A tale of two images: film vs digital

So here it is, a tale of two images: film vs. digital. Well not really, but it is a representation of two images, same scene, very similar composition, same lens and two very different mediums. 35mm film vs. 35mm digital, both shot with a canon back (5dmkii and 7ne) and the canon 24-105L. Obviously the film image was digitized for representation here but the characteristic of the film vs. digital is very apparent. Film choice was expired Kodak Pro Image 100, not my film of choice but what was loaded and I tend to like it for the most part though Portra and Ektar are much better choices. This isn’t a “film is better” or “digital is better” post but rather to show the differences in visual representation of a natural scene in color (c41 film vs. digital). No medium is best, IMHO, because neither “sees” the way our eyes do. It is all a representation. It is not about detail, sharpness, saturation, contrast, etc, etc, but rather all of those together and none of those. It is how pleasing the image is to YOU, how pleasing it is to ME, the experience of taking the image, vision of the artist/photographer, and preference. So first I will start of with the digital image.

Kabetogama Lake at sunset, July 2019, Voyageurs NP

So I was really pleased with the above image. This was a very intentional shot as I knew based on cloud coverage the sunset would be very nice. I had shot from this location earlier in the week, trying out numerous compositions and really liked this. I wanted the image to represent the grandeur that I experienced, accurately represent (to the best of my ability) what I saw, and I also wanted an image that would appeal to the most people which in today’s world apparently is a hyper saturated image. Luckily the natural scene was hyper saturated. But wait a second! This isn’t a single image but 3 combined. The range of EV was too much for my sensor to read as digital sensors are linear. Even the newest sensors could not put out the above image without extensive post processing on a single image. I knew this and planned for this. I bracketed my images, stacked them in post and went to work on both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for finishing. The result was what I wanted but the experience was not as enjoyable to me as I knew I would have to spend time with digital manipulation to achieve final result. This was a very deliberate capture and presentation. Now on to image #2.

Lake Kabetogama, July 2019, Voyageurs NP captured on Kodak Pro Image 100, 35mm film.

At first glance, the image lacks shadow detail, not quite as saturated nor as detailed. However, I keep going back to this image. I am not sure why. Maybe because it is not real but a representation. Maybe because I grew up with film images, maybe because it is as real as a memory (not exact), maybe because the image seems more mysterious, maybe…..I am not sure why. Any who, the experience was completely different. Exposure was guessed by overexposing 2 stops. Color film negatives roll off the highlights so I was fairly certain my highlights would be fine. Not possible with digital. I handheld this and used the lens stabilization to my benefit. It was a grab shot. I didn’t know what I had until I processed and scanned this. And then that was about it, just some light touch ups in Lightroom. This is it.

So which do I prefer. Well, I like both for different reasons but for myself, I prefer the film capture. This is personal preference and one of the reasons I shoot so much film. I would love to hear your preference though so chime in on the comments if you care to.

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