Printing: digital x film

(Gustavo Adolfo) #1

I’ve been discussing with my brother about the pros and cons of digital photography.
Well, I’m on the digital side, he’s on the other.
The discussion came to a point where he states that film brings a feeling that is impossible to achieve with digital.
I’m trying to understand from where he came to this conclusion, so far, no good.
After this long intro, let’s go to the point: if he’s comparing digital with film, than he’s comparing prints (right?..)
So, I wonder if there’s any noticeable difference between those in terms of printing, which, I think, it’s the only way to compare both. I mean, to compare the end result from both.

(Ingo Weyrich) #2

ping @CarVac, the creator of filmulator


The “feeling” of film comes from various things, but when I wrote Filmulator I hypothesized that it was the way that film kinda manages to roll off bright highlights gradually. Clipped highlights manage to look perfectly good on film.

I thought back to the few times I developed film myself; you’re supposed to agitate the tank as it develops.

I had a thought: why do you need to agitate? Because otherwise, bright regions deplete the developer near them, so you need to replenish it.

So I made Filmulator to simulate this effect: as the silver grains grow in the developer, the developer concentration drops off and the development slows. Additionally, the developer diffuses around, and this works to enhance edge contrast.

In the end, does it look like film? No. But it looks good in the way that film looks good, in my opinion.

(Gustavo Adolfo) #4

Thanks @CarVac, very interesting. Is Filmulator goal the same from other “filmic” tools, like the ones in PhotoFlow, Darktable, etc?

Based on what you said, plus some readings on the Internet on how to better print digital photographies, I realized that if some requirements are not met (monitor calibration, resolution x print size, paper profile, etc), digital prints will stay miles behind film prints.

My question now is: provided that all preps are done before printing (the requirements I mentioned above), is it possible for a digital print to get a similar quality, look, whatever subjective attribute we choose to define it, as a film print?

(Massimo Bill) #5

I’m passionate and practice, more or less evenly, both kinds of photography (analog and digital).
I print both ways and I like both ways a lot.

I do think they are different, and this is exactly what makes the whole thing so great.

I believe that trying to mimic film with digital or vice-versa is a sometimes a pity, if you want to do it too exactly. There is more than enough slack for both of them in our times and they’re so great because they’re their own worlds.

Whenever you attempt to replace a technique with the other it feels like not using the right tool for the task (e.g. for sure you can prune a tree with a katana, given the right method, but why would you? anyhow, you may just try to do it because you’re curious about it and it’s perfectly fine; just, maybe, the outcome is not granted to be the same).
I like to focus on what digital photography can be great at, which does not have to be the same things at which analog photography is great. And vice-versa, of course.

Long story short… as someone who does both, comparing the two printing outcomes using the same metrics is a bit like mixing apple and oranges, in my opinion.

But I’m perfectly fine on trying to mimic the film feeling using digital techniques. The outcome may be great, especially when unexpected.

(Gustavo Adolfo) #6

@billznn Valuable testimony from someone who uses and loves both methods.

So, using your katana metaphor, and your experience with both, I wonder what tasks do you think digital and analog are good at, and specifically, what are the uses you make from each of them.


@billznn Why not? It works just fine!

@gadolf Interesting question, made me think…
I have been professionally involved in both worlds, and the first time I saw a “digital” print, I was overwhelmed.

Imagine Christmases of yesteryear. Santa Claes arrived and dad snapped a photo or two with his Kodak Brownie, for once loaded with a color film. Normally you waited until the roll was full before you sent it off to be developed; otherwise it would have been a waste of money. Then you had to wait several days to get the prints or slides returned to you.

I was so astonished the first time I saw a press photographer in action, just imagine, he wasted a 36 exp. roll of Tri-X on one little job! (Then everything was tickety-boo until he once happened to put the Tri-X into the fix before it was developed…)

And how is it today? Any little digital camera has an SD card that can swallow an uncountable number of film rolls. You can mix color and b/w shootings, you can mix film speeds as you like it. And then, perhaps the best of all: you develop the images at once and can immediately check if something must be re-shot. Unless you shoot tethered…

Back then, studio photographers normally used a Polaroid to check that the light was correctly set, before The Real Shot was made with the Hasselblad.

So no, I do not want to go back to the analog era, even if analog has a greater latitude, i.e. it was sort of more forgiving.

Finally, over to Gustavo Adolfo’s question whether it is possible to make a digital print to ape quality, looks, whatever, as in an analog print: Yes, I am convinced that it is possible. Perhaps using @CarVac’s Filmulator…

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

(Pat David) #8

Because it’s awesome?

On a side note, it may be worth also bringing in a film shooter like @Rick to get some further perspective.

(Massimo Bill) #9

Oh man… Where should I start? :smiley:
But, just to let you guys know, I’m not an expert printer (and I don’t print in the darkroom myself). It just happens that I believe that printed photos are great and I always try to have them printed when I like them a lot (results I get are still only occasionally great, though).

You could consider me a quite random (=unstructured) shooter, a part from rare occasions. I do know shooting technique but I don’t perform pro-like shooting sessions, let’s say. Lack of time, probably…

Just not to slip out of the main subject here, being it printing, I’ll try not to get down the infinite stories on how different analog and digital are (@Claes gave a good bit of it…). But I can surely say that I like (among other aspects) the anticipation that builds up between the moment the picture is taken and the moment you see it again.
I have a great love for film photography, but I haven’t got really deep into it, yet. There’s a great shop/lab here where I live (Zurich, Switzerland) specialized in analog photography and I rely on them for darkroom printing.

