Retrograde: Celluloid vs Digital Photography

The two current and most well-acclaimed social media platforms are Instagram and Snapchat. Both are interactive outlets which allow people to share their day-to-day life events through photography. From the simplest of three-second snapshots to professional quality photo shoots, capturing still-image records of our lives has become interlaced in our daily routine.

Creating and sharing photos has truly never been easier, but it wasn’t always this instant and user-friendly. Before smartphones, and even before the bulky, heavy DSLRs that are such a pain to carry around (but capture beautiful images nonetheless), there were only film cameras: heavier, clunky in their manual features, and an absolute nuisance to function if you didn’t know what you were doing. Thanks to people like Steven Sasson (the creator of the first digital camera) and technological advancements in digital imagery and electronic sensors (as opposed to celluloid film stock), most people don’t need to deal with—or perhaps don’t even have the experience of dealing with—an analog camera.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 9.02.11 AM.png
Image taken from Niko Welsh’s Instagram, where he displays much of his work.

Although photography in our modern digital age allows us to effortlessly commemorate our everyday lives, shooting on film offers a sense of sentimentality that one simply cannot capture with a smartphone. Film provides photographers with the ability to experiment and to create images unique to them. Niko Welsh, a photographer in grade ten at Singapore American School, prefers to use film to achieve a more “personal, rustic look.” Although Niko appreciates the reliability and prestige of his digital SLR, he believes that images shot on film “look more genuine, and straight from the camera.” Of course, the vintage look that analog cameras produce is not always beneficial. According to Niko, “digital photography is much more reliable and easier to work with if you are new to photography. I prefer using a digital camera for specific shots. You’re almost guaranteed a good shot, but with film, you are challenged to get the image right straight in the camera.”

“You Have to be very mindful. I feel like there’s more of an adventure with film.” – Izzy Burnett

To some, the limitations and unexpectedness of film are part of the excitement and distinctiveness of analog photography, especially for SAS sophomore Izzy Burnett, a photographer who has recently discovered film.  She chooses manual SLRs (Single Lens Reflex Cameras) over digital cameras because they make her more mindful and cautious when shooting which in turn reaps more meaningful images. Izzy finds more spontaneity and excitement with film because “with digital, I can press the shoot button 1,000 times, but with film, you will be mindful (not to waste the film stock) I feel like there’s more of an adventure with film.”

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Photo shot on a Canon EOS (digital SLR).


Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Picture taken with a Pentax Spotmatic, on Kodak Gold 35mm film.

If you look for it, there’s a distinct difference between digital photography and shooting on celluloid. Although colors tend to turn out less bright on film, the muted tones give the image an aged feel. The colors in an image can develop differently depending on what film stock you use. Many photographers, such as the English photographer, known for his work with film, who shares his collective artwork under  “Negative Feedback,” claim that film by the popular photography company, Kodak, creates warmer photos, while FujiFilm’s celluloid brings out the cooler shades in images.

Our generation of point-and-shoot iPhone photographers is easily indoctrinated to believe that all things digital, and especially the DSLR cameras from Nikon and Canon, are superior to analog cameras.  But the resolution, pixel depth, and low-light capabilities are only part of the picture; celluloid film offers an exciting, unique way to capture moments, and accessing analog cameras can make for a surprisingly rewarding and inexpensive experience.

Author: Anjali Swarstad

Anjali Swarstad is currently a junior and working, for her second year, on The Eye. In her free time, Anjali enjoys making films, graphic design, and sharing goofs n' gaffs with her friends. She's excited to produce more videos this year, and can be contacted at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s