One of the great decisions in camera purchase today is that of digital or film. Each has its own advantages and problems and has a different market. Disclaimer - I have a film bias.

Film vs Memory
Film is cheap. Memory is not. Granted, memory is a one-time investment, however, it is a very expensive one that may cost more than the camera itself for a reasonable capacity of high quality photographs. Most digital cameras use some form of memory to store the pictures on. There are a few high end cameras that are actually part CD-burner and burn the images directly to the CD rather than storing them in memory. There are also some cameras that store the images to a floppy disk of some sort. Please note that cameras that store to floppy disk often have very poor image quality or go through floppy disks as if they were candy.

Cameras that store images in memory often have a number of formats that they can store them in from high quality to low quality. Most cameras can do 640x480 (and thus it is a reasonable benchmark) and get about 5 pictures/megabyte at this resolution. An 8 megabyte stick is about the same as a roll of 36 exposure film in capacity. However, at high resolution (2160 x 1440), this takes 10 times more memory than the 640x480 requiring almost 2 megabytes/picture. To get the equivalent of a single role of film a 64MB memory card will be necessary. Each 64MB costs over $100 and 8MB cards costs in the $40 range.

It is true that memory cards are reusable, however the key question is how many high resolution pictures are feasible to carry around? With film, it is easy (and not expensive) to carry around 10 or so rolls of film. To carry the same amount of digital camera memory around costs between $400 and $1200. This is a sizeable investment.

You may ask "why carry that much film around?" The answer is quite simple. Often when going out and taking photographs, it is not difficult to use up a few rolls of film that you were planning to take. Then, when driving back, suddenly you come across the best sunset ever and reach back to grab another roll of film. It would be terribly unfortunate to run out of film or memory at this point.

There are ways to increase the amount of memory carried by purchasing a hard drive and memory card reader. These readers simply store the information on the card to the hard drive. A gigabyte can store on the order of 1,000 high resolution photographs.

Pre film/CCD lens
Only the highest quality (example: Cannon EOS D30 @ $2850) digital cameras have the ability to change the lens it comes with. Most of the time all that is required is a simple zoom lens that most every digital camera comes with. Some of the mid-high end cameras even have threads on the lens so that various filters may be applied.

While there is Photoshop for anyone with a digital image to modify the image, there are some things that have to be done before the lens to get proper effects. Most notably is the polarizer that changes how water reflects, reflections in glass, and the sky/cloud/ground contrast. These things must be done before the light hits the film or CCD.

There are also times when it is necessary to change the focal length of the camera. This is especially the case if you wish to photograph things that are very close to the lens. Often this type of photograph is of flowers, small (stationary) animals, and textures.

Shutter speed, aperture, and film advance
It is true that the higher end digital cameras have the ability to change some aspects of the aperture or shutter speed, there are times when it isn't enough. The high end (that Cannon EOS D30 again) have shutter speeds between 8 seconds and 1/1000th of a second. Most digital cameras do not have even that amount of flexibility. This is often enough for all but the long exposure pictures. Night pictures of car lights are recommended to have an exposure of 30 seconds or more. Pictures of star trails and comets often are exposed for hours.

The ability to change aperture allows for the change of depth of field. With the smallest aperture everything is in focus - wonderful for landscape photographs. With larger apertures, only the target itself is in focus. The second technique is often used for photographs of people where nothing other than the face is to be in focus.

Admittedly, my camera does not allow me to control the advance of film - some day I would like a better camera body. Ever see a double exposure, where you sit there and wonder how it was done. Well, actually you know how it was done - the film was exposed twice. While this is doable in Photoshop, the most authentic way is with the camera itself. This type of photograph is simply not doable with a digital camera.

Image quality
At the time of this writing, the highest quality digital cameras are on the order of 3.25 mega pixels (2160 x 1440). This sounds like a lot, and it is certainly a high resolution image. However, the store I go to for developing photographs gives a free photo CD with it for photo club members. Yes, they do charge more than the drug store for the roll of film, but they have never messed up my negatives and give me good quality prints. From the photo CD, it is easy to extract a 1536x1023 image which has half as many pixels. With a reasonable quality slide scanner images on the order of 5 mega pixels can be retrieved from 35mm film.

