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The Difference Between Film and Digital Photography (Video) 182

Posted by Roblimo
from the photographer-matters-more-than-the-camera dept.
Sally Wiener Grotta and her husband Daniel wrote some of the first books and articles about digital photography. Sally was an award-winning photographer in film days, and has maintained her reputation in the digital imaging age. In this interview, she talks about how to buy a digital camera -- including the radical idea that most people really don't need to spend more than $200 to take quality photos. (We had some bandwidth problems while doing this remote interview, but the sound is clear so we decided to run it "as is" rather than try to remake the video and lose the original's spontaneity.)

Robin: This is Sally Wiener Grotta. She was a hotshot photographer back in film days, and she and her husband wrote the definitive early book on digital imaging. So she obviously moved into digital photography quite well. And that’s what we are going to talk about, the difference between film and digital photography. Sally, what is the difference?

Sally: The difference is the technology. It is like asking me, “What’s the difference between cooking on a gas stove or an electric stove?” You still need to be a darned good cook and you still need good ingredients to get a decent meal out of it. The technology does matter. Digital has made photography more accessible, more shareable – that is the big issue.

Photography is shared extensively. It isn’t just staying in a shoebox but the pictures of the kids are coming out on Facebook and on email and such. The one problem with digital that we do have and has not yet been solved is that the pictures are not going into a shoebox and therefore 20 years from now, we won’t know where these pictures are of the baby or the wedding or whatever.

But photography is photography whatever the device is. It requires good tools: digital camera, film camera, whatever, Photoshop or a dark room whatever – good tools are important. And digital tools are remarkable. I am able to get such details out of shadows, I am able to get into my pictures and really develop them beautifully. The lighting potential, the way my lights now communicate with my camera is superb. I used to have to carry enormous cases, I mean giant cases of light, now I can carry them on a backpack with a small shoulder bag with stands, and I don’t need assistance to carry them.

But that’s just the tools. Then you need the skill to use the tools. That requires a lot of practice, requires an understanding, an intimacy with your camera. I always say to somebody, “Don’t buy a new camera just before an important event, just before the wedding, or just before the vacation.” The camera needs to be a second nature to you. And that is part of the skill of knowing your camera.

But the other two elements has nothing to do with the capture, it has to do with talent and vision. And it is like having a computer to write or a typewriter to write. I find it easier to write with the computer. I find it easier to edit and perfect my work with the computer. But that has nothing to do with whether or not I can tell a good story with my camera, with my computer, and whether I have the vision to capture, to see the right image, to capture it just right, and present it just right. That is a very longwinded answer to your question.

Robin: Yes. And it is far from complete. We could go on about this. You teach classes that take days in length, do you not?

Sally: I teach master classes in my studio for up to four students that can be up to three days long. But they are very exhausting, for me and for the students. Because sometimes I will focus in on one day class on lighting, or a one-day class on how to use Adobe Lightroom, which by the way is one of my very favorite programs. I love Adobe Lightroom the way I used to love working in the chemical darkroom, except it’s without the smells. Are we getting lazy? That’s a big question. Yes, the very quick answer is yes as a general thing. We have convenience, I can imagine my great grandmother telling my grandmother she is being lazy because she is using an electric refrigerator and doesn’t have to go shopping every day.

Robin: Oh my.

Sally: I don’t know about you but in the freelance life for me, I put in 18-hour days perfecting a sentence, not a sentence but an article or a book or a picture preparing for an exhibit. There are certain things that are much easier now, changing the light on a picture is easier in software than it was in the darkroom, but the easiest thing is getting the light right initially with your capture.

Robin: Yes. Like you mentioned carrying them, I still have them up here on a shelf, the 50-lbs or 60-lbs worth of lighting equipment.

Sally: It doesn’t break your back. As we get older it is nice that our packages that we have to carry are lighter, although I am using a very large camera now, but that’s because I shoot medium format, I shoot a Pentax 645D, but then I print out on a very large 44-inch printer for my exhibition work.

Robin: So wait a minute. Is this a digital camera?

