Analogue Vs Digital

Film Vs Sensor.

For a long time now there has been a debate as to the worth of using 35mm SLR cameras, that some of us still have tucked away in a spare cupboard.
I like to look at film as being another tool in my photographic arsenal. One I must confess I’ve somewhat neglected.
However if like me when deciding to replace my ageing SLR’s ,I looked for a good alternative, the over riding consideration came down to cost. It was apparent very early on that a new generation DSLR was going to be a very expensive exercise. Coupled with that the thought that I would most likely end up with at least two lenses to carry around as well as other gear, got me looking for alternatives. It didn’t take long to discover that the manufactures had thought of the same thing. It also didn’t take long to realize that Fuji had ticked pretty much all the boxes, with the clincher being the manual 30x zoom.

After having tried and used some of the smaller models of Fuji’s line up I was familiar with the technology and this also helped. Have I regretted having the HS10 and now the HS20EXR rather than a DSLR. No! Its been the perfect tool for me getting back into more serious photography. Will I buy a DSLR in the near future. Possibly.
Fuji has indicated that they are bringing out a new range of camera. I think we will see an upgraded HS20 (called an HS30). I think we may well see a new  camera based on a 2/3 sensor. Possibly a s100Fs type bridge camera, complete with EXR sensor and 620mm lens. Or a mirror less DSLR along the lines of Panasonic’s GH2 or one of the EVIL style cameras. Pure speculation at this point in time, but that’s where I think Fuji may well go.

So what does that leave if you have a film camera. I like to think of film as my special occasion camera. When I want something just that little bit different. Theres a warmth to film that’s not readily achievable with digital.This then begs the question does film still stack up against its digital rival. The answer is yes, with a but attached. But you need to have good quality lenses and use a good quality film.

Image 1
Pentax MZ50 @ 100mm Fl.
Note the vignetting in the corners
Odd color in the greens
also seen in image 4
Image 2
The HS20 at 95mm Fl.

The images in this comparison are taken using a Pentax MZ50 with a 100-300mm f4.5-6.7 Dl lens. This lens is quite slow and tends to suffer softness and some vignetting at the full zoom of this lens. The film used was Kodak Color Max 400. I dont like Kodak color but I was given a couple of rolls so I decided to use them. I also find the the Kodak film shows considerably more grain than Fuji Superia Extra 400, which is the film I usually shoot with. Matched up to this camera is the Fuji HS20EXR.

Both cameras weigh very similar amounts setup as I have them. All images are handheld and were taken on the same day over a period of an hour to an hour and a half. Conditions were good, very early morning so low and contrasty sun angle which would make for some awkward shooting when looking eastwards (towards the rising sun).
One of the things that was very quickly apparent was how much the Sigma 300mm lens drew the background in, even when shooting at 100mm minimum zoom. Its a great way of showing how the HS20EXR handles the background and  gives a very similar result to the SLR.

Image 3
HS20EXR @ 34mm Fl.
Image 4
The MZ50 @ 100mm Fl.
Note the odd color of the grass in this image.
Quite typical of older style Kodak film
Image 5
HS20 @ 250mm Fl.
Taken in 16:9 mode.

Its evident just how much the background is drawn in with the full frame of the SLR. Even though there is 50mm focal length between the two images it would barely change how the two cameras work. While the effective range of the 300 mm lens is good and very similar to modern day DSLR, for sheer magnification and resolution the HS20 is in a league of its own. Thats why I like the idea of having a larger format camera, be it DSLR or SLR in the kit, its adds a different dimension to the outcome of ones images.
Below is a full 30 x ( 126 mm – 720 mm equivalent) shot of the helicopter flying in front of the barrel house seen in image 5.

At full zoom with the HS20, the image has good overall light balance and IQ. Resolution is good and as this is a handheld shot it appears that image stabilisation is also working well. Something that would be nice to have had in the film cameras.
So what have we learned from this? Apart from the obvious extra cost of developing and scanning a film and the limited exposures per roll of film, is there something to be gained. In short yes. As in all forms of art, of which photography is just one part there are many tools and ways of achieving good images without large outlays that may well drain ones wallet. If you cant afford a new DSLR but have a SLR and some good lenses, get them out and use them. Rather than snap off a dozen shots you will have to think a bit more about the shot you want, and to be honest that’s a good thing. Too many of us rely on the camera being able to take a multitude of shots so that we get at least one “keeper”. Usually I tend to develop and scan to CD as this costs $16.00 per roll plus postage if you get it done out of town. A 3 pack of Fuji 400 film at a supermarket usually costs around $16.00 so its not too expensive. Shooting film definitely makes you a more thoughtful photographer. Its one of the reasons why many Photography Tuition providers include film photography as a large section of their courses.

Another thing to be aware of here is that although the images from the Pentax look grainier that those of the HS20 when printed at 300 dpi they will be fine. I have printed all the above images both HS20 and Pentax at 5″ x 7″ (127 mm x 175 mm) on HP High gloss Photo Paper using a 4 year old Brother MFC 665cw printer and the results are very good.  If processed at a professional lab at this resolution or higher they would still be very good, and I have no doubt could all be printed at A4 size.

I actually printed the very last image on this page at A4 and its excellent. Just in case you think that’s not likely heres an image of the printed photo alongside my monitor while writing this article.
To conclude. It would seem that for now at least and as long as manufactures keep producing film stock there will be room for those of us who have film cameras and like using them. For pure versatility though its hard to go past the HS20 or similar specced digital cameras. However if you have the time and enjoy taking good quality images then film still holds up well.


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