Friday, February 8, 2013

Digital vs. Kodachrome


After seeing the recent post about Steve McCurry and the last roll of Kodachrome, photographer Walter Wick sent me the following side by side comparison. These are details of two photos taken with different kinds of cameras. One is digital and one is Kodachrome. Can you guess which is which?

You can vote in the poll at left. Answers tomorrow.


Walter explains: "The film camera was a Contax G2 with a 90mm prime lens, the digital was small sensor pocket-size point-and-shoot with a zoom lens – the Leica D-LUX 4 made by Panasonic, which is now two generations old." Walter says that the digital version was processed after the capture was taken. He says, "You can get to Kodachrome from digital, but you can't go the other way around."
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Walter Wick's website

16 comments:

Mair said...

I voted but there are many variables. What DPI was the digital camera? How was the photo scanned? A low end digital camera would yield an image similar to a scan of a print....

Keith Parker said...

I honestly don't know which is which, but the image on the right seems to have both higher contrast, and chroma. This over saturated look seems to me like something that has become more common in recent years. So if I had to guess I would say the one on the left is the Kodachrome and the one on the right is the digital picture. Although technically they are both digital now that I am viewing them on a screen. Whatever happened to the Kodak company anyway?

D Palumbo said...

yeah, it's kind of a strange comparison to shoot the digital with a general consumer point and shoot and not a professional grade body and lens. I can only assume then that the cheapy point and shoot is superior for the experiment not to be completely irrelevant, but I'd still rather see a more balanced matching of equipment.

Cole said...

I voted for the image on left being digital. It looks much grainier, colour less vibrant, lower contrast. Wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong though.
If the better looking image on the right is from a cheap digital camera, maybe Kodachrome should have been retired earlier.

Alex Castillo said...

Perhaps the answer lies within the dynamic range. Film can capture more levels of light, so the transitions from light to dark values are more subtle than those in digital exposures.

Josh Freeman said...

Not commenting on it's quality but the Leica D-Lux series isn't really a general consumer point and shoot. When it was new, and the 5 and 6 versions attest to this, it ran over $800.

As for which is which, the image on the left seems to have sharper noise. Now if that's digital noise or sharpened film grain I'm not sure. The photographer could have run a blur filter on the right image and softened the grain to try and throw us off, but I'm guessing left is digital.

Josh Freeman said...

Looking at the full image, I wonder if he pasted the digital on top of the sprockets. :) You can kinda tell which crop came from it.

Wolf Lahti said...

Because Kodachrome tended to oversaturate its reds, I'd say the one on the right is the Kodachrome.

But we are limited by having to view these pics through a digital medium and by the quality and color calibration of our monitors.

Roberto said...


I'm going out on a limb here and say this is bogus! (I think a special computer FX is at play here!) I’m lookin’ at my screen and both images look digital to me! (72ppi? jpg’s?) Besides… I’m convinced that guy with the beads is an actor! Or maybe a Zombie!! (Or both!?!) -RQ

escuderoimagine said...

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I think that digital image is left option, because the high levels are lost and, at the same time, the noise is more evident.

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krystal said...

one on the right is Kodachrome. Lot more detail in the image on the right (in the highlights and the shadows; you can see definition even in the highlights of the necklace whereas on the left you can't), depth of field (the cubes on the left image are flattened out and you can't see that nice detail that is shown in the back of the person's shoulder) and latitude and smoother grain. The blacks look redder on the image on the left, too.

My Pen Name said...

is it really a fair comparison since the kodachrome by definition of it being available online, has to be digitized?

Jean At Home said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean At Home said...

While I can pick out the digital from the Kodachrome when I increase the image size on my screen, I agree with those that have commented on the discrepancy between the equipment. Using manual settings on my Nikon D90, which is only a step above low-end cameras, I can get beautiful detail, contrast, definition using my lowest ASA setting and manual settings on White Balance as well as aperture and shutter.

Also agree that the image on the right has that HDR quality about the color.

The telling point between the two images is the vertical part of the collar (can't remember the technical term for it).

For me, instead of this demonstrating the amazing difference between digital and Kodachrome, it demonstrates that when it comes to digital images online, you're better off with even a low end camera.

Joshua said...

Noting my answer here to avoid any confirmation bias (or lack thereof) later: I think it's more likely the one on the left is from film. They both have digital-looking noise, but the left seems to have finer value variations (look at the subtle highlight in the shadow of the collar) and the fact that it's less sharp would correspond with the larger format -- though I suppose it could have been blurred to throw off viewers.

Unknown said...

This comparison is useless. The devil in the details lies not it the digital camera, but in the display technology. Kodachrome has a huge color gamut that is obviously superior when viewed via analog methods (projected). No .gif, .jpeg or monitor (and possibly scanner) could accurately capture or display this. The fact that we are all looking at examples on our monitors invalidates your premiss entirely.