Film vs digital - longevity of formats

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Patrick
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Film vs digital - longevity of formats

Post by Patrick » Tue Apr 13, 2004 5:20 pm

I have come back again to the ongoing debate between film and digital still photography and the merits of each. This time, as opposed to discussing resolution and the 'look' of the images produced by each format, I think it would be worth taking into consideration the longevity of the equipment used in both groups. Most people would state that one of digital's flaws is that the cameras will be outdated quite quickly as the next models are released, offering higher resolution and new whizz bang features etc. With film cameras of course, all you need is a sharp lens and slow, fine grained film.

However, in terms of functionality, I am wondering how well a digital still camera will last, compared with a film camera. The imaging sensor used in a digital camera appears to be quite a sophisticated device and I assume, probably quite sensitive too. I do know that it is vital that they be kept extremely clean in order for them to consistently produce good quality pictures. But realistically, how long would you expect something as sensitive as an imaging sensor to last and still perform flawelessy? Years, decades? The demands placed on the technology is quite high. Obviously, there is a totally different type of technology present in film cameras, they can produce excellent pictures for several decades. And what about certain types of photographs where the sun is featured in the frame for atmospheric effect. Is the imaging sensor not unlike the CCD of a video camera, where bright light can cause significant damage?

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Post by Angus » Tue Apr 13, 2004 6:28 pm

Well, my work's digital camera, a mid range Pentax is exhibiting occasional faults about 11 months after purchase.

Everybody I know who bought a digital camera has replaced it within three years - usually because the old one ceased functioning and they were told it wasn't worth repairing.

This is of course anecdotal evidence but it's safe to say that electronic devices are usually less long lived than mechanical devices - and film camera is at least partially mechanical...mechanical parts can also be replaced or remanufactured for repairs much easier than obsolete electronic components - try getting a 1970's VCR working these days for example.

How many people have a broken or partially functioning 80's camcorder in the attic? How many of us have working super 8 cameras from the 1970's? I'd bet nearly all of us.

I have used film cameras well in excess of 60 years old, and use a 50 year old Zeiss-Ikon semi-regularly. It works like it did when new, and gives pictures far better than any digital camera today - now that is value for money!

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Post by B Movie Mogul » Tue Apr 13, 2004 6:31 pm

I'd like to add to that, the longevity of the media produced on it.

I've been told the life expectancy of a CD-R (and other similar digital storage media) is at best 50 years.

On the other hand, my family recieved some old transperencies from about 100 years ago that were still quite intact. And I've personally seen slides from the late 1940s that look absolutely great.

Along those lines, I've seen many a home video from the early 90s whose tapes are deteriorating, even after very little playback, yet my roommate has some of his family's home movies on super 8 from 30 years ago that look like they just came back from the lab.

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Post by Angus » Tue Apr 13, 2004 6:42 pm

Archival properties are very important.

Kodak reckon all Kodachromes have a storage life of "at least 75 years".

Colour negatives if stored in darkness should last at least 50 years

B&W negatives stored well are reckoned to have an archival life in excess of 300 years.

I have Kodachrome slides shot by deceased relatives in the 1950's that look like they came back from the lab, B&W glass plates from the same era that produce perfect prints today.

Chances are you won't be able to read a CF or other of today's digital media even 10 years down the road.

About 10 years ago I came across some video tape spools from the late 70's, tracked down a player for them (very hard even in 1995) and dubbed them to VHS. Most played well but three I never got anything sensible out of.

Now all are showing serious faults despite my careful storage. And it would be virtually impossible to find a player for them these days.

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Post by BK » Tue Apr 13, 2004 7:12 pm

Personally I think today's electronic devices are made so they will self destruct in a few years time if you are lucky. They usually have this habit of dying just after the warranty expires, so the electronic manufacturers will continue to profit from you.

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Post by Angus » Tue Apr 13, 2004 7:18 pm

As electronic devices become smaller and smaller, and manufactured cheaper and cheaper it is inevitable that they last less time.

Take a 20 year old VHS VCR, they were built like tanks, likely had three or four large circuit boards with components that could actually be replaced, the chassis was metal and some still work today.

