ARRI's Alexa 65mm has made us think that it's a good time to look again at this question
This is a question that will seemingly never go away. It certainly should do, because we can far exceed the specifications of film now with digital cameras. The argument from cost and convenience was settled a long time ago, but there's still a sizable number of filmmakers who won't let go. And these people aren't Luddites: they're often at the top of their craft, and we should respect their views. (Or, as cameras get better and better, are they simply deluded and unable to see the increasingly obvious truth?)
Rather than simply listen to us pontificate on the matter, we thought it would be better to canvas our readers' opinions. What do you think? You can see the ways that you can let us know at the bottom of this article.
But, meanwhile, let's just have a look at some of the issues around this. Sorry if we're repeating ourselves here but we're just curious and fascinated that there are still so many proponents of film and we genuinely want to know what people think on the subject.
Digital is indisputably better
But some people still dispute this. It's a difficult question to resolve because while specifications have digital winning hands down, there is an aesthetic and, yes, emotional element to this discussion. Why is it, for example, that audio enthusiasts forgo a new car, or, sometimes, a new house, in order to be able to buy a better turntable. Surely that's like painting go-faster stripes on a horse?
Not necessarily. There's little doubt that vinyl is a terrible and fragile medium in comparison to digital, which can now sample and oversample with cavernous bit depths and specifications that make vinyl reproduction seem feeble.
And yet, there remains something intangible about analogue audio reproduction. It's as if the transition into the digital domain leaves behind something really important. But we don't know what this is, if it is indeed a thing.
It may be a sweeping assumption but I think it's reasonable to say that the same phenomenon may be happening with film. No-one would say that film is a "perfect" medium, although you have to admire the sheer technical quality you can get from modern film emulsions. But film is grainy, and prone to damage. There's certainly no error-correction mechanism, except that, if you damage a piece of film, you can probably still make out the image. That's more than you can say for most digital media! (But that's another discussion.)
Perhaps the most consilliatory thing you can say about film vs digital is that they're different. But I would personally challenge anyone to spot the difference between a high quality production made on film, and a digital one that had been treated to look like film.
But I still respect those who argue that film is a superior medium, while not necessarily agreeing with them. The thing is that we don't know everything - especially about how our perception, mind and consciousness deal with moving images. And what we don't know about the difference between film and digital might be the very thing that makes one superior to the other.
If you want to get involved in this debate, just leave your comments below, or send them to me, at email@example.com If we get some good responses, we'll publish them in a separate article.