I shoot a variety of formats — digital, Polaroid, 35mm, 120/Lomography, and iPhone. I love each of these formats for different reasons, and I appreciate that photography allows me to play in such different forms of the same craft. I often ride waves of being immersed primarily in one format for a period of time. And as I ride these waves of 35mm and then Polaroid and then digital, I often think about if there is one format I like “best.” Of course during any one of these periods, I am swayed by the current wave I’m riding — if I’m in a zone of shooting mostly 35mm, my answer sways to liking my Canon AE-1 the best. But then when I’m in the swells of shooting Polaroid, nothing is better than my SX70.

So, I decided to do a little experiment and shoot the same scene with multiple formats. I thought this might help me really see some of the differences and similarities across instant film, 35mm film, and digital platforms. While out and about working on last month’s Around Me theme, I came across this beautiful (to me) rocking horse in an alley behind some houses. And as is typical for me, I was carrying my Polaroid SX70, Canon AE-1 35mm camera, and digital SLR. I tried to take each shot as similarly as possible, without moving much, and consecutively so that the light didn’t change. I did no editing on these photos so I (and we) could do a true comparison. As a side note, I never edit any of my film photos (Polaroid, 35mm, 120, or any other), preferring to leave them SOOC. For me, I think editing film photos defeats the purpose of shooting film. Others disagree with me on that, and that is totally okay! We all choose what is best for us. But I digress… Without further ado, here are the three photos. Let’s compare and contrast. Here’s a tip — you can click on each photo to make them larger to really take a look!

Polaroid SX70 using Impossible Project PX70 Cool film


Canon AE-1 using expired Agfa 100 35mm


Digital SLR


To my eye, the 35mm and digital photographs are the most similar. That may be simply due to the size and shape of the images themselves. These two photos also have a certain crispness and brightness that isn’t apparent in the Polaroid image. In contrast, the Polaroid photo is warmer and softer than the other two. It is also a bit closer to the horse, but part of that is an optical illusion as the square format brings the image seemingly closer than the rectangular format of the 35mm and digital images. I like all three photographs, but if I had to pick my favorite, it would have to be the Polaroid. I’m drawn to the creaminess, the warmth, and the overall dreamy nature of the photograph. And I think it “works” for the content of this image. My second favorite is the 35mm photo as I like the way the bokeh looks in the background and the bit of grain that the film shows. There is still some softness or something in the 35mm image that gets lost in the digital image. The digital photo has all the crispness and vibrancy and clarity that you want from your digital SLR. And I *do* like that. I also appreciate that I can apply many editing and post-production techniques to the digital photo to tweak it in a variety of ways. No doubt about that. But for me, if we are simply comparing the SOOC look of these three photographs, my favorite is the Polaroid image.

So what do you think. What do you see as the similarities and differences? Which of the three is your favorite? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts and comments. Let’s get a conversation going in the comments!

Meghan of Life Refocused