The debate between digital and analog photography is a contentious one. There are those who stand firm that digital photography, while incredibly useful and convenient, cannot match traditional film quality. Likewise, there are digital aficionados who dismiss the use of traditional film as misguided nostalgia In an interview with Charles Pierse, a young filmmaker/photographer and BorrowFox user who has a keen interest in both mediums, we attempt to bring the two sides back together.
What medium (film or digital) did you first learn and first use in your career?
A: Like most people today my introduction to photography began with digital. I got my first DSLR in my teens and started taking pictures of everything and anything, although I rarely ever ventured away from automatic modes. I started looking at photography more seriously in college and spent a lot of time trying to get my head around the basic concepts, aperture, shutter speed, ISO etc. The time I spent getting my head around the technical stuff really helped me move into film (analog) shooting.
This is a broad question, but which format do you find easier to work with?
A: It’s a good question and I think I could answer it both ways. With digital I find once you know the camera you are using inside-out you can shoot with relative ease. You can snap away until your heart is content and not have to worry about reloading film or making sure the exposure meter is set correctly. At the same time, film is much simpler to shoot mechanically than digital. With film cameras, the process is really so so simple. You have a lens, a body, and a strip of film loaded into it. You don’t need to worry about megapixels, file compression sizes, colour profiles, RAW modes and all the other complex settings. Film has three settings you really need to think about: ISO (which is determined by the film type), shutter speed, and aperture. When shooting film you are slowed down in many ways, but once you’re shooting things there’s really not a lot to worry about going wrong.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with film over digital and vice versa?
A: Like I said above, with film you are slowed down, a lot. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. As an advantage, it makes you much more precious about choosing what to shoot. Instead of the run and gun attitude found in a lot of digital photography, film photographers have to compose their shots with a lot more consideration and patience. If a film photographer chooses to shoot like a digital photographer they’ll soon find themselves broke. I also think the attitude to film photography that I’ve been learning has really benefited my digital photography as it means you really look through that viewfinder.
On the disadvantage end of things, it means that when the picture perfect, one in a million moment comes around, you have to be ready. If you are at the end of a roll or don’t have the film advanced, you could miss it, and that would be no fun.
Another thing that could be both an advantage and disadvantage is the cost. Buying a film camera and a nifty 50mm lens is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of many high end DSLR’s. You can pick them up in many second hand/thrift stores. A regular 35mm film camera (I have a Nikon FE) can afford it’s shooter some really high quality pictures for a relatively low cost. That does not include the cost of buying film, and getting that film processed. That’s where the cost of shooting analog can go up. Film is not produced en masse like it used to be so it can get expensive. You have to be savvy with where you source it. Processing your film or getting it developed and scanned is another expense on top that. Many people develop their own film at home by buying the necessary chemicals which greatly reduces the cost. I have not yet done that and have had to source a trusty developer nearby to do it for me.
Are there certain types of projects that you think are better suited for film over digital and vice versa?
Honestly, I think it’s a matter of taste and preference most of the time when it comes to shooting film. Film undoubtedly has a look and feel. No amount of digital grading can ever capture that in it’s entirety every-time. I know a lot of professional photographers who do fashion and artistic shoots will use medium and large format film rolls as they produce incredibly detailed and beautiful images that even digital struggles to produce. Now when it comes to projects where digital is superior over film it’s much simpler. Digital is better in pretty much any situation where you need to take a lot of photos and fast. Think sports photography, war photography etc. If you have the option to take 6 photos in rapid succession to capture the precise moment a footballer strikes the ball with a digital camera, I would take the digital every time over analog.
There is a big resurgence of using actual film as opposed to digital in Hollywood right now. What do you think led to this change and how do you think it will have a lasting effect on how movies are shot in the future?
A: Well when you look at films like Dunkirk which was shot something like over 70% with 70mm film, the reason is that 70mm film is better than any digital resolution currently available, but it’s also really expensive, bulky, loud, and difficult to use. Digital cinematography is great. It’s enabled a new generation of filmmakers to emerge and create content that previously might not have been financially feasible. But, like I
said earlier there is definitely a film look that many filmmakers adore. I think part of the reason it has become so popular again is that it never really died out properly. Digital cinematography didn’t get really going until the mid to late noughties. Then it exploded. People were able to create beautiful films for a fraction of the cost of shooting on film. I think with that initial excitement everybody was focused on digital for a while. Now, some people are coming back to film, some are sticking with digital, and some are using both. It’s hitting an equilibrium and I think that’s great. I think film will have its place alongside digital for quite a while more. They don’t have to be nor should they be in competition. It’s a matter of taste and preference to be decided by the creative team depending on the project and its budget.
You can check out Charles’ work on his website: www.charlespierse.com