Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
Opinions – to paraphrase an oft-quoted line – are like cameras: everyone’s got one. And all photographers argue about which is better — film or digital.
I’m here to tell you to dump your digital camera. Or at the very least buy an additional SLR that uses film. Digital might seem ideal, but film is superior in most cases.
1. Film Looks Better
Admittedly, digital photography has improved greatly, and most pictures look fantastic… until you try to enhance them. Focus in on a particular section and the pixels will be exposed.
Put it this way: digital gives you an impression; film gives you the real thing.
This is all about size. How large do you want an image? If it’s always destined to be printed small, digital is more than enough. Updating your Facebook? Use digital. But like it or not, film resolution always beats digital when in the hands of a competent photographer.
Landscapes, in particular, are superior on film. Taking a quick shot of woodland using your iPhone is fine if all you ever want to see is how it looks in the moment. If you want more texture, more quality, film won’t let you down. It’s got a reliability that you simply cannot get using a DSLR. You get home and think you see a squirrel in that tree. You take a closer look. On film, you discover it’s just a bird. With digital, the picture pixelates and you’ll never actually know.
2. Vivid Color — Without Editing
In additional to the sharpness of a film image, the colors are instantly better than digital. The latter tends to make everything look flat and often quite dull too. It’s a problem with how light, and by extension color, is captured, impacting on the depth of field.
And we’ve accepted that en masse. It’s just become the norm. We see stunning imagery online and figure that these companies employ professional photographers who just naturally get these shots in-camera. While that’s basically true, the vast majority use Photoshop to bring out the bold colors that aren’t captured digitally.
Film can capture a broader spectrum of color more effectively, which is great for the majority of photographs. The often-crisp quality of film highlights the stark contrasts, making pictures stand out much more than digital ones.
— Marco Secchi (@marcosecchi) July 2, 2016
What’s more, the quality of prints depends on the printer used: whether you’re developing them yourself or taking your camera to professionals, you’re likely to get stronger and more accurate colors than if you’re trying to send high-quality digitals to a standard printer that’s perhaps best served reeling off Word documents.
3. Less is More
Photography is all about capturing a single moment, and the truest expression of that is with a single image.
Flick through your phone or DSLR. You’ll likely find numerous shots of basically the same thing, all from slightly different angles, or perhaps with no variation at all. You just retook it for fear of the shakes.
— Single Lens Reflects (@SLReflects) March 21, 2016
If someone came around to see your vacation snaps, you would have to explain that “this is a carnation I saw while walking in Central Park. And this is it again from a different angle.”
Show them one strong image from each important moment of your vacation instead and you give them a better and more engaging impression of your time there. There’s an art and confidence in putting all your attention into a single image. You don’t need to do it over and over because you’ve put all your effort in capturing it this once. Digital breeds a culture of recapturing a shot; after all, it’s so easy. It’s also utterly pointless. You won’t treasure these excesses; they’ll just become lost in a sea of same-old-same-old.
4. You’re Wasting Time
Most of us only take photos of something nice: a party, a live event, or a holiday. These are the times we want to remember. They’re also the times we want to live to the fullest.
Collectively, we need to learn to live in the moment, and more than that, enjoy it. You don’t want to waste these precious memories by snapping photos until you’ve filled a USB with thousands of images. You’re taking the same image again and again. Now imagine doing that with film: not only would it be a costly business, but you’d also be completely insane. All your photo albums would be taken up by superfluous images of plants, insects, or your young niece playing with a toy truck.
Our time is important. Don’t let yours be eaten away by a hobby that should enhance your days, not take the excitement out of them.
You might think the hours you put into shooting so many images enhances them, but that’s not always the case. Putting a good but not considerable amount of time into one photo is good training. You stop and think about composing a shot. That’s more valuable than numerous takes of the same thing.
5. You Can’t Get Double Exposure on Digital
Wonderful things can come from accidents. Penicillin. Babies. Deadpool.
The same goes for photography. Double exposure — when the same film is used twice so two images are relayed over one another — sounds like a nightmare, something that simply wouldn’t happen with digital, but it can produce the most glorious results.
Let’s go back to 1964, for instance. Carole Ann Ford was leaving the cult sci-fi show, Doctor Who, and took her Super 8 along to the rehearsals of her final serial, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. But the film had already been used to record her parents’ vacation. This unintentionally results in a heady mash-up of work and leisure in 1960s Britain, two of Ford’s much-loved memories forever thrown together by chance. It’s fascinating to see.
Okay, sometimes it’s an accident; other times, double exposure is a deliberate attempt at achieving a masterpiece. Instead of using Photoshop to join disparate elements into one coherent image, you’re saving time slaving at a PC and could get an unexpected but nonetheless beautiful still. Give it a try.
Sometimes, flaws are good: we need to accept and embrace that.
6. Film Lasts Longer
We capture moments to relive those days gone by when we’re at our lowest. Photos are meant to last. Digital ones don’t, however.
Many instant memories. Instax were taken with my nephew's cam. Most of these were w/my SLR 680. pic.twitter.com/MnWsYCkJeX
— kim (@kimmiechem2) June 29, 2016
Okay, in theory, digital will go on longer than analog, but that notion doesn’t take into account how storage and backup technology evolves. We might use USBs or SD cards at the moment, but they’re not permanent. It’s like storing your pictures on a floppy disk; try to find a PC to retrieve them! Even storing stuff on CDs seems old-fashioned now.
What we use today — even cloud systems — will be superseded by another technological marvel, and we might remember to transfer files most of the time, but we’ll lose some too, especially if a computer unexpectedly dies.
And what if there’s a corrupt file? That much-loved photo is lost to the scratchy streaks of the rainbow. Even Vint Cerf, considered one of the fathers of the Internet, advises you print out your images.
Don’t get me wrong: prints won’t last either. Sunlight exposure, for one, will fade all your printed photos, no matter whether they were originally digital or film images. This is why Polaroids are literally just snapshots: they won’t last.
Negatives, if stored correctly (ie. at room temperature, hidden from harsh lights), can be reused to bring your old pictures back to life. And as developing and scanning technology gets better, it’ll take advantage of the film’s resolution. More data can be inferred or unleashed from film than a digital copy, which sticks to its quality level, no matter what.
Keeping Up With the Latest Developments?
Look, I know it comes down to personal taste. You’ll prefer one over the other regardless, but if you’re a digital fan, take a little time to appreciate the advantages of film.
Equally, I know some will level accusations of being a luddite at me (despite this being a technology site), and that this argument just keeps going on and on, just as have the debates about physical comics vs. digital, and streaming vs. vinyl. But there’s a reason for that: these are emotive topics. People care. People want to discuss their craft.
having a dslr doesn't make you "pro" or a "photographer" or can instantly make you obtain "great shots" smh
— g-sizzle (@gwynmruiz) July 3, 2016
Film isn’t perfect. While it might be cheaper up front, it’s costlier long-term. Digital naturally takes up less physical space, and can be shared more easily. The fact is, the majority of us go for DSLR without question. But film is always worth considering. The ideal scenario is, of course, having both.
So which do you choose and why? How do you store your photos? When buying your next camera, would you consider a typical SLR?