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In today’s digital world, you’d be forgiven for thinking that film cameras are no longer used at all, but you would be mistaken.
Film photography is very much alive, albeit is obviously much less popular and widespread than it was a few decades ago.
Nevertheless, film still has some advantages over digital, and there are some scenarios where it is actually the better medium for photography. So, we thought we’d go through some of the main aspects of photography and do a film versus digital photography comparison.
Initial and Ongoing Costs
For anyone starting out with photography as a hobby or a profession, the upfront costs between film and digital can be considerable. A film camera is effectively no more than a plastic box with some basic moving parts inside, so the cost to buy one is normally low.
Compare that to a digital camera full of modern technology, electronics, automation, and its CCD, all of which contribute to the high cost of buying one.
The other consideration is when it comes to upgrades, or advancements, with digital cameras, it is the camera itself which is likely to be upgraded with new features, and thus you have the expense of buying another camera if wish to stay up to date.
Film cameras operate pretty much today as they always have, and therefore the advancements and improvement are normally with the film itself.
Other than the cost of upgrading equipment, digital photography doesn’t really have any ongoing costs, however film photography does. We are of course talking about the cost of buying rolls of film, and if you do not have your own darkroom, the cost of developing your photographs.
When you consider that you could potentially snap hundreds of images on a long photo session, that cost can be considerable with film photography, whereas with digital it is virtually nil.
The fact that you can take a photograph and be able to see it within seconds on a digital camera, gives it a huge advantage in terms of convenience.
Notwithstanding the costs of developing film, which we spoke about in the last section, with film photography there is the inconvenience of having to hand in rolls of film to a processing service and then wait at least an hour thereafter to see the results.
Apart from the time factor, there is also the fact that being able to see your digital photographs almost instantly, you have the benefit of assessing and determining if you have your camera settings correct.
By being able to see the results, you can adjust them there and then, so that any subsequent images are improved.
With film photography, you do not have this luxury and so there is a potential problem that you take a whole reel of photographs which do not produce the quality of image you had hoped for, due to poor light, or shadows, for example.
Every photographer, whether amateur or professional has a common desire for their efforts to produce clear, sharp, high-resolution photographs, and thus we can compare the resolution between film and digital.
With digital photography, the resolution is determined by the number of pixels within a specific area of the image.
With film resolution, there are no pixels which we can count and thus the resolution is defined by the term angular resolution. This is a measure of how well the camera can distinguish between the various parts of the object or scene being photographed.
In most cases, digital will have the upper hand in terms of producing high-resolution images, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on it.
If a film photographer uses medium- or high-format film, the resolution can be the equivalent of 400 megapixels, which even many of the top spec digital cameras can’t compete with.
Film Grain vs. Digital Noise
Although not caused in the same way, film grain and digital noise are two things which photographers normally do all they can to minimize.
As digital camera technology has evolved, they have become increasingly effective in having settings which the photographer can adjust in order to minimize digital noise.
Unfortunately, film grain is purely down to chemical reactions on the film and thus there is not really a lot that can be done to avoid it.
There are some circumstances where film does beat digital in this respect, and that is when long exposures are needed.
In a digital camera, long exposures cause increased temperatures in the imaging circuit and this can multiply the amount of digital noise seen on the image.
With film, temperatures do not come into the equation, so on a long exposure, graining or noise is not an issue.