Advantages and Disadvantages of Film and Digital Cameras

Balance cost, quality and convenience when choosing a new camera

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There are advantages and disadvantages to both film photography and digital photography. In the war of words between aficionados of film photography versus proponents of digital photography, users are polarized. Either they love digital photography and hate film photography, or they hate digital photography and love film photography.

Film photography and digital photography both have strong points that should be considered before ruling out either of them.

For professional photographers, using both types of photography is common. For the average smartphone user, the convenience of a digital camera on their phone outweighs any quality concerns.

Film Photography Advantages

  • Lower initial cost than for a comparable digital camera
  • Film delivers a higher dynamic range, which makes it better at capturing detail in whites and blacks.
  • Film is more forgiving of minor focusing issues
  • Film is more forgiving of exposure problems
  • Film offers higher resolution than most digital cameras
  • Film photographers with a limited number of exposures available on a role of film must think more about their images before shooting them. Digital photographers tend to take pictures first and think later. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an advantage or disadvantage.

Film Photography Disadvantages

  • Film cameras are usually heavier than similar digital cameras.
  • Film storage takes up a lot of space.
  • Film and development is a continuing cost.
  • Film must be developed before viewing, so you frequently end up developing poor photo captures or images you take unintentionally.
  • Unless you have a darkroom, you are dependent on a lab to develop your images.

Digital Photography Advantages

  • The resolution in even point-and-shoot cameras, which is often 12 to 20 megapixels is high enough resolution for large prints.
  • The cameras are generally lighter weight than film cameras.
  • Memory cards are tiny so they don't require much storage space. One memory card can store more images than a dozen rolls of film.
  • Images can be viewed immediately.
  • You can edit your images directly on the camera or on a computer with photo-editing software.
  • You can choose to print only the images you like best.
  • Many cameras offer built-in filters.
  • Instant gratification. Some film photographers consider this a disadvantage.

Digital Photography Disadvantages

  • Digital photography usually requires computer skills to manage images.
  • The initial cost for a digital camera is higher than for a comparable film camera. 
  • Digital images easily lose detail in whites and blacks.
  • Some digital cameras are difficult to focus.
  • Digital images are less subtle than film images.
  • Digital cameras become obsolete much quicker than film cameras.
  • Storage can be lost. Backups are absolutely necessary.
  • Many digital cameras do a poorer job focusing in low light than film cameras.
  • Digital cameras are bigger consumers of batteries than film cameras. Digital photographers need to keep extra batteries on hand.

In the end, digital and film camera both take high-quality images.

Choose the one that fits your photographic style and budget.