I have a Nikon AiS to Canon EF converter, so pulled the Nikkor 50mm lens off my Nikon FM and connected it to my Canon 6D. All the settings are the same, shooting at ISO 100, f8 and 1/125 shutter speed, to give the most balanced chance of comparison possible. I’m trying to show you the differences in file output, so even the lighting, clothing and pose are as similar as possible. First lets look at a film shot, then how we can make our digital films look similar.
Portra 160 35mm +2/3exp.
This is our base image. The original image was shot on a roll of Portra 160 35mm, at ISO 100 (so its been overexposed by 2/3rds a stop). We need to take a minute to note the subtle characteristics of this film, before we compare it to a digital shot. The shadows are quite light, that backdrop is a nice light grey and the highlights are not even close to blowing out or going too pale. Theres an obvious red hue to the skin, and a slight brown tint to the entire picture, rendering the black leather jacket just a little bit brown. The film is daylight balanced, so it’s also balanced for studio flashes and nothing needs to be sorted out in post processing. This was developed in just an ordinary high street lab on fully auto settings, and nothing adjusted after bringing it through Lightroom for file managing.
Flat Digital File (Converted to JPEG).
Here is a digital file from the day. We left it “flat” – no adjustments at all apart from converting to a jpeg filetype. See how the background is a darker grey now, and much more uniform in colour. Theres still detail in the shadows and plenty of room for the highlights too, this is a perfect file to be working on. This needs editing doing to it – RAW files are designed to be as flat as possible with a neutral dynamic range so that you can apply your specific styles and colours on to. We’ll go ahead and sort out the basic levels of this image now to get it looking contrasty with a great tonal range.
Digital File With Basic Tonal Adjustments.
This is starting to look nice. Its well balanced, there is nothing blown out or too obviously dark or bright, but it lacks the colour palette, or signature style that film imparts. If you read my previous blog post about film, you’d know that each kind of film stock gives its own flavour and style to the picture. Some stocks will show pastel greens whilst the others will make the reds almost magenta to brown in hue. If you’re wanting to choose film for its ability to colour tone and style your image, its worthwhile now slapping on a preset. I used the VSCO Kodak Portra 160 preset for this digital image, and I edited the basic tonal adjustments to try and match the original film shot image.
Film vs Digital.
Side by side, you would have a hard time spotting the differences in film and digital shots. The right hand image is digital, with the VSCO Portra preset applied and overexposed by 2/3rds of a stop in Lightroom. It gives off almost identical colours to the film shot on the left, presets can do a brilliant job of mimicing film! So if we have the ability to make our digital shots look like film, then why shoot film? I want to argue in the defence of film photography, why it shouldn’t just be left in the back of the cupboard to expire.
Bear with me. You may be saying “Well a digital shot cost me nothing! Why should I pay per shot for something I can do for free?” and that’s a very good point. You are most likely a fully fledged photographer with your own kit, computer and editing tools already purchased, which could have set you back £5,000 or more. You can however, use a second hand £50 camera and a roll of £10 film to shoot this and still get the quality, colours and tones of a professional edit. Sure there is a price-per-piece to shoot film, costing you each time you press the shutter, but you don’t have to have the masses of electronic kit before hand to achieve it.
It’s already edited for you.
Save yourself some time by not importing those pictures into Capture One or Lightroom, and just get them printed out or burnt to a CD at the high street lab. We already know from a previous blog post on film photography that negative film is so unbelievably flexible you can shoot 4/5 stops brighter than needed and still get your perfect shot. So stop worrying about the particulars that your shot is 1/10th underexposed – film has got your back and won’t let you down. No need to spend time getting your perfect colours of garments either, just a little knowledge of which film stocks to use and when is all you need to get the colours perfect every time. It’s like some kind of chemical magic, all you need to do is point and shoot and the film will take care of its look and feel and palette.
The resolution and latitude.
The shot above was scanned by an ordinary, cheapy high street lab scanner, yet is still comes out 6MP at 72dpi, plenty enough to look at online and get decent results. This is where the film starts to really shine – you can get 300dpi, 3000x2000px TIFF files from a high street lab too, and in the future I’ll be showing you what an arc-scanner and drum scanner can do resolution wise. Not even the highest quality, 100MP cameras can outperform a large format scan yet. Touching on what I wrote previously, remember you have masses of flexibility to get the perfect shot. It’s extremely hard to over expose a negative film and you have an even wider dynamic range than digital can cope with to play with.
If you’re looking for a way of shooting an image that is hard to mess up, has a broader dynamic range and higher resolution than digital, give film a try. You might be surprised with the outcome, the amount of time you’ll save deliberating on how to edit an image and the quality you can get from just a lowly high street roll of film. As film starts to get more popular again more shops are selling a greater variety of film stocks, see what you can hunt down and shoot. I’ll always shoot a mix of digital and film, and I must admit that I always grade my digital files to look just like film, I love it that much.