This guest blog post is by JT White, a street photographer based in Seoul, Korea.
JT: I get asked a lot about film versus digital.
I use both film and digital cameras. Which, depend really depends on a lot of things. It can depend on my mood or on the lens I want to use. I don’t think I really have much of an aesthetic style as opposed to a way of shooting. I decide what camera to use depending on what I have and what my subject is going to be.
That being said, there are some obvious pros to both. You can take the pros of the one as a con of the other. I’ll highlight five things I like about both.
Pros of Digital:
1. You can shoot as much as you want
The first obvious pro to digital is the fact that you can shoot as much as you want. Like with any kind of skill we get better through repetition. Buy a digital camera and you can shoot as much as you like. Currently I have a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and when I’m shooting a scene I take 5-10 photos nearly every time. Different angles, portrait and landscape, closer and wide, flash and no flash. Whether I like to admit it or not I’m way to cheap to do this when I’m shooting film.
The second pro with digital is that it is immediate. You can see right away if you’ve got things right or not. Not only that, but for working photographers they can get their photos to clients right away. When I am taking photos for someone other than myself I almost always shoot digital. It is just more convenient.
The third positive about shooting film is flexibility. I shoot almost primarily in black and white, but there are occasions where I am happy to have a colour version of a photo. There are times when I see something while shooting film that I just know would be better in colour so I almost always end up not taking a photo at all. If I was shooting digital I would always have the option to go either way.
Believe it or not, shooting digital is mostly cheaper than film. Sure, you can pick up a cheap film camera and lens and get better results than a similarly priced digital camera. That said, for the amount of money I spend on just film alone over a year I could probably by quite a good digital camera that will last for years after.
5. You can simulate the look of film
The last reason for digital is that the “film” look is no longer unattainable with a digital camera. Tools in Lightroom and with presets from companies like VSCO it is completely possible to make digital photos look like film. I’m not talking crazy filters and holga stuff.
When I worked on my project, “The Culture” I shot it both on film and digital. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to mimic the look of the Neopan pushed to 1600 that I was shooting in the Ricoh/Leica.
After spending a bit of time with one file in Lightroom I was able to make it look close enough to the film so as not to upset the flow of the project. I usually find older digital cameras take to looking more like film. I have an ancient Sony point and shoot that I found under the seat of my Aunt’s car that I used for this photo. I find it to be pretty close to what I get from a film Ricoh stopped down.
The Benefits of Film:
1. It helps the editing process
As a bit of a disclaimer, I am probably a bit biased in this direction as most of what I shoot is film. That aside, the first and major reason I personally shoot film is the simple fact that I’m shit at editing (judging my best work). When I shoot digital, I have a really hard time not loving the photos I took the day of and then hating them the next day.
They are usually shit photos in any case, but if I shoot them on film then the time between shooting the photo and seeing it is great enough that any attachment I had to the “moment” is gone. It really helps me to edit what I post from an objective eye. I try and shoot with my gut but edit with my brain. I’m still learning this, and I’m much better when shooting film. You might say I can just do the same with digital photos and that is true but it requires discipline I don’t have. If you’re honest with yourself I’m sure most are similar.
2. You think more
The second pro for film is that it makes you think a lot more when shooting. When shooting digital I’m firing away because I know my Kimbab (Korean staple) money isn’t being ripped away with each frame. With that being said, I have to think a lot more about the composition I want and how I can achieve what I need in the fewest possible frames.
Where I might shoot 10 with a digital camera I’d shoot more like 3 with a film camera. And to be honest, if it is a once in a year kind of situation I’ll sometimes shoot half a roll or more. It really pisses me off when I don’t get what I want from one of those photos.
3. Less is more
Above I mentioned flexibility as a pro for digital. In a lot of cases, I think this can also be a con. One of the things people struggle with is developing a style or a cohesive look to their body of work. Shooting with a single film will take give you a singular voice. I think this is especially a good thing when working on a project. While I said I could mimic the look of pushed Neopan for a project I worked on it still bothers me that I had to do that.
Most “great” photographers have a similar look to their work while most amateurs go in all different directions. I think, for the most part, film can help keep things cohesive. Sometimes it really annoys me when I have a digital photo and I can’t decide how I want it to “look.” I really like that with film I have what I have and that’s that. Again, I suppose this is a question of discipline but as I said before I don’t have much.
Film might be more expensive than digital, but find me a full frame digital camera that is the size of a Ricoh GR(1,1S,1V,21) or a Contax T that has a viewfinder with shooting information and is as light as either. You can’t, it is as simple as that. The photos I take with a Ricoh film camera has full frame depth I can’t get from a compact digital camera.
The Sony RX whatever it’s called is small but nowhere near as small as a Ricoh GR1V. I’m sure someone will comment here about how their digital full frame (or close) camera fits in their pocket. Maybe true, but I’d like to think I have some years left yet before I start rocking ridiculous trousers or a photographer’s vest.
5. It is film
No matter what I said before, while it is possible to get a similar look with digital it is impossible to do it perfectly. People will call me a hipster or something of the sort but I still think the photos I take on film have something I can’t get in digital. Also, film is tangible. I feel like I’ve created something physical when I look at a negative, especially one I’ve developed myself.
Whether or not you can shoot film full time it is something that every photographer should try. While you may be able to copy a “look” you most certainly cannot copy a “feeling.” The feeling I mean is my own. As a photographer I think it is very important that your photos mean something to you. How you took it has a lot to do with that.
I guess the moral of the story is it doesn’t matter much what you use. Weigh the pros and cons of each yourself and see where you end up. Or, be like me and do a little of both. Shoot with whatever makes you want to get out and shoot. For me, that’s film because it keeps me away from the computer. For you, maybe it’s different. It doesn’t matter much as long as you’re out there taking photos.
More articles on Film
If you are interested in learning more about film, check out the articles below:
- Why Digital Is Dead For Me In Street Photography
- An Introduction to Shooting Street Photography With Film
- 10 Reasons Why You Should Shoot Street Photography With Film
- Introduction to Darkroom Film Developing and Printing
To learn more about JT you can also check out my interview with him on the blog here.