There’s one question that I get asked almost every day across various forums, through email, on social media, etc. I don’t blame people for asking me but I figured I’d do a blog post on it because, well, because I think this topic deserves a longer answer than what I’ve been giving.
“So what do you think about digital film filters?”
Well, first I gotta explain to some people what they are……Over the past two years or so digital film filters have made a pretty big impact on how people edit in the photography world. If you aren’t familiar, digital film filters are simply Photoshop presets that make your digital files look like they were taken with a film camera. Many of them render a pretty legitimate rendition and to the naked eye (well, to the eye of someone who doesn’t do this for a living) you’d have a hard time telling it was ever a digital photo to begin with. The feel and “look” of film has become extremely popular especially with the hipster Lomography trend as well as the Polaroid resurgence. I see them used a lot in wedding and lifestyle sessions as well.
There are many kinds, the most popular being VSCO Cam , short for Visual Supply Company. They sell Photoshop presets that come in packages and each package has filters that match popular films such as Fuji Superia, Kodak Portra, T-Max, Tri-X, Velvia, etc. There are hundreds. Slap one of these babies on your digital file and boom – surely you MUST have taken that with a camera from the 1970’s. Let’s see some examples……
Whew! Ok, so each photo has the preset listed underneath it. The presets have a pretty spot on rendition for some films, others not so much. I think the Kodak Portra (last one) is pretty dead on as well as the T-Max 3200. I tried to give you a pretty good visual of what film filters do to an original digital image.
Now what do I think?
Well, to start off, a lot of dedicated film photographers, otherwise known as purists, will argue with you that digital film filters cheapen the craft and that it’s completely cheating not to mention contributing to the decline of film as a medium. I most definitely agree with that to an extent. Unfortunately, people would much rather spend $100 on each box of PS presets than to constantly pay for film to be processed and scanned. I totally get it, film is really expensive these days. A roll of Portra at your local shop can run you up to $11 and around $8 per roll online. Processing costs another $8 and a high resolution scan (assuming you don’t own one) will cost you another $11, give or take a few bucks. Right there we are looking at around $26 to get it processed locally. ONE ROLL. Now, there are lots of places to send it out for cheaper, I believe The Darkroom does it all for $10 but even still, that plus the cost of a roll of Portra puts you at around $20. I can see the appeal of a one time purchase for the presets. Despite all this hate towards technology, film filters and the use of them have actually peaked the public’s interest in using REAL film contrary to popular belief.
“So then why would we even bother to shoot film if this give us similar results and costs less?” MY FAVORITE QUESTION.
There is nothing better to learn photography on than a FILM CAMERA. I repeat, NOTHING. Shooting on an actual film camera isn’t always about the outcome, it’s about being in the moment. With a film camera, there’s no back to look at, there’s no preview, you waste less time fooling with settings and more time just shooting and composing. People will argue that learning on a digital is better because you see your mistakes as you make them….not so, there’s nothing that will break bad habits or rectify your problems faster than blowing an entire roll. I guarantee if you mess up a whole roll trying something out you’ll get it right the second time around.
Shooting film will slow you down, something that’s important in our society nowadays. You don’t always need instant gratification and that’s what I feel happens when you use film filters. While they liven up flat digital files, they also take away from some quality time with the craft you love most. Quality over quantity.
Personally, if I had a paying assignment I WILL use film filters – more profit for me, less turnaround time, more shots, and more control to give the client exactly what they want. If it’s a shoot for fun, I will ALWAYS use actual film because I believe that you can never simulate it completely and it’s a look I am not willing to part with. I guess you could say I’m Switzerland in this.
What are your thoughts? I’m so torn between all of the possible variables that I’m sure I’ll read this later and add many more thoughts. I’d like it to be a discussion!