Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

December 2006-January 2007

Question of the Month

Film or Digital?

Why You Should Shoot Film!

On our recent photo safaris to Kenya and to Rwanda for our Mountain Gorilla treks, a few of our participants carried both film and digital cameras. While at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, we met an acquaintance who occasionally shoots for National Geographic and who, we learned, still shoots film. He is considering finally switching to digital and he posed numerous questions about the digital medium. All of this prompted many comparisons between the two mediums, and the pros and cons of each. Since our friend still shoots film, let's share some of the very compelling reasons why you shoot indeed still be shooting film.

1. Since our friend the Geographic photographer is a discerning shooter, and very methodical in his work, he shot about 6 or 8 images on his first gorilla trek, feeling that he got what he wanted. Mary and I, apparently far less discerning, shoot at least 4 gb on every trek, and often double that, for a total of at least 400 and perhaps over 1000 images per trek.
Obviously, he'll need to spend far less time in editing, while we'll need to scroll through hundreds of images, editting most out as we seek the best of the lot.
Let's not forget the expense, either. Suppose our friend splurged and shot an entire roll of film. Between film costs and processing, he'd run up a tab of at least $8 in total, and more likely twice that, depending on the film brand, the film's retail price, and the lab and shipping costs. Had he been extravagant and shot anything like we did, shooting perhaps 1000 frames in a single session, that shoot would represent approximately 30 rolls of film, or at least $300 (low-balling costs), for that one session. For us, doing five treks, that could result in at least 5,000 images, or about 150 rolls of film. That's $1,500 - on the low end, or more likely $3,000 or so in total costs!
2.One of our participants, who is now a digital shooter, remarked, 'You know, it was a lot easier when I shot film,' as he referred to the equipment he now carried for digital photography. He now carries an expensive laptop for viewing or editing his images while he is still on a trip, which eats up valuable time he could be spending on reading or napping. That laptop might tempt him to do other computer-related work, too, like writing the Tips and Questions of the Month that I often do while I am traveling.
He also carries backup Hard Drives, as do we, and with the cords and power strips involved, it's easy to fill up a nice-size computer carrying-case. When we travel, I carry inside my laptop carrying case both Mary's and my laptops - fitting one per slip-in pocket, as well as both mice, both power cord assemblies, and both Lacie 250 gb external Hard Drives we use as backup. It makes this piece of carry-on a bit heavy and thick, but it still is a self-contained system housing everything I've done digitally.
Like my friend, I guess I should still long for the days when Mary and I carried as much as 800 rolls of film for three months of African shooting, when we wore Vested Interest Kumba vests where we stuffed 300 or more rolls in the long lens sleeve running down the back of the vest, and small bags of film in every available pocket and in the spaces between our lenses. When we walked onto the plane we looked like Michelin tire icons, stuffed to the gills with camera gear and film.

Of course, when I'm considering the good old days I guess I'm not considering airline restrictions like those imposed by British Airways last summer (2006) when NO carry-on luggage was allowed because of a terrorism threat. Since checked luggage is subject to film-damaging scans, I must wonder what someone like me would have done if I had been forced to put all my film in a checked suitcase that would then have been zapped by damaging scanners. There might be alternatives to checking the film and having it ruined - shipping the film, begging, etc. - but hey, I didn't have to worry about it.

3. Digital's expense is so high, compared to film. Here we are, with two laptops, two external hard drives, all the computer stuff at home, where, with film, all I had was rolls of film. Granted, I can also use the computer equipment in many ways, and use my CF cards and Hard Drives over and over again, but the start up costs are certainly more than just buying a roll or two of film.
I guess I'm not considering the paraphenalia I also needed for my slide imagery, like a big lightboard, an expensive slide lupe, thousands of slide sheets, filing cabinets, duplicate slides and 70mm dupes (for protecting valuable images), and a large storage facility to house the images.

4. Film, as our geographic friend illustrates, forces you to shoot a bit more conservatively. This, for many, is simply because of the costs involved, but regardless of costs and one's ability to afford any amount of film, on a safari one must shoot conservatively with film because of the finite supply. There is only so much film available -- that which you've brought with you. You simply can't fire off hundreds of frames on flying flamingos, for example, experimenting by trying slow shutter speeds or fast, doing fixed shots or pans, when you only have X number of rolls with you. So, in one way or another, every shot must count.

At the conclusion of each of our safaris, we asked our participants how much they shot (as virtually all ended up shooting digitally, even if a few brought film with them). After doing an initial cull, most kept about as many images as they would have dibe with film. However, almost all of those shooters had culled out nearly as many as they had kept, so the production-firing rate was far higher with digital.

Our own shooting can certainly illustrate this point. In about one week, we cull (toss out, edit, delete) almost as many images as we would have shot, in total, on an entire safari when we used to shoot film. Now that we're shooting digitally, depending upon the subject and the conditions of the shoot, we might delete anywhere between one-fourth and four-fifths of our day's shoot, keeping the remainder for a discerning edit later. In that final edit we might cull out all but a few, but out of that cull we find that we are capturing images we never made with film, even if we are firing more frames.

There are probably several more great reasons why you should still be shooting film, but I think you get the point. It's just crazy how this digital age has taken hold like it has. I really can't see the advantages, can you?


Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

Do You Need a
Big Printer?

Can a Wimberley Head be used with small lenses?

Is a Trip to Antarctica
Worth it?

 Is there an easy way to level a camera for panorama shots?

 Why is Yellowstone the best for wildlife photography in the US?

Apertures for Macro

 Why must you have
at least 2 digital backups

 Wildlife Models
Is there anything new
to shoot?

 Is the New Wimberley head worth having?

  What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

 Who should go Digital,
and when?

 What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

 What is the Difference?

 How do we meter White?

 How can you save your shoulders?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

What is the Most Important thing you can do before a Workshop?

How did I shoot the gliding Sugar Glider?
 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

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