Like others, I read stuff on the web. Mostly about photography since that is one of my principal interests.
Recently, a close friend of mine who shares my interest in photography pointed me to a website that argued that using a film camera would not only produce higher quality images, it would also be cheaper.
So, I read the article. The article went on to blast the cost of the new Nikon D3x saying that it’s high cost of $8,000 was out of line and that the author could use a film camera that cost next to nothing and produce images of equal quality and substantial dollar savings.
Then I did some calculations.
Let’s examine my specific interests in view of my calculations.
In a typical year, I take 20,000 photographs. I know, I’m obsessive. So is that number exceedingly high? Actually not. A typical National Geographic photographer will spend six weeks on an assignment during which she will shoot approximately 400 to 1,200 rolls of 35mm film! At 36 shots per roll, that’s between 14,400 and 43,200 shots!
Well, I will never do a shoot for National Geographic, but I do shoot for myself, and the 20,000 frames per year is typical of what I do.
I would guess that the average photographer will shoot far less than I do, but for argument’s sake, let’s say the average gal shoots one roll of film per weekend. That’s 52 rolls per year or about 1,800 frames per year.
So, I asked myself how much she will spend each year shooting film? 52 rolls of film will cost about $310 – that’s for Fujifilm RVP 100 Velvia. And what will it cost her to process the film and then have it digitized? Depending on the quality, the average cost is around 59 cents per frame. In other words, about $1,062. So her total cost for the year for film and processing is $1,372.
So, if she decides to invest in a Nikon D3x, how long will it take her to recover the cost of film processing? It’s about six years.
Now, let’s consider my situation. What would it cost me to buy film and process 20,000 images? I would need 555 rolls of film at a cost of $3,444.16 and $11,800.00 to get the film scanned. Not including shipping charges. That’s $15,244.16 per year!
And, remember, I am not a professional photographer. My guess is that a pro will shoot considerably more images than I will in a given year, maybe not as many as a National Geographic photographer but somewhere around 1,000 shots per week. So the cost for a pro to shoot film is very high indeed.
Not let’s discuss film versus digital image quality.
No one will deny that film produces very high image quality. And, that film has some advantages over digital. Dynamic range is one issue along with some other factors. But, one has to ask, how good is digital?
Let’s read the Nikon Press Release:
“Designed to produce files suitable to meet the demands of tomorrow’s commercial and stock requirements, the camera produces 50MB 14-bit NEF (Raw) files. Using Capture NX2 software, NEF files can be processed into medium format terrain; 140MB (16-bit TIFF-RGB). Fine details are reproduced with incredible clarity, whilst shadows and highlights contain tonal gradation with minimal clipping for pictures with a unique look and feel.”
Well, I was stunned when I read the release. Seems the D3x is stepping into the medium format range!
And, further, I inquired as to what high quality magazines require in order to submit photographs for publication. Let’s see what Arizona Highways (one of the most demanding magazines there is) wants:
RAW captures saved as TIFF files
Adobe RGB (1998)
18 X 12 (Horizontal)
12 X 18 (Vertical)
Will the D3x do that? Yep, hands down it will.
Well, to the average photographer, none of this stuff matters much. But to guys like me, the idea that a film camera will produce better quality images at a cheaper price is total bunk. Not the least of which are my concerns for all the dern chemicals that are used in film processing. I am an environmentalist.
This is not to say that I might not pick up a film camera, say a 4X5 and use it for special shots. I suspect that pro photographers who shoot film may only shoot a small number of frames under certain circumstances.
There are other considerations as well. The author who slammed the D3x and made the argument for using a film camera talked about stuff like having to charge batteries using digital cameras and what a pain that was while on a trip. What he did not consider was the problem of transporting film. For me, on a typical shoot, it means taking along about 100 rolls of film! And then, I have to deal with X-ray machines at airports, meaning I have to put the shot film in special containers and pray that the folks who run security in Paris won’t require me to run the film unprotected through their machine!
Nor did he mention that many professional photographers have wifi attachments on their cameras that are feeding shots to editors in vans some distance away who are wired to national publications and are sending shots across networks at light speed as the actions occurs. Try that with film!
And, while it might upset one’s wife or girlfriend that one is looking at shots taken while on the trip, well, I need feedback, I want to see what I have shot now, not six weeks from now. I want the advantage of looking at a histogram. I want to know if the shot was in focus. Yes, I want feedback, because I may not get to the spot again. And the cost to return to some remote spot will certainly exceed what the digital camera cost me by a long shot.
So, after reading the article, and thinking a little, I conclude that in some instances film might be a good choice for an average photographer, but for the serious shooter and the professional the economics of shooting film may be prohibitive if not totally unreasonable. And, in today’s economy it’s the difference between staying in the business and going broke.
My friend, Darwin Wiggett, whom I consider to be among the best photographers in the world today, takes photographs with his Canon Powershot G9 and sells them through his stock agency. Course, Darwin could take a master photograph with any camera. But here is a serious professional using a digital camera that cost about $400 and is selling images made from it routinely!
Like all else, making decisions about equipment is difficult. But, frankly, my money is on digital. And, I truly believe that within two years any consideration of film by any photographer will be totally out of the question because the technology will get better and better.
And, as far as the Nikon D3x is concerned. Well, what can I say? Nikon has produced something special with this camera. I only wish I had the money to buy one along with some of their great lenses. For now, I am sticking with Canon and my 1Ds Mark II and while I await the next Canon professional camera, I am buying better glass, which, in my opinion outweighs everything else.
BTW, if you like to write and have some good photos, you should submit an article to Photo Travel Review. My colleagues and I have received dozens of articles from photographers who have traveled all of the world. Would love to hear from you.