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Film versus digital

The battle of words rages on. But the war has been decided — and decided long ago in favour of instant gratification. Shalini Singh reports.

tech reviews Updated: Jul 12, 2009 00:23 IST

The end of Kodachrome, the revolution in photography immediately preceding the digital age, brings us to the old debate — digital or film?

For Swapan Parekh, who works with both, film will always be big, with photographers like Dayanita Singh still faithful to it. “Most serious bodies of work continue to be done in film. And it’s not just an emotional reason. I use black and white for personal work and I still process and print my photographs. Digital makes sense in assignment-based photography, where you can control lighting.” Has there been a ‘rediscovery’ of film lately? Kind of. “Interestingly, in digital photography, they are trying to create a film-like quality with post-production software,” says Parekh.

For Pablo Bartholomew, it’s a matter of choice. "I still shoot film as much as I do digital. The process of thinking and shooting film is different. The magic, as well as the suspense of not being able to see immediately what you have shot, is something I still enjoy." Film — shooting, processing, printing — is also the only way to learn photography, he feels.
Battle rages on
This intriguing image by Swapan Parekh was shot on film. Parekh shoots personal pictures on film and professional ones on digital.
"Digital makes it too easy. Everyone is a photographer. The built-in automation doesn’t call for much technical skill and the results you get are decent enough for anyone to believe that he has mastered the medium. I feel digital has not been able to replace film. The sensitivity of film to shadow and highlight detail cannot be matched by the CCD or CMOS [kinds of image sensors] chips that record images."

Besides, Bartholomew has discovered the downsides of digital. “Clients want digital for speed of delivery and savings in costs. But the photographers suffer the most. They have added costs of buying expensive computers, software, digital storage systems and more important, spending hours in post production work on the digital files. No one is prepared to compensate for the extra time spent. And with a glut of photographers using digital cameras, each willing to under-sell in a buyers’ market, in the long run I believe, it’s to the disadvantage of photographers.”

Parekh says the digital generation is more “trigger-happy”. “Legs have replaced tripods and they fire away without clarity of thought. You can kill a man with one bullet, you don’t need to pump in ten.” In digital photography’s defence he says, the results are instantaneous so one can immediately correct mistakes. “Digital is here to stay.”

Raghu Rai too feels digital is the future. “The only thing so far digital hasn’t been able to give is panoramic vision. But given the way technology is moving, someday that will also come about. When I take a picture, I’m like a little boy — I want to see it instantly. Digital allows me that. I’ve felt reborn with it. I haven’t picked up a film camera in a while now — I’m loyal to photography, not the technique per se.”

Steve McCurry takes a neutral stand. “Film is still wonderful; you can actually hold your image. With digital, the image doesn’t ‘exist’ except in the memory card or hard drive, but you can move images around more easily. With digital you can shoot in low light, which you couldn’t with film. The future is digital. There will come a point when film processing will be tough and manufacturers will stop making the required chemicals.”

For Dinesh Khanna, digital-or-film depends on the situation. “In photojournalism, where speed is of the essence, digital makes sense. In my case, the debate has been put to rest — I haven’t touched film for three years now, despite being a die-hard fan. But the approaches are different: the next generation of photographers could be more lazy because they can shoot more with digital — its ‘free’, whereas with film you had to be more careful and labour more. In digital, if you don’t get it, you ‘fix’ it later. Technology is democratising everything. But you can’t take away the human mind and creativity.”

Prashant Panjiar agrees. “Photography is the only democratic art in the world, anyone can do it. I haven’t stopped using film. Digital has made things easy, no doubt. But, it’s the thought process that counts — whether you write with a quill, a pen or a typewriter.”