ArtId Art Blog
by artid , April 13, 2004—10:18 AM
A great deal of debate has been appearing in magazines and on the web, weighing the advantages of film vs. digital capture. Much of this discussion concerns itself with the more common applications for capturing images such as sports photography, product photography, and photojournalism, all realms where 35mm film was the dominant format until recently, since professional digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras have now captured a large part of those markets.
Unfortunately, all of this information has caused confusion among artists looking for the best avenue for reproducing their work. Since these cameras represent levels of quality equivalent to 35mm film they don__™t approach the image quality or file sizes necessary for truly detailed, large format fine art reproduction.
Traditionally, art reproduction began with a high quality 4×5 or 8×10 transparency made under very carefully controlled conditions. These larger film formats allow far more detail to be captured than what is possible with 35mm film sizes. In the fine art market we are looking for digital devices that equal or exceed the quality standards set by large-format 4×5 film.
Digital cameras intended as an alternative to large format film come in the form of digital backs that replace the film backs on medium and large format cameras. They have the ability to capture much larger file sizes than their single-shot SLR based counterparts, and most importantly, far greater detail and tonal range. Digital scanning backs for 4×5 cameras are capable of generating the largest file sizes, since they actually scan the image progressively, capturing one row of pixels at a time at very high resolution. But they are slower and require expert setup and use.
The time and effort to utilize this type of device is worth the superior image quality they provide for large prints. File size is important to high quality prints, since the size of the file determines how much actual image information there is to work with.
While file size is important, other factors affect overall image quality. All photographic film has grain, and images scanned from negatives or transparencies have the films characteristic grain introduced into the image. When a film-based image is enlarged to print at 30___ or 40___ the grain becomes apparent in the print. Capturing the image directly with a digital camera eliminates this problem, giving the resulting prints a smoother overall appearance, which is more faithful to the appearance of the original artwork.
As is true with any reproduction process, the fewer generations involved the better. Direct digital capture enables you to go directly from your original art to a digital print in one generation. With film, two additional generations are added to the process. First is the conversion of the original art to film, then the conversion from film to a scanned file before a print can be made. Each conversion has it__™s own set of technical compromises, and eliminating these contributes to better fidelity in the final print. Additionally film requires chemical processing, a difficult to control process which often introduces color shifts and casts to the film that need to be corrected later.
Time is an advantage in a digital workflow since you can see immediately the quality of the image you have just captured. If the image isn__™t up to par, you can immediately reshoot it. Sending film out for processing requires a number of days before you have it back, and if there are any problems it will need to be reshot and processed again, costing even more time.
Color fidelity of high end digital devices is very, very good, especially when custom camera profiles are used for the particular camera your work is being captured on. Film has it__™s own characteristic color cast, and additional color shifts are introduced in processing. The advantage lies in the fact that less image processing and color correcting needs to be done from a digital capture, preserving more detail and fidelity.
The more an image is manipulated before achieving an acceptable print, the more likely it is for problems to be introduced into the final print. It becomes obvious when a printed image has been over manipulated, as the quality of the image degrades quickly and visible artifacts left from editing the image appear.
One last but important advantage centers on the fact that the work depends on the people doing it, and having the original artwork as a reference instead of a piece of film is a great advantage for the people creating reproductions for you. If all they ever see is a piece of film, that is all they can ever match __" the reproduction can only be as good as the film.
Working directly with the original artwork at hand, eliminating unnecessary generations and color casts from the film developing process - plus avoiding the introduction of film-like characteristics such as grain, dust and lack of sharpness - provides the best start to the most faithful reproductions possible. High resolution digital photography has clearly taken the quality lead away from film, it is time for artists seeking the best reproductions of their work to make the switch.