A set of test images shot at night in Italy, to gauge whether or not a digital camera would be a reasonable replacement for film in the Barcelona Dark series.

The bottom line is probably not. It is very hard to emulate the “glow” around lights that get with film (caused by back-scattering of light from the film base). Shooting with a diffusion filter gets someway towards the look of film, but the fall-off with distance from the light is never quite right – although it is a nice effect in its own right.

Another difference is that the digital images are much cleaner and sharper than the grainy pushed-film images at the same effective ISO setting, but the dynamic range is surprisingly low compared to film. The work-around for this is to not shoot the camera at any ISO above 800, and raise the exposure in post processing. With a suitable luminosity curve, this helps to get a similar highlight roll-off to film.

The COVID lock-downs and airline luggage restrictions are forcing something of a re-think for the film shooting in the foreseeable future. It is becoming harder to travel with film, and harder to shoot enough enough even when not travelling to avoid the chemicals from expiring (in particular mixed XTOL). Digital provides an alternative, although it needs to be treated as its own thing, and I do not think that I can use it to continue series that were already started specifically with film as a medium.


  1. I find it’s generally best not to try to emulate film in my digital work, but to work with digital capture for what it sees and how it renders. At the extremes and limits, they are two very different mediums—to me there’s little point to using one to try to achieve the other’s behavior. If you like what film does in these circumstances, use film. Use digital capture for how it differs and find advantages in that to use. Remember: It’s not whether a photograph was a digital capture or a film capture that matters when you are doing Photography, it’s whether you make photographs that capture your intent. :)

  2. Yes, I agree whole heartedly. For me, shooting film is very much about process partly because it is enjoyable, but also because process and limitations really do also affect the results.

    However, with the current COVID situation here in Europe, it is becoming very problematic to travel with film cameras. The last flight to Italy had the use of overhead lockers banned, with people asked to put all bar a very small bag in the hold. In the near term at least it is going to be hard to travel with film equipment, which is problematic if trying to continue an existing series!

  3. Hmm. Why so difficult? The film camera equipment I carry when traveling takes up about the same amount of space as my digital gear does, plus or minus a little depending on how much film I feel like I should carry. In the end, stuff a sock with a Minox IIIS and a half a dozen rolls of film… or a nice compact 6×6 folder and a dozen rolls of film in a second sock. It’s not much different… when I count in all the spare batteries, cables, chargers, power supplies, etc that my digital cameras rely upon, depending on what you tend to carry with either kit. G

    • In this case the plan was to take a medium format camera and about 20 rolls of film. It was just not viable with the hand luggage restrictions. My bag, already slightly above the limit for the airline, was almost completely full with an M10 and three tiny lenses. And that was before trying to pack anything else that I did not want in the hold :-(

      Apparently, this was a restriction from the Italian authorities, who were trying to avoid contagion risks to the crew when dealing with passenger luggage inside the aircraft.

      • Yes, I can see where that would get a bit tight. I’d probably drop the Leica system kit, just take a compact 35, and concentrate on the MF stuff.

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