But its not practical, cheap or easy to shoot with film. That is kind of the point, film looks so much better because it is a process that takes skill to get right. Having a simulation is always just going to be that, a simulation.
Coming from a guitarist background, the same analogies and simulations abound in that world as well. Digital effects, modelling transistor amps computer programs and so on try to make guitarists feel like they're playing some of the most famous amps and stomp-boxes ever to be made. But the thing is they are always just that, simulations, some very accurate apart from the touch sensitivity of a hand wired and lovingly built analogue tube amp set up nice and loud, the pre-amp valves clipping into overdrive and the power-amp valves being driven to saturation with not a transistor or microchip in sight.
Talk to any good guitarist and they'll talk your head off about why valve amps and analogue effects are just better than anything digital to the point that the word digital is vilified as a hateful term. Spat out through clenched teeth.
They're right as well. Hook up a guitar to a great amp with a great speaker cab and push it to saturation and the noises that come out are to put it bluntly 'orgasmic'.
All the best rock songs in the history of rock, the ones that really move your soul were all written and played on analogue equipment.
Staying in the music world, lets take it even further. Ever hear of a Steinway or a Stradavarius? They're famous for a reason. Now ask yourself who in the classical realm would play anything digital?
Real musicians use real tools, handcrafted by physical means using real materials and most importantly blood, sweat and tears. Digital anything is just not the same, it is soulless, no tree was grown or a hundred years exposed to the elements and shaped by the earth for it to then be taken and skillfully worked by a crafts person into an instrument that brings lasting joy and love. Instruments made from wood have their entire history from the creation of the plantation of the seed to the last coat of lacquer.
What in comparison does digital have? A mathematician programmer trying to recreate that life process with a bunch of numbers and code.
It just can't be done.
This is how I feel about film vs. digital. Do I use digital, yes of course. Do I try to emulate what I do on film, no.
Film is a chemical process, it uses physical elements that are a part of nature, a part of life. Craftspeople using silver dug up from mines by people, cattle raised and nurtured for by people. Even though at the end of its process you are presented with a roll of brown or grey flat material that records light and sometime comes in a little plastic or metal canister that doesn't look like much, it is the culmination of thousands of hours of life from the various ingredients to form into that product that creates the magic we call film.
Digital is the result of engineers and mathematicians trying to emulate the above processes. The one and for me most important variable they never accounted for is the life essence, the hours of blood, sweat and tears that go into a physical product make it better.
I could go into numbers and stats and explain that the latest cameras capture far more detail in their RAW files and have far more flexibility in their ISO ranges and can shoot faster, longer, in harder and more difficult conditions than film could ever do. Digital can and is more 'perfect' than film could ever dream to be but it lacks the spark, it lacks the imperfectness of life that film has over digital.
It is in the minutiae of imperfection that digital can not and never will be able to reproduce. Sure it can emulate it but it can never be it.
As with everything now, good enough or near enough is acceptable. A digital emulation is acceptable over the real thing. Because is cheaper, quicker, easier (delete as appropriate).
Going back a moment to the start of this post where I said I do use digital, it would seem that like guitarists and a lot of photographers I know I would villify digital as well. I don't, I love it but and here's the kicker I use it in a way that plays to its strengths. I don't yearn for it to fill my desire to see a filmic look, I use it and play to its strengths, its perfectness, its ability to use crazy ISO's, its ability to shoot in places and ways that film would struggle or find impossible to do.
I guess what I've been trying to say is use the right tool for the right job, you want it to look like film, use film. You want it to be amazing and do things you could never do, use digital.
I'd like to add in another key in the quest for filmic imperfection. Lenses.
Lenses for a truer film look will be in an upcoming post, for now though I'll leave you all with this picture. Is it digital or film?
this post from Chase Jarvis' website for a more in depth review of the various software emulations.