The film versus digital debate has been at the forefront of professional photography over the last decade or so. As digital technology has seen numerous advances, many photographers have slowly moved to exclusively shooting digital. These same photographers once shot film, now to most of them film is all but dead. Traditionally wedding photographers worked exclusively with film, with most of them shooting a mix of 35mm and medium format, using both color and black and white emulsions. Whilst this is a combination that has served wedding photographers well for decades, it is perhaps not the most viable option in today’s world, for both financial reasons and in terms of workflow, time and quality.
With the introduction of digital camera technology the industry has seen huge changes. These days the cost of film and processing can be prohibitively expensive. Availability is generally limited to a small number of remaining professional labs and prices for film are steadily increasing as the demand lessens and production drops accordingly. Recent years have seen the closure of many film manufacturers and those that do still exist have ceased producing all the emulsions they once did. It is however, not only for financial reasons that one may consider film to be the lesser option for photographing a wedding. As digital technology has advanced the image quality continues to progressively improve. Initially digital camera technology could not match the quality of film, and to some extent this judgement on digital cameras has stuck in peoples minds, and they continue to assume film will be better quality. There is however more to this story. If we were to consider large format film it is true that this can still outshine the quality of digital – the reality is however that such a format is not suitable for many applications, wedding photography included. Thus we must compare apples with apples to make a fair comparison.
The majority of wedding photographers shooting film will be shooting 35mm with a mix of medium format. The current top end digital cameras produce images of higher quality than 35mm film capability, and can be said to rival medium format. Now, if we look at a common situation encountered at a wedding, low light, we can take this debate further. In order to take photographs in low light settings one needs to use a high ISO. Essentially this is a measure of the film/digital sensors sensitivity to light. High ISO film is traditionally extremely grainy – think of the old photojournalistic photos shot on high speed black and white film. This is of course a look that many people like, however some clients may find it undesirable. Unfortunately it is unavoidable if we wish to use film and shoot in low light conditions without a flash.
On the other side of the coin, the current professional digital cameras have come ahead leaps and bounds in their low light capabilities. Early models produced extreme image noise at high ISO’s. This noise is considered an ugly, unwanted trait, unlike film grain which can be pleasing. The current breed of digital cameras addressed this and as such are able to capture relatively noise free images even at high ISO’s. What does this mean? It means even given low light situations a photographer shooting with a professional DSLR will be able to produce pleasing results without resorting to unflattering flash.
One last key factor when considering film Vs digital for your wedding photography is the potential for images to be lost due to error or mechanical failure. It is certainly possible that a digital camera’s flash card will fail, however I personally find having to hand film to a lab to process holds a higher potential risk. It means putting your precious images into the hands of someone who may potentially make a mistake with processing. Essentially it is just one more step in the process where your wedding photographs may be ruined. Add to this the fact that your wedding photographer will be shooting blind, uncertain of if the images they are taking are working or if their camera is experiencing a technical failure then I think it has to be said that digital is the safer option.
Film is a magical material, it has a great “look” and can produce outstanding results. However given the negatives (excuse the pun), when it comes to wedding photography I know I would rather have my wedding shot on digital.
By Sydney wedding photographer Samuel Burns.
Wedding Photographers | Film Vs Digital