Film vs Digital Photo Quality

Digital vs Film Quality

In the early stages of digital photography, most film photography enthusiasts boasted that digital images could not come close to matching the quality of film. Today, you will only hear this claim from enthusiasts who refuse to give up using film. Modern 35mm digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are now in par with their counterpart SLR film cameras, and most will agree that the quality of digital photography is only surpassed by large format films, and to some extent, color slide film. Aside from using large format film, quality is no reason to use one over the other, but here are a few things you can consider.

First Generation Images

When using a film camera, light is exposed directly to the film frame. The roll of film will eventually be developed into the first generation images. This means that for as long as you keep that roll of film (and assuming it’s in good shape) you will be able to create endless amounts prints from the original negative. Your film will never deteriorate in quality if properly cared for.

When using a digital photograph, a first generation image is also captured. But with digital cameras, however, the analog sensor creates a digital image and compresses it to JPEG or leaves it in RAW format depending on your settings. If your camera compresses the image, it is still technically a first generation image, but it may not be quite be as sharp as film.

Second Generation Images

Perhaps the most advantageous part of digital photography is that you can easily transfer the image files to your computer without losing any quality or data. The transfer is seamless and you will maintain the first generation image quality.

Assuming you use a darkroom to print film, your prints will also always remain first generation from the original negative. However, if you decide to scan film, regardless of the resolution or quality of scan, your perfect quality film will now be second generation on the computer. While scanning equipment is great, it is still not perfect. Essentially, when you scan the film to the computer you are making a copy of the original. That copy would then be printed from a computer printer, making a copy of a copy. The difference may not be entirely noticeable, but you will have lost some quality during the film to scan process, and again from the computer to printer process.