I've been doing a lot of film scanning lately - see images above. I also continue to have a higher sales to images online ratio for my scanned film images as opposed to digital. Both factors have persuaded me to buy a film camera again. I will reveal what this is after I'm completed my tests to see if it is working properly and have the film developed, but in the meantime I thought it might be interesting to discuss whether there is a 'film look' and if so, what is it?
As someone who tries to get his digital images to look like they were shot on Fuji Velvia or something similar, you may wonder what film offers me. Well, primarily, film scanning gives me, all things being equal, slightly more colour depth and saturation and slightly more contrast. There is also less highlight 'burnout' and more solid blacks. All of this is advantageous to the kind of images I shoot. Landscape / Travel etc. And it goes beyond what can be achieved in Photoshop. It's also no accident that I'm currently using Leica and Sigma / Foveon cameras as these are what gives me the closest look to a film scan that I can achieve with digital, in terms of colour.
Film of course has two great disadvantages, the grain and the fact that a film scan is nowhere near as sharp as a digital image. However, with a bit of 'fancy footwork' in the scanning software and image 'enhancing' software, those can be minimised. It's also true that film scans tend to reproduce better in print than they look on a screen, whereas digital images are the opposite.
Above is a gallery of images I shot in 1988 on a Pentax 645 120 film Medium Format film camera and you can see how well the highlights come out and that extra saturation and contrast I indicated earlier. The images were created using Fujichrome 50 and 100, which is important to mention since different films certainly give a different colour output. Is it accurate, no, but then neither is the output from any digital sensor either and rather than complain about this, I've always embraced these different colour renditions rather than attempt to rectify them. One thing is for sure however, scanned film doesn't have that default over warmed, over exposed look so typical of modern digital cameras.
For the purposes of me making a living, it is very important how my images look like in presentations like the above grids which is similar to how my pictures show up on stock picture library websites. I have to persuade people to click on the thumbnail to achieve sales and one of the reasons I think I sell proportionately more film scans is that they look 'punchier' in thumbnail galleries, in a way which is actually quite difficult to reproduce in Photoshop.
So yes, I do think film is different and I think that there is a 'film look', subtle as it may be. It is enough for me to explore it again. And even if my 'new' camera doesn't work, I always have 100,00+ transparencies to scan.