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Which is Better - Film or Digital?

written by: A. Jitesh•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/29/2009

Is shooting on film superior to shooting digital? Are the conveniences offered by digital really helpful? Is the very debate of film versus digital worth the time and effort? This article looks at the debate in a more objective manner.

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    Digital vs. Film Photography

    Ah, the eternal debate! Which is better: film or digital? Many of you have probably read tons of articles debating this issue, and the general conclusion of almost all would have been that digital has now come of age and film photography is at its end. Many articles would’ve dramatically portrayed it as a losing battle which film photography is fighting against its younger sibling, digital photography. Though each person has a right to air his or her views in whatever way he/she wants to, I beg to differ with these authors.

    My first premise is that the skills required to get a good photograph remain the same, irrespective of whether you use a film camera or a digital one. The rules of composition, framing, shutter speed, aperture and lighting, which forms the backbone of a good photograph, is independent of the sensor technology used – film or digital.

    The second premise is that this argument is gleefully indulged in mostly by people who don’t fully appreciate the breadth of photography and its various techniques. Most people, when they say ‘film’, assume it to be the 35mm negative film. They either ignore, or are unaware of, the fact that film comes in two types– slide film and negative film. Again, there are various formats - 35mm, medium format 120/220 film, 4x5” large format, 8x10” large format, etc. Most professionals who use film use the slide film. Though digital technology has developed rapidly in the 35mm arena, there’s still a lot to desire for where other formats are concerned.

    So before I contribute my mite to this debate, let me make one clear statement. This is not a death-match between the two technologies. Film and digital do different things well and complement each other rather than compete against each other. It all boils down to individual need, as to which technology should be chosen. If you’re a professional photographer who needs enormously large and detailed prints, say for an exhibition or a project, you’d go for a large format film camera. But if you’re interested in smaller prints, and quicker, hassle free results and the extremes of high quality is not what you’re after, a digital camera should serve your purpose far better.

    As most of us lesser mortals fall in the second category, we tend to think film is dead and it’s the age of digital right now. But debating which of the two is superior, is like debating whether apples taste better or oranges. The answer depends on the individual and his or her needs. I hope this article will at least help you appreciate the fact, and think above such arguments.

    The second part of the article will list various aspects of photography with the strengths and weaknesses of film and digital technology in each aspect. The final conclusion, I’ve already made in the previous paragraph – let end use decide which technology is most suitable.

Film vs. Digital Photography

This article series looks at the debate of film versus digital photography in an objective light. The first part gives an overview of the whole debate. The second part points out areas where film photography rules the roost. The third lists areas where digital photography outperforms.
  1. Which is Better - Film or Digital?
  2. The Advantages of Film over Digital
  3. Strengths of Digital Photography over Film