Film vs digital: does it make a difference? | Adobe (2024)

Film vs digital: does it make a difference? | Adobe (1)

If the old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words holds true, then the debate on whether that picture is better if shot on film or digitally may be worth several thousand more.

The quality and accessibility of digital cameras has vastly improved over the last few decades. Today, it feels like nearly everyone has access to a high-quality digital camera via their smartphone. But while many opt for the ease of using digital cameras or their phones to record movies and take pictures, others adamantly refuse to join the digital movement.

Professional filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, as well as many art photographers, are passionate advocates for the “old-fashioned” techniques of film. They feel that the natural aesthetic and texture of film is lost when moments and scenes are captured digitally.

Still, there are many professional photographers that do not believe film and digital photography are mutually exclusive or that one style is always better than the other.

“In the photography community, there’s a lot of confusion about the medium of film vs. digital because we talk about these approaches like they are basically the same thing,” says designer, photographer and creative director Dan Rubin. “In reality, film and digital are like a pen and a pencil. You hold them the same way. You can accomplish very similar things with them, but they are completely different tools that are fit for different purposes.”

Pros of film photography

Film photography, also called analog photography, uses light-sensitive rolls of film to capture images. When this plastic film is exposed to light, the silver halide crystals layered within the film darken, creating a negative of the image. Negative images are then taken to a darkroom where liquid chemicals are used to develop and print the photographs.

Some benefits of using film include:

  • More control over camera settings. Film gives you complete control over exposure (amount of light that reaches the film), shutter speed, and the development process.
  • High dynamic range. Film is better at capturing subtle details and color contrasts, especially between black and white.
  • Lower initial costs. Traditional film cameras are generally cheaper than digital cameras.
  • No fear of your camera losing power. With film, you won’t need extra batteries or an alternate power source during long shoots.
  • More purposeful photos. Film rolls have a limited number of photo exposures. “Shooting with film makes you really think about every single frame that you're capturing,” says Mike Richards, professional photographer and co-founder of media production agency Templemill. “You must be mindful instead of shooting in rapid fire.”

Cons of film photography

  • Time-consuming development process. Unlike digital cameras where we can instantly see the image after it is taken, film photographers have to wait until the roll is developed to see if their shots turned out well.
  • More consistent costs over time. Continuously buying rolls of film will add up over the years. While many believe the extra cost is worth the benefits, some photographers may find purchasing a memory card (for their digital cameras) much more economical.
  • Fewer photos can be taken at a time. Photographers who like to take multiple shots of one image at a time may find the limited exposures of film stifling.

Pros of digital photography

Digital photography mimics film photography by using electronic sensors to differentiate between light and dark. These sensors capture digital images that are stored on a memory card. Digital images can easily be manipulated or altered after a shoot using digital photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom.

Some benefits of using digital photography include:

  • Unlimited photos. Unlike film cameras, digital cameras are not limited by exposures on each film roll. You can take thousands of photos, which will fit on one tiny memory card.
  • Instant image viewing. Instead of waiting for film to develop, you can see how your photo turned out seconds after taking it.
  • Faster learning process. Being able to instantly see your photo helps you quickly recognize mistakes, which means you can learn appropriate techniques and camera settings faster.
  • Lighter-weight equipment. Film cameras tend to be heavier than digital cameras.
  • Easy editing post-photoshoot. Almost anything is possible with quality digital imaging (photo) editing software. Digital photos are easily transferred to a computer where you can make loads of changes — from changing the size to adjusting contrast and colors until everything meets your expectations.

Cons of digital photography

  • Higher sensitivity. Digital cameras tend to be more sensitive to changes in temperature and moisture, which means they may be less suited to certain shoots and situations like those in snow, rain, or humidity.
  • Requires battery power. While you can take many more photos with a digital camera compared to a film camera, the amount of time you spend getting the perfect photo may be limited by your camera’s battery life.
  • More distraction during photo shoots. “Digital photography can be more distracting in the moment because, as a human, I can't resist the urge to look at what I've just shot,” says Rubin.
  • Time-consuming review process. When you have hundreds or even thousands of images after a photo shoot, you may spend a significant amount of time in the review process just eliminating photos and searching for the best shot before you even begin to edit.

Which photo medium is right for you?

To help you decide which medium is best for you, consider the following:

  • Style. Define your style as a photographer. What you prefer may be more easily achieved using one medium over the other. For example, vintage style photography is much easier using black and white film, whereas abstract photography is more suited to digital editing capabilities.
  • Skill. Analyze your current skill level and how much you want to learn. Digital photography typically requires becoming familiar with photo editing software, while film rolls can be sent off to photography labs to be developed.
  • Time. Consider how much time you are willing to put into your photography. Some photographers prefer to invest their time in taking the photo while others focus more on producing the photo after its shot: in editing.

If you’re still unsure which medium is more “you,” don’t be afraid to give both film and digital a try. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy both approaches to capturing images.

“The worth of your final photo isn't about what medium you use,” says Richards. “You can get equally amazing — though different — pieces of art with film and digital equipment. Photography is about taking your unique inspirations and making them your own. That's what will make your final image memorable.”

Film vs digital: does it make a difference? | Adobe (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Last Updated:

Views: 5893

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Msgr. Refugio Daniel

Birthday: 1999-09-15

Address: 8416 Beatty Center, Derekfort, VA 72092-0500

Phone: +6838967160603

Job: Mining Executive

Hobby: Woodworking, Knitting, Fishing, Coffee roasting, Kayaking, Horseback riding, Kite flying

Introduction: My name is Msgr. Refugio Daniel, I am a fine, precious, encouraging, calm, glamorous, vivacious, friendly person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.