A 2004 vintage VCR will be almost all plastic, likely have one circuit board with chips that will be unobtainable in 5 years time and will probably last about that long if you are lucky....but it does a lot more than a 1984 VCR and does it better and costs about 1/8 of the price.

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Post by downix » Tue Apr 13, 2004 7:50 pm

Angus wrote:As electronic devices become smaller and smaller, and manufactured cheaper and cheaper it is inevitable that they last less time.

Take a 20 year old VHS VCR, they were built like tanks, likely had three or four large circuit boards with components that could actually be replaced, the chassis was metal and some still work today.
I happen to have a 20-year old VCR. Still runs like a champ

A 2004 vintage VCR will be almost all plastic, likely have one circuit board with chips that will be unobtainable in 5 years time and will probably last about that long if you are lucky....but it does a lot more than a 1984 VCR and does it better and costs about 1/8 of the price.
Too true.

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Post by tim » Tue Apr 13, 2004 8:27 pm

The oldest Kodachrome 8mm I have was shot in 1939. It still looks like new.

One day, electronic image capture will improve on S8, but, only when domestic TV standards improve. By then the gear will probably be one use and throw away! Shame.

Manufacturers aren't interested in whether people can keep their memories, only in getting them to buy tomorrow's junk.

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Post by pelluet » Tue Apr 13, 2004 8:34 pm

I don't know if this is slightly off topic, but the other thing that has become apparent is that no one seems to have those lovely little wallets of photos to show around the office when they get back off holiday anymore.

More often than not we hear that all the photos are on a disc somewhere and they haven't got round to printing any off, or that they lost a load because the disc got corrupted somehow, at best a select few get emailed around the office and you have to look at them in solitude and then eventually press delete. Those that were printed off with a printer and not processed photographically are unlikely to survive a decade.

In one of our filing cabinets is a load of packets of photos from previous Xmas parties, peoples leaving dos' and Pub nights etc. there are non more recent than about 2001 though as everyone went over to digital about then so most of the images are now lost.

This I think will be a big shame for social historians in the future who find that there is a wealth of pictorial history of insignificant but by then interesting events right up until the turn of the 21st century but after that everyone seems to have pressed delete :?

Mike

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Post by David M. Leugers » Wed Apr 14, 2004 12:04 am

I'll repeat my true story here about video vs film, so those who may have read it before, please bear with me.

My wife's family had a 100th birthday party for their large family's patriarch who had died in his sleep at 96 years old. The videographer of the family brought all his video tapes made during the 1980's of the last decade of the man's life. The video tapes were all unwatchable with tremendous amounts of snow in the picture with large dropouts in the sound and picture. It was a complete catastrophe. Most of the family was just despondent over the loss. Fortunately I had some S-8mm film I had shot of him taken at weddings and such. The film looks as good today as the day I shot it some 20 years ago. It is the only remaining moving images of this man. Tell my wife and her family shooting film isn't a good idea to archive family memories... Luckily, I have always shot film recording my own family. It is without doubt, one of the best arguments for using 8mmm film.


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Post by Angus » Wed Apr 14, 2004 10:05 am

I'm sure I posted this before but another family memory story.

In December 2000 I had processed a film from a camera my late grandmother left me. I'd actually had the film in the freezer since about 1988, not knowing then how to get it processed.

Anyway when this Agfapan 120 rollfilm was returned from the lab I eventually chose, all 12 negatives produced recognisable prints - the ones from the inner part of the roll were almost perfect, the others showed considerable age fogging but were still recognisable.

I was able to determine that the film had been shot in the summer of 1964, and shows my uncle and aunt moving into their house soon after they were married. A precious memory in itself....but there is also a perfect negative of my grandmother and grandfather together - the only known picture of them together apart from wedding photos...and all from a film processed some 36 years after exposure.

Too true about people not sharing photographs any more. I had a work friend come back from a holiday in Greece last year and he brought back 2 albums worth of pictures so everybody could talk about them - better yet I persuaded him to bring in his old super 8 films that his parents shot of him as a kid circa 1970 - we had a great time with his teenage impersonations of Gandalf!

