Film vs Digital

First things first, despite the title, this post is not intended to be a pixel peeping, full detailed analysis and comparison between film images and digital images. This purely started because I had quite a few similar shots taken on both film and digital, and I was intrigued to see how they compared. Not long after I bought my Leica M6 film camera, I still took my Fuji X-T2 with me on a few trips, mainly as a backup. I took way more photos on film than I did on the Fuji, but in many places I had quite a bit of time, so I chose to take the same photos with both cameras, mainly to satisfy my own curiosity. 

These are the cameras and settings I used for the various images:

// Film

Camera -  Leica M6 and 50mm Summicron lens. Colour images shot on Portra 400, black and white images shot on Ilford HP5 400.

All photos are un-edited, and with the exception of some simple cropping and straightening in some shots, they are as I received them from the lab.

// Digital

Camera -  Fuji X-T2 and XF35mm f/2 lens. 

As I shoot RAW, I had a lot more flexibility when it came to editing. My usual workflow in Lightroom is to apply various presets, and then adjust the white balance, contrast etc as appropriate. For all the digital photos in this set, I applied the corresponding VSCO film preset, and then adjusted only the WB and contrast to achieve a similar look to the corresponding film image.

This comparison was never designed to a super accurate test. I didn't ensure I was using the exact same aperture etc for each photo. I simply took the photo using the setting I felt best for each scenario. 

I'll share my findings at the end of this post, and also reveal which images are which. For the entire set, either the film or digital images will always be on the right or left, bottom or top throughout.













So........for the portrait comparisons, the film images are on the right, for the landscapes, film are the bottom images.

Overall I think it's pretty easy to tell which images are which, even for someone not familiar with film images. The first thing that struck me when reviewing the images is that the digital images, despite looking sharper, look much 'flatter' and more sterile (I did tend to shoot with much wider apertures with the Leica, hence the difference in sharpness in some of the comparisons). Maybe I needed to bump up the contrast a little more on the digital images too, this might have geven them a bit more of a punchy look. I also find the colours in the film images to be much more pleasing, and generally have much nicer tones. Of course, I could change this in the digital files but fiddling with the various colour channels and saturation etc, but I was really surprised how much more I liked the film images, even after editing the digital files. If I set-up a comparison between the RAW files and the film images, the differences would be even more profound......but I guess that wouldn't really be a fair test. 

Another interesting point was that the colours and tones of the film images were pretty much as I remembered them when I took the photo. That is to say, they look more 'real'. I had to edit the digital images, quite a bit in some cases, to look like the film, and therefore match the 'real scene'. 

I guess one obvious question, especially considering how similar and comparable many of the images are, is why shoot film? If I can manipulate the digital image to give that film 'look', why bother with film at all? For me, the answer is two fold. I never thought I would say this, but I really do prefer shooting with a film camera. The fact that you only get 36 images (or 12 with my Hasselblad) really does force you to concentrate on the scene, rather than snapping away like crazy, only to keep 10% at most of those images. Film cameras, especially the Leica, are also such a joy to use, and incredibly simple. 

The second reason is that no matter how much you edit the digital images, you can never fully re-create that film 'look'. Some of these images are probably not the best subjects to compare, they just happen to be most of the images that I took both on film and digital. Even so, for most of the images posted above, I do prefer the film images. So much so that for a couple of big trips I have coming up, all I'll be taking is the Leica and a bunch of Portra 400 film. 

If only film were cheaper to buy and process....... ;-)