While I do love shooting film, I also enjoy keeping up on developments in digital cameras. If you are looking for objective data on the latest digital sensors and lenses then you had better check out DxOMark.
They put most new cameras and lenses through their paces and produce a bewildering array of charts, graphs and performance scoring.
CNET recently sent Stephen Shankland behind the scenes at DxO Labs to take a look at their testing procedures. Stephen interviewed chief scientist Frederic Guichard who had some interesting things to say about digital versus film.
Frederic says that "the dynamic range of film is eight stops more than any sensor on the planet", presumably speaking about color print (C-41) film which typically has broad exposure latitude.
He goes on to argue that with some minimal acceptable "quality" threshold (which he defines as 20 decibels signal-to-noise-ratio or SNR) that the latest DSLR's appear to beat out film.
Take a look at their figure 9 comparison of film and sensor dynamic range: the digital sensor does achieve a higher maximum SNR, but it hits a hard wall clipping higher exposure levels while the film goes on to degrade slowly and gracefully.
I wonder what the "noise" is in this context. If it is the grain, color tendencies, tonality, etc. of the film I don't personally consider it "poor quality". The tested film was Kodak Portra 160, and I prefer the look of its photographs taken in daylight over any digitally captured image.
I guess the film versus digital debate at some level comes down to whether you like the inherent characteristics of a given film or the more neutral (or is that sterile…) look of a digital sensor. I know where I stand in this argument, and I have to say I don't mind the bonus exposure latitude either!