How Digital Photography and Film Photography Stack Up

Digital photography killed film photography for most people

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

Depending on your age, you may never have used a film camera to take photos. The recent past has seen a phenomenal transition from traditional film photography to digital photography, led primarily by the cameras on the smartphones just about everyone carries. As smartphone cameras improved, the convenience and quality they could deliver were suitable for most people's photo needs. However, some amateur and professional photographers still believe that film cameras deliver superior quality. Most of those traditionalists also carry digital cameras in their camera bags.

Digital and traditional photography are complementary arts. Many of the skills learned in traditional photography apply to the digital world. Although most people take more and better photos using digital cameras, some people prefer film and achieve superior results with it.

Before you get rid of your film camera, learn 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

In addition to the convenience of digital photography, there are other advantages.

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

Advantages of Film Photography

Film photography isn't for everyone. The advantages of film photography include:

  • 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

Digital photography comes with some disadvantages:

  • 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 a photo was taken. This can become a privacy leak when the photos are posted on 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

Film photography disadvantages include:

  • 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 you can take.
  • 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.