Film v Digital Photography

I am a photographer, and, although 99% of images I take for blogging purposes, personal images and 'photo shoots' are all shot using film. Film is an outdated method, I know, so I thought I'd give some reasoning as to why I am so in love with it. 

When it comes to film, you only have usually maximum of 36 exposures. You can get enormous memory cards for digital cameras so you can snap away happily, without your memory getting full until you get well into the thousands. On the surface of it, this may seem like a con of film, but in my opinion, it's most certainly a pro. When you've got limited shots, you don't just "snap happy" - so to speak - you have to really put thought and effort into each shot. Each photograph I take using film has been carefully thought out and composed, and more often than not is the product of meticulous planning and arranging (and re-arranging). The same can be said about the cost. Taking into consideration the cost of buying and developing film, when it comes down to it each photograph costs around 50 pence to produce. So this is another reason to really carefully plan it. 

I will put my hand up and admit that the cost side of things is a con of film photography. Although you can get film cameras which were top of the range 50 years ago for less than £100 and DSLRS of equivalent contemporary reputation have a very, very high price tag, you only pay for your digital camera once for - for arguments sake - a decade. For film cameras, you may only pay a one off £80  for the camera, but you're then paying between £6 and £20 per roll of film, and then between the same price again to have it processed (assuming you don't do it yourself). Plus, being older, they may require more frequent repairs and servicing. So long term it's much more expensive.

That being said, I'd suggest you're more likely to need a new (or replacements) on digital cameras more often than a film camera, despite their old age. Firstly, digital cameras are updates as often as phones. The consumer mentality is to get the most recent one, even if (hypothetically) the Canon A500 X EXTRA is just "extra" because a button on the display has moved! Secondly, with technology comes bugs. Technology, as we all know, is liable to going wrong. Thirdly, most film cameras are made of metal and so are physically much more sturdy. Their digital counterparts are often made of plastic and so are more prone to braking. I once dropped an £80 digital Canon lens from small tripod height on to grass and it broke into pieces. I dropped my Rolleiflex (first manufactured in the late 1920s*) once, it rolled down a bank and I caught it literally an inch away from falling in a canal, and it was completely fine. 

One of the most important parts, for me, is  the aesthetic differences. Take the following photography of macaroons, for example. This one is taken using 35mm film (albeit not the film I would usually use, was just a cheap film I picked up in Boots!): 
And this one is taken using my Canon 600D: 
Digital images are what I describe as "cleaner". They're all technically correct; perfectly exposed, perfectly in focus, etc. But this makes them look very flat, in my opinion. There is a manual option on digital cameras, of course, if you want more control, but in my opinion you still don't have as much flexibility in terms of controlling the final straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) outcome as you do using film. Moreover, film lenses tend to open up to much wider apertures. Digital lenses do have the capability but carry a much higher price tag. 
Left: Film, Right: Digital 

Digital cameras take photos to be a blank canvas. They are literally made to be edited. Film cameras weren't designed with much post production in mind. Because of that, I think digital images look flat and film images have an almost 3D effect SOOC. Ultimately, I'd say film photos have a lot more character to them. 
Top: Film, Bottom: Digital

Finally, but most importantly in my opinion, you learn more using film. Although digital cameras do have a manual option, A) who really uses it? B) the learning experience still isn't the same. With analog photography, you have no choice but to learn manually. Because of that, you get a true grasp of what the functions do, not just what a button does. Because I learned with film (with light meters and the lot!), I really do understand aperture, shutter speed, exposure and what have you. I feel confident with any camera I use because I understand photography, not just a certain piece of equipment. If you really want to learn photography, learn with film.

Thank you for reading!
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  1. I really want to get myself a film camera. I think they can look great when taking portraits and street photographs, agree they add more personality, love your last picture!

  2. Great article. I have always preferred images taken on film. The stunning shots you see of digital photography (landscapes etc) have usually been totally reinvented with Photoshop.

    1. Yes I agree! I am never happy with digital images unless I spend a lot of time in post, my film images need very little tweaking if any at all. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Gail!

  3. This is a really cool post, I've always wanted to try using a film camera.

  4. Really enjoyed this! Although I've only ever shot on digital, I really admire film photography, it has a certain charm you can't replicate, no matter how many VSCO filters you use. Might keep an eye out for a cheap film camera to practise with :)

  5. I really loved this. I do agree there's something special about film cameras (although I haven't used one for about 10 years now) and I'd love to learn more about photography!

    xo Honey - blog Royal Lifestyle - Twitter - Instagram

  6. Hello! You're perfectly right, film photography has a certain magic, I've been following your work for a while and I can see that magic time and again. I'm glad that I found your blog.

  7. I have my Grandad's Minolta, bought in 1980. I don't use it much, partly because of the cost, but also because of my photosensitivity. I tried to use it for my cousin's winter wedding, but the images didn't come out very well.

    I've been much more confident using my Grandad's camera (in the summer) having been able to experiment with my DSLR. I've done it the opposite way to you, I've learnt with my DSLR and transferred those skills to my Grandad's camera.

    It's so lovely to have Grandad's camera and be able to use it. He got very into photography, but had to stop because his hobby got too expensive. I'm glad that I'm able to pick up something my Grandad loved. It feels like I'm able to carry it on for, and with, him. I'm also really glad that finances are less likely to cause me to have to give up. Xx

    Tania | When Tania Talks

  8. I think I prefer digital, though the film does create a nice soft effect!