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Thursday, June 18, 2015


There's a class of photographer that will go on and on about film, and how nothing quite looks like film and blah blah blah. It's very boring, and generally completely wrong headed. These same people in the world of sound reproducing equipment are called audiophiles, and they are legendarily wrongheaded.

The truth about digital is this: as long as your picture can be captured by the sensor, there's literally no way analog is better, and in fact anything that film can do can be replicated (albeit with some degree of effort between a little and lot) in the digital world. Analog simply isn't better.

Did you note the caveat?

as long as your picture can be captured by the sensor

A further remark on this: a modern sensor can capture more tonal and chromatic range and information than film ever could. Well.. not sure on chromatic, actually. But digital is plenty good enough.

The interesting cases occur in both imaging and audio when the underlying system becomes overtaxed. When there is too much scene detail, or too much dynamic range, for the sensor to cope with, the captured data will not represent the scene. Data will be lost. Of course, shooting it with film would not help that basic problem -- in general rather more data would be lost. But, and this is the important bit:

Film fails in ways completely different from the ways digital fails

When film fails, like most analog things, it rolls off into progressively less signal and more noise. The resolution does not abruptly vanish at 4600 pixels wide, it's just starting to be submerged by noise at that point. The highlights don't suddenly blow out to pure white, they roll off into noisy whites, with subtle texture remaining that -- increasingly roughly -- matches the scene.

A vinyl record sounds like shit. These goddamned things are terrible at sound reproduction. But the way they bang up against their (very narrow) limits is different from the way a CD bangs up against its (extremely broad) limits, and a case can be made that it's a nicer sound.

So, ironically, if you're an exposure fanatic, and make double-plus sure that your exposures always fit into the dynamic range of the medium and so on, then film is pointless for you. It's messy, expensive, and inflexible. Fuck film. Film is mainly interesting in the failure case, which is quite hard to replicate digitally.

Photographers, generally, deny being interested in failure cases, however.

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