Friday, 30 October 2009

Cameras: film vs digital


well everyone and his dog (including me) seems to write about digital cameras and how they compare to 35mm film cameras. I realized that I see almost nothing written to compare the thing you have to carry around with you.

Which is strange when you consider that I've been bitching about wanting smaller digital cameras for some time.

Now something which to me is indisputable is that compact digital cameras for snapshots and small commercial photographic needs are just fantastic. I think that Canon nailed the ideal digital with the Canon IXUS cameras of 2001.

Compact light easy to keep with you and took shots which gave images suitable for making post card sized prints.

90% of people were satisfied with this 90% of the time. People just about fled away from all the compact 35mm cameras and sales of cameras like Olympus Mju series or funny Pentax things like this plummeted.

Pentax Camera

And why not, the compact digitals were smaller and made prints which satisfied most peoples needs, and opened up an entirely different niche in photography. If we're talking about cameras like the one above why would you use a film camera? (well, so you can have it ready all the time in the glove box of the car would be one reason ;-)

But in this blog article I'm interested in looking at what's happened to cameras which are more oriented towards an enthusiast, or semi-professional photographer. For instance I have a blog article about that point as well as the article where I compare the evolution of digital interchangable lens camera sizes.

The image to the left here shows a composite of a G1 pasted over a 10D showing how much smaller the G1 is (both are to the same scale) and in the this article I also demonstrate the size and weight difference with this animated GIF

All well and good, but what is it like holding and using modern digital cameras in relation to older film cameras?

Well one of the things I really like about the G1 is that it has brought interchangable lenses to compact digital cameras (for some reason people think only SLR's have this, but that's not true there are many rangefinders and TLR's which do just that). One of the things which drew me towards digital in the beginning of this milennium was they were compact!

Not because they were "free" to operate (because they cost lots of money back then) but because they were compact. For example, here is my G1 without its lens


and here is an OM-10 35mm film SLR without its lens.


almost exactly the same size aren't they. For these shots, I had my camera on a tripod, and didn't move the location of cameras so that they will be at the same scale.

Now, with lenses on ...


They weigh about the same too.

What isn't equal by any strech of the imagination is costs and lenses. I paid $40 or something like that for my OM-10 just recently. Then because of the smaller sensor you'll need different lenses to get the view you want to have (remember taking pictures is about the images right?)

Sure ... that's second hand I hear you say .. well yes, but do you think that you'll be able to buy a 20 year old digital camera when they get to that age? Will you be able to use the RAW files from it if you do find one? Mean time even older cameras like my six year old 10D (which I recently sold) still pull $300 used (if they are still working).

Hmm ... got my doubts

Anyway, moving on to lenses ... below is a shot of the lenses I like to use
  • wide angle
  • normal
With a 35mm film camera I've found I just love two lenses and I've more or less stopped using zooms ... found myself zooming way to much , thinking about getting what I want into the picture and forgetting about perspectives and 'focus and defocus'. As a result my images seemed to be less interesting.

I never found 28 quite wide enough for my wide taste, so I saw little value in 28-80 zooms. Certainly 80 was rarely telephoto enough (wanting a 135 myself). So to get this sort of range (21mm and 50mm) on the G1 I need the 9-18mm and the kit zoom it comes with. In the image below I've put them in a tight bunch so you can see what they look like together.


Despite being in the front row the 21mm and the 50mm are clearly compact little things, while the zooms in the back row just seem larger.

Now, you'll pay about US$500 for the 9-18 and I paid $200 for the 21mm, but I've also got a 24mm which is much cheaper again. Actually I'm sure that the OM 21mm will be working in another 20 years time, but I can't say the same for the 9-18 ;-)

Luckily those zooms are for 4/3rds and micro 4/3rds so are much more compact than 35mm equivalent ... Its really frustrating that what drew me to digital from 35mm was that it was more compact, and I could combine it with my 35mm gear to get the best of compact and quality.

Strangely enough being tempted into the high quality digital (the only stuff which challenges 35mm film really) you find yourself paying double and carrying double.

odd isn't it. Mean time I have both the G1 and the 35mm system ... so its hard to justify getting rid of the G1 as (aside from the wide options) it is about the same size as a 35mm so it gives me the image quality and detail I want without the weight penalty or the costs of full frame digital.

the image below was taken with my 21mm on 35mm film

but I just can't get this look with the G1


stefan kozma said...

"but I just can't get this look with the G1"

Thats it!

even with lightroom and raw's, I feel the same way.

much more satisfying seeing 135 neg shots on cd from the photo lab.

Noons said...

"well, so you can have it ready all the time in the glove box of the car would be one reason"


ZM + Chron 50/2 with Ektar 100.