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Digital Wedding Photography vs. Film
by Cliff Mautner

When I began my professional photography career in 1982, digital cameras were only a pipe dream. I shot 6,000 assignments with the Philadelphia Inquirer and 500 weddings using film, but I haven't shot a roll of film in more than a year. There was a period where clients would ask the common question “do you shoot film or digital?” A few years ago, I believed that I was able to give my clients a better product by shooting film. Today, I'm convinced that I'm giving my clients a better product by shooting digital.

As a spokesperson for the Nikon Corporation, I spearheaded the launch of the last film body they'll ever make: the Nikon F6. Recently, I was the first wedding photographer in the world to use the new Nikon D3 digital SLR. Now I think I'm uniquely qualified to bring some perspective on what was a very touchy subject: Digital vs. Film.

To fully understand the root of the argument, you need to understand the limitations and advantages of both. There are very few limitations with film; it can produce a terrific product. Wedding photographers who choose to continue to use film will produce beautiful, accurate skin tones and maintain terrific shadow detail and highlights in their images. Film photographers will benefit from the simplicity in their workflow that accompanies shooting film. However, improving and enhancing a film image can be a cumbersome process. If the images aren’t printed in a darkroom, they must be scanned and “digitized” in order to be digitally enhanced. The ability to improve the image is directly related to the quality of the actual film scanning process. I, for one, have never been too pleased with film scans. While film still produces beautiful work, it’s a more labor-intensive process to manipulate the images.

In the early days of digital photography, digital cameras lacked enough resolution to produce quality prints beyond sizes 5x7 or 8x10. Additionally, the ability to maintain color rendition, skin tones, shadow detail, and highlights could not compare to film. However, resolution is no longer an issue today. Most photographers are quite satisfied with the resolution of just about any high-quality digital camera.

With the advent of the latest digital technology, most digital vs. film arguments should be put to rest. It’s my opinion that the quality of my digital photography surpasses the quality of the film product I produced. The most important variable here is what the digital photographer does with the digital files after the shoot. The digital image must be enhanced post-production to take full advantage of the technology. This process makes the difference between producing a quality product and a lousy one. It's entirely possible to be a terrific photographer and still have the prints look very average after the post-production process.

One factor that photographers often overlook in the digital vs. film debate is that digital images can improve your work. I feel as though my work, my style, and my eye, have all evolved since my transition from film. For me, digital is a better choice. I could never imagine going back to film. However, I'd never say that digital is a better choice for all wedding photographers. There is no clear-cut answer to this debate. Individual preferences are what matter. Look at the photographer producing the work and then decide what's best for your wedding!


Cliff Mautner shot 6000 assignments as a photojournalist with the Philadelphia Inquirer during a 15 year career with them. He's since become the Nikon Corporation's top wedding spokesperson and WPPI 
recognized him as one of the top photographers and educators in the world.

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