Film Takes on Digital in Head-to-Head PBS Showdown, Can You Tell the Difference?


When it comes to the Film Vs. Digital debate, many people are fairly entrenched on one side or the other. But can you really tell the difference between RAW digital footage and film footage? What about when the digital footage is made to look like film using filters in post? PBS Digital Studios wants to put you to the test.

The comparison video was created by filmmaker Joey Shanks, who put a Canon 5D and a Canon 7E side by side and filmed the exact same footage using the same lens from the same angle. He then scanned all of the negatives in (a process that took as long as 4 minutes PER negative) and put the footage together in this head-to-head comparison video.

Here are a couple of GIFs that show the digital and film footage side-by-side:

Of course, identifying which is which is easy when there’s a label telling you the answer, so Shanks decided to keep the final clip secret. If you think you know which one is film and which is digital (or even if you don’t and just wanna give it your best guess) drop us a line in the comments here or on the original YouTube video with your answer.

Shanks will reveal the answer on December 26th, at which point we’ll update this post as well so you know if you were right. And in the meantime, feel free to get the classic film vs digital debate going in the comments based on the labeled footage.

Does one look consistently better than the other? Or is the standard on-the-fence answer (it depends on the subject) more appropriate?

  • Jim Johnson

    Different…. They will always be different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. And because they are different, they will look different side by side.

    I hate this debate. And these constant comparisons.

  • Chris

    Film purists and “film is dead” camps, CHAAAAAAARGE!!!!!

  • Peter Neill

    Also, The fact that to view the comparison the film element of the project is converted to appear in a digital video…..seems kind of pointless

  • Shawn Hoke

    I’m too annoyed by the video format to even care. Not to mention so tired of the debate. Film is awesome. I love film! Digital is also awesome. I love digital! Wouldn’t want to live w/o either of them and thankfully I don’t have to. Debate over.

  • Jim Johnson

    There are so many variables that make these kinds of comparisons pointless. The sensor, the film stock, how the film is developed, the scanning (and probably a hundred other variables) will affect the final images.

    I believe this actually the definition of pointless. What is the person doing the “test” actually trying to determine?

  • Robert Kunstmann

    I would say 1 is film and 2 is digital. The Highlights are rolling off softer on 1 on the other hand the blacks seem to have better detail on 2. Also 2 noise looks like from a cmos sensor, 1 is grainy like film would be… Bu it´s pretty close I guess.

  • Stan B.

    Yup, seeing is believing.

    No doubt.

    This definitely nails it.

    Case closed.

  • nomics

    Film takes a real artist to use not like digital

  • ordinal

    Rather an eccentric decision to compare on the basis of video.

  • Jim Johnson

    Or a true artist picks his medium according to what he is trying to accomplish.

    Sorry, can’t resist the troll bait.

  • bret linford

    Do you really care about this anymore?

  • nomics


  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    No way in, no way out.

  • Josue

    They should have used slide film. But that would have blown every bodies minds.

  • Josue

    What if it were titled “$50 camera vs $3,000 camera” and we weren’t told it’s film? How would we react?

  • Andy Umbo

    The big difference between film and digital is the work flow and post process. I dislike digital, not because I don’t think it has the technical “chops” to match film, but because it takes so much back end “futzing” to deliver it. As a still photographer, life was wonderful shooting my favorite transparency for a client, having it processed, and delivering it. Now with digital, in my market anyway, I have to shoot raw and endless “futz” with it (without getting paid for that process, mind you), before I can deliver it. And a lot of clients don’t want to look at jpegs to make their selects for post processing the raw, they want me to correct every possibility shot and convert them all to .tiff, so they can just select in their leisure, and go directly to press. And, I don’t get paid for the days that takes.

    People say shooting raw is like shooting negative film, it isn’t if the client in the old days wanted you to make a totally corrected 8X10 print of everything on every roll before they made their selection, and didn’t pay you for it…

  • Brenton Alexander Henry

    Shame on you PBS – I’d expect higher of you. Yes the answer is different, but a 5D and 7D as your comparison tool? While both great cameras, there is a reason neither are used for features. A c300 or c500 would have been a way more legit comparison. This is like asking, “What’s better, a prosumer 16mm camera or professional Arri 70mm”

  • visualbassist

    not when it comes to latitude…

  • Walter

    2 is digital because (a) the exposure is changing – the film camera was set (or could only be set) to constant exposure, or had larger exposure increments such that the same exposure was consistently chosen; (b) the white balance is “better” in digital, but actually looks worse b/c the film white balance gives a consistent purple/mauve tone to the scene, while digital also has a clashing turquoise tone.

  • Alan Klughammer

    Andy, you could always just hire someone to do the “futzing” for you. same as you did for film…
    Also, I never send the client every shot corrected. Depending on the client, I may correct one or two to show what can be done, then they select the images they want before I retouch them.
    In the film days I did not show a client all 36 shots on every roll custom printed either. At worst, I would show them a contact sheet with a loupe.

  • rikka

    film takes a real technician, not necessarely an artist…

  • greenarcher02

    Nothing. Just showing the difference. And if people can actually see it, and actually change what you like about the photo. He’s basically pointing that there aren’t differences that should be a big deal. It’s a hit to the “film purists” and “digital purists” out there if ever they got the answers wrong.