Film is dead. Well, maybe it’s on life support according to some experts.

In April, the British Journal of Photography reported that Fujifilm had plans to drastically increase the retail cost of its film. Most professional film will now be twice the price. That may mean that film photography will become a true niche art form. And if it’s a niche art form, does that mean that digital is professional photographers’ saving grace, or a security blanket for faux artists?

Clearly, the debate continues.

A few years ago a friend of mine displayed his latest personal project in Nashville’s largest art museum. As Whitney and I viewed his show, a couple entered the room. They were excited to see a photography exhibit, until the man exclaimed to his girlfriend and everyone else in the room, “That’s the problem with photographers today; they all use digital. Look! You can see how horribly pixelated all these images are! Film is so much better!” He proceeded to storm out of the room after viewing only one print.

What he failed to realize was that all of the photographs in the show were captured on film. He was not viewing enlarged pixels but rather the grain that film naturally yields. If he had walked just a bit farther into the exhibit, he would have seen the Holga camera used for the project, which was on display as part of the show.

When it comes to art, there have always been heated debates about what makes each medium superior. Film vs. digital; vinyl vs. CD; oil vs. acrylic; electric vs. acoustic.

With Fujifilm’s announcement, the the film vs. digital debate reemerged as a popular topic across photography forums and community groups.

These debates have always baffled me. As an artist, is your goal to be a unique and creative individual? If so, why would you confine yourself to one medium and expect the rest of the world to do the same?

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Medium” as “a means of effecting or conveying something.” When we engage in any of the debates listed above, we are debating the best way to deliver an artist’s vision, idea and message? Sometimes a certain medium will enhance the idea and message. Sometimes the medium has no effect at all and should not be a concern.

Before deciding whether film or digital is better (for you), consider the following:

  1. Decide what your vision, idea and core message are. This is the most important property of your art. An art piece without any thought or emotion behind it does not connect with any viewer.
  2. Learn your craft. If you don’t know how to use your camera and can’t create a great photograph, it doesn’t matter which medium you choose. A bad photograph is a bad photograph, whether it’s captured on film or on a CF card.
  3. Familiarize yourself with different media. Don’t just take your friends’ word for it. Learn about the specifications to find out technically which may be better for creating your art. Don’t just rely on scientific reports or community chatter. Take time to experiment with different forms of media and decide which ones are best for you.
  4. Decide if it fits your business model. If you’re trying to make money as a photographer, which media work best for your model? Which media make you more efficient and lower your overhead?
  5. Don’t think your favorite medium is “the best” medium. The man in the art museum was so convinced that film is better than digital. His conviction blinded him to the art he could have experienced. He was unable to truly appreciate film or discover that he may actually like digital photography better.

If the man in the museum truly was a fan of film, he missed out. His closed mind caused him to miss a beautiful film project, one that was created through the eyes of homeless children on a simple plastic camera that kept things basic and pure.

Written by Peter Carlson

Peter Carlson’s outgoing, laid back, quirky personality is the main reason both brides and photographers love   working with him. Through photography, he and his wife Whitney focus on the unique personalities of every couple as well as the joy and happy emotions that are felt on each wedding day. Photographers find their classes fun, inspirational, and easy to implement. Peter & Whitney run their own studio, Dove Wedding Photography, as well as The Collection and The Nashville Photography Class.

11 Comments

  • ted says:

    I don’t believe that film is “dead” as people still use and love it.

    But this sentence said it all for me- “These debates have always baffled me. As an artist, is your goal to be a unique and creative individual? If so, why would you confine yourself to one medium and expect the rest of the world to do the same?”

    How very true. Artists should be able to create something regardless of what tools he/she is using.

    • Thanks Ted! With the increased popularity, I don’t think it’s dead either. My editor added that starting statement to catch some eyes ;) However, with such a small market, I think it will disappear soon. I used to be an audio engineer and I watched two inch tape disappear even though many of us loved it, we could no longer afford it. Our photography office is a couple blocks from what used to be Nashville’s largest audio tape supply store. They closed shop a few years ago. The vacant building with there sign still out front reminds me every day of a past generation.

  • Ro says:

    As much as I love the “instant” gratification of being able to look at my images right away with the digital world we live in, I contemplate on going back solely to film. I’ve compared photoshoots that I’ve done with film vs digital, and I can honestly say that, for me, the colors come out more vibrant with film without any manipulation to them. Also, I really like the film images more, probably because there’s a tendency to be more selective with shooting film than digital where you can just click the shutter the whole time. I know of several photographers who still believe in and use film even in this world of technology.

  • Gillian says:

    I believe that film is on life support but I have recently gone back to film for some of my projects just to make myself think about my craft more. I recently bought a Mamiya 645 of which I am so excited! That feel of film to me you can’t recreate with digital but I still shoot digital for all my weddings. I think there is a place for both mediums

  • Great post, Peter. The age-old discussion of film vs digital that turns into qualitative comparison (good vs bad or better vs worse) falls on deaf ears here. Both media are simply tools for image making. They serve different purposes, so, to me, they are simply apples vs oranges. Sometimes I like both; sometimes I prefer one over the other. They’re simply “another”.

    You summed it all up well with “A bad photograph is a bad photograph, whether it’s captured on film or on a CF card.” Well done.

  • Film is so far from dead. It frustrates me when i hear people say this because they really haven’t done their research. Peter, now i know you, and i know you wouldn’t half ass a report but before you claim that film is on life support, i’d dig around the photo community a bit more.

    The whole fuji comment is true, fuji is putting their focus in other places of their business. However, kodak, just invested a TON of money in creating the new Portra 400 which has the best color latitude of any film i’ve ever seen. Kodak filed for bankruptcy but their film division is thriving.

    I havent confined myself to one medium because in my opinion there are so many different things you can do with film wether it be how you shoot it, how you develop it, how you scan it, or print it! With so many different cameras giving you so many different types of looks! Man i love it. And its far from dead.

    Jamie Clayton
    FINDer

    • Jamie, if you read the whole of the article you will see that Peter is not anti film. And while film is not dead, the fact is that a lot less people use it than used to- no one can argue that. The point of this is that whether you use film or digital, its the final outcome that matters.

    • Jamie, as I explained to Ted above, I did not write that statement. It was changed in the editing of the blog. I am sure the editors changed that to grab readers attention. I would hate to see it disappear, but I would not be surprised if it follows the trail that pro analog tape did in the music world. :(

  • Rolf says:

    well, I am using film.
    I find it much easier to get the results I like with tools I can afford (currently an ancient Nikon F2 Photomic with – mostly – non-Ai lenses). Handling film camera(s) feels different. Developing is unique and just feeling right. (even when going hybrid: digital darkroom). Might be due to my lack of experience with digital cameras (I have an ancient D70s with a simple kit-lens which I hardly use for more than family snaps). With my current setup I can explore further. I find it significant that I use a fully manual camera so my mess is MY mess.

    Just some thoughts. Looking at images I have posted one might get an idea what I am talking about. (http://rlfsoso.tumblr.com/; http://www.flickr.com/photos/50572182@N00/)

    Rolf

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