Over on RFF (www.rangefinderforum.com) one of the perennial threads on film vs. digital has started up again. This one is titled “Why film?”. RFF is one of the bastions of film photography, which I like because I like film, but it also tends to have an anti-digital edge at times. Of course with the advent of two digital rangefinder cameras, the Epson R-D1 and the Leica M8, it’s a little more difficult for the film faithful there to take the high ground. And to be fair, an increasing number of RFF members admit to using both film and digital not to mention a few who have gone completely to digital. Nonetheless, anti-digital feeling still runs high among many of its members, though perhaps not as high as on the amazingly Luddite, and inaccurately named, APUG forum.
One comment in the “Why film” thread caught my eye: “Why I prefer film is because ‘digital’ looks plastic to me. Not perfect or precise just ‘all spruced up'”. Plastic? I’ve seen this objection to digital imaging made over and over by film evangelists and I’ve yet to figure out what it’s supposed to mean. It’s also obvious to me that it was a deprecating comment made at some time by one person somewhere and that it has been picked up an parroted by film’s true believers in the way that erroneous objections to evolution are parroted by right-wing fundamentalist Christians.
What is meant by “plastic”? “All spruced up”? What in the world does this mean and how is a digital image any more “spruced up” than a Kodachrome slide? Does it mean that the colours are vibrant? Say like Kodachrome or Velvia? Does it mean that the rendering of the subject is very smooth, in the way of medium format film or 4×5? If by “plastic” it’s meant that digital images don’t look like grainy 35mm images, then I can perhaps see the connection, but I’m not certain that “plastic” is an accurate description.
As I’ve said many times, I use film and digital and enjoy both formats. I agree that they look a little different and that they’re in some ways distinct artistic media, but I cannot agree that digital images are, as often described by film fanatics, “plastic” or “soulless” — another description often parroted by the faithful. I’ve seen too many superb, soulful digital images to think soul can only be defined by a spool of plastic base coated with a suspension of light sensitive emulsion.
It’s time to get past this immature and irrational digital bashing. Film is good, even though its market share is dropping out of sight. Digital is good, and will get even better. Practical photographers will use whichever medium helps them achieve the results they want and whatever makes them excited about the wonders of photography. Film. Digital. Take your pick. Or pick both.
In the end, what matters most are the images, not which mechanical, chemical, or electronic process was used to take them. So pick up your favourite camera, favourite lens(es), favourite recording medium and get out there and take some soulful photos!