Film vs. Digital: Let’s Put It to the Test

Have you ever heard the argument that digital just doesn’t have the same look as film? Well, let’s put that argument to rest. I have painstakingly made my own Lightroom preset that I believe is 96% the same as my favorite film, Kodak Tri-X 400.

Now, this preset is custom made for my camera specifically. So let’s dive a little deeper into how I accomplished this preset and put all those subjective arguments to rest.

First, The Setup

First off, I had to get my Kodak Tri-X film as close as I possibly could to the digital equivalent. In order to do that, I shot my film on a Leica M6 using a 50mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH. And for my digital setup, I used the same lens on a Leica M (Typ-240).

I had two camera bodies and just swapped the lens between the two cameras, using the exact same settings. This way I could get the photos as accurately as possible when making direct comparisons in Lightroom.

To make sure all the colors and tones are as accurate as possible when making the preset, I used a ColorChecker and also made a custom DNG Camera Calibration. The Kodak Tri-X 400 was developed in a lab and scanned on a Fuji Frontier 3000 scanner at 300 dpi. The film was scanned at the closest possible size to a Leica M (type 240) RAW.

To Compare

For guidance, I used multiple shots in natural sunlight, overcast lighting, inside lighting etc. All using the same lens and settings and putting the ColorChecker in each photo. I did this so that I could get a consistent look regardless of the lighting situation when it came to applying my preset to any photograph I took.

Test Time

Now here is your first test. Four images of the same subject matter. Which photo is the Kodak Tri-X 400 and which one is my personal Preset and which one is VSCO’s preset for comparison? I’m sure you can figure out which image is the RAW photo, but if you can’t… please get your eyes checked.

Have you chosen which one you know without a doubt is Kodak Tri-X 400, or are you just guessing? I only ask because if you’re guessing then the digital vs. film argument is pointless.

OK, here is the reveal… Let’s see if you got it right?

Did you get it right? Or were you wrong? Let me know because I believe that film just doesn’t have the dynamic range that digital RAW files have now. I also believe there is something special that film gives, and that is negative prints made in the darkroom. If you’re shooting film and then digitally scanning it, I really don’t see the point personally. Because making a digital file out of an analog negative is kinda ironic. But do whatever makes you happy.

Three More Tests

OK here are three more images. One is Kodak Tri-X 400 and the other is my own personal preset. Let’s see if you can tell the difference.

Example #1:

Answer below:

Example #2:

Answer below:

The last comparison is a crop at 100% for you pixel-pushes out there. I was quite impressed with both results, and am happy to say I will be using my preset from now on. Sorry VSCO but I like my results better. So here you go, 100% zoom of a Kodak Tri-X 400 and 100% zoom of a Leica RAW file with my custom preset. (And FYI, I don’t think anyone looks at a print or photo this close… ever.)

Example #3:

And your answer below:


Is film still relevant when a RAW file can be so close to emulating the film look? Personally, I think film still has its place and I also love making prints in the darkroom. The only thing I think is kinda contradictory is scanning and digitizing your film into pixels. But whatever floats your boat.

So what do you think, does film vs. digital still have an argument? Or is it currently just a subjective debate with no real winner or right answer? I’ll leave that up to you. And don’t worry I won’t tell anyone what your answers were.

About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.