I saw a post not too long ago that tried the list all the ways in which digital photography beats out film photography, because digital photography is really on the ropes now, is in danger of being put out of business, and needs to be defended against that overwhelming majority of film shooters out there. I think digital cameras will pretty soon reach their last generation, because most people are happy just using their phones and don’t need the specialization of a DSLR; he should have been talking about that! But I get it. My beloved 160GB ipod became a casualty of what the majority of people need just a year or two ago; I’ve been meaning to buy a backup just in case the one I have fails, because I really value being able to carry my 900+ CD collection around with me wherever I go. Sadly, I’m in the minority now, and a really beneficial technology has been axed in favor of the phone and streaming radio (don’t get me started on it). If you’ve read any David Brin, there’s something he talks about in a few of his books about the rise of the talented amateur eclipsing the professional. It’s something we’ve already begun to see with events like the Chicago Sun-Times firing their entire photography staff a few years back.
Now, I will say that digital cameras can potentially outperform film cameras in some crucial ways, but I can’t think of one that has anything to do with real photography. Expedience is the one area that comes most readily to mind, with technology like Wi-fi connectivity being a good example. Going back to David Brin for a minute, this is really something I think he would like. For a hypothetical situation (and admittedly it’s not nearly as frequent as the media would have you believe), let’s say you’ve encountered a police officer who is neglecting his duty in some crucial way. He doesn’t like you filming him and confiscates your camera, maybe your footage is “lost.” It’s a situation that I’ve read about in the past, but thankfully becoming rarer, as people have found new ways to provide oversight of their government, and has resulted even recently in some police officers being imprisoned on felony charges; as a rule, civil service departments take their oaths to the Constitution extremely seriously. If you’re ever in doubt about what is permitted for you to photograph, the ACLU has a great overview here.
For real photography applications however (and many not-so-real ones), film is still as relevant as ever thanks to a piece of technology called the film scanner. I’ve had a few discussions with classmates who’ve never touched a camera that wasn’t digital, and there seems to be some ignorance/misinformation out there that needs clearing up. There exists a device, wherein a photographer takes a strip of film negative and converts it into binary code on a computer, therefore rendering it a digital photograph. Shoot a roll of film, get it developed, scan it; that’s really as far as you need to go (optical printing is just the icing on the cake). From there, you can do whatever you want with it, and all the advantages of digital technology become open to film users. I regularly post pictures of friends and relatives on Facebook, I do this blog, I’m writing weekly blog post assignments for class, I have cloud backup, all thanks to the marriage of digital technology and chemical imaging.
But who really wants to go back to 1995 when film was King? Not me. In fact, I doubt many do. How many people would know about Vivian Maier without digital technology? How many people would know your own work? Really, digital technology has given film shooters the opportunity to show everyone just how good film is! I guess I’m just still amazed by how adaptable film is to new technology. It has never been eclipsed.