Who knew?

Mamiya 7II, 80mm, Kodak T-Max 400

Mamiya 7II, 80mm, Kodak Tri-X 400

I recently read an article in The British Journal of Photography that Sebastião Salgado, arguably the worlds finest photojournalist, now shoots all of his work on digital, the article amazed me, not the fact that Seb has finally caught-up with technology, but his working process – he shoots his images on digital cameras, then edits the files using DxO film pack, a £75 software, to put a Kodak Tri-X black and white ‘look’ on the images. Most photographers would leave it there, but not Mr Salgado – he then makes high quality prints and re-photographs them using a large format 8×10 inch film camera to make a working negative…talk about complicated!
My question is this – of the 7 billion people on the planet, who actually knows the difference between an image shot on film and one shot and converted in digital?

I’m starting to wonder…

Canon G15 digital compact, edited in Adobe Lightroom 4

Canon G15 digital compact, edited in Adobe Lightroom 4

Mamiya 7II, 80mm, Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 800

Mamiya 7II, 80mm, Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 800


  1. adambirchall

    It’s difficult to say onscreen, but in print, a silver gelatin far surpasses a digital print in pretty much every facet. You could say I’m biased to silver but even my digital friends say the same.


  2. Mark Bullimore

    But then again I wonder how much it has to do with him wanting/having to keep a archival image somewhere that digital just doesn’t quite cut it yet but also he can make more money out of a hand printed image then a ink-jet type print that silver prints have a proven lifetime of over 100 years


  3. I shot film for almost 40 years (120, 8×10, Polaroids, 35mm, 120, 110…you name it. After a couple of years ago, I could not see me basically having to get a second job to afford film, not to mention the rapidly declining types of film you could purchase. I went digital late last year. I am still learning the process but, in the end, it isn’t much different. You end up with a great photo.


  4. Part of the ‘look’ of film might lie in the lenses and cameras available to the average photographer. I mostly shoot medium format (645 and 6×6) which gives a different look and DOF behaves differently too, especially compared to my Olympus’ tiny 4/3s sensor.

    I love using film and printing in the darkroom, but I do ask myself why sometimes. I don’t think I’ve fully understood what attracts me to it. I can’t claim I get a better print this way than if I worked all digital. But I love the process much more than digital because I have much more committed to the final outcome due to the process itself. Analysing test prints on the path to the ‘perfect’ print forces me to delve much more deeply into what it is I am trying to achieve with a print, and to analyse the structure of a composition and how the tonal qualities of different parts of the image interact and so on. With a computer, I just don’t find myself so drawn in. Occasionally during a print session, I will come to the realisation that I don’t actually like the image in the end because I realise that it just isn’t working, and so I edit it out of my body of work (for want of a better phrase). I simply don’t invest that amount of analysis to my digital images, so I keep all the crap!

    So for me, its more about the process of using film, the joy proper mechanical cameras and discipline of the darkroom. This of course will have no impact on an objective third party’s opinion of my images, but then again its only an indulgence to keep help me scratch an aesthetic itch.


  5. I suppose the AF and other automations on a modern DSLR far outstrip such features on any film SLR, so that could make a big difference in the shooting process, regardless of the medium used. But to then photograph a print using film seems ridiculous. Plus, someone who has shot for many years on film, perfecting technique and produced great photos by doing so – why would he think he can get better results by shooting digital?


  6. I read on Canon website that sometimes he takes the shots, works on the digital files and then makes negatives out of those digital files in some lab in Paris, how cool is that? 🙂

    The goal is to make traditional silver prints using a real negative, but that negative was originated by a manipulated digital file. As you know I’m a film lover too and there’s something magical about a silver print. As a passionate amateur, I think nothing can beat that. But I’m also a graphic designer and I deal a lot with image files. I use those files to post them online, to be seen on screen and also on magazines to be printed.

    IMMO no, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to tell the diference between a digital file and a negative scan on a computer screen. I’m talking about “manipulated” digital files. We can do anything using software.

    On the other hand looking at a silver print or a non silver but high quality print of a digital file (even manipulated), yes I believe we can tell the diference. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, personally, as an amateur I use film, but as a professional I see digital files that blow me away and make beautiful prints on several kinds of papers, like magazines, large posters, etc…

    I think Salgado delivers an amazing quality “product”. His last book, Genesis, has some pretty amazing images. I remember looking at small pictures online and thinking… damn, too “clean” to be film but at the same time the photographs have this “depth” that only film, Trix used by the master, can deliver.

    Being a wise man, I think Sebastião Salgado is using the best of both worlds.

    At the end of the day a good shot is a good shot no matter the medium.

    I once asked a photographer that I admire very much (Gary Isaacs) about the film versus digital issue and he answered this “… i am of the opinion that as many angels can fit on a pixel as on a particle of grain.”

    Personally I put all my angels on particles of grain… but I also got a Fuji X100 last month. 🙂

    (Please forgive my poor English)


  7. PK

    AHHHHHHH Mr. Keen, you are coming around…. It’s not about the capture medium and even the legendary Sebastião attests to that. Art is about ideas and you have great ideas like the Canada trip and the couch series. That’s where the focus should lie.


  8. My guess is that most of your audience hasn’t a clue about the details that create an image. The “customer” responds viscerally and intellectually to your creation. Your peers–and those hoping to be you someday–are the ones who respond viscerally and intellectually to the technology and technique behind the image. They are a different audience than the masses. I think it has always been that way.


  9. Very few I would think, but I don’t think that necessarily matters. I’d also hazard a guess that most people don’t care what was used to take the picture (which is probably generally a good thing as way too much time is spent worrying about that kind of nonsense). The main thing is that you know what you are using and why you use it, right?

    There doesn’t seem to be much financial logic in continuing with film, yet you and many others (including myself) continue to do so. I don’t think that’s because we’re luddites, but the whole process of shooting film imparts a method that cannot be easily replicated with digital, and the method is a large part of what makes your pictures good.

    The other interesting thing about his method with digital is to not look at the back of the camera after taking the photo- it’s similar to film, but takes a lot of discipline. Both have a place, and both are worth shooting.


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