Spot the Difference: Analog vs Digital


A field test to compare digital and analog photography.

Credits: mrwhiteman

I had the idea to compare analog and digital photography for a long time, but the opportunity to make it in a good clean scientific way appeared just recently. I got into my possession two similar hi-end cameras: digital FUJIFILM FinePix S5 Pro and analog Nikon F90.

You can find complete reviews of this cameras elsewhere, so I will just provide the details directly related to my comparison. FinePix S5 Pro has a 23,0×15,5 mm (APS-C) Super CCD SR II sensor with 4256 × 2848 pixels. I loaded F90 with 35 mm FUJICHROME Velvia 50 slide film (with image dimensions 36×24 mm). Because APS-C and full-frame sized sensors would give different field of view with the same lens, I selected the lenses accordingly.

FinePix S5 Pro got a Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D, and F90 received a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, so that the actual field of view was almost identical. Both lenses were set to F2.0, and both cameras to autofocus and autoexposure to make things less complicated and to exclude human factor. ISO on the FinePix S5 Pro was set to 100, because 50 (to match Velvia) was not possible, and the white balance to “Daylight”.

Pictures of the same subject were acquired on both cameras one after the other. After the shootout, film was developed in a local photo lab, and then scanned by myself on Epson Perfection V700 Photo, which is considered the best flatbed photo-scanner. The acquired image resolution was 3600×2289 pixels.

So, in the galleries below you will see images in a following order: Digital Image → Analog Image (click on the image to see the second). Let’s meet after watching the pictures and share some thoughts.

Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman
Credits: mrwhiteman

So, what can I say? The obvious thing is that Velvia has more contrast and, perhaps, was frequently underexposed (due to lower ISO). Another obvious thing is that F90 has less depth of field, but this was clear before the comparison and was not its purpose.

More interesting things appear on individual photos. On some of the “analog” sky has much more saturated blue color. Also, the sunset sky on the bridge photo is clearly better on film. I like the close up of yellow leaves on a tree much more on Velvia. On the other hand, Velvia gave strange bluish shadows on some photos. Some yellow leaves got reddish hue on film. Pink and yellow roses and the sunset-lit tree with nests I prefer on digital.

Overall, I was surprised how close digital and analog are nowadays. Especially if you consider the possibility of additional manipulations in photo-editing software. Nevertheless, in my opinion, film still has inherent beauty which you need to recreate on digital photos with expense of time. I’m really interested in your opinions about this test, so feel free to comment below. Long live film!

written by mrwhiteman on 2013-01-02 in #lifestyle #digital #comparison #test #analog #film


  1. walasiteodito
    walasiteodito ·

    i don't know if its just me, but i think the photos taken with film is much sharper? i don't know...

  2. adash
    adash ·

    @walasiteodito Yes, film has a greater area, and can capture more detail from the same lens. Furthermore, all digital cameras have a softening Anti-Aliasing filter, that always makes the image softer than what the sensor can capture. Very few omit that filter, for example Nikon D800, the medium format Pentax 645D, and can produce enormously detailed images.
    But for me it's not about the quality - it's always about the fun.
    @mrwhiteman Thank you for your effort, but your conclusions about contrast and exposure don't have much point in a digital image, since it's always about camera settings and RAW image processing in software. That's true for scanning film as well, unless you're using a calibrated scanner, of course.
    And yes, I do like the colours and contrast of Velvia much more!

  3. nbriz
    nbriz ·

    Really interesting article. The comparisons were surprisingly similar with my preference varying on each picture. Thank you for posting this.

  4. gmoscarda
    gmoscarda ·

    The comparison so nicely presented in the article may lead to a very interesting and long discussion about many technical details. But I don't think that a technical approach would be able to explain the beauty and fun of analogue photography when compared with the boring and predictive digital one.
    As I've wrote in… , I'm in love with analogue photography no matter how perfect digital can be.

  5. dida
    dida ·

    Interesting indeed !

  6. asharnanae
    asharnanae ·

    Interesting comparison. I myself find it hard to compare digital and film if its asking which is better, as my answer would be neither, they just have differences of knowledge, use and process. As for film being sharper or more contrasty than digital, well, that would depend entirely on which lens, film and chemical process you use, and which digital camera you use, its settings and how you post manipulate the prints.

    I personally don't use film or digital just because of a technical aspect, or because of the look either. Their is only one thing which I might consider before taking photographs, and that would be what is most appropriate for the venue/idea/feel I want to portray or capture.

    But I generally love film and use it for the same reason I love ceramics, I love the process! I love using, developing, printing and scanning my photographs. I like the experimental nature and the element of random it can introduce, it's interesting and fun. Darkroom time, is time I cherish. For me, Digital does not contain the same procedural fun that film does, and I generally use it only when I know I have to, to get the pictures I want, or if it happens to be the only thing to hand.

  7. fash_on
    fash_on ·

    I was really shocked at how good the digital was for detail in the shadows. But Velvia is a contrasty film so it just proves there is no direct test really, since each situation/subject matter would involve a specific film choice. The decision making/creative process is what is different between analog and digital, with film it is more preconceived, requiring knowledge of the media.

  8. nikhil
    nikhil ·

    I think the analog photographs had larger contrasts as compared to the digital ones...

  9. bigbird
    bigbird ·

    HI,mrwhiteman: You write the more details from the two different cameras, and you can clean and simple to make the sample and show us how the different. I love your article.
    and before i also wrote the articles same of your concept, but you are more details....thanks for your sharing! LOMO ON!…

  10. pam-stach
    pam-stach ·

    very interesting indeed and also an eyeopener of the beauty of analog! :D

  11. mrwhiteman
    mrwhiteman ·

    Thank you all for your comments!
    @walasiteodito Actually, it is the opposite. The film camera had very antsy autofocus, so many photos are not sharp.
    @adash @fash_on @nikhil As I mentioned, the fact that Velvia has a lot of contrast is well known fact and was not the point of the shootout. You can manipulate the contrast in post. I consider color rendition as the main difference between analog and digital photographs.
    @gmoscarda @asharnanae I fully agree. The main reason why I shoot film is because of the technique, not the results. It forces me to save film and think about every picture. Digital can look perfect but the ability to make countless pictures devalues them. Also, shooting with lo-fi or vintage cameras on cheap film makes every picture unpredictable and unique, and the whole experience is a lot of fun.
    @bigbird I have seen your article. I like it very much. Actually, it inspired me to write my own on this site.

  12. adash
    adash ·

    Contrast is directly related to saturation. Most saturated films have high contrast and vice-verse. The same is valid for digital as well. Try increasing the contrast and voila - you've got a more saturated image. Play with the Curves tool in any program that has it, and see what happens when the curve goes steep or flat.
    What is missing in digital - but not always - is the depth of the colour. That means less smooth gradation when a lot of contrast is added. The same is valid for badly scanned film images as well.

  13. beshy
    beshy ·


  14. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    Perhaps soon, we'll see articles comparing Instagram and real medium format pictures :-)

  15. mojo_lomo
    mojo_lomo ·

    long live film!

  16. jwlb
    jwlb ·

    I would go for analog :)

  17. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    Using a negative film, instead of a dia, the plasticity of analog photos is unique, with great differences compared to didital photos. And if you print in your darkroom the differences between analog and digital b/w is great!

  18. takezzo
    takezzo ·

    who still uses analogue film cameras these days?

  19. ropi
    ropi ·

    what a fantastic article! really interesting!

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