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Why are we still shooting slide film?

If you shoot color film, it's pretty hard to avoid digital somewhere in your workflow these days. Most labs, even those that print on photo paper, scan your film and print the files. Optical color printing simply isn't available in most Western countries anymore. And since both positive and negative color films fade over time (not necessarily that much time, either), it's probably a good idea to digitize the images you really care about even if you do have a wet color lab.

Given that I get my color film developed at a lab and scan it myself (and that I never project slides), I've got to wonder why I shoot chromes anymore. The film and processing are both more expensive, and with my workflow, all I get for the money is less dynamic range and no exposure tolerance.

The ~5 stops that most slide film can capture is simply not enough for many non-studio lighting situations. It's quite common to be faced with the choice of having to severely blow out a bright area or severely block up shadows. Landscape photographers who shoot with view cameras or SLRs can sometimes get around this with split ND filters, but not everybody can take 20 minutes to set up a shot, not every subject has a brightness boundary that falls in a conveniently straight line, and there are plently of cameras that don't let you look through the lens to see what you're doing (rangefingers, TLRs, pinholes, toys, etc.), so it's not a solution for everybody.

Persnickety exposure can be a problem for "using the Force" with metering and cameras with relatively inaccurate mechanical shutters (even an in-spec mechanical shutter can be off by a third to half a stop (yeah, even that "precision" Leica), which is noticeable on slide film). This is particularly bad for toy camera photography where you have little to no exposure control other than film speed. If you're lucky enough to get light that allows you to shoot film of a particular ISO, if that light changes, you either have to stop shooting or waste the rest of the roll to change film. This pretty much means that you can only shoot toys on bright and cloudless or statically overcast days, and that pretty much sucks.

The one obvious advantage to slide film is easy, just-add-light proofing, but a bit of convenience in the process doesn't seem worth the dynamic range penalty in the result.

You may be inclined to correctly point out that there's no standard for printing color negative film, but so what? If you're scanning it anyway, who cares? You can use the film profiles included with the better scanning programs or use a white balancing filter for real color precision. Or, if the film hasn't rendered the color exactly the way you want it (how often does that really happen with film of either type, anyway?), adjust it to taste in your image editor.

I admit that a 4x5 sheet of Velvia 50 is a beautiful thing to behold, but you only get one per shot. I'll keep shooting the stuff for cross processing and whatever I can get my cheap-ass hands on expired, but I think I'm off it for normal shooting. For me, it no longer adds up.

Update: why we're still shooting slide film

Ken Wronkiewicz posted a rebuttal to this article, bringing up something I completely failed to consider: slide film has a greater Drange (density range) than print film does. This means that while you give up dynamic range, you get a significantly better contrast range in what you do capture.

In light of this excellent point, I'll keep shooting slides in low-contrast lighting such as overcast days. You can always get rid of unwanted contrast after the fact, but you can't add it if you didn't capture it in the first place.

Check out Ken's complete explanation at