Digital vs. 35mm

I'm very happy with digital photography, and wouldn't ever want to go back to 35mm.

However, I've found a few sites recently that have comparisons between film and digital photos and been inspired to test this out myself.

For this experiment I shot several subjects on a manual SLR and a digital camera within a few minutes of each other. The film was processed and lab-scanned so that it could be compared with those from the digital camera. The negative scan size was 7200 x 4800 pixels, which is the best I could find online at a price I was prepared to pay. This turned out to be overkill, but I didn't want to leave the possibility of wishing I'd paid a bit more, and it gave the film the best possible chance of performing well.

The equipment and consumables used were as follows:
  • Canon Powershot SX20 IS (12mp / 20X optical zoom) - all photos taken with ISO100 setting, except as noted below.
  • Fujica st705w fitted with max F1.8, 55mm 'Standard' lens
  • Hoya HMC max F2.8, 135mm 'Telephoto' lens
  • 100ASA Fujicolor 35mm film
As I only had fixed focal length lenses available for the SLR in 55mm and 135mm sizes, I tried to adjust the digital camera's optical zoom so that the overall area of the subject was roughly similar.
(Obviously a Digital SLR with similar lenses would be a closer comparison, but as I rejected that route for myself in favour of a 'prosumer' model, this is the best I could do)

So why do some more comparisons when there are several out there ? Well, the best ones I have seen aren't quite what I'm looking for. These are my favourites:-
As good as these articles are, they don't really feature enough comparison images to show the pros and cons of digital and conventional photography. I wanted to see the full-sized images to gauge their overall appearance as well as close-ups of selected details. I was also keen to see how the two systems coped with different lighting conditions, such as long exposures, heavily back-lit subjects, artificial and natural light, and sunny/cloudy days.

Here is the final list of 28 photographs and 23 subjects / lighting conditions that I compared.

NB. The film was developed and scanned by Fuji Digital Imaging using an Agfa d-lab 2 minilab, and I was really pleased with the speed of service and degree of personal attention given.

You can jump directly to the photo thumbnails page which features an easy way to compare the digital and film images side-by-side (just click on the digital image thumbnail). There are no detailed comments on this page, so you can view them unhindered by my opinions.

However a more comprehensive comparison can be found on my comments and conclusions page. This page has similar links to side-by-side 4000px wide comparisons in frames, along with Flickr links to the 7200x4800 original scans for the 10 best film captures.

If you'd like to add your own comments about the comparisons, or rescore the images yourself, please use this form.
Showing 28 items
SubjectBaseFilm (55mm Lens)Film (135mm Lens)DigitalCommentsItem
SubjectBaseFilm (55mm Lens)Film (135mm Lens)DigitalCommentsItem
Bricks, Bushes, Play Area, Overcast conditions Hand-held F5.6, 1/60s  F5.6, Aperture Priority, (1/60s), ISO80 - oops! There is drop of rain on the lens of the digital camera version (directly over the climbing frame) 01 
Bricks, Bushes, Play Area, Overcast conditions Hand-held  F4, 1/125s F4.5, Aperture Priority, (1/60s), ISO80 - oops!  01 
Still Life, Indoor, Natural Lighting Tripod F5.6, 1/8s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/8s)  02 
Still Life, Indoor, Natural Lighting Tripod  F4, 1/8s F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/8s) Limited depth of field on 35mm shot 02 
Still Life, Indoor, Artificial Lighting Tripod F4, 1s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1s) Film exposure looks incorrect 03 
Still Life, Indoor, Artificial Lighting Tripod  F5.6, 1s F5.6, Aperture Priority (1s) Film exposure is incorrect 03 
Portrait, Indoor Natural + Artificial Light Tripod F1.8, 1/15s  F4, Aperture Priority (1/5s) 35mm image very blurred 04 
Portrait, Indoor Natural + Artificial Light Tripod  F2.8, 1/8s F4.5, Aperture Priority (1/5s)  04 
Oulton Broad Rail Bridge Hand-held F5.6, 1/125s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/250s)  05 
Gulls on Jetty Hand-held  F4, 1/125s F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/160s)  06 
Wherry Hotel Hand-held  F8, 1/250s F8, Aperture Priority (1/400s)  07 
The Old Maltings, Oulton Broad Hand-held  F4, 1/125s F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/160s)  08 
Backlit Tree Hand-held F5.6, 1/60s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/160s) The exposure was set to match the ground so that 'white-out' from the backlightling could be compared 09 
Duck Pond Hand-held F4, 1/60s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/50s) Has plenty of shadows as well as brightly-lit highlights 10 
Squirrel Hand-held  F2.8, 1/60s F5.6, Aperture Priority, (1/30s) - poor focus/camera shake Just shows I can mess up a digital capture as well - rushed this trying to get the same image ! 11 
Two Trees Hand-held F5.6, 1/60s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/160s)  12 
Trees, Sky, Water Hand-held F5.6, 1/250  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/400s) Interesting to compare this image, which was exposed for the sky, with item 09 13 
Night shot - BP Valhall Module Tripod F8, 1s  F8, Aperture Priority (1s)  combination of artificial light, water, detailed structure 14 
Night Shot - BP Valhall Module Tripod  F8, 1s F8, Aperture Priority (1s)  combination of artificial light, water, detailed structure 14 
Night Shot - Lowestoft Lighthouse Tripod  Failed F5.6, 15s (manual exposure + focus) Sadly, nothing useful was obtained on the 35mm film 15 
Night Shot - Whapload Road Tripod F8, 8s  F8, 8s (manual exposure) sodium lighting and moving car lights 16 
Portrait shot - indoor natural lighting - heavily backlit (net curtains) Tripod  F2.8, 1/30s F4.5, 1/13s (manual exposure) Aimed for the maximum F-stop available with correct exposure for Anne's face. 17 
Lowestoft Marina Hand-held F8, 1/125s  F8, Aperture Priority (1/160s)  18 
'Spirit of Lowestoft' - Lifeboat Hand-held F5.6, 1/125s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/160s) Digital image is too bright and over-saturated 19 
BP Valhall module - Bright Sunshine Hand-held F5.6, 1/125s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/250s)  20 
Lowestoft Marina and Bridge Hand-held F5.6, 1/125s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/320s)  21 
Lake Lothingland Hand-held F5.6, 1/125s  F5.6, Aperture Priority (1/400s)  22 
Landscape and Building - Low Sunlight Hand-held  F5.6, 1/125s F5.6 Aperture Priority (1/200s)  23 
Showing 28 items