Digital vs. Film cameras

More and more people are buying digital cameras; I even read that the digital camera sales outnumber the traditional film cameras nowadays. I am very happy with my Canon film camera, but after I have been playing with my parents' new Sony digital camera last week I wondered whether a digital camera would be something for me. Of course as a gadget it would most certainly be welcome, but as a replacement for my current film camera it will need to add much additional benefits. So I made a little comparison:

Pro digital:

  • Electronic format Logically, digital cameras store photographs in a digital format. This makes it very easy to save them on your PC.
  • Easier handling Related to the digital format, photographs taken with a digital camera are much easier to publish to the internet, to e-mail to your friends and relatives and to catalogue. Besides that you can easily retouch them using graphical editing software.
  • No film rolls Since you don't need to buy film rolls, the costs per photograph will drop significantly.
  • Cheaper workflow With a digital camera you work different. You shoot your pictures, delete the ones you don't like, store them on you PC and maybe you will print your best pictures. This is a very cheap process.
  • Quantity gives quality Because the workflow is so cheap, you generally make many more images. This has two big benefits for the image quality: first you simply have a bigger chance making a photograph at the right place and the right time and secondly the more pictures you make, the more experienced you become. Professional photographers use the same tactic, but using film makes it way too expensive for amateur photographers.

Pro film:

  • Higher resolution It is difficult to compare two completely different techniques, but in general film cameras have a much higher resolution. In digital cameras the important parameter is the number of Megapixels — even though the sensor size is more important — so experts have been trying to calculate this number for film cameras. Results vary, but most conclude that film cameras have a resolution between 15 and 25 Megapixels.
  • Bigger enlargements The quality of enlargements is another feature in which the traditional camera beats the newcomers. A photograph made with a film camera can easily be enlarged to 40 by 50 centimetres, while a digital photograph will start losing quality at 20 by 25 cm.
  • Cheaper cameras Film cameras cost only a fraction of their digital equivalents; sometimes they are even 90% cheaper.
  • Dynamic range Digital photo chips have limits in dynamic range; at a certain moment a change in subject brightness won't result in a change in image brightness anymore. Films do not have this hard limit, but rather become less and less sensitive. The dynamic range of films is larger than the dynamic range of photo chips.
  • Proven technology Film cameras on the market now do not differ much from those on the market five years ago. In general you buy a camera and use it until it stops working. A digital camera however, is new technology that is still being developed. You new 6 megapixel camera will be considered old within a year. I don't know anybody who is still using his one megapixel camera he bought two years ago, but I know several people still using a film camera they bought over a decade ago.

In short, digital cameras give you ease of use and electronic access to your photographs, while film cameras give you quality and are cheaper. The choice is up to you. For me it is not so important having a digital photograph — though I would like to publish more photo’s on this site. On a cold Sunday in winter, I like to grab a photo album and browse through the images on my sofa. I don’t think I can have that same feeling sitting behind my computer. For the moment I still prefer film cameras to digital cameras, but maybe I might buy a very cheap digital camera for those moments I want to send a photo by e-mail or publish it on this site.

Jeroen Sangers @jeroensangers