It’s been f ive years since I tested the resolution of the Canon 10D digital SLR against that of f ilm. At that time, the 10D was about $1,500 for the body, and I found that film offered about twice the resolution of digital, depending on the lens. Times have changed. I just had the pleasure of testing the new Canon 50D against the same f ilm, the same lens, and the same resolution chart. The results were impressive.
The film camera was a Canon 630 with a Canon 50mm ƒ/1.8 lens; the digital camera was a Canon 50D, hot off the shelf. I used the Canon 580EX f lash. The resolution chart was the 1951 USAF, purchased from Edmunds Scientific.
Before I discuss the analysis, I want to point out that resolution is only one of many parts that affect a camera’s performance. Those elements include, but are not limited to, color accuracy, grain (or noise), and contrast range. When comparing film and digital, additional factors are the ability to process the photo, ease of manipulation of the resulting photo, and the ability to transmit the photo electronically—along with the cost of the equipment versus the number of photographs taken compared to the cost of the film and processing, and any delays the processing may take.
For most photographers, however, the main deciding factor is resolution. The type of photography that you do dictates which parameter is the most important. For example, for scientific, architectural, or aerial photography, resolution is the overwhelming factor. For surveillance, photojournalism, and high-contrast situations, contrast range may be the deciding factor. For portrait photography, color and low grain (or digital noise) may be the major consideration.