Jump into film or digital photography?

I started to write these under my entry for the Epic Edits $50 film camera photo project. But, this deserves its own post.

When I was lured into photography, all I wanted to do was create cool photos. As you get into it, you start to see other factors coming into play.

  • Clutter
    • Film – Store and carry all the rolls of film you’ll stock up on. Once they get developed, you need to store the physical negatives, too. Also, what’ll happen if you lose that negative? If you’re scanning your film onto your computer, you’d also need hard drive space, backups, and electricity.
    • Digital – Hard drive space, backups, and electricity to keep those hard drive(s) running. If you use a SLR camera, you’ll acquire lenses, memory cards, batteries, lens filters, bags, cases, etc.
  • LCD screen
    • Most times I’m checking my LCD screen with my digital camera, I’m actually looking at the histogram for most of the photos to make sure they’re exposed properly. I’d miss that with film.
  • Cost
    • Film – The cost is gradual because you can buy a few rolls at a time. You’re limited to those exposures. Although you’ll be more selective than digital photographers, you’re [probably] storing scanned negatives on your hard drive(s). Plus, you’ll need to purchase your own scanner – if you want high-quality digital scans of your prints.
    • Digital – You can buy an expensive camera and a couple memory cards. With proper care, they should last for a long time. As opposed to a scanner, a card reader is relatively inexpensive. However, you’ll take more photos, use hard drive space, and – unless you’re good on deleting photos you’ll never use – need more hard drives.
  • Efficiency
    • Film – You don’t need to delete tons of extra photos later. But, if you’re using older film cameras, you’ll probably use manual settings, which takes more time. In addition, you don’t have the luxury of on-the-fly ISO switching – a nightmare if you’re switching from different lighting environments constantly.
    • Digital – Get more chances to capture moments quickly. You’ll most likely have auto focus, auto ISO, and continuous bursts to your advantage.
  • “Feel”
    • Sometimes, digital is too clean. We could fake those imperfections, but the development of film can be cool. I can go either way with this. 😉

Keep in mind that with a point-and-shoot JPEG camera, I didn’t feel a lot of the digital costs. Once I bought a DSLR camera and switched to RAW, I was “hit” pretty hard. (In my opinion, Michael Mistretta’s “RAW vs JPEG” post explains it well.) However, I hope to recoup the costs.

Despite everything mentioned above, don’t be shied away. The pros of the art outweigh all of the negatives.

I’m sure I missed something. If you’re in a cozy RSS reader, please come over here and leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Published by

Bryan Villarin

Bryan works at Automattic. Cat whisperer. Sometimes, a photographer and card magician.

4 thoughts on “Jump into film or digital photography?”

  1. Both have their strengths! I use both. I must say though, there is just something about film and old cameras that you just can’t get out of a DSLR, no matter how expensive it is.


  2. I agree with Marcus — old film cameras plus the right film creates something that no amount of Photoshopping can produce. Since I started shooting film, I’ve even cut way back on my digital b/w conversions because I get such better results from actual b/w film.

    So yup, both have their merits… which is why I usually take my digital plus a couple of film cameras when I go shooting.


  3. Thanks for the link 😀

    You wrote: “In addition, you don’t have the luxury of on-the-fly ISO switching”

    This is true to a certain degree, though some films such as Ilford XP2 and BW400CN have a wide exposure latitude. For example Xp2 has a response range of 160ASA through to 800ASA. Granted the photos taken at 800 tend to lack contrast, but this can always be fixed in post.

    Then there is the case of negative films having such a high latitude to begin with.

    Finally there is/was Fuji slide film 100/1000. As I understand it you can shoot anywhere between those speeds as long as you don’t change the ISO mid roll like you can with XP2, so in the even that you might be heading to a location with unknown lighting conditions.

    Or you could rewind mid roll and exchange the canisters for a higher/lower speed, or even just decide to “push” (compensate in developing for underexposing) the film.

    There are always ways. And as Brian showed in his $50 camera project, the startup cost on film is substantially lower!


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