Vintage Digital vs. Vintage Film

14 years ago I paid a small fortune for a cool Nikon filmstrip scanner that allowed me to scan years and years worth of film, to digital.  Negatives and Positives (transparencies) can last almost forever if properly stored so at the time I wasn’t thinking about scanning as a method of safeguarding my work.  Instead, I simply wanted to share with family 

11 years ago my home burned down in a freak fire and everything was destroyed including decades worth of film.  Furniture and clothes and the such can easily be replaced.  Family photo albums, sentimental gifts, and the like cannot.  Some of the scans I made back then I’d sent out via email to friends and family and I was able to retrieve some of my memories.

A scan from a photo by a vintage film camera

A scan from a photo by a vintage film camera

Digital was starting to become a part of my life and I found myself with a new challenge.  Safeguarding my digital files.  Theoretically digital files can last forever because they’re simply 1’s and 0’s arranged on magnetic or optical media.  The funny thing is, for over two decades I never lost a film negative of positive due to a power glitch, crashed hard drive, or in some black hole.  Short of a fire or natural disaster film is a lot easier to safeguard than digital files.  On the other hand, film has only one copy unless you pay huge sums to duplicate them, while digital allows you to store as many different backup sets in as many different locations as you desire.

Also, keep in mind that while your digital files are limited by your software today, that ten years from now newer software, especially RAW file converters, will continue to improve and make better images out of old files.

I’d have to admit, that today with all the digital storage options available at reasonable cost, safe guarding digital files becomes easier and safer.

But what about quality?  It’s true that film scanners have made huge gains in resolution and the software that supports them had improved by leaps and bounds. Still, film isn’t nearly as popular as digital is now and probably never will be again.  This means the market won’t be driven for the same level of improvements we’ll continue to see in digital file software, especially RAW converters.  So I’d have to give the nod to digital once again.

These two shots were taken at Doi Suthep near Chiang Mai over ten years ago.  The one of the temple is perfectly exposed, made possible today, by software not available ten years ago.  The one of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep isn’t great, but the software ten years ago didn’t allow me to see through the haze and clouds nearly as well as you can with this image processed on improved software today..

With a Vintage Digital Camera

With a Vintage Digital Camera

This is really an in-depth subject, much more than a blog entry can cover.  Perhaps I’ll cover it more in detail in a future learning column.  Today, I just want to get you to start thinking about safeguarding your film and digital images, and to know the future will bring us more and better tools to help make the images better in the future.

Backup you your images, put them on a couple sets of cheap DVDs and mail one to a family member for safe keeping.  Put your film negatives and positives in the safest place you can think of, and if possible in a fireproof container.  And don’t throw away images you can’t make look decent today, because the future holds a lot of promise..