Camera Work: Digital vs Analog, i.e. Film

A few days ago, cemaukonen sent me a link to an article taking a position on this subject, so I thought it would be a good subject for today. Since I’ll be referring to the article, here’s the link. I encourage you to read it although what I have to say can stand alone.

I’ve been doing photography seriously since 1959, and intermittently before that. My first publication was a front page picture of the newspaper building fire, for which they neglected to send out a photographer! That was around 1950 or so. Shot with my trusty Brownie.

I spent many of those years doing electronics professionally, but always held dear my desire to do camera work, and in 1974, made the switch. Back and forth, as it happened, both professions had their hold on me and still do.

In 1999, I dove into digital, digitizing my negs and transparencies, and in 1995, acquired a digital camera. The die is set.

I say all this to establish that I have enough experience to see both sides, and even before that, participated in digital vs analog audio.

I am, frankly, firmly established in digital, yet both mediums. First, digital is here to stay. Second, it’s rather unique to not only be standing between two centuries, but between two millennia. I’ll have more to say about this in another thread, hopefully, FDL continuing.

Let me state the obvious. If you do not possess a print, made the old way, to view the work of a photographer, you are seeing a digital version. Even the printed page is a dot structure. It uses some version of PWM, that is, Pulse Width Modulation. That means even the strongest proponents of film have to show their work, if they expect wide coverage, on a screen digitally processed. Which opens the door to manipulation with the digital file. It will be processed, tweaked if you will, to accommodate broadcast on the Web in a form having half a chance of being seen the way that artist intended. That’ s the Achilles heel of digital. I can hang a print on the wall, light it properly and be assured the viewer will see it as I intended. Not so on line.

Nostalgia aside, why persist in film? Well, it has its magic, no doubt. I have certain prints done many years ago, on papers with properties much beloved by their users, or films like Kodachrome 10 which, when it disappeared, some, like Ernst Haas, found what replaced it unacceptable. So it’s not new to some that “advances” in the technology to be unacceptable. In my case, I printed during one period with Kodak paper known as Medalist. One particular image, which I did ultimately digitize, cannot be printed to the same qualities which Medalist provided, and when it was abandoned by Kodak, left a hole in my processing. I wouldn’t give up, instead, I re-learned to see and process within the borders of the materials I could use. I sometimes wonder if Medalist was still available, would I still be doing darkroom? Its appeal is strong.

What I switched to was a combination of an Agfa paper called Brovira, for its cool tones, and Agfa’s Portriga, a warm tone paper that I could manipulate tonality from really warm to almost cool. It was a contender for Medalist. Then they went away too.

When I decided to plunge into digital personally as contrasted to digital output produced by a service bureau to meet demands by my clients, I found a world of possibilities that, rather than shrinking down to a couple of products for which I might hope never to go away, to a process that opened like never before. Now, I can actually use exactly the steps I used in 1999 or what has evolved since. It set certain limitations aside, like now, I can, in b&w, adjust say, the red part of the image as a gray value leaving everything else the same. One could do that with analog, but adding say a red filter to the camera would change everything, much of it a negative impact.

Wander through my site, the b&w images to see if you can decide which was film and which is digital. I’ll give you one hint: The squares are almost all film.


As to the writer’s contention about film having a pleasing grain structure, I refer you to two images in the beach series, one named Ecole Beach 1966, and Crescent Beach Ecole State Park. One is digital, one analog. The analog one is the image which printed so well on Medalist. Can you decide which is which? Ok, I left a clue, the date of the production of the neg. My bad!

A little story about that 1966 image. I used an 8×10 camera the film size being 8”x10”, a fabulous size to produce great prints. It had a serious problem, and that is the camera, being old, allowed a bit of light to get in and cause a streak at the lower left corner. I did a significant amount of work to overcome the defect in the analog, and as a result, produced only 5 acceptable prints for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art a few years later. They got 4 (for a traveling exhibit) I kept one. When I got the film digitized, it was duck soup to fix the error.

The digital one is a stitch from 4 shots, arranged as a tile of the scene, resulting in a pixel rich image. Had I not done it that way with the camera I had at the time, I could not compete with the 8×10 image.

This is by way of introduction to how I see the two mediums, separate but not by much, yet different enough for each to stand alone.

Photo: ©2015Lawrence Hudetz All rights Reserved.

Lawrence Hudetz

Lawrence Hudetz