Past Tense: Film’s Special Quality

Here’s an interesting perspective about film vs digital imaging. Film looks like past tense, and digital looks like present tense. Here’s an example that everyone will instantly understand. If I switch on the TV and the movie The Natural or Angels In the Outfield, or Bull Durham or any other baseball movie is on, in a scene of game action, no one will see the players and think they are watching the sports highlights. They can tell it looks like a movie, and not video from today’s MLB broadcast of your team, whatever city you’re in. It looks like a movie, like it was recorded and saved some time ago. Past tense.

George and Co.Digital imaging looks like present tense, like surveillance footage, really. Just what you shot is exactly what you got.

Film has a dreamy, slightly soft quality, that looks like a moment stored, saved from the past. That’s what draws me to it, its slightly less real quality. Digital photography is sharper than film, I think, so if you’re out to shoot sharpness tests, go digital. But sharpness is not only what makes a great photograph.

Take this image. It’s of a friend and a dear childhood friend of his, goofing around at night with terrible light, hats creating shadows over faces, slightly blurry. Doesn’t matter a bit, this is a moment they’ll always remember. They were poking each other, after I prompted them from their standing, normal (and boring) pose. It’s two grown men being the boys they once were. It’s alive and captured beautifully on Tri-x with an Olympus OM2n with a 100mm f2.8.

I know there’s a need for digital in my work flow, for commercial work. But for personal work, I can’t help but want to pull out the film cameras and save my memories with this special silver-based medium.

6 thoughts on “Past Tense: Film’s Special Quality

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  1. Is this really the nature of film or the older lenses, less well corrected and without, or with lesser, coatings? I ask in part because I tried out a modern but uncoated lens on my Leica M9 when I had it and felt this went some way towards representing the look.


    1. Certainly the lens can have some effect, too. I find older lenses tend to have softer contrast. But the film look is certainly one that I find not replicable with digital. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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