Sally: Yes, it is a very very beautiful medium format digital camera. What’s important about that is not the number of pixels which of course you do need the right amount of data, but the quality of the pixels, because you are dealing with an image sensor that is physically larger. So even if I had the same exact number of pixels on that larger image sensor, each of those pixels can be wider, deeper and further away from its neighbor, so you can end up with a better quality signal.

Robin: Okay, so let’s bring this down into the realm of practical everyday Slashdot reader stuff.

Sally: Sure.

Robin: What kind of cameras should they buy? I mean obviously you have this huge medium format camera, they don’t generally need that. Let’s talk about somebody who’s going to do some product photography, and maybe some kids and sports and neighborhood stuff.

Sally: It depends. If they want to do sports, then I’d say one of the new or even older used super zooms that gives you a large snout and you can get in closer. I like, even when people went autofocus, the focusing is fabulous, auto exposure, they’re wonderful, I would like to suggest that if you are doing product photography, that you learn about F-stops and shutter speeds, simply so that you can get the full depth of field, the full product in focus. It is a very easy concept and you can get it on a very inexpensive camera. It is a typical point-and-shoot that just allows you to go off automatic. You can get a darned good camera for $200 these days, darned good. I would stick with those companies that are known for their optics, but that’s my old film snobbery.

Robin: Oh yeah. What companies would those be?

Sally: Nikon, Canon, Pentax, I would say are my three favorites. I love Olympus so don’t get me wrong, it is just that those three are my favorite.

Robin: I’ve always had Olympus still cameras actually for many years. Now here’s another thing too, and how do we deal with it: What camera do we really all carry around with us? Our phones, our phones, yes. My everyday camera is an HTC Evo 4G.

Sally: I didn’t learn to use my phone as a camera till just a few months ago, I didn’t know how it worked. But it works. And it is very convenient. I have a hard time holding up that thing, I am not good at composing on a screen, I am used to having it against my eye, but it does a decent job. To me, any camera, like you said you like the Olympus cameras, for me the camera that works best for anybody is the one that they are comfortable with.

So if they are used to the way an Olympus camera works, they should stay with Olympus, because they understand the way those engineers are thinking. If they are used to using their phone, they should stick with their phone – just remember that they should get physically a little bit closer, they should make the subject fill a larger portion of their screens so they can get a decent picture.

Robin: Now I am going to tell you something that’s really amusing, amazing. After we are done here, I am going to go to BestBuy because they have on sale for $39 - $39 a cell phone from Kyocera that has a very well-reviewed camera. Forty bucks! Now I have a better one than that, but it is broken, the other day I dropped it, so I am going to buy this, I am getting a new one from Virgin Mobile, under warranty and all that, but I want to have this cheapie as a spare – think about it. A spare phone camera.

Sally: It is natural for you and me because we were used to carrying extra cameras just in case. I look forward to hearing what you think about Kyocera when you have it.

Robin: Well, I will surely review it in my cheap computing column, but I am always just looking for the minimum cost thing that will work well.

Sally: Unlike you, I don’t relate to video well at all. I am very much a still photographer. The frozen moment is where I can capture, and I can understand the image and the story I am trying to tell. Video is something I don’t respond to. However, my assistant Lori Ryan who is a very fine photographer does all my video for me, when we need a video of my lectures or slide show of my classes, and she will use her DSLR, she is a Canon shooter and she uses the video on her DSLR, and it is quite good.

Daniel sometimes has used big video on one of my point-and-shoot cameras. And I have a majority, I don’t remember what trend it is. And it turns out nice. YouTube doesn’t require that much. And that’s where we are all putting it. You and I probably can look at two prints and we see in a minute the difference between the quality of one and the lack of quality in the other. Most people cannot. We just have that training and that experience. And what’s more, they don’t care. I remember when desktop publishing first came out and I was having a conversation with a lithographer friend of mine, and he was just aghast that the lack of training, he was just and I said, “But it works and I can print it from my desk. And it is good enough.”

