How Digital Photography and Film Photography Stack Up

There's Room for Both

Cameras from all eras in a row
William Andrew / Getty Images

We've seen a phenomenal transition from traditional film photography to digital photography, led in part by the cameras on the ubiquitous smartphones carried by just about everyone. Newspapers switched to digital photos at the turn of the century but some high-quality magazines still won't accept anything but film images. 

Digital and traditional photography are complementary arts. They have their respective places in the lives of amateur and professional photographers. Many of the skills learned in traditional photography are applicable to the digital world. Most people take more and better photos with digital cameras. Some people prefer film and achieve superior results with it. There is room for both.

Before you get rid of your film camera, get informed the pros and cons of digital versus film photography. Depending on how you use a camera, there may be room for both technologies in your life.

Advantages of Digital Photography

  • Prints can be produced easily on an inexpensive home photo printer and photo paper.
  • Digital photography offers more options for creativity. Just about every phone and camera has built-in editing features and lighting controls.
  • Digital photography is cheaper than working with film.
  • The ability to modify an image to enhance it is absolutely an advantage of digital images.
  • Digital photography is just more convenient.
  • High-end digital cameras give much better and more accurate color that film.
  • Digital images are better for internet use and social media.

Advantages of Film Photography

  • Film does a better job of capturing details in whites and blacks
  • Film has a higher resolution than digital photos, but at small sizes, that doesn't matter.
  • Traditional photography resembles an art form.
  • Photos printed from negatives prevent the manipulation of images for nefarious reasons.
  • Traditional film photography forces the photographer to plan a shot and execute it well.
  • Large format film is still the best choice for landscape photography.
  • In the right hands, photos from film are superior to digital photos.

Disadvantages of Digital Photography

  • Prints made from digital photos on home photo printers don't have the shelf life of professional prints made from film. 
  • Digital cameras embed information that you may consider private in the photo files, such as the location and date that the photo was taken. This can become a privacy leak when those photos are posted to social media.
  • Due to the immediacy of digital cameras and our desire for instant gratification, not as much time is taken to frame just the right photo as would occur with a film camera.
  • Digital photography can be time-consuming when you consider the many possibilities of digital manipulation, organization needs and storage options for thousands of photos.

Disadvantages of Film Photography

  • Buying film is expensive. So is paying for developing that film unless you set up your own darkroom, which is an expense of its own.
  • The constraints of a roll of film limit the number of photos that are taken.
  • Film takes up a lot of space.
  • Every image on a roll of film must be printed, unless you have your own darkroom.
  • Film photography takes much more work.