Digital Cameras And Film Cameras
Digital Cameras And Film Cameras
Mark Comon (Vice President, Paul's Photo, Torrance, CA) gives expert video advice on: What's the difference between a film camera and a digital camera?; Why are some people still buying film cameras? and more...
What's the difference between a film camera and a digital camera?
Film uses a silver halide base technology which means we have a piece of plastic or the film base coated with an emulsion with a silver solution, so that when the light strikes the film, the silver tarnishes, turns dark and then is developed to create a negative. The negative is then put in an enlarging machine and printed. That's how we get the prints we see. That's how film works. Digital works a little bit differently in that you have an imaging chip that sees the light coming in, converts the light to electronic energy, and is then processed and saved on a memory card. The memory card is then taken to the computer and then you can print it there. So the bottom line is we have two tools: digital camera, film camera. Both take pictures. If you want a comparison, the way I like to compare digital versus film is you have a synthesizer or you have a piano. One makes acoustic music, one makes digital music. You have a barbeque and you have a microwave oven. One is analog technology- the barbeque. One is digital technology- the microwave oven. They both cook food but the taste and feel of the food is different. The taste and feel of the music between synthesizer and piano is different. The taste and feel of the picture between digital is different because film is a living, breathing thing where as digital is electronic. We generally find in the analog world we have more feel, more soul to the picture where the digital world is very cut and dry. And that's why I feel film and digital will still coexist for many, many years.
How does a film camera capture an image?
A film camera captures the image on a piece of celluloid film. The film is sensitive to light. The light strikes the film, changes the chemistry of the film itself, and that's then saved. It's called a latent image. It's an image that's there, but not seen yet. Then, you take that film into the dark room under total darkness and process it with chemicals to bring out the image, and then preserve the film, so you have the picture. That's how film works. You have the film which was developed, that's then taken to a machine where light is shined through that negative or transparency, projected onto a piece of paper which is then, again, exposed to chemicals and which then produces a print. You have a negative or transparency made in the camera that's then taken to a machine; an enlarging machine, or a processing lab, and printed and made into a photograph.
How does film capture color?
Film captures colour just like digital does. On film we have three different dye layers - sand, magenta, and yellow, and as the light comes through the light strikes each layer. The light is captured by the layer according to what light it is. So, when the film is developed it gives us a full range of exposure; a full range of color, because we have the sand, magenta, yellow. Just like in a digital camera, we have the digital chip, which has the red, the green, and the blue, or RGB pixel. Works the same way, just a little different technology.
What's the difference between positive and negative film?
With film technology you have a choice of two different types of film, positive film and negative film. Negative film is what most people use, which means it produces a negative that we then shine through an enlarging machine to make a print. You shoot negative film when your end product is a print or a photograph. You shoot positive film when your end product is a slide or a transparency. Now why do we use a slide? We use a slide or transparency to make a slide show. We use a slide or transparency when making color separations for a magazine or printing. Or that's the way we used to do it. We use slides or transparencies because it is easier to edit slides and transparencies as opposed to negatives. The bottom line is you choose what kind of film, what kind of output, depending on what kind of pictures you want to produce in the end.
Can a digital camera match the resolution of a 35mm?
If you're talking about raw resolution, 35mm still outperforms digital. If you take a high-quality 35mm image, made with a top-quality Leica lens or a top quality Nikon or top-quality Canon lens, those images, when scanned using a high-quality scanner will produce a file 130 to 150 megabytes worth of data, huge amounts of data. Today, I can take digital pictures with a 12 or 16 or 20 megabyte digital camera and make better prints than I ever could have made with film because of the whole digital technology where I take the high-quality digital file, take it into the computer, process it myself, and print it digitally. The bottom line is, I'm making better prints today, larger prints, even though I don't have the raw resolution. It's amazing what we can do with today's digital technology.
Why are some people still buying film cameras?
Some people are still buying film cameras because of the look and feel of film. Look at the difference between the motion pictures you go to that are shot on film versus shot on video. It's the same thing: film versus digital. Film photography has a life. Film photography is a living, breathing thing. Film pictures have more soul than digital ones. Film pictures have more depth; there's more light, there's more action going on inside the image because film is a deeper, richer medium. You see much more shadow detail, much more highlight detail in film than you ever will in digital. Digital is cool, digital is convenient, digital is hot, digital makes beautiful big prints, but there's a look to film. Are regular people going to be shooting film as time goes on? Probably not. The artists, the serious photographers will, just like in the movie business, still shoot film instead of video, and that's because it's a different look; it's a different feel; it's a different medium.