I've done both B&W and colour printing in the chemical darkroom for about 30 years, finally closing my last darkroom in about 1998.
Digital prints on the other hand. Humm. Let's see. No film flatness problems, no buckling, no secondary optical path during the enlarging process, no focusing issues when enlarging, no Newton rings, no paralellism issues, no paper flatness issues.
Oh yes. Add to that an almost total lack of grain (noise) at all reasonable ISOs, no processing variability, no reciprocity failure, etc, etc.
Why? Image quality above all. Plus greater convenience, perfect repeatability, faster turn-around and lower cost. And finally, not having to work in the dark for hours (days) at a time breathing toxic chemical fumes. Give me a glass of Merlot in front of the computer screen any day.
Michael, I think understand Your point of view about film. Heck, I might be thinking the same way myself too in my fifties when I've been inhaling those fumes for 30 years )
As I totally agree with you in many points I also disagree in some others. I shoot and postprocess my photos for clients in my own small company, using canons DSLRs and L glass. Why? Because neither I nor my clients like noise, chromatic aberrations or blur in the final pictures. I totally understand that, it's the way commercial photography is and wants to head to: clean pictures which resemble more like looking through an open window (there is nothing in between the photographer and the scene giving its characteristics to the final photo). If I were a landscape photographer too, I wouldn't mind to get as crisp and clear enlargements as possible.
But, there is another side of photography for which you can blame me for romanticizing. I personally don't think it should be underrated or overlooked. I'm talking about artistic photography where it's even *favorable* for the camera to show some of its characteristics in the photo. I'm talking about Lomo and Holga shots, Funkycam shots (ok ok it's digital but the results are a bit Holga'ish ), pinhole can cameras, pushing film for grain, crossing film, doing ferrotypes, daguerrotypes et cetera.I think some photos need the uncertainty and randomness of analogue processing, and in some cases it's not bad at all for the camera to bring something "more" to the picture.
Sure, *no one* can claim that digital isn't progress from the film times, of course it is! But the important point is that while it removes some of the restrictions of film, it at the same time is a restricted format itself too. Digital offers calculated precision and very few surprise factors, nearly everything can be controlled, but at the same time it loses the possibilities of analogue processing. I would never do my job prints with film, it costs too much, it's too unefficent, i hate cleaning the dust with dust blower and then in photoshop, it's too slow and I have to be a lot more precise with everything to produce good results. In my last shootings I was able to conquer the market from 3 competitors with just 10D, 2Gb cf, 16-35 2.8 and my portable elinchrom flash set. I shot 400 people, processed the files quickly on my laptop and produced photos of which people said they were very pleased with. There are other numerous examples of when I've benefited from using digital.
When I started learning B&W film photography by heart 3 years ago, I had grown anxious expecting immediate and controllable results. Now after those 3 years, I've grown into a more relaxed, precise and patient person. With just a roll of ilford delta400 in Canon FTb + 50mm 1,4 in my pocket, I really had to consider more carefully what i was shooting every day. I developed the films myself and did the enlargements on Brovira RC. Getting consistent and good results was sometimes a pain in the ass, but after inhaling those fumes for some time I started appreciating the efforts photographers have gone through in the past for achieving good results.
I started reading about the first actual photographs, daguerrotypes and the latter ferrotypes, the hardness of getting a good photo and the fragility of the resulted images. All of the analogue photographing processes seemed to have very much of a japanese zen in them: Concentrate and focus and you'll be rewarded with good results, if you fail, start all over again. Especially working in the darkroom proved to be very therapeutic for me.
I did some pinhole photographs, crossings and experimented with chemistry. The results felt more "real" than doing the same in photoshop, mainly because the photos were "too clear" to start with, any film like modifying felt like photomanipulation whereas light leaks, reciprocity errors, strange chemical reactions etc were just a natural part of the physical film and paper process.
I totally understand michaels point of view, when one is trying to achieve a good representational quality for prints, all sort of physical errors (residue, particles, optical anomalies etc) are simply things to dodge while heading for the perfect enlargement. This is what I try to do myself too when having a commercial photo shoot (people, products, architecture).
But I ask you people to remember - film and digital aren't things with a boolean OR, they dont exclude each other. Now that digital has taken over part of the original field where film was used, film has even more promise in the artistic photography area. It can achieve results which are nearly impossible to do with digital (without excessive effort). Most people have said that the "mutated" or "imperfect" pictures i've taken on film have been much better than the ones taken in digital.
At the same time I call for responsibility in your behalf, michael. Your word has a strong effect on many photographers opinions. I appreciate the great articles here in LL, but I hope you don't simply "bash" film because it's inferior compared to digital. It doesn't need the bashing because digital has already won the competition. Instead, I would hope to hear some more encouraging words from photographers saying: "Hey, film and darkroom work - if nothing more - is at least a great way to learn the basics and respect the roots of photography". I've seen many children jump from joy when they see their first photographs appear on the paper in darkroom. I haven't seen same kind of joy when they sit in front of a computer watching the photos. Perhaps this is the coolness of digital versus warmth of analogue film then .
I continue to enjoy my photographic work both in the darkroom and in photoshop, experimenting new ways of casting light on surfaces to produce pictures Peace!