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Why Film?


A few posts ago I mentioned that I had purchased a new film camera. Yes, a new film camera. One that uses chemistry to capture images. Why would I do that? It’s a fair question, and one that I will answer now. It’s all about future-proofing my images.

Today (as I write this, anyway) the best digital camera bodies that Nikon produces have a 12.something megapixel sensor. Sounds impressive, right? My Nikon D-70 has a 6 megapixel sensor. When shooting in jpeg mode the data files are typically somewhere between 2.5 and 3 megabytes in total size. If the images were shot in raw mode the file sizes would be higher. A 12 megapixel camera would capture even more data.

Does it matter? There are all sorts of articles available that will show you something just like this chart:

Sensor Size Print Size (in Inches)
2MP 4 x 6
3MP 5 x 7
4MP 8 x 10
5MP 9 x 12
6MP 11 x 14
8MP 12 x 16

And so on up to even larger sizes of prints from larger sensors. The thing is, I’ve talked to (and read) folks that say you can get larger prints from smaller images just fine. So imagine there is a nice salt shaker sitting on that table.

It’s About Data

So here’s the thing. I use my D-70 to take lots of pictures. I love the camera. But what is the first thing I do when I want to post a picture on my family blog for grandparents to see? I shrink it. :) I rarely print pictures from the camera, and when I do the maximum size I really consider is probably 8×10.

But I use my D-70 for snapshots. I use slide film for photography. Why? It’s about the data.

Future-Proofing My Images

Once a digital image is captured you have all the data you will ever have for that image file. But if I use a film camera and capture a slide I can future-proof my image. The slide is my raw data. From that point I can use my Nikon Super Coolscan slide scanner to produce a digital image at 4,000 dots per inch. It will do 48bit colors. It’s awesome. When I bought it was the top-of-the-line digital slide scanner that Nikon made. I can scan a slide, tweak the resulting digital file, and have it printed as a very large print.

But I still have the original data (the slide) available for future use.

That means that when Nikon comes out with the Super Duper Ultra Coolscan Mark V in a few years, I can consider upgrading. Then I might be able to scan at 64bit color and 9,000 dots per inch. My new digital file will be even better than the last one, and it’s all because I still had the original non-digital source to start with again. Which brings me to the point I am trying to make: film images are future-proofed while digital images are not.

The Flaw In The Argument

I am basing my post on the idea that the future will bring even better options for converting negatives or slides into digital media files. It may be at some point that companies like Nikon decide that there’s no point in creating new technology in these areas because of the percentage of folks that have switched 100% to digital. It may be at some point that a company will create a program that will enlarge or enhance my current digital files in some fashion and make them bigger. I doubt that, actually, but it could happen.

But as it stands today I know what I can get from a scanned slide, and I know that it’s much better than any digital camera body made. So rather than run out and spend money on a D3 digital camera body I will continue to build my investment in lenses instead.

And I will continue to shoot film when I am on a photography trip, leaving the digital camera for snapshots of the family.


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