Client Options in Understanding the choice between
Film or Digital
for your project.


Pros and Cons for each to help you decide what is best for you

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is John Lacy,
a commercial photographer
based in the
metro Detroit area.

We produce high quality photography mostly for business to business marketing.

Our principal markets are the construction industry and the automotive manufacturing industry. A significant portion of our work is also divided among the hospitality industry (hotels, resorts, casinos & restaurants)

Our specialties include

>> Architectural
(interior & exteriors),
(interiors & exteriors,
studio & location),
shooting manufacturing facilities & equipment.
>> Environmental & Studio
Executive Portraiture
for Editorial, Annual Report and similar,
Studio Product
including electronics, glass, plastic, package goods & food.

In addition to photography we also offer
>> Digital Retouching
>> Large Format Printing
>>Graphic Design & Offset Printing for brochures, catalogs and promotional materials and
Website Design & Hosting.

We've been in business since 1987


Late in 2005 this studio completed a transition to an all digital studio. After having shot film for over 20 years we have also decided to retain our film equipment and offer clients both as best fits their needs.

So what is the difference? Which is better now? As you may have read in articles I've written over the last five years or so that film offers many superior advantages, but then digital has quickly met and in some cases eclipsed those advantages. Let's take a look point by point to see what these differences are so we can make an educated and practical choice.

We can make a recommendation to you if you tell us what your needs and priorities are for any given project.

First a summery of the current (mid 2005) Pros and Cons of each system.

Film Pros;

- While the client may have to pay for the actual film, processing, scans, and shipping of the physical materials the equipment (cameras, lenses, etc) are reuseable and do not get quickly out dated as digital systems do. The studio can spread the costs of the equipment out over the useable live of the equipment which had been at least 5 years and as much as 20 years.

When using film most of the expenses are on the shooting invoice and if no scans or retouching is required there are no open ended "post-production" costs like there typically is with digital.

Color Reference - When shooting transparency film the color is "locked" when the film is processed. Irregardless whether the color is true to the subject when the film is viewed on a color balanced light table the color should serve as a model as to how all reproduction of the image should look. Assuming the color is correct a printer can use the original transparency as a guide to how the color is supposed to look. With digital (and negative film) the color is to a great extent interpreted. While the color may be corrected on a color-balanced monitor, it may vary slightly from monitor to monitor and requires much more diligent "color management" to reach it's final destination in a form which is identical to it's original.

Original Archival - Original materials for film are physical and can can saved and stored for future use. Scanning technology continues to improve so it is better to save the original film even after it is scanned because a new scan made on newer equipment may prove superior in the future.

Film Cons;

Lack of Immediate Results
- When film is shot it must be processed to see the results. If the film is damaged anywhere along the way by radiation, chemicals, power failure during processing, etc. the image may be lost. The delay between making the exposure and seeing confirmation of the results is considerable.

Any Digital Use Requires Scanning - Virtually all uses of photos today involve digitizing at some point in the process. With film this digitizing is made with a film scanner of some type. This step introduces some interpretation of the image in it's color, contrast and resolution.  High quality scans may be expensive and lower quality scans are, well, lower quality.

Duplicates of film are only exact clones if made at the time of exposure - Any copy of the film adds interpretation as mentioned above and copies of copies of copies in analog form degrade the image.

The Original may be lost or damaged - Even after processing the original may have to be provided to the printer to use as a color guide. As the original passes through many hands to opportunity for it to be lost or damaged increases.

Film Grain and Scanning Noise - Film can be scanned to a resolution in which the very grain that makes up the image becomes visible. With some films, subjects and processes this can range from very subtle to very apparent.

Digital Pros:

Immediate Results - The digital image can be viewed immediately after the exposure to confirm it is correct in every way.

No Scans Required - The digital image when recorded is already digitized at the highest quality of it's potential.

Duplicate files are exact clones of the original - Since the file is already digital making a copy results in an exact duplicate. This allows copies to be stored separately and damaged files to be easily replaced.

Proofs can be quickly reviewed or distributed on-line - By uploading the images to a website there is no need to wait for processing and then delivery of physical images.

Retouching is Part of the Process - Rather then contracting retouching of images at a later stage as is common with film photography the digital file requires post production processing. While correcting color we can also correct perspective (for architectural subjects) and perform simple or elaborate retouching to remove carpet stains, cracks in walls and floors, acne or stray hairs, wrinkles in clothing, unwanted reflections, unwanted signs or wires, people from backgrounds, even replace entire backgrounds all in the first stages of the process, even before reviewing images from the shoot.

Digital Cons:

Cost - Due to the high expense of equipment and the need to update not only camera system but also support computer equipment regularly these costs are passed on the client in higher fee and/or "post-production" costs. In many cases the post production costs cannot be determined until the project is under way. In the last year we have spent $8000 each on new digital camera bodies, plus thousands of dollars on additional new lenses, computer upgrades and new on-site printers. All to stay competitive on the new digital frontier.

Color is Interpreted - While we have amazing control of color in the digital image it is still subject to interpretation at every step. In some color critical applications like construction products such as ceramic tiles, window treatments or fabrics, or fabrics in fashion a color sample of the subject may have to be provided to maintain color accuracy.

Limits to Resolution - Scans of film are limited by the capabilities of the scanner and the resolving power of the film. In digital the sensor in the camera can record an image no larger than the sensor is capable of. While this may result in a sizeable and very useful image it is limited. Our current digital system is 16.7megapixel, producing a 16bit image of about 50Mb. Some prohibitively expensive digital system produce 22MP even 54MP images. We can produce 200Mb scans from medium format film, 350Mb file from 4x5 film. I believe that a 16.7MP image from our current digital system is superior to a 4000dpi scan from medium format film, but not to a 2500dpi scan of 4x5 film. This is partially due to the film resolution and the capabilities of the scanner.

Necessity to Upgrade Equipment - Because of the advantages of newer, higher resolution, lower noise and larger sensors it is required to replace equipment much more quickly then film based systems. Because many of these upgrades involve complete redesigns of the camera system they also may require replacing lenses as well.

Okay, so now what?

Now that we've reviewed some of the differences in the two options here are a few guidelines that have our studio towards digital but to not have abandoned film as an option.

Digital is probably the best choice for 95% of current shooting applications. What we are currently doing is charging a flat fee for shoots that incorporates "digital capture fees" and an assistant. While the total cost is higher than the fees only for film shooting, when you add the expenses for film shooting the total cost is about the same.

Situations in which film shooting is recommended are shoots that have color critical elements. We shoot these with neutral color balanced transparency film with color balance light sources. The film becomes the color guide throughout the processes leading to use of the images in printing or web applications.

Shoots that require very high resolution are recommended to be shot on large format film. While our current digital system is equal or exceeds the resolution of our medium format film system it is not as high as scans made from our large format film equipment. Examples of this are images in which portions may have to be magnified greatly or copy work of large images like paintings in which very small details are critical.

If the work flow of your operation is better suited for film, such as a major ad agency in which you prefer to see unaltered original film to be scanned and retouched by third party specialist then we are happy to accommodate that need.

There may be other situations in which film may prove a better choice. We are prepared to review your considerations, make a recommendation giving you reasons for our recommendations and options.

If you have any comments or questions after having read all this please let us know, thanks.

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Whether we start with a digital file or a scanned traditional negative, over 90% of our work is delivered in a digital format. This digital file of the image may remain a file on a disk or sent over the internet for use in a publication, website or video or it may be output  as a print or mural. The digital prints we produce are indistinguishable from conventional photographic prints. They are not really good inkjet prints. They are printed by laser on photographic stock. To learn more about our output options click here.







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