Why Digital Is Better Than Film

Why Digital Is Better Than Film

Painting is an art form. So are music, prose, and dance. No one argues otherwise. But photography, since its very inception, has had to justify itself as a legitimate art form.


One argument against photography was the case that it had no aura. Here, aura was defined as a "unique position in time and space." You only have one of a painting or one of a carved sculpture. There is only one original of the Mona Lisa. There is only one original David by Michelangelo. 

The Case for Context

This argument for aura is not contemporaneous. Think about it: sure, there’s only one original Mona Lisa, but through technology, we have all been able to "see" the Mona Lisa through digital and reproduced images.

Similarly, with music or performance, it may have been the case that a piece was performed for a particular audience at a particular time. But with audio players and video recorders, a performance can be experienced over and over on many different devices.

Sure, there is always some sort of "original," but that’s almost a moot point. If I’ve experienced the thing, I’ve experienced the thing. Does the original even matter? Perhaps it does or doesn’t, but that’s a much more prolonged discussion.

Critic John Berger instead argues that a work of art is special precisely because it can be replicated. Now, instead of going to an art gallery and experiencing a work in a particular context of said gallery, you can see it anywhere.

Imagine someone who lives in an urban environment viewing an image of a natural landscape on their computer in their home. Now, imagine a different someone who lives in the country viewing the same landscape. The dissimilar experiences and the different contexts each person is viewing the work in change the work for each viewer.

Theoretical what-ifs aside, let’s try this as an exercise. I’d like for you to view the image below and then view your surroundings. How do you feel about the two together, the image and the space you are viewing it in? 

Consider bookmarking this page and coming back to it when you are somewhere else. If you are out and about right now, consider viewing the above image when you are at home. Or, if you are at home, consider viewing it next time you are out somewhere.

This is precisely the unarguable case against the idea of a singular artwork or original. That is to say, being able to have viewership of a work by different people in different contexts is exactly what makes a thing special. This is vastly exacerbated by digital technology and smartphones: all of a sudden, anyone can view anything anywhere.


Historically, context was ingrained into the work itself. With consideration to European art, most works were commissioned either by religious institutions or by the wealthy elite. In either case, the works were painted or sculpted to be viewed within a singular context. A painting in a room was painted to be viewed in that room and nowhere else. No one saw it unless they went to that one room in that one building. Now, you can see almost anything anywhere; that changes how that thing is viewed.

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Leon Kolenda's picture

You can't change how it's viewed or where it's viewed. You describe works of art from very old historical times. Let's not forget that the Population, Ease of Travel, Modern Times Marketing, and Technology play a huge role in how and where images are viewed, and interpreted by today's viewers!

Mike Shwarts's picture

I think you skipped your argument against film. Unless wide spread viewing of digital work in different contexts and locations is your point. In that case,. your point is moot. Historically, to use your word, film was not like a painting. Multiple prints of various sizes could be made. They could be displayed in various locations. Reproduced in a variety of magazines around the world. They could be used as editorial photos to support wide ranging articles. Used like that, they could help tell a different story from what the photographer originally wanted to say/show. And today they can be digitally reproduced and used/viewed like work that starts off in digital format.

f 6's picture

Who cares? So dumb.

Roger Cozine's picture

I agree that digital is superior to film, but it's all about your photography style. Die hard purist and naturalist may prefer film because the image can't be altered. What you see is what you get, therefore it's authentic from day one. Whereas people who love to create original works, or demand the highest quality may prefer digital. That way it can be altered or tailored to ones personal tastes. Overall, film paved the way for digital. With one, we wouldn't have the other.

Michael Dougherty's picture

An argument could be made that images taken with CCD sensors are superior to those taken with CMOS sensors.

Lorri Adams's picture

<because the image can't be altered> - haha, tell THAT to Ansel Adams.

doug mcgoldrick's picture

or jerry uelsmann

Rodney Johnson's picture

Remind me again of an example of how Ansel Adams "altered" his images, please?

Timothy Gasper's picture

Via editing. Any outside influence to change the appearance of the original photo as seen when shot is an alteration.

Benoit .'s picture

Exposed film frame and RAW files are exactly the same only the film frame has to be processed to have any value or preview. After that you enlarge or scan the film frame. This said, you would get a preview by shooting a polaroid before inserting the roll of film, back or holder. And then you could alter your film chemically during processing and even expose the film with the intension of gaining some creative form from the bath and you could cross process too. During exposure you could do all kind of things like using a filter and so on. A RAW is the same way unusable until processed which first requires a preview. From there, you can enlarge and do all kinds of things with your film to create a printed image or a scan. Film is 100% same as Raw. There is nothing like looking at a perfectly exposed and processed 8x10 sheet of chrome on a light table.

Sam Sims's picture

Plenty of film photographers would argue that film produces a superior image, especially as a print - it's not just about sharpness and resolution. Also, manipulating film photographs is something that went on long before digital photography came about. Ansel Adams as mentioned by someone else is possibly the best example of this where he used his own technique on his photos to create a print in his vision. Also, before Photoshop people would paint over portrait photos to get rid of imperfections. Besides, no camera can accurately take an authentic photograph of a place exactly as you saw it. There really is no definitive answer to whether digital is better than film or not, only personal opinion.

Mike Ditz's picture

The title of the article doesn't seem to have anything to to do with the article, it's like it was edited and some critical paragraphs deleted. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯ ...and I went to art school!

f 6's picture

Maybe it was written by chatgpt?

Mike Ditz's picture

I was all over the place...you might be right. :)

Michael Clark's picture

What does the headline have to do with the article? Where is the article for which the headline was created?

Tom Reichner's picture


I was all set for a good read, a fully developed discussion. Instead I found what seems to be a truncated article, oddly cut off before it made some important points, and before it fully developed the one point it did make. It's like the author was planning to write a really in-depth article on this topic but suddenly got distracted so he just wrapped it up before he said all the things that needed to be said.



James Bruton's picture


chris bryant's picture

This argument just needs to end.

Sam Sims's picture


Rodney Johnson's picture

Obviously done for the sheer click-bait of the title, but the author doesn't even show he understands anything about photography, let alone any other artform.

"sure, there’s only one original Mona Lisa, but through technology, we have all been able to "see" the Mona Lisa through digital and reproduced images."

Yeah, sure, seeing a photo of the painting on my phone is "just like being there". Who writes this stuff in *any* context? Seriously, is there an editor in the house?

Go pixel-peep a high resolution (you know, a large format film negative drum scanned to NASA resolutions) image of a wall sized Jackson Pollack painting on the biggest screen you can get a hold of, and then go to the Met and have a look at the real one, denote the differences, and get back to us... (I'm sure we'll all be waiting for your report with bated breath!)

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Shoot foveon... Done

Timothy Gasper's picture

Oh please, not this again. Who cares.