Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Learning: Digital vs Film

I have often heard it said that digital is a better medium, compared to film, by which to learn and train oneself in photography. One can experiment and make mistakes at a lower cost compared to film. While I heartily agree that digital is the best medium to experiment (e.g. with long exposures and other arty stuff), I cannot agree that making mistakes at a lower cost actually helps a person improve his or her photographic skills.

While the cost of a failed shot is undeniably more expensive in film, each of those failed shots teaches the photographer important lessons which are less easily forgotten than digital mistakes. While the digital photographer more often than not just deletes the bad shot, the film photographer is permanently stuck with that bad apple staring back from the negative.

I suppose I speak partly from experience. I've been shooting digital since 2006, but film only since 2009. In the one year of shooting film, my photography gained a sense of focus (no pun intended), purpose and direction it never had in the three years of pure digital.

Maybe I had actually developed those skills in digital, and film just brought me to a higher level; that is, maybe a newcomer should begin with digital, some may say.

But consider this: digital cameras cost more than film cameras. A complete film set may cost about RM500 on the second-hand market, whereas the cheapest DSLR is about RM1800. By the time a budding photographer has shot RM1300 worth of film, he or she would've developed indispensable skills practically unknown to the newbie who blew RM1800 on the DSLR.

I am here assuming, of course, that the photographer in question would eventually explore both film and digital, and I am suggesting that it is probably a better idea to begin with film, then move on to digital, instead of vice versa. Again, this is only if one is pursuing photography for its own sake; if the camera's main function is merely to record events and serve a family or a bunch of friends, then digital is of course the more practical workhorse.

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