Will digital photography ever be as good as film for movies?

Digital photography has revolutionized the art world and entertainment industry, but film still takes a stronghold when it comes to movie making.
Digital photography has revolutionized the art world and entertainment industry, but film still takes a stronghold when it comes to movie making.

Well, it all depends on who you ask. Moviemakers have argued the benefits of film versus digital since digital video first arrived on the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Filmmakers like George Lucas -- who shot his 2002 release "Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones" entirely on digital video -- were quick to abandon film for digital production, while directors like JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan still remain fiercely loyal to film [sources: Alexander, O'Falt]. At least five of the nine 2013 Academy Award nominees for best motion picture were shot on film, as were three of the five nominees for cinematography [sources: AMPAA, Giardina].

Part of the difficulty in answering this question is getting moviemakers to agree on the definition of "good." Film loyalists describe things like texture, depth of field and exposure latitude when explaining their preference for film over digital video [sources: Elements of Cinema, Giardina]. Film's shallow depth of field makes it easier for cinematographers to create areas of softer focus, while its high resolution and more forgiving breadth of exposure means that details can still be visible even in overexposed or underexposed areas of the frame [sources: Elements of Cinema, Giardina].


Digital moviemakers point to the speed, economy and flexibility of shooting on video, which enables cinematographers to know immediately whether they have captured the scene they were going for. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who switched to video for his 2011 feature "Now" after 35 years of shooting exclusively on film, cited speed, color rendition and flexibility among his reasons for choosing digital for the project [source: Sciretta]. As digital technology improves, many of its advancements seem geared toward creating digital images that appear more "film-like," making it sometimes difficult for even cinephiles to tell the difference between images shot with film and those shot on video [sources: Eisenberg, Renée].

Will digital video ever look exactly like film? Maybe not to the trained eye. But if the opinions of several cinematographers from the 2014 Sundance Festival are any indication, that's not necessarily a bad thing. When industry website Indiewire asked cinematographers their opinion of the shift from film to digital, many of them objected to the "either-or" nature of the question, instead describing film and digital as two very different tools suited to different types of moviemaking projects [source: Bernstein].


Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Nominees for the 85th Academy Awards." http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/85/nominees.html
  • Alexander, Helen and Blakely, Rhys. "The Triumph Of Digital Will Be the Death Of Many Movies." Sept. 13, 2014 (Dec. 10, 2014) http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119431/how-digital-cinema-took-over-35mm-film
  • Bernstein, Paula. "Here's What Sundance Cinematographers Think of Shooting Film vs. Digital." Indiewire. Jan. 22, 2014. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.indiewire.com/article/heres-what-sundance-cinematographers-think-of-shooting-film-vs-digital
  • Darghis, Manohla and A.O. Scott. "Film is Dead? Long Live Movies." The New York Times. Sept. 9, 2012. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/movies/how-digital-is-changing-the-nature-of-movies.html?pagewanted=all
  • Eisenberg, Mike. "Movie Technology: The Continuing Battle of Film vs. Digital." Screenrant. 2011. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://screenrant.com/movie-technology-film-vs-digital-mikee-105167/
  • Elements of Cinema. "Digital Filmmaking: A Ruined Generation." (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.elementsofcinema.com/general/digital_filmmaking.html
  • Elements of Cinema. "Film vs. Video." (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.elementsofcinema.com/general/film-digital.html
  • Giardina, Carolyn. "Why 'Argo' and 'The Dark Knight Rises" Shot on Film." Dec. 14, 2012. (Sept. 7, 2014) The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/why-argo-dark-knight-rises-400866
  • O'Falt, Chris. "Sundance: In a World Gone Digital, Indie Filmmakers Reach for 16 mm." The Hollywood Reporter. Jan. 20, 2014. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sundance-a-world-gone-digital-672528
  • Renée, V. "Can You Tell the Difference? Film & Digital Go Head to Head in This Stop Motion Video." No Film School. Dec. 22, 2013. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://nofilmschool.com/2013/12/film-digital-go-head-to-head-in-this-stop-motion-video?
  • Sciretta, Peter. "Roger Deakins on Digital vs. 35mm: 'Whether I'll Shoot on Film Again, I Don't Know.'" Slash Film. Feb. 8, 2011. (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.slashfilm.com/roger-deakins-digital-35mm-im-ill-film/
  • Steve's Digicams. "Why a Film Camera May Be a Better Choice Than Video." (Sept. 7, 2014) http://www.steves-digicams.com/knowledge-center/how-tos/camcorder-operation/why-a-film-camera-may-be-a-better-choice-than-video.html