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Using a Digital Camera vs. a 35mm Film Camera for Paranormal Research:
A Discussion of the Two Devices

With the explosion in digital photography over the last couple of years more and more paranormal researchers and investigators are using digital cameras instead of traditional film cameras. Before jumping right into a digital camera there are some points to be aware of and consider.

Digital Cameras

Digital Paranormal Investigation Camera

  • Digital cameras do have the advantage of being cheap to operate. With no film to be developed (pictures are stored on a memory card or internal memory) your pictures are ready right away for viewing. You can immediately see what you just photographed on the built in screen. Also, most digital cameras have A/V cables that you can connect the camera to a TV or monitor for direct viewing.
  • Digital cameras by their nature make it easier and quicker to transfer pictures from the camera to a PC for editing, enhancement and analysis. Most cameras can be connected directly to a PC (or Mac) via a USB cable. Or the memory card can be removed and put in a card reader that is attached to the PC (many PC's today also come with card readers built in).
  • Digital camera memory chips can hold hundreds, even thousands, of photographs! And since the card is reusable an infinite number of times there is no reason to take many pictures on an investigation. Most memory cards are very small and easy to store. It is quite possible to have the capacity to take thousands of photos per investigation with a digital camera and 2 or 3 high capacity memory cards. There is no excuse for running out of film.
  • Most digital cameras, even older models, have some built in sensitivity to infrared light. Other models can be modified (note that such modifications may void your warranty!) for IR photography. Many paranormal researchers believe paranormal phenomena are more sensitive to being photographed using IR light than normal visible light.
  • Finally, the cameras themselves keep improving in quality and features. Some cameras are as small and slim as a shirt pocket. Many are weather proof which helps with outdoor investigations. Others are full size professional style SLR models. All are loaded with a wide range of features and tools to help with photography under a variety of conditions.

However, there are some down sides to digital cameras:

  • The biggest draw back to digital cameras is the technology itself. Digital cameras are marvels of technology and software. When you push the shutter button a complex optical sensor detects the light of the object or area you are aiming at. In a split second the image is captured. Then complex optical enhancement algorithms "scrub" the image to enhance clarity, undo movement or shaking, and try to make your picture the best it can be. To put it another way, the image produced by a digital camera isn't the real image but the camera's interpretation of what it sees. That's great for normal uses. But for paranormal investigation it can be a hindrance. They very software and systems that are designed to enhance and improve your picture taking can also over enhance the picture. The camera can take what might only be a pin point of light and enhance it into a false orb (it's curious to note that most - though not all - orb photos are in fact taken with digital cameras) or other false image.
  • Digital cameras rely entirely on their battery to operate. It is important to have a ready supply of fresh batteries on hand, especially during an investigation. A digital camera can really "drink" battery power when hundreds of pictures are being taken, especially with a flash. Also, batteries have been known to be drained by paranormal activity (see Paranormal Theories).
  • Digital photos have a little more of a credibility gap since they can be more easily manipulated and touched up than a film picture.
  • And, digital cameras, being so heavily technology based, can quickly become obsolete. Not just the camera but the memory cards used and the software/systems for moving images from the camera to the PC.


Film Cameras

35mm Paranormal Camera

  • Traditional film cameras still have a strong place in paranormal research and investigation. Typically 35mm cameras using 400 to 800 speed film are most common for paranormal investigation. They don't have to be large, expensive, fancy cameras. Even a one-time-use disposable camera is a highly effective paranormal investigation tool!
  • Film has the advantage of producing a negative that can be analyzed and enhanced. Credibility is higher since the negative can be analyzed for hoax or fraud. And with a negative enlargements are easier and more clear.
  • The film camera itself is more "objective". There is no software to enhance the picture. The film media simply captures the light that comes in through the lens. A dot is a dot, a bright light is a bright light. The film doesn't "interpret" the light. It just records it. Therefore, it is harder to dismiss a possible paranormal image taken with a film camera as simply the result of technology.
  • Film cameras can also use infrared film to capture images in the infra red spectrum. IR photography is, however, much more expensive as it requires IR capable cameras, special film and developing.

Film cameras do, however, also have some draw backs:

  • Film purchase and development, while cheap, is still a cost. You can imagine the cost of buying and then developing 500+ pictures from a single investigation!
  • The film itself can be damaged by mishandling and exposure to heat or radiation (like X-Ray equipment). And, while uncommon, the film development process can damage the film. Similarly, any unusual or potentially paranormal images captured might be the result of a fault in the development process.
  • Sometimes film is improperly loaded into a camera and it isn't noticed until after the pictures are developed. And it is entirely possible to run out of film during an investigation.
  • The camera itself can cause false images if there is a crack in the lens or body that lets even the slightest light in (even in the dark with a flash).
  • Finally, film pictures have to be scanned in order to be loaded onto a PC for enhancement and analysis. While scanners today are significantly better, some loss of quality is inevitable as well as contamination from dust and finger prints.

Overall, the choice to use a digital or film camera isn't simple. Both are great and effective tools in paranormal research and investigations. If at all possible, an investigation should use both types of cameras to cover all possibilities.

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