May 28, 2017 / By Trevor Lee / In Film Photography,Film Tips and Reviews,Photo Lab Blog

Film vs Digital – A Photo Comparison

With film usage and adoption on the rise, we wanted to resurrect the debate of digital photos versus analog photos.  As a film processing lab we obviously have a bias, so not going to say which is better, but just to present the differences and list advantages.

While in Eastern Sierra Nevada we shot two photos, one film and the other digital. Both the digital photo and the film photo were taken with the same settings. The left image was captured on Velvia 50, taken with a Canon EOS 3, a 50mm lens at f/4. The photo on the right was taken with a full frame Canon 6D with 50mm, 100 iso and f/4. Both images are unedited. As you can see, Velvia 50 has very fine grain and has rich vibrant colors straight from the scan compared to the unedited JPEG from the Canon 6D. And yes, you do have the option to edit digital photos but there’s something special about making a beautiful image in-camera on film and not having to spend any time editing!

Also, if you’re looking for a little less saturation, there are other great film choices, like Provia 100 which isn’t as saturated but still has great color and fine grain or you could go with a color negative film which will give you more subtle colors and has a wider range of exposure latitude.

 

Film Photography Advantages

  • Lower initial cost than for a comparable digital camera
  • With a higher dynamic range, film is better at capturing details in whites and blacks and can’t be replicated with digital cameras. Also film can capture subtle details lost in digital photography
  • Film is more forgiving of minor focusing issues and exposure problems
  • Film captures photos at higher resolution than most digital cameras
  • Analog film can be pushed or pulled multiple stops when needed, but the amount of contrast within the image is affected. Some photographers use this to their advantage to create the ideal look they desire, but this method still does not allow extremely high ISO speeds without impacting image tones.
  • Film photographers with a limited number of exposures available on a roll of film must think more about their images before shooting them. Digital photographers tend to take pictures first and think later. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an advantage or disadvantage.
  • Unlike digital cameras, film cameras are future proof and don’t become obsolete.
  • No power or batteries needed. Long trips and cold conditions can be limiting for digital cameras.
  • The Darkroom photo lab scans your film photos, now allowing you to edit your images on a computer with photo-editing software or share in social media.

Digital Photography Advantages

  • The resolution in even point-and-shoot cameras, which is often 12 to 20 megapixels is high enough resolution for large prints.
  • Digital cameras also have the advantage of being able to change film speeds between individual photographs.
  • The cameras are generally lighter weight than film cameras.
  • Memory cards are tiny and can store many images.
  • Instant gratification and images can be viewed immediately. Some film photographers consider this a disadvantage.
  • You can edit your images directly on the camera.
  • You can choose to print only the images you like best.
  • Many cameras offer built-in filters.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.


This was originally posted on our Instagram (instagram.com/thedarkroomlab).
Below is some of the comments from that post. 

velorydr Cool, thanks for the comparison! It would be interesting to see how true Velvia film would hold up against an in-body Fujifilm digital simulation, or VSCO simulation. Keep up the good work!

koribrus The same thing sold me after 1roll. I still shoot both, but the bigger love is with film.

ben_holiday Shooting jpg without a raw option is just sad 😐 and holds no candle to velvia or any film. That being said a raw file in the right hands can be a very different story. Film and digital are tools there is a tool for every type of job, in the end it’s all about how they are used and the skill of the user.
barce I hate feeling broke after shooting with film. Yeah, I did a similar experiment with a raw Canon T3i and Velvia which did a great job of catching very subtle highlights. Film you can over expose to get details but digital you have to do the opposite. Right now digital to print is way less hassle. If I had to photograph in Antarctica I’d stick with film. No digital camera’s battery can stand the cold (-20C/F). That’s the only job I see for film these days.

