary small format digital, for instance, which provides some of the above benefits (especially with off-model still life and product, or architecture). And the venerable polaroid proof, which fuji continues to provide for large and medium format photographers make that a viable option and can be viewed in situ, or easily scanned and emailed.
To arrive at the final deliverable images, the timeframe for digital begins with the computer, through retouching, and delivery or output. Depending on the extent of the retouching you could have images that same day for final use. Film must add two steps before this for processing and scanning (this can be a few hours, to as much as a day later). This is a drawback, but does at least provide a side benefit (from my standpoint) of a physical master for the images, with some flexibility and permanence down the road. If you need images the same day, film makes it harder (but not impossible), but certainly that would be a factor when deciding what system to use.
The workflow for product and architectural work typically concerns the photographer, more than the client, and once the images are on the computer, the workflows are fairly identical (with some adaptations for scanning profiles and other technical mumbo jumbo). So really you’re just dealing with adding processing and scanning to the mix (and I suppose final archiving of the negatives/chromes, not just digital files).
There are advantages and disadvantages to this addition. On the plus side, you add (as I mentioned) a physical master which can be rescanned to draw more data, or scanned at a higher resolution for larger uses than the original shoot may have called for. Disadvantages include more places for error which can take time to remedy, and depending on the photographers choice of film and process can make some creative decisions more permanent that you would find from a digital raw image.
This last point is where we’ll pick up in the next entry, with a breakdown of aesthetic as a factor. But for a quick look at the score. Which is better? Objectively, on the question of timeframe and workflow, I think digital has a definite lead. If you have a job with very quick turnaround, digital removes two time consuming aspects of the process, which also happen to be potential hiccups (error risk) and that’s good. But if your job isn’t on a same day rush, are these enough to warrant digital as the choice for your shoot?
To be continued.
On a personal note, I’d like to introduce the newest addition to Streetlevel. My son, Owen, who joined us in October.
He’s pretty cool. I think I’ll wait a few months before handing him a camera and putting him to work though.