Friday, February 1, 2013

Wedding Photographers: Film Vs Digital

The film versus digital turn over has been at the forefront of pro photography over the last decade or so. As digital technology has seen numerous advances, many photographers have gradually 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 35 mm and medium format, using both color and black and white emulsions. Whilst this is a composition that has served wedding photographers well for decades, it is perhaps not the most viable choice in today's world, for both financial reasons and in terms of workflow, time and quality.

With the introduction of digital camera technology the manufactures has seen huge changes. These days the cost of film and processing can be prohibitively expensive. Availability is commonly tiny to a small estimate of remaining pro labs and prices for film are steadily expanding as the request lessens and output drops accordingly. Up-to-date 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 reconsider film to be the lesser choice for photographing a wedding.

As digital technology has industrialized the image capability continues to progressively improve. Initially digital camera technology could not match the capability of film, and to some extent this judgment on digital cameras has stuck in people's minds, and they continue to assume film will be good quality. There is however more to this story. If we were to reconsider large format film it is true that this can still outshine the capability 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 35 mm with a mix of medium format. The current top end digital cameras yield images of higher capability than 35 mm 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 turn over further. In order to take photographs in low light settings one needs to use a high Iso. Essentially this is a quantum of the film/digital sensors sensitivity to light. High Iso film is traditionally very grainy - think of the old photojournalistic photos shot on high speed black and white film. This is of procedure a look that many habitancy like, however some clients may find it undesirable. Unfortunately it is positive if we wish to use film and shoot in low light conditions without a flash.

On the other side of the coin, the current pro 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 thought about 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 pro Dslr will be able to yield pleasing results without resorting to unflattering flash.

One last key factor when considering film vs digital for your wedding photography is the possible for images to be lost due to error or mechanical failure. It is honestly 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 possible risk. It means putting your costly images into the hands of man 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 yield 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.

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