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Are Film Cameras Obsolete?
Do You Still Use a Film Camera?
I still recall, quite fondly, my first experiences with photography at a Girl Scout camp when I was about 10 years old. I had a Brownie camera that required the operator to hold the camera mid-chest and look down into a view finder, then press the button to operate the shutter. Now, I'm not that old, but it sure seems to me that we've come a loooooong way in the last 3 or 4 decades with respect to photography.
These days, almost everyone owns a digital camera. Whether point and shoot models, or single lens reflex (SLR), most still camera models on the market do not require film anymore. Is this a benefit or drawback? What do true photographers think of the new developments?
At a photography class in 2001, most of the class was still using film cameras, even though the digital age was well underway. To me, it seemed a "pure" photography experience at the time, to discuss f-stops and aperture, while those few students were "cheating" by using digital camera features to help create unreal shots. Cropping and red-eye elimination were the first advancements of which we took notice. Then, it continued so that digital images could be manipulated to whiten subjects' teeth, brighten colors and reduce shadows. How can photographers using film cameras in a digital age, continue to showcase their talents?
The primary advantage to using a film camera, as opposed to digital, is that you'll have a record of every shot you make. Many digital camera operators review and delete shots that they do not like. But with film, you cannot do so. One of these days, you may find that this is a benefit. When the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal broke, the person with the film camera was the happy winner. Most of the other photographers that took pictures that day had digital cameras and had already deleted what appeared to be a meaningless photo shot. Oh.... what they wouldn't give to go back in time!
When film is developed, you receive your negatives, along with prints. In other words, a permanent record is yours forever. You can use negatives to create additional prints in the future. In the digital age, you must request a CD or DVD on which to store your images. Many people risk losing a significant number of photos that are stored on their computer's hard drives, and nowhere else, in the event of a malfunction.
Perhaps most significantly, use of certain film cameras and film can produce higher quality, detailed prints. With higher megapixel digital cameras being marketed now, however, the differences between digital and film prints are becoming smaller.
It is said that there are four factors that should be considered when comparing digital to film prints:
- Dynamic range
- Color Quality
Resolution (sharpness and detail) is improved with higher pixel counts. Some people believe that you'll need to have an 11 megapixel digital camera to produce enlargeable prints at the resolution of 35 mm film.
Noise/grain. If you want to avoid noise in your digital prints (the counterpart of grain in film prints), you'll want to invest in a digital SLR camera, as opposed to a point and shoot. Grainy, noisy images may result with higher shutter speeds.
Digital cameras generally have less dynamic range than film cameras. That is, you may get less contrast, and "flatter" prints with a digital camera. One commentator has stated, "Film responds to light with a nice "S" curve--as light intensity increases, density gradually levels off in a region known as the response "knee," which is responsible for much of the detail and beauty in the highlights of fine silver-based prints. It is absent in digital sensors, but as long as highlights aren't blown out, prints from digital sources look fine." - Norman Koren
Finally, with respect to color quality, prints usually do not suffer from being digitized. However, if you wish to make color slides, your best bet will be to use a film camera instead.
What Does the Future Hold for Film Cameras?
As technology advances, it seems likely that film cameras may be completely replaced by digital cameras. I continue to own a 35mm Pentax SLR (film camera) and a Cannon digital SLR.
Admittedly, the Pentax never sees the light of day. Someday, these film camera relics will be worth a lot of money. And certainly many photographers will choose to make prints using both film and digital cameras. Serious photographers often enjoy the darkroom experience of washing, adjusting and fine-tuning their work.
There isn't a right or wrong way to pursue a photography hobby, profession or passion. Chose the camera that you like, and subjects that interest you. You're sure to be happy with the end results.
What do you think - are film cameras obsolete, or will we continue to see artists use the medium to create great photographs?