Over the years, as I lecture about my book The Lewis & Clark Trail American Landscapes, I am always, and I mean always asked, did you shoot that in digital? Well, the answer is – for the book, no. I used 35mm color transparencies, mostly Fuji Velvia film. A few are digital as I bought my first high end digital camera (a Canon EOS-1Ds) when it came out half way through shooting for the book. I then tried to shoot both as I was not sure what I would use. But the fact is, digital does look a little different. In my case, the rich royal blues of the sky wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, and I didn’t want there to be two looks in the book. However, since then I have switched entirely to digital.
Now we could go through all the motions of answering the questions of resolution power of film versus digital and the technicalities of both, and these days digital would probably win every argument. But the biggest one’s are made with your eyes. Which do you like more? OK then, there is your answer on what to shoot.
Myself, I have embraced digital fully. I love it! It free’s me from some of the technical sides of photography, especially when I am inside a company or manufacturing plant and have different light sources, with different colors spectrum’s to deal with. White balance it and begin! Voila!
The other piece of my puzzle on this subject is when I go to make my fine art prints. Even at a photo lab these days they will make a scan of your transparency and then make a print. Many of the images from the book have been scanned by both me or my assistants, in my studio, and by John Stinehour at Stinehour Press on his million dollar scanner. Depending on the size of the original scan they can make beautiful 20″x30″ prints. But I have found generally speaking that if a digital original from the 1Ds is available it will make a better looking print. We’ll talk about digital fine art printing later.
The downside of digital is the archival side. Backing up files, disks and the huge amount of space involved is time consuming. But, the big advantage is you can also take a set of them off site and have a backup set no where near the studio , in case disaster strikes. With film, you have a file cabinet and maybe a few images in a different location. Call me paranoid, especially since I have not yet had a problem with this, but it helps to know my images are safe in two places! But it is also a possible problem. With film it sits in a drawer until needed. With digital, you have to keep up with technology. Will the disk with a set of images on it be able to be read in 10 years? What about 50 or 100? Will we have kept our image files up to date or lost a great part of our culture, or family history, to the digital age? Only time will tell.
So share your experiences with us here! For me digital is a great tool for a photographer, and smells better than a darkroom as well, yet every so often I walk into my darkroom just to take a little sniff and remember.