All photographers, whether amateur, hobbyist, professional, or somewhere in between, will at some point be faced with one big question: film or digital?
Film (also known as analog) and digital are the two primary ways that you can capture images—and there are positives and negatives to both analog photography and digital photography. Keep reading to learn more about the difference between film vs. digital photography and to get guidance about which option is best for you.
What’s the Difference Between Film and Digital?
First, let’s cover the basics. What are the actual differences between film and digital photography?
It all comes down to the technology and media used to capture an image. Film photography uses film—a thin strip of plastic or other material that’s sensitive to light—to take and store pictures. In digital photography, a digital sensor in a camera, phone, or other device captures the image, which is then stored in the device’s memory.
Photography and videography developed using film, so film is the more traditional medium. Digital is a newer technology and has become the norm for many people. Any time you snap a photo on your phone, for example, you’re using digital photography. At this point, it’s practically second nature.
Folks who take photography more seriously, however, may still find themselves contemplating the question of film vs. digital. Factors like resolution and quality are key to making that decision.
One of the biggest advantages of shooting your photographs on film (as opposed to digital) is the resolution. Film captures photos at a higher resolution than most digital cameras because the resulting photos have more pixels per inch.
Exact resolution will differ from camera to camera and will also depend on the type of film you use, but generally speaking, using film will give you a higher-quality, crisper image.
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Shooting on film will give you higher-res images, but that doesn’t mean that digital photographs can’t—or don’t—look good! Digital image resolution from a standard point-and-shoot digital camera is usually somewhere between 12 and 20 megapixels, which will still yield clear, pretty photographs.
Quality: Film vs. Digital
You’re probably looking for the answer to one simple question: Is film higher quality than digital?
The answer actually has a lot to do with personal preference and might change based on the circumstances in which the pictures are being taken. That being said, most professional photographers will likely tell you that they prefer the quality of a photo taken on film to the quality of a photo taken digitally since film captures images at a higher resolution. Still, a digital camera might work better in many cases for professionals because they’re more portable and foolproof.
When to Use Film
Film is better suited for experienced photographers since it’s more expensive to shoot on. You should start using film after you’ve had some time to practice your skills.
Film is also a better choice when you’re taking pictures of objects with a lot of details, as the higher resolution will allow those details to really shine. Film is also known for the way it picks up the subtle nuances of black and white. As a result, it’s a good way to go if you plan to print the photo in black and white or if you plan to print in color and aren’t envisioning a high-contrast finished product.
Thanks to film’s higher resolution, it’s also a stronger medium for photos that you intend to print at larger sizes. Pictures taken digitally won’t hold up as well when they’re stretched to fill big spaces.
When to Use Digital
Digital cameras require less equipment than film cameras, which makes them much easier for travel photography or shoots outside of a studio. If you’re planning to take pictures on the go and aren’t quite sure what the conditions will be, a digital camera will be much more adaptive too. Throw your digital camera in your bag (gently, of course), and be prepared for any great photo op that comes your way!
Because digital cameras are so adaptive, they’re a good starting point for beginners. They allow you to jump back and forth between speeds and easily adjust your exposure based on the lighting and other environmental factors that are out of your control. Once you’ve played around with these settings, you’ll feel more confident shooting on film later on.
And since digital photography allows you to take seemingly endless photos—unlike film photography, which is limited based on how much film you have on you—there’s a lot of room to experiment with your techniques. You won’t be worried about wasting film every time you take a photo!
Digital is a perfectly good choice anytime you’re snapping photos that won’t be printed at unusually large sizes.
Film or Digital—It’s Your Call!
As you can probably see, there’s a place for both film and digital photography in a photographer’s proverbial bag of tricks. You don’t have to commit to a single medium! Instead, you can practice both types of photography, then choose what equipment works best for any given situation. Practicing taking photos using both film and digital cameras will also help you fully develop your style and artistic eye. You’ll be a better-rounded photographer for it!
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