This debate has been raging on ever since 8MP cameras were within your standard consumer’s reach. While I will admit, hands down, that there is really no way even the best digital camera out there can rival a medium-format camera when it comes to massive enlargements – in the 4×6 to 16×20 realm – I would say there is relatively no difference. Resolution enlargement tools, such as GenuineFractals and sharpening tools such as Nik’s Sharpener can certainly achieve great results when dealing with enlargements that exceed the capabilities of the digital camera.
Some would argue that the color saturation of film will out-match a digital camera. With advances in color-control in the digital realm (through refined Photoshop usage and a properly calibrated monitor), I would argue that saturation levels and color accuracy are equally matched – and ultimately limited by nearly identical printer gamut’s in the actual printing process. If anything, the digital realm allows one to explore the full range of the printer’s gamut range and tweak the results around this limitation.
I will be the first to admit that in order to get great results in printing with digital – you have to become comfortable with tools such as Adobe Photoshop and the learning curve for your own digital workflow is a mile long. You will spend far more time in front of a computer editing images – time, which should ultimately have a cost when comparing with the relatively quick film processing available today. If you count time as part of the cost of digital photography, it’s certainly cheaper to go the route of film.
When it comes to the final result of comparisons between my digital photos that have been carefully edited through a refined digital process and “out-of-the-box” printing from an equally matched 35MM film camera, the resultant quality is would certainly give film a run for it’s money.