Friday, June 5, 2009

Which is Easier – Film or Digital SLR?

Or should the question be, which one would you prefer, given a choice. I think I know the answer – its got to be DSLR. But what exactly is the advantage of DLSR over film SLR that makes it better? I think I am getting way ahead in the story. Lets look at the fundamental differences and similarities between DSLR and film SLR

First lets look at the what are the things you need to be aware of in either camera in order to become a decently good photographer. [bear in mind that I am not going into the types of processing in film SLR as its way beyond this blog and my knowledge]

Basics you absolutely need to know

I am not going here in any sequence, I am just listing down things that I feel are important.

 

Film SLR

DSLR

Aperture

P

P

Shutter

P

P

Depth-of-Field (DoF)

P

P

Exposure

P

P

Metering

P

P

Focus

P

P

Zoom

P

P

Distance from the subject

P

P

Composition (or framing)

P

P

ISO

P

P

I am by no means saying that this is the complete set, however, if you happen to master each of these aspects then you will be a pretty good photographer.  Lets discuss each one of these in more details

Aperture – This allows you to control the amount of light reaching the film (in film SLR) or the image sensor (in DLSR). Its basically an opening which allows light inside, the greater the opening more is the aperture and vice-versa. The aperture is inverse of the f-number. So if the f-number is small then the larger is the aperture and if the f-number is large, smaller is the aperture. For ex. 5.6 is large and 22 is the small aperture.

Shutter – The shutter speed can be either fast (for e.g. 1/1000 sec) for freezing the subject (useful in sports photography) or it can be slow to show movement (for ex if you want to show the flow of water in a waterfall. However the amount of fast shutter depends on the aperture and lighting conditions. The fundamental rule to follow is your shutter should not be less than the focal length you are shooting at. So if you are shooting at 300mm then you should shoot at at least 1/320 sec. If you would like to go slower then you have to very steady and a tripod is recommended for that.

DoF - The aperture and DoF are closely related. Aperture allows you to control the depth of field. So if the aperture is large (f-number is small) then you get a shallow DoF making the background blurred and the subject in focus sharp (useful for portraits and close-ups), and if aperture is small (high f-number) then you get an greater DoF (useful for landscape).

Exposure – This is a broadly used term to indicate how close your picture matches the actual lighting condition as you saw it with your eyes when shooting. So a good exposure means that you were able to get almost exact lighting condition in your picture as your eyes saw it. Unlike human eyes, the camera sensors are not very good at interpreting the various light sources (direct, reflected, shadows etc). That's why you need the image processor which know what to do with various areas of an image based on what sensor captured and what the camera adjustments were. A well exposed picture should not have areas where the details are  erased because of over exposure or areas of darkness due to under exposure, there should be a balance. Modern cameras have built in algorithm to average out these spikes and dips. That's what takes us to metering.

Metering – Simply put, this is a way to measure the brightness of the subject. At its basic, when you focus on the subject, the camera takes in the brightness information from the subject and other light sources surrounding the subject and calculates the best exposure to apply.

Focus/Zoom/Distance to the subject – Most people know about these. Focus is related to the subject of the picture, its always good to ensure that the subject is in focus – easy isn’t it?. The Zoom is the zoom that you need to use to get close to the subject. However in a more advanced world its not that simple. Sometimes you may deliberately increase the distance between you and the subject and use zoom lens just to enhance the effect.

Composition or Framing – This is critical in photography, more so in film world, this is not to say its not important in  digital world. In digital world you can get away with minor issues with composition if you have a decent editor. However its still critical. You screw you composition, you invariably screw you picture.

ISO – This is the sensitivity of the film or the image sensor to the light. Higher the ISO higher the sensitivity of film or the image sensor. This is useful if you have if you have a low light condition. Change to higher ISO and you can use faster shutter there by reducing the shake. However there is flip side – higher the ISO greater is the image noise. Image noise is the grainy-ness that you see sometimes in film. Sometimes this grainy-ness is used to provide artistic appearance. But most of the time image noise = bad picture. So be careful when you use high ISO.

Now, having discussed these fundamentals it seems both film and digital SLR shooting have same complexity. However Digital SLR have few more nuances that you need to be aware of – some of these are (in no particular order)

  • Saturation
  • Gradation
  • Contrast
  • Sharpness
  • Picture Mode ( and Picture Tone)
  • White Balance

Now I know what you are thinking! Why the heck do I need to worry about these when I have enough to worry about already? Cant the camera take care of it? Of course it can and it does – if it didn’t, probably all your pics will be a disaster. However as you progress in your photography, you do need to know and understand what these mean, otherwise you would be stuck using your DSLR as a point-and-shoot thingy.

I believe you always get a second life in the digital world (and if you shoot RAW, probably more lives). With a decent editor, you can get back most that you expected how your pic will look when you shot.

But in the film world, there are no second chances and there is no room for the mistake. If you make a mistake you are stuck with it. From my own experience, I was once shooting night scenes, and I completely forgot that I had a very slow (low ISO) slide film inside my camera. As was my habit, I under exposed half-stop than what my camera indicate was correct exposure, where as the film actually needed 1 stop over exposure at least. the result – badly under exposed slides – an expensive waste.

So, in conclusion,  although it is easier to use, the digital SLR will only be as good as your knowledge. And as far as the film SLR goes, its an art in itself.

I will put it this way, its harder to master and be consistent with film SLR than with digital SLR, however both of them are only as good as the photographer and the artist  in you.

So to answer the question – which is easier? Well the answer is neither. Both are as difficult (or as easy, based on your perception) to master. But film world is less forgiving. The digital SLR provides you the rope,  so you live to tell the story!

PS: Photography is an art as much as its fun. Only if you learn to enjoy it will you be able to appreciate it. One advice though, if you are not serious DO NOT buy Digital SLR, you will only be wasting money.

_3270747

Enjoy!