__mason thank you for this great comparison! I’ve been shooting film for years, & when I tried going out with a digital camera a few times I just couldn’t get near the results I was used to without time at a computer. granted I’m no photoshop expert. but man there really is nothing better than composing a photo, developing it & loving it as is. there’s a lack of satisfaction & emotion in knowing I need to re-work all of my digital images to get the right colors & mood. I’m sure a lot of people love that aspect, but I’ll forever prefer letting the magic happen then & there, with light simply making its way to a piece of film.

12 responses to “Film vs Digital – A Photo Comparison”

  1. dug sitowski says:

    Although I carry around a primo Leica digital I still tend to go to my trusty mechanical Spotmatic or F1 for my “money shots”. With 24 exposures, film holds me to a strct line of creative and judgemental discipline as to “the decisive moment” (Bresson), composition, f-stops, shutter speed, color management, and so forth. With digital I have an unfortunate tendency to “shoot it first and fix it later” via Photoshop. I also have a closer feeling of a hands-on connection with film than electronic digital much like driving a 350 Camaro with 4-on-the-floor as opposed to an automatic. The automatic will get you to where you’re going but you’ll have a heck of a lot more fun getting there with the 4-speed. Ansel Adams made an astute observation : “I am a fly-fisherman, I don’t drop a stick of dynamite into the creek”. So, what was good enough for him and Bresson I guess is good enough for me. Nuf said.

  2. stuart says:

    My general rule is color digital, B&W film. Nothing compares to printing from a B&W neg and watching an image appear by magic. I currently use 35mm but I am looking into a good used medium format film camera. However when I travel however I only take my DSLM because of size and weight with a small P&S as backup. There is only so much you can get in a carry on.

  3. Daniel Morris says:

    For me, it’s the color or in the case of B&W the detail and fine tones you get from film. You can’t reproduce with digital filters what you can get from quality film or slides and I love to shoot 120 roll film in medium format with a negative that is 400% larger than “full frame” digital cameras. The exposure latitude of negative film is one huge advantage film offers that I love. A lot of digital looks cartoonish with HDR or has blown out highlights.
    How are all of your great photos from 2003 doing right now? Unless you are a very disciplined archivist you probably don’t have them. Most digital photos never get printed, while negatives or slides can last more than a lifetime. In the last year, I’ve found family pictures & negatives that were taken before WWII, try that with digital.

  4. John says:

    I own 8 film slr cameras, 2 Konica, 4 Minolta, 2 Pentax and also use a Fuji digital camera. I feel the difference between the modern digital slr’s and the ones’ made in the 60’s and 70’s are the standard lenses that come with the camera when you purchase it. I have thousands of b&w negs and slides which are crystal clear and beautiful, even after storage these many years. I attribute the quality of these photos to the excellent lenses made years ago and also to the great work done by the processing firm. Just received some “experimental” photos I recently took with my old Minolta . Although my pictures are nothing to brag about, your processing made them look a whole lot better than any I have taken with my digital camera. Kudos to “The Darkroom”.

  5. Rian Davis says:

    Film will always be much better. use film.

  6. Alvin Savage says:

    Everything else aside; the hours in my dads basement darkroom running the enlarger and working with him are priceless to me; I wish we had done more before he passed. Can still smell the chemicals. Can’t do that with digital.

  7. Grant says:

    It’s an argument that can’t be won with logic, and it’s so individual anyway. Here’s why I shoot film, tho:

    1. I like the fussiness and struggle. It’s fun to think and fiddle, to calculate EV without a meter, or to whip out the meter and read it like a little robot. The analog ones, the digitals–they’re all fun.

    2. All of my imperfect photographs remind me of old timey photos–either ancient family photos, or photos from long ago . My new imperfect ones make me feel part of the gang.

    3. When I make a good one, it’s soooo satisfying, and part of that comes from knowing the camera facilitated it, of course, but didn’t take over and do it for me.

    4. I LIKE having to commit my next 10 or 12 or 36 photos to one ISO. I enjoy the stress of “125 or 400? How about 3200? What about pushing 400 to 800 or 1600? Or should I pull 3200 to 1200?” My god, this is what being alive is all about! Then you pick one and go with it and make the most of it.