For real conversation though NOTHING beats a slide show, where you can keep a slide up if people want to talk about it or move on quickly if they don't. THat is sort of achievable with a large screen PC and digital pictures but you really do need a plasma screen 2 or 4 feet wide....and the cost of that would buy a hell of a lot of film!

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Post by matt5791 » Wed Apr 14, 2004 12:21 pm

I recently posted the following at the Cinematography forum dealing with broadly the same question.

My contention is that it is pointless, ultimately, arguing over which medium is "best".

I think the MAIN point here is that quality is NOT the issue.

I, and many others, shoot film because I like the experience of shooting film.

I like it because of the challenges it represents.

Some people, often people who are unfamiliar with film photography, like shooting digital because of the experience that offers.

But they are two different experiences. You are either forming and manipulating your image IN the camera (especially if you shoot reversal) or you are manipulating your image, chiefly, on a computer and on the lcd screen.

With film you are essentially blind and thus this is the skill and challenge which attracts me (and many others); with digital you can see everything and this does not excite me, although it may excite others, especially if you are a roving newspaper photographer.

Obviously we all think that film is best for a number of quality issues too, in in the end it's apples and oranges!

I just like film, and I don't care whether it is better or worse than digital, except in that I hope people continue to use film to originate :)

Matt
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http://www.wells-photography.co.uk
Avatar: Kenneth Moore (left) with producers (centre) discussing forthcoming film to be financed by my grandfather (right) C.1962

pelluet

Post by pelluet » Wed Apr 14, 2004 1:37 pm

Matt

I agree with you entirely, I would be the last person to knock video or for that matter digital stills photography, both are excellent tools and are useful for tasks that would simply be out of the scope of classic photographic processes. Furthermore, they are here to stay so we must learn to happily co-exist.

However, on the question of longetivity, I think there will be a sudden and sickening realisation in years to come that the great majority of images, both moving and still, will have been lost because;

the medium on which they can be viewed has long since been superseded by newer, incompatible technology,

printed images will have simply ‘faded away’ and;

discs, unlike photographic negatives and photographs do not instantly seem valuable and interesting to a third person [clearing somebody’s’ estate for example].

I have an interest in social history and really feel that we have seen the last of the golden age of the recorded visual image being left for future generations. Many of the seemingly inconsequential photographs or 10 second bursts of cine that would have been deleted had they been recorded by electronic means are now showing rare and insightful glimpses into our past, what’s more they are surviving in attics, cupboards and draws. With every computer crash or upgrade great chunks of our history are being lost whilst characterless looking discs are consigned to a big heap never to be viewed again. :(

Mike.

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Post by Roster » Wed Apr 14, 2004 2:34 pm

Regarding still photography, for my money I am by and large sticking with film. That said however, I have almost all but abandoned my darkroom in favor of scanning my negatives and producing an in-box image and / or a paper print ala photoshop and a good HP photo printer! I store the negatives in three ring plastic negative sleeves, just as I have always done for over 30 years. The negatives will outlast me by decades, especially the black & white negatives. (I do still use my darkroom to develop black & white film but my poor Durst enlarger is collecting dust!)

Regarding motion picture photography, I recently produced a one hour documentary for a YMCA camp celebrating its centennial. They had several hours worth of 16mm films dating from the mid 1920's to the 1950's. The film was all reversal stock starting with black and white then shifting to Kodachrome by the mid to late 1930's. These reels were stored in adverse conditions over the years (high humidity, high heat) and yet almost all the footage rendered usable images. Most of the footage was probably in good enough condition to project too but I did not dare do this myself. I had the footage professionally telecined onto a digital tape. I then edited selected scenes in FCP-3, which allowed me to restore contrast and image quality to some of the really faded footage that I nevertheless still needed to use. The results were excellent. This was all done on a very tight budget. The camp is now storing the film properly and I predict that when new digital technologies emerge in the future, most of this footage can be brought out of storage and will still be in good enough condition for transfer.

For archival purposes, film is king, but for viewing and enjoying these images, digital is the way to go.
"Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

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Post by FilmIs4Ever » Thu Apr 15, 2004 12:41 am

Roster wrote:For archival purposes, film is king, but for viewing and enjoying these images, digital is the way to go.
You're really missing out if you aren't projecting film. Transfers leave a lot to be desired.

Regards.

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