What can I say… maybe the thing that I like the most is that analog prints are so much more peculiar, in a way. They have often an unexpected and personal feel. I feel them more ‘mine’, I’d say (even though, again, I don’t even print them…).
On the other hand, I feel that the printing I’m doing ‘digitally’ it’s not the same quality, but simply because my lack of expertise, I believe. I do often see digital prints that are simply astonishing and I love.

Maybe the fact that analog is not so ‘mainstream’ gives me the feeling that the outcome is a bit less similar to the things you’re bombarded with daily (tons of pictures flowing, mainly through screens, of mostly poor quality).

Yet again… possibilities are so many and people so creative, that I feel so lucky I can enjoy watching them (I’m referring to people who ‘prune trees with swords’).

And what about the hybrids? Like… digital negatives for darkroom printing of digital photos? I’ve only some hints about it, but I have to admit it really makes me curious.

Edit: I actually realized I didn’t answer @gadolf questions, in the end… :roll_eyes: the simple thing, for me, is that I don’t actually choose a printing method according to the task. I simply print according to where I recorded the picture in the first place (but I admit I often print previews of analog pics through ‘regular’ digital print). As for what comes out the best… hard to say, you have great examples in any direction… Personally, I generally prefer portraits, in particular head-shots, on darkroom printing (and even more generally, on film).


Filmulator is nothing like any other photo editor.

It’s not mimicking the appearance of a specific film stock, but rather actually simulates the development of a neutral generic film. The user interface is simplified and the workflow streamlined.

(Gustavo Adolfo) #11

Hey Santa Claes!:sparkles:

I’m divided about that point: at the same time that I think it’s great to instantly know if this raw is ready or not to go, I kind of miss that slow pace, from the moment you shoot, and have to wait sometimes a long period before you finally get to the result. Besides, since you don’t have immediate feedback, you end up by developing an intimate tie with the machine, at a point where you are absolutely sure that this photo will be great and that one won’t. It is almost as if the machine is an extension of your body and mind. I miss that with digital. Something that @billznn have already mentioned above.

(Rick Scheibner) #12

Thank you for the tag, @patdavid .

It’s an interesting thing to ponder, the persistence of film as a viable medium in this digital age. I shoot both, and both for different reasons and unto different ends. For me, shooting film boils down to an artisan approach, taking a strip of emulsion and creating a physical, three-dimensional piece through the process. My best negatives get printed, mostly by someone who knows that side of the business much better than I. I suspect most film shooters enjoy the prospect of accomplishing all of that within the confines and the limitations of the medium itself.

Digital is different. There are so many possibilities of what I can do with a single RAW file. Shoot a compelling subject in good light, keep an eye on the histogram, and you’re bound to come home with something you can use. And since I’ve ditched Lightroom for Raw Therapee, it’s been fun pulling out some old RAW files from 5-6 years ago and giving them a new treatment.

I like to include some Medium Format prints (all optical) along with digital images for my paid work. Usually seniors, but I’m also shooting a wedding next summer, and the groom has specifically asked that a portion of that job be done on film. I’ll be more than happy to oblige.


Morning, @gadolf,

Oh, if that is the important part, then I have a super
solution for you: when your SD card is full, take it out,
and put it into an envelope, onto which you write:
do not open until Xmas||Easter||today+14||whatever.

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden


Morning, @Rick,

So perhaps one could say something that nowadays, analog = arty, and digital = stricter?

Actually, I found something similar regarding 13th Century calligraphy/illumination
versus using a computer to perform.

Oh, the result from the computer was :sparkles: perfect :sparkles:. Every right angle was 90.00000 degrees. Every straight line was straight. Every brush stroke was perfectly placed…

But the result was completely dead.

Had it been a 100% manual piece of work, you would have found slight hesitations, some imperfections, &c.

It was those small defects made the work come alive.

I recall that Illustrator offered a Rough It! command.
I know why :slight_smile:

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

(Gustavo Adolfo) #15

lol… you forgot to mention the silver tape on the display part

(Rick Scheibner) #16

For my way of thinking, it’s more nuanced than that, but I suppose some people think of it in those terms.

When I come across a photo that I admire, I don’t ask myself if it was digital or film. Similarly, my own photos that I’ve been happiest with are a mixture of digital and film.

Sometimes, it’s the journey, and sometimes it’s the destination.


Of course not :slight_smile:
But would you be able to see whether the print came from an analog or a digital workflow?

(Gustavo Adolfo) #18

… and then there is this hybrid digital/analog process: shoot digital, print analog.

I suspect that such prints should present the same quality as a pure analog shooting and printing process.


  1. Not sure if an ad from a specific lab is acceptable in the forum.
  2. Anyone knows if there is something similar for color prints?

(Mica) #19

I think it is fine in this context. I think we’d like to avoid people showing up to advertise for free in our forums, but recommendations/interesting links in the context of a greater discussion are certainly welcome by me.

In this case, I don’t really care for the looks of ink jet b/w printers, so this looks really interesting!

edit: the prints are pricey, but when I get a suitable b/w image, I’m going to give it a go!

(Rick Scheibner) #20

That part doesn’t matter to me. I try to avoid film vs digi debates at all possible. Both are equal in my eyes.