Film photography is not better or worse than digital photography, they are simply different tools, different processes and, consequently, different experiences.
The difference of experiencing of film and digital photography are not only in the process of photographing, manipulating and printing the photograph but also in observing and appreciating the print result.
With technology, mobile apps and computer photo editors can mimic the appearance of film photography but the ink print from digital camera does not have the same visual feeling and experience of optic print on silver gelatin from a film negative. Of course that for one to really notice the difference, and experience the difference, one has first to become used with analysing them because the difference is not in something one can spot on the image and point at to someone else with one's finger; It is rather something one just senses with one's eyes and literally feel as experience. It is actually true about experiencing any work of art. We do not have the same experience of looking at a painting through a screen, for example, because on the screen we are not looking at canvas and ink – and so we can not feel its texture, mass and pressure – but looking at pixels on a flat screen. It is no wonder that people who are used to appreciating works of art tend to spend more time looking at them than people who are not used to it; They are seeing and experiencing something more they know the artwork has.
One of the most evident differences of experience filme photography has been the higher dynamic range of large and middle format film negatives. The larger the film negative the less the print is enlarged when printed, or shirinked when photographed, conserving visual feeling of tangibility of elements in the image – the spatial distance between elements in the image. In other words, it feels the elements in the image are more alive, more real, more tangible and less abstract. Digital photography has been trying to use technology to obtain similar experience of film negatives and in some aspects, like dynamic range, it has succeeded to a certain point. Nonetheless, at the end we still are not looking at the same thing, and so not experiencing the same, when looking at ink printed from digital photo and when looking at silver galating from optic print.
The process of photographing is another aspect that differs digital from film photography. This process is not only relevant to the photographer because the process is part of the message; in any communication. See the actors in a theater and compare their acting from a movie. Because a different creation process gives them different experiences, the way they express their experiences will be different as well. The artist's expression is the main point of a work of art, so his process of working – which includes the tools they use – is relevant for the understanding and experiencing a work of art.
What does photographing with film negative mean to me? It means spontaneity with my creation and being more connected to the subject I am photographing. The reason for both is because film photography has no instant result screens for me to check the result of what I am doing. Without the distraction and certainty of a screen showing me the result I am forced to rely on my senses and trust it, which means being more attentive to my senses, my body – emotion – feelings and the moment, as I become more connected to them. Screens and tools settings of digital cameras are a distraction from what I am photographing and my experience with it, because the attention becomes towards the instant result, towards the control, instead of the experience of the moment. This instant result and control kills spontaneity, in my experience, and I like spontaneity; it is when the other selves in myself emerge and express themselves. The result in the message means trust, honesty, exploration and discovery.
Photographers can focus on the subject, their feelings and experience of the moment with digital photography as well but the fact it is a choice it is very hard to remain focused once the photographer becomes curious about the result. Regardless of the capacity of the photographer with the medium, the medium itself interferes in the message. Colours have meanings and communicate things, as well as the material of a work: wood, plastic, ceramic, etc. Different mediums also have different capacities and limitations. As McLuhren said: "The medium is the message". Choosing film photography is a choice of communication related to the message the artist wants to transmit. I also photograph with digital photography but for different kinds or work.
This is all to say that film photography is not merely a nostalgia, if it is at all. Choosing between digital and film photography is like choosing between oil and acrylic painting. Oil painting is older technology and acrylic painting has many advantages, such as fast drying. Many painters still prefer to paint with oil painting, not merely for the nostalgia but because it has a different experience than acrylic. This is the reason film photography is alive among artists.