Film Vs. Digital comparison

Interesting comparison of film verses digital. This is an extreme crop of a portrait from a series of images I am working on of Rembrandt era art. Same lighting, but obviously different focal lengths due to format…6×8 film verses 6×4.5 digital. The film capture is straight out of the scanner and unaltered.
The digital capture has been sharpened, levels adjusted and saturation added. (enlarged slightly to match the film scan size.) The dimensional qualities and nuance of color from the film image always amazes me when compared to digital. You be the judge!

Storm copy

13 responses to “Film Vs. Digital comparison

  1. with all due respect, at this picture size I think even a Canon 5d can get the same result as the scanned film. If you like, you can send me the two files and I’ll post the results.

  2. While I prefer the look of film shot here, one could argue that the digital image is actually more life like contrast and the film shot has typical S Curve contrast of film.

  3. I like the film version here…much better in my opinion, but there’s really no going back for me…I still have around 10 rolls of Velvia in the freezer that I’ll never use, but just hate to get rid of it!

    • Agreed Simon…Capture one is great. Unfortunately it doesn’t support Hasselblad RAW files. The file was processed in Hasselblads Phocus. Obviously no great pains were taken with either file. More of a simple comparison of starting points.

  4. It looks like the digital copy just needs a little editing. The film copy does look a lot better, but I feel like this is an unfair comparison because the digital one hasn’t been edited to match the film one. It’s not difficult to achieve, and digital is cheaper and more efficient to produce, so I don’t see the benefit of film yet. /

    • True that! The digital version could use a bit of editing to get it closer to the film version. Conversely I could spend the same time on the film version and make it even prettier. What you may be missing is the dimensional quality of film vs. digital as well as the nuanced colour. Something I have yet to duplicate with digital files. I am not knocking digital…trust me 99% of what I do is digital and it truly is a remarkable technology. I do feel film is something all photographers should play with now and again. Well worth the extra effort and cost. You’re digital work will benefit as a result.

  5. Well, for the final result, I definitely prefer the digital image. The film exhibited a lot of noise on background. The sharpness is just not there. The skin is a bit too red (which I did not expect).

    The digital image looks “flat” and some of the highlights on white fur are poorly exposed. The digital capture actually shows more details that can be resolved (look at how you can easily see strands of hair). With RAW processing, highlights should be easily recovered.

    I did post processing and the digital image came out way much better and cleaner. The film does seem to show more “depth” but I am not sure how much is attributed to the angle of his face – he looked more toward the camera in film while looking a bit away in digital image.

    I sure enjoy looking at various film vs digital comparisons on the internet.

    • Jeff, Thank so much for your comment…haven’t been on here in a while so sorry for the delay. On this comparison I felt showing images with default settings was the best way to level the playing field. This way there would be no bias introduce in the processing of the film scan or RAW file. I would agree with you on the resolution/sharpness of digital as it will out-resolve film at least in this comparison and with the size neg that was shot. Resolution is a funny thing really…I generally never need what the camera is capable of..nice to have though for sure. A rather interesting illusion is that when I dive into a film image after scanning you are correct…it lacks that sharpness we are all accustomed to with digital captures,especially while pixel peeping. But when I print out the images side by side the film image has a perceived sharpness as good or even better than film. Probably the 3 dimensional aspect of film is what is creating the illusion. I am speaking not of “depth” as mention but more to the 3 dimensional qualities of film and forgive me as this is the closest way I can describe it. Digital although really good always seems to be lacking a bit of this. Of course carefully processing the image in Phocus and further enhancement in photoshop you would expect the digital image to get much better and it does. As well, I can spend the same time on the negative scan and it only gets better. The digital exposure was spot on and none of the highlights were clipped as you mention so there was plenty to work with. I basically processed the images with default scan settings with the film and default Phocus settings for the RAW (it was shot on Hasselblad). Film grain, not noise is what you are seeing in the background…but like noise, film grain is easily cancelled with noise suppression software. There is generally no need to unless working with the smaller formats and even then I like the look. I think the grain may also lend itself to the organic feel of film compared to digital. Another area i find a bit lacking in digital is color. It is incapable of capturing the nuance of color like negative film. Since this test I have spent months comparing film to digital and have spent countless hours working on my scanning skills and a workflow for converting negs to positive images in photoshop. Yanking out every drop of color possible…and I didn’t leave digital out either as i spent an equal time with the digital comparisons trying to get the same is just not there. It is close enough but no real comparison. For personal work and demanding clients I will only use film, (okay…not always but 90% of the time when the project warrants it…especially people and landscapes) If you get a chance or are in a position to do your own tests with film I would highly suggest it. Even if you don’t adopt a film based capture routine it is time well spent learning and shooting.
      don’t get me wrong here…I love digital and certainly not bashing it or those that use it (myself included). It may be more of a personal preference having spent most of my career shooting film. Another positive is really good film cameras are super cheap and I’ve used the same cameras for years!
      All that being said I have come to the conclusion that film/digital comparisons are like comparing macintosh computers to pc’s. It always stirs the pot. After having spent a lot of time with film I have drawn my own conclusions and I think it comes down to personal preference really. I would urge any photographer especially younger ones who have no experience with it to give it a try. A bit more work but in my mind well worth it! If you go down this road let me know..always happy to share my color neg workflow with anyone who is interested.

      • Your comparison is quite interesting. Just a few thoughts to share.
        Film and digital really two different mediums. Each belong in its own space. Just curios, what scanner did you use?
        I do not believe that any digital camera really capture the same resolution as a quality film of the same dimensions. The challenge is transferring that detail to the digital world. Unless you really use superior scanning technology the comparison of digital capture versus the digital scanned copy of what is in a negative is questionable. Would be interesting to do a chemical print enlargement with a high quality enlarger and compare that to a digital print.
        Just another interesting article:


      • Thanks for your comment! I use a Nikon 9000 with Silverfast scanning software. Always looking to upgrade as I do believe a drum scan is superior. That being said I am making do with what I have. I’ve been making much progress since this post with regard to scanning technique and workflow. I’ll be posting more on the subject in the near future. You are correct…digital and film. 2 vastly different mediums to the trained observer.

      • Thanks for posting this message and my apologies for the late reply…been a very busy summer here. I’ll be posting more thoughts on shooting film and in particular, scanning and post workflow. Stay tuned!

      • Thanks for reading. I sure know what you’re saying. I am pretty good at guessing which is film and which is digital but I’ve been fooled a few times. I am 42 so film was quite common when I was younger. I was actually skeptical that a digital camera would do as good as film until I got Canon 20D and realized that if I am going to print a full page photo and its resolution is 300ppi, the difference is hard to tell. I was astonished how good it looked compared to my 35mm camera (also I had APS camera which was terrible – and remember disc camera? haha ).

        But I do think film holds a significant lead when it comes to handling highlights and that is what makes it so appealing, maybe? How the highlights just “rolls” gracefully… or that film is actually less sensitive to light compared to digital sensor (it responds to light in a linear fashion while film responds to light in a curved fashion). Like I said, the digital image looks “flat” to me and a bit “cold” while the film looks like it has depth – maybe more deep colors (learning toward red/yellow).

        It’s funny considering that we have all that “analog craze” with Instagram and “analog” filters emulating old film looks … people seem to love those effects.

        Regards and thanks for posting your film vs digital images. I enjoyed it.

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