A Tale of Two Photographs

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I’ve spent this evening, upon request of my wife, printing pictures to send with Christmas gifts to a young lady in Italy who recently lived with us here in the States for a year. In the time she spent with us, of course, I took lots of photos of her, knowing someday we’d all be glad I did.

Above are two of them, both taken in my home during the day in the same available light. One is a film photo taken with a Leica IIIf – Tri-X pushed to 800 and developed in Diafine – and the other a digital photo taken with a Nikon D3s that I post-processed in Silver Efex using the Tri-X emulation.

To me it’s obvious which is which. And, to me, the film photo is so much more evocative in how it captures the light. I can’t think of a better example of why I love film.

Can you tell which is which?


Addendum: As a number of readers have quickly noted, the first photo is film, the second digital. It’s very obvious to a trained eye. Below is another film photo taken from the about the same place, with the same available light as the second photo:


Is it my imagination, or is there a depth to it, a sort of 3D heft that film gives that digital B&W lacks?


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11 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Photographs

  1. Aaron Brethorst

    The highlights in the first image glow and shimmer on the bowl, the hands, and the book. And it has simply beautiful grain structure. The second one looks good…but it doesn’t have that same punch carried by the first one. The first one has to be the real Tri-X 🙂

  2. Jon Torrontegui

    On my phone the photographs on top looks much more pleasant. Anyway, independently of the medium it has a much more interesting light.

  3. Leon

    Picture nr. 1 is film, nr. 2 is digital (highlights blown :-)).

    I still think that was not meant to be scanned but that’s another story.

    How about sending her a darkroom fiber print of this ?

  4. Wayne

    The discussion on which is film being settled, I would like to comment, of the three photographs, I believe the third captures the essence of having a young woman in the house better than the first two. But I guess that is a discussion for another time.

  5. Harry B Houchins

    The grain structure of the film shots and the contrast are more obvious in the film shots. The digital, despite the Silverfx, still show a smoothness not available with TX. Leica + Tri-X the winner & still champion to my mind…


  6. Korhomme

    I prefer the first image; but I don’t think I could tell which was film and which digital.

    There are too many confounding variables; two different cameras, different lenses, different ASA (?), different scenes and different lighting.

    Can you try two images of the same scene; a film Leica and a digital Leica, same lenses, same ASA, and both processed as far as possible to look identical? That would be more realistic.

  7. Andrew

    And that is why we still shoot film. Its a different look, not better or worse, just different. The Leica M Monochrom (original CCD version) does a good job and has beautiful “grain” when ISO is pushed to 5,000 or higher, and handles light and tone similarly to film, but even then, film still just has a different look.

  8. Éric de Montigny

    Film is film…
    If i remember you have another one of her at red café in s.f.
    Also a good candidate for the christmas gift. imo

  9. Éric de Montigny

    Film is film…
    If i remember you have another one of her at red café in s.f.
    Also a good candidate for the christmas gift.

  10. Reed Loefgren

    I’m new here so, first, thank you for providing some of the more introspective writing among photography blogs on the net. The film images do look better, less clean :). But that’s just an opinion. Unlike digital sensor pixel grids film emulsions are utterly random in their arrangement of silver halide crystals as are the silver threads that reduce from them. Also unlike a sensor silver emulsions have depth, so light can bounce around inside it and work its magic in completely unpredictable ways. At the moment of exposure the entire plane of your film image might have been *inside* the emulsion and not on its surface. Almost womb-like, don’t you think? Digital has so much to offer but it tends to be things about which I care little, if at all. Besides, most of the population is losing the eye for such subtlety. It’s P.T. Barnum these days, not Vermeer.

    But the best part about film is this: I read a story this morning that mentioned a local TV station needing to access some of their video from 1989. Apparently it “isn’t working so well anymore”. That means they can’t read it. 1989. Your houseguest’s opinion of your photographs will be nice; but her grandchildren’s opinions will be important. That’s validation enough.

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