Robin: Good enough. I’ll tell you something, everybody I know, and I know quite a few people who are doing independent films and they are all going to DSLRs, and even though I am technically retired unless there is a huge technical advance, there is no real reason for me to buy new video equipment. What I have is very good. But if I buy anything else, it will be a DSLR with a separate sound recorder, an H2, or something, zoom sound recorder, and that’s what I will work with, and that’s what the Indy guys are all going to now. Like you said, $200 for a good camera?

Sally: Yeah.

Robin: And that weighs how much? It still fits in your pocket.

Sally: Yeah, it fits into a pair of tight jeans. That to me is fabulous. But again, what people have to understand is, it is not the camera that takes the picture, it is not the camera that takes the video, it is the human eye and mind, and it has to do with: Learn your camera, spend time reading the manual, now don’t read the whole darned manual, that’s boring, read one command at a time, and play with it, learn the command, find out how it affects your pictures or your video. Get a sense of it, make it part of who you are, and then go to the next one. Because it is the knowledge, the skills with the camera, and then combine it with your own personal vision, you’ll end up with pictures that are yours and not just same old same old pictures that everybody else has.

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The Difference Between Film and Digital Photography (Video)

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  • by durrr (1316311) on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:03PM (#44994753)

    I read that as "The Difference Between Film and Digital Pornography (Video)"

  • by marcello_dl (667940) on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:08PM (#44994813) Homepage Journal

    Please slashdot, direct me to the 200$ camera that makes good shots, and video (this is 2013, cameras should do video without too much moire or sensor overheat) of low light theater settings.

    I was thinking a nikon 5200 with some hdmi recording to compensate for the 29 mins recording artificial limit. Or a non eu market panasonic gx7 which looks cooler. All of the above means shelling out some $$$.

    • Please slashdot, direct me to the 200$ camera that makes good shots, and video (this is 2013, cameras should do video without too much moire or sensor overheat) of low light theater settings.

      In the interview, Grotto says: "I don’t relate to video well at all. I am very much a still photographer." So I don't think her $200 number applies for something that has the good low-light video performance that you're looking for.

      • by Entropius (188861)

        Depending on what you're doing low-light video is easier than low-light stills; most cameras will show less noise in video mode at any given ISO, plus you can fix the shutter speed to 1/30 or whatever your framerate is rather than using the 1/100 or more you need to avoid blur on moving targets for stills.

    • by Entropius (188861)

      For $200? Find a used Olympus E-510 or E-520 and its kit lens. You can do a lot worse. There is a telephoto kit lens too (40-150, 80-300 equiv) that is small, cheap, and surprisingly sharp.

    • Well, it doesn't take video, but a Pentax 67 medium format film camera can be had for less than $200, and will take shots that come out looking better than those of any DSLR. :P
    • Low light means you want the largest sensor well size you can (ie biggest individual-sized pixel), and a wide aperture lens. A few P&S cameras have both, but you're better off with an actual DSLR.

      In terms of a body: the Panasonic GH2 is pretty popular among videographers for quality and controls; there are a bunch of firmware hacks out for it. If you don't mind not having video, you can pick up a used Canon 40D for peanuts, and it's a fantastic camera, and close to your price range.

      In terms of lenses, y

    • by Andy_R (114137)

      Now is a not a good time to buy if you want to cover both stills and moving image with one machine, the inevitable convergence of the two devices hasn't quite happened yet, and we're on the brink of consumer 4K video being possible.

      Give it a year or two and there will be truly convergent devices in all price ranges, and a glut of second hand non-convergent and/or non 4K devices on the market because rich people have rushed out and bought the shiny new stuff.

  • by OpenGLFan (56206) on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:22PM (#44994947) Homepage

    A sixty-second commerical? Nope.

    • by opusbuddy (164089)

      In the time it took the commercial to play, I shot and edited three images on my iPhone...lost interest after that...

  • by jkflying (2190798) on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:23PM (#44994955)

    We're nerds. Not blind consumer-sheep. We want to know what she thinks, how the sensors work, what makes the cameras good. We don't want to know that the interviewer has a smartphone with an integrated camera, and that he's about to buy his new camera as a phone from BestBuy because he dropped his old camera.

