Many articles and posts on the Internet claim or disprove advantage of small and medium film format over digital. The two media are very different and it is not completely fair to look at digital with having film as an etalon of the best achievable quality. Here is in a nutshell what I have learned in my almost three decades of film photography and several years of work with DSLR.


Digital gives more faithful reproduction of reality

Some color films are optimized for portraits, some are good for landscape and all have some characteristic presentation. Digital cameras don’t do that. Owner of the GMB Color Checker can see that in a simple test. With a calibrated camera, the colors from the digital system will be spot on, but on film some patches will be noticeably off, no matter how good is the process.

Images from digital cameras are easier to post-process

This allows more flexibility with digital images. Compared to film, digital files straight out of the camera can be flat looking, but they can be easily manipulated without any damage to the data. From one shot one can create Velvia looking picture as well as Portra looking one. Processing actual Velvia shots into good portraits is not an easy task.

Digital photography should be compared with color film photography and not B&W film photography

Some photographers like to argue that digital printing does not allow to create that "Baryta look". Some people say this is not true anymore, but  my point is that you should only compare digital with color film.

Resolution on digital cameras works differently than film

With film, the quality of the print slowly deteriorates with enlargement. The best print quality is achieved with contact print. The bigger the enlargement, the lesser the detail and sharpness. To the contrary, with very high quality lens, quality of digital print does not exhibit any deterioration with enlargement as long as the original image has enough pixels to print at around 300 dpi. The digital image will however start breaking up when the size reaches the limit when there is not enough pixels to print at 300 dpi. When the photographer starts "upsampling" the image, the quality goes down rapidly.

As a result, when  we compare a 300 dpi print from digital camera with medium film print (where the 300 dots per inch come from the camera and not from upsampling), the level of detail and sharpness will look very similar, but if we compare 20x enlargement from film with digital print of the same size, the film will look more detailed and more natural. This is apparently the main reason for disagreements whether film is better than digital or not.


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