Film vs. digital


I still hear people say that they prefer film to digital, and I've even heard people, including at least one professional historian, bemaoning the fact that the prevalence of digital cameras today means that more images will be lost, because it’s so easy to delete unwanted digital files. All I can say is these people are idiots.

I have recently been scanning some of my huge collection of film photographs for inclusion in the ‘friends’ gallery on this website. I treat my negatives and transparencies a lot better than most people do. Rather than leaving them in an old shoe box on top of the wardrobe, I store them in acid-free archive-quality sleeves, in a dry light-proof box well away from moisture and extremes of temperature. Nonetheless they are deteriorating. Even with careful handling many of my 20-year-old photos are now covered in tiny marks and scratches, and once-bright colours have faded with the passage of time. It's currently taking me half an hour retouching each one in Photoshop to get them to a point where they are even close to presentable. The main reason I’m scanning them now is that if I wait much longer these precious memories will be lost forever. The only way to preserve them is to turn them into digital images.

By contrast my large and growing collection of digital camera photographs, some of which are now five years old, are as bright and fresh as the day I took them, and will remain that way forever as long as I remember to back up my storage drives occasionally. Sure, it’s easy to delete the pictures you don’t like, but to be honest maybe 80% of my film photographs are utter crap that aren’t worth keeping anyway. As I go through them I’m throwing a lot away because I’m sick of dragging them around with me whenever I move house. With my digital camera I take far more pictures, but I only keep the ones that are worth keeping, and I don’t have to pay for processing and printing of the sub-standard ones. They're a lot easier to store as well. One small 40GB portable hard drive holds around 10,000 images.

I’ll be the first to admit that the initial quality of a good film photograph taken on premium-grade film with a top-of-the-line medium-format camera is generally superior to most digital photographs, but they don’t stay that way. If you want to keep your memories alive forever, digital is the way to do it.