    This is a professional here, stop thinking you know *anything* about the intricacies of her job and show some respect. Imagine interviewing Linus or Wozniak and telling them that you're going to buy a new keyboard because you spilled coffee on the old one. Then asking them for recommendations on what brand of bluetooth keyboard you should get to go with your $120 tablet. I'm surprised she didn't hang up out of sheer frustration.

    • I get the impression from the way that Sally responds that the interviewer Robin (who is not properly identified) is

      1) Someone she knows.
      2) Someone who is known in some groups for her photography work.

      This isn't a random journalist interviewing a photographer, but a slightly lesser know photographer having a conversation with a more well known photographer.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "We're nerds. Not blind consumer-sheep
      hahahahhaha.. no. many people here a blind consumer sheep. There just blind consumer sheep about other products.
      And knee jerk reaction away from something is also being a consumer sheep

  • Protip: Cutaways (Score:5, Informative)

    by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:38PM (#44995103) Homepage

    Taking advantage of the conversation audio was probably much better than trying to reshoot it while reading off a transcript. Good call there. That said, cutting from video of a person to a similarly framed still of a person is not a big improvement from a cinematic perspective. If you want to do more of these, and you want something to show when the video goes wonkey, you should get some other cutaway material. A great example in this case would have been some stills from her portfolio, Ken Burns style, with some simple annotations of what we are seeing. Another easy option would be occasional reaction shots of the interviewer. Obviously, you have4 complete control over that half of the connection so you can always capture decent quality video on your side. (It's a good excuse to clean up your bedroom, if nothing else.) You could also have images of the things that are being talked about. Pictures of cameras, screenshots of software, etc. At around 10:30, you say "I will have this cheapie as a spare" as you cut away from the video. Would have been perfect to cut away to a shot of the cheapie tos how what was being talked about. Or a shot from the cheapie. Etc.

    And of course if you have more technical interviewees, you can ask them to record video of themselves on the call and send it to you after, while you have an audio Skype call for the interview. You can spend as long as you need downloading the already recorded video after the fact.

    That said, good job providing the transcript below the video. Excellent model to follow.

    • by JanneM (7445)

      Good points all. Just a small addendum/correction: replace

      "Ken Burns style"

      With

      "although not Ken Burns style, as that has been overused lately, and makes it harder to appreciate the image"

  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Monday September 30, 2013 @03:54PM (#44995267)

    For 95% of what people take pictures of in the real world, yeah, a camera built into a smart phone is probably good enough. However, if you're shooting:

    • * Stuff that moves fast
    • * Stuff you want to print really, really big (over 4 feet across)
    • * Stuff that needs to be color-accurate
    • * Stuff where you want to control what part of the image is in focus

    Then you need something like a DSLR with a real shutter & aperture and honkin' big sensor, and hopefully expensive lenses that can take advantage of all of the above. Spending $200 on a hands-on photography class will have much more impact for most people than spending the money on an expensive camera, and then hoping you getting better results when you push the button (which ain't happening).

    • by Longjmp (632577)
      In other words, if you want good pictures, as an amateur or not.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Huh, Sounds like everything I can do on my Nexus 4.

      I got some great action shots when I was a DisneyLand

  • It's true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eriks (31863) on Monday September 30, 2013 @04:14PM (#44995425) Homepage

    I liked what she had to say, especially: "The camera doesn't take the picture, the human does." -- that's very important. It's always been possible to take *great* photos with very inexpensive gear, if the composition, subject and lighting are all great.

    Most people don't need anything more than a decent $200 or even $100 camera. The trouble is that if you want to go to the "next level" -- you need to spend two or three times that (or lots more), and you can then get into low-light territory, which (IMO) is where all the excitement is. A truly *usable* 6400 or 12800 ISO is unbelievably liberating, and that's now here for well-under $1000.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      > if the composition, subject and lighting are all great.

      That's the problem. Most of the world isn't inside of a well managed portrait studio. You have to take the world and your experiences as they present themselves to you.

      Quite often life won't accommodate your point-and-shoot camera and what you could manage with a phone would be even worse.