    4. Call me easy to please, but I find even failed or lackluster sincere attempts in black and white to be artistic, or at least soothing to look at. When the image doesn’t live up to the reality, imagination kicks in. This is never the case with perfectly exposed, razor-sharp lollilpop-colored images created in megapixels (which are not, technically, photographs).

    5. Film cameras look so cool. Especially the squared-off ones from the pre-ergonomic plastic days. Today’s cars all look the same because they were all designed by wind-tunnel tests…and today’s cameras were all designed by the weak, soft hand that must have it all and squawks at edge or the texture of vulcanite.

    6. I am not a pro or a wedding photographer. All of my photos are optionals and luxuries. Photography sucks money out of my pocket, doesn’t stuff it with it, and that is a wonderful thing, because it means nothing is at stake if I muff a shot or a whole roll. No bride’s mom will sue me.

    7. Last one: Too bad the iconic names have swerved so much or even entirely away from film to digital. I’m not trying to change your definitions or win people over to my side, but to me, for me, in MY opinion, there is a difference between photography and image capturing, and there is a difference between a camera that makes photographs and a computer made by a former camera company that captures images.

    8. FILMO ! FILMO! FILMO!

  8. Anatol says:

    Amazingly ignorant comparison. Dynamic range of film is several stops less than modern digital. Film results strongly depend on development process and non-reversible. Set your digital camera to “Vivid” mode and you will have equally bright picture in JPG. Digital sensitivity is higher. Flexibility of digital image manipulation is infinite (4K focus stacking, HDR, etc.etc.). Resolution of 20 MP digital is higher than scanned film. Film is totally obsolete. It is like a stone ax vs. chainsaw.

  9. Terrific article Trevor! I guess I get a bit frustrated with “digital” photographers always in the debate of why digital is so much better than film. I have been shooting both film and digital for over 30 years, and more recently trying my best to leave digital and going solely to film. For me, it’s not about the megapixel count, the “satisfaction immediacy” or the ability to quickly change the sky in editing if you don’t like it…it’s about slowing down…and being 100% in control of producing the image, leaving electronics to the wayside. I have left a link to a blog I recently wrote entitled “Technology has killed the true spirit of photography” which I believe you will get. Looking forward to future articles! Best, James
    .

  10. H Scott says:

    I just like film. I have 3 Minolta X-700 (manual focus). Some of them have the multi function back, and I have anything from Vivitar to a Zeiss lenses. I met a person last year who called my camera a dinosaur. I just smiled at him and said “It’s a living dinosaur”. The fact that the Dark Room will push film. Has expanded were I can use my film camera. I recently went to a black light party, and I had to push my 800 film to 1600-3200. I think the challenge of taking the picture with a fully manual camera makes the picture more memorable. Normally, I only shot two to three rolls in a day. With a digital camera, you will shoot over 200 shots by lunch and hardy remember any of them. Please note most of my photos are for fun, and not for profit. Next time you get out your digital camera, pick out and non-zoom lens and set your ASA to 200 , and turn off your AF, and don’t change anything but the f-stop and the shutter speed (1/1000 max). {Bet you will not last more that 5 minutes}. When I finish a photo shoot, I’m done. I do not need to spend the next 4 hours converting and correcting. There is a point in photo shop. Where you become a image-ographer and no longer a photographer. But if you are shooting for profit or vacation, you just have to have a digital camera.

  11. cathy says:

    I wanted a nicer camera than the cheap point-and-shoot digital camera I have. I couldn’t afford an DSLR camera and lenses. So I found my husband’s Canon EOS 620, with a big telephoto lens attached, and all I had to buy was a battery (2CR5 lithium 6V battery for about $10). Now I am very, very happy. I bought 8 rolls of film and one roll of B&W film. I wonder if I can take a picture for your latest contest in time for the October 30th deadline??? I’m so so happy. I’m glad I found you, to develop my film also.
    It is so exciting!