Digital Developments

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Technology
Tags: , , ,

By Riaan Marais

The great debate: old school film photography vs. modern digital photography. Which is better? We look at what some of the professionals have to say on the matter. 

Daguerreotype: One of the first machines used to capture pictures.

Louis Daguerre: A picture taken of the man himself with his own invention.

In 1837, Louis Daguerre created the Daguerreotype – the first permanent image that was an exact copy of the original setting. This was the start of what was to become one of the greatest inventions of all time, something we cannot picture the world without. Daguerre created the first photograph.

Since then, photography has grown into a global profession and one of the world’s biggest hobbies. Technology has made such massive advancements that taking pictures is far easier than Daguerre could ever have imagined. But, a question asked by many of the photographers of the world remains: Which is better – film or digital?

Liz Masoner has been a freelance photographer for the past twenty years, and instructs people at the Shelby County Academy of Fine Arts in Alabama. She raises some important points highlighting pros and cons of both film – and digital photography.

The first thing she mentions is the price. While film cameras generally cost less than digital cameras, you have to keep in mind that with the latter it’s a once-off price. Digital uses a memory card to store pictures and, after they have been downloaded onto a computer, they can be removed to make room for the next batch of photos. Film, on the other hand, runs out. You can only take so many pictures before the film reaches its capacity and has to be replaced by a new one. Also, very few people own their own dark rooms, which are used for the development of film photographs. Without dark rooms, people are forced to pay photo labs to develop their pictures. Digital photos are instantly accessible, either through a small screen on the camera, or by downloading them onto a computer and viewing them on the larger screen.

Many people also prefer going digital, because it’s more compact. The memory cards used in most digital cameras are slightly larger than a cell phone’s SIM card and can store hundreds of pictures at a time. If you want to take as many pictures with a film camera, you have multiple films with you, which sometimes take up space that you don’t have.

Model – Christelle Hurter; Photographer – Leze Hurter. Digital photography allows the original picture to be edited. In this case, the image is sharpened slightly and converted to black and white. This allows for more focus on the photo composition, and less distraction by the colours.

But, some still prefer film above digital. They criticize one of digital photography’s greatest features – the ability to edit pictures after downloading them. Film fans argue that digital photography and editing is less natural than the alternative. Film captures a moment purely and it can not be changed. So, it seems that this preference is based more on nostalgia than convenience.

“In the war of film photography versus digital photography, it seems to be a love it or hate it proposition. Either you love digital photography and hate film photography, or you hate digital photography and love film photography”, says Masoner.

“For me, the advantages of digital cameras have overcome the disadvantages of the earlier models”, says Tom Dempsey, a widely published photographer who has worked with well-known publications like National Geographic and the Wilderness Travel Catalogue. Tom started out with film cameras in 1978 and switched to digital in 2003. He prefers digital because it’s compact, and because of its editing capabilities, yet he doesn’t discourage people from using film cameras. “Some photographers prefer film for artistic reasons. You have to go with the tools that work best for you.”

“Good photography comes from your skills, not from your camera. Just like a virtuoso violinist can make any violin sing, but a great violin won’t make a beginner play any better”, says Dempsey.  

For more information about Liz or Tom, and any of their photographs, visit their website: 


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