      • by eriks (31863)

        Sometimes the best portrait studio in the world is outside, with the sun at your back, or behind a thin cloud. I'd say about half of the best photos I've ever taken "just happened" and didn't happen in a studio (since I don't have access to one), and until recently (mirrorless FTW!), they were all taken with P&S cameras. Good composition and an interesting subject are 80% of the battle -- lighting (when not in a studio) is about being in the right place at the right time and choosing (or letting your

  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by djbckr (673156) on Monday September 30, 2013 @04:20PM (#44995479)
  • Is this the slowest of slow news days?

  • I see people who go out and buy 800$ DSLR cameras, have no idea how to use any of the functions, just keep it in auto, making their pics no better than a cheap point and shoot. They don't know what shutter speed, iso, white balance is or what the difference between a 55-80mm lens and a 75-300mm.
    • Why would you be surprised that someone buying an entry level ($800, your number) DSLR would be a beginner?

      When they spend $3000 or $5000 or more on the camera -- plus perhaps as much on lenses -- and they don't know how to use any of it, now we're talking smile-into-your-napkin time. Even so, there's nothing saying they won't learn how to use it eventually.

      After all, it's a lot more fun learning to play guitar on a Martin dreadnaught than it is on some cheap box from the low price specials category of Musi

    • by kimvette (919543)

      Not everyone wants to use a P&S at party, wedding or other extremely-low-light event where the shutter will lag for 1.5 seconds trying to focus with that super-slow lens only to end up with the camera shooting with a shutter speed of 1/3" resulting in a blurry mess, or wants to shoot a sporting event relying on 10x digital zoom only to have the resultant photos smeary pixellated mess.

  • Between film and digital photography? I heard no such discussion. Slashdot, please take your editors out behind the barn and shoot them.

    On another note: Right at the end of the video, we all heard someone's camera ring with an incoming call. This is a problem I've never encountered with my SL66 [sl66.com].

  • When I see a title like "The Difference Between Film and Digital Photography", I expect to see exactly that in the article (or in this case, video). Apparently, that was not really discussed. Yeah, one is film and it is cumbersome, while the other being digital, is much easier to share with others. However, what I was really expecting, is how it affects the images that are captured. What is the difference at the grassroot level between the two? When I'm taking pictures, I want to know what the advantag
  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday September 30, 2013 @09:29PM (#44997657)
    I was hoping for more "Difference" than "it's all good." A more technical presentation of the differences.

    I've done chemical photography since 1979, and digital since 2000.

    What I have found to be the major difference betwen Digital and film photography is the way it handles light. This is very quantifiable.

    Film has a portion ot light effect that it responds to in a linear fashion, which is to say that the film reacts fairly linearly to the amount of light hitting it. At the bottom (dark) end of the response of th efilm, it flattens out, as well as at the top (light) end.

    While this is awkward to write about, in graphical fashion, it makes good sense, and if you have a doubling of light and graph it, it makes the traditional "S" curve. At the bottom, there isn't as much difference between doubling the amount of light, and also at the top.

    In practical terms, this means that there is less contrast in both the darkest areas of a photo, and also the lightest areas of the photo. In the middle, there is "normal" contrast range.

    In digital, the S curve is greatly diminished, leading to more of a straight line from the lightest the camera will show, and the darkest.The contrast range is more constant

    This is a big part of what people see when they can tell the difference. between the two forms of photography.

    If you want to come pretty close to imitating film response, take the image into Photoshop, select "Curves" and imitate that S curve.

    Now as for the other technical issues, Cell Phones have a really big limitation. They use tiny little sensors, which in order to have a normal photo, need lenses of extremely short focal length. This ends up making for pretty "lensy" photos, and even the zooms don't actually zoom, they enlarge an area. This means no lens effect other than the wide angle look.

    As for the other parts, the artistic issue, good photos can be made with any camera. People have been using plastic DIana Cameras for years to make art. A good photographer can make great art. Unfortunately, not everone has the eye or figures out how to do it, and we can now make really bad photos pretty easily. But we can always learn.

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