An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

Which is Better: Film or Digital?


Should you stick with film or switch to digital? That depends on what you use your camera for. Some people are getting digital cameras because that is the “thing” to get nowadays, but they don’t know how to use them, and probably never will. If you have read through this online book you should probably get a digital SLR camera. However, to help properly advise your friends, I’ll continue.

My mom got a digital camera. She says it is packed away some where; she needs to learn to use it sometime. She told me the same thing a year ago. Her film camera broke so she started using disposable cameras. I looked up used cameras in the local paper and found a used Canon film camera for $25. She really likes it, and I get better pictures through the US Mail. She can press one button to make it go, and drop the film off at Costco or wherever. She can throw away the ones she doesn’t want. She likes having snap shots of the grandkids, and pictures to mail people (US mail).

I was at Costco the other day looking at the latest cameras. An elderly lady came up and asked if I knew much about cameras. I said I knew some, and what was she looking for? A camera to take pictures of her grandkids and of her daughter’s wedding. I suggested sticking with her film camera. The compact film cameras are equivalent to about 6-8 mega pixel. The batteries don’t run out too often. There are no memory cards to insert. They are more convenient. You don’t have to put them on your computer later and burn them into a Gold CD to preserve for future generations. You don’t have to sort through them on a computer you don’t really know how to use. You just throw away the ones you don’t want; you don’t have to delete them, you just throw the old ones away. I could tell she liked the image of being more hip and having a digital so I made my recommendations and walked her over to the SD cards to pick one out.

Digital cameras are more convenient up front. But the batteries wear out quicker; all those pictures have to be deleted and stored later on a computer, and backed up on a CD or DVD. With film, I can just drop off the roll; the photo department develops it, and I give or throw away the unwanted ones. For storage I just keep the negatives.

My daughter wanted to get started on photography. She worked hard on odd jobs around the house, saved up and got a really nice film SLR for $120 with a kit lens. She is learning to use the controls, learning about lighting, exposure, and to think about the composition instead of just taking a bunch of pictures of everything with little thought. A similar priced digital SLR would be about $700. She can use the Kodak commercial grade slide projector I got used for $30 and see her pictures up on the wall 8 foot by 10 foot if she wants. She can just drop off the film and they do everything for her. She can use the discarded ones to cut out for her scrap book. She can keep it for a few years and sell it for about $120.

After she has learned to use the film SLR she can sell it and use the $120 to help buy a nicer digital camera then she could of if she had gotten one right away. She can do all the fancy stuff like white balance adjustment, color saturation, tricks on Photoshop®, and not have to worry about taking a lot of pictures. She can blow it up really big on the computer monitor for free and see how the focus and resolution turned out. She will appreciate her digital camera since she had to wait some time to get it. She won’t get it as gift from me and put it aside after she is bored with it after a few days.

Okay, digital is better. Unless you are in any of the above situations. But getting a digital SLR camera won’t improve your photography skills. Using Visualization improves photography skills. Getting a digital SLR could just mean you are now taking a lot more bad pictures. But you can learn from those pictures, and get immediate feedback by examining the picture right afterwards.

On the other hand, with a film camera you could go on a long trip in rural areas without worrying about the batteries wearing down. You could also do long exposures, for hours, that digital SLR cameras can’t do…