35mm is near the low end of film size. For someone who is truly concerned with image quality the only alternative is a medium or large format film camera. The difference in quality is beyond comparison. This is especially the case when it comes to enlargements.

The information about how many mega pixels a camera can do is all well and good for nice high quality wallpaper or screen savers. However, may times we want something to hold in our hands - an image to take with us and put in a frame. In these cases, few printers come close to the quality of a photograph, and those that do, cost on the order of $1/picture (5"x7") to several dollars for a full page.

Film also has the added advantage of being able to be sensitized to different frequencies of light easily without changing the camera itself. There are several brands of film that have a higher sensitivity to the infrared end of the spectrum. Similarly, film has different speeds. A 100 speed film is wonderful for a bright sunny out door picture where you want the shutter to be open for as long as you can (see photographing flowing water) or hours of night exposure. A very fast film (1600 or higher) can be used to take photographs lit only by a candle in a dark room. With a large format film and a 16 film speed (yes, 16 - incredibly slow) it is possible to enlarge the image to the size of a wall with no loss of image quality.

Digital cameras are nice cameras and have their place. They are easy to take around and often provide a nice compact system for recording images. However, when something more than a snapshot is required they start to fail when compared to a good print camera unless one goes for the very high end of digital cameras. When even more artistic control or higher quality is required it gets very expensive to have an equivalent digital camera, if the digital camera can do it at all.

With snapshots, if a person is considering taking more than 40 pictures before unloading the memory the price of memory begins to get oppressive compared to the equivalent in film.

Admittedly, I am a digital photographer. Also, I own only one digital camera so I can only add observations on my experiences in digital photography.

Firstly, the digital experience isn't simply about cost. Nor having a ready vehicle for posting pictures on the web. It's about complete control of you photographs, from the moment you shoot until the moment you print.

Also, if we are going to compare digital cameras to film cameras, lets make sure we're comparing apples to apples: Just as there are point and shoot film cameras, there are also digital cameras built for that market. Manual shutter and aperture on a point and shoot would defeat the purpose. And best of luck attaching an external lens to one.

On Storage:

"Granted, memory is a one-time investment, however, it is a very expensive one that may cost more than the camera itself for a reasonable capacity of high quality photographs."

Really? It cost me $100CDN for a 64M stick (suitable to store up to 60 pictures which can produce an 8x10 print to rival a 35mm film print.) The camera was $1699CDN. So unless I plan on taking 600+ pictures in one sitting, storage cost will never exceed the cost of the camera.

"Most cameras can do 640x480 (and thus it is a reasonable benchmark) and get about 5 pictures/megabyte "

Not that any self-respecting digital photographer would dare shoot in that resolution, but while playing one night, I managed to stuff 326 640x images on a 32 meg stick. Storage requirements depend on image size and image compression.

On Cost:

I proceed from the assumption that ideally, the objective of photography in general is to end up with a picture, in some format, that can be viewed.

Thus, consider the cost of developing your pictures with a film camera, as well as any possible duplicates you might want printed as well.

With digital, there is no need to print. In fact, I have shot over 4,000 pictures with my current camera. 60 have been printed. At the cost of 1 CD-R (I would say comparable to 1 roll of film) I can make available hundreds of pictures. Not so with film. Because the storage medium is reusable, if you don't print your pictures, the memory sticks pay themselves off in no time.

If we are to compare both mediums, we must assume that we have all the necessary equipment to a) Take the picture b) Develop and edit and c) Print. If we are going to compare costs, we should assume that you've included the expense of building your own darkroom as well for film photography. Don't forget the "reasonable quality slide scanner."

On Resolution:

"The information about how many mega pixels a camera can do is all well and good for nice high quality wallpaper or screen savers."

I can't say I've ever run my monitor at 2160 x 1440. Mega pixels have nothing to do with computer display. That is how many picture elements are in the image. Film prints are generally done at a resolution of 301 dpi. In order to create a print from a digital image that will equal in quality that of a film camera, that is the magic number. A 640x image will produce an impressive 2 inch print. So mega pixels are of paramount importance.

On Authenticity:

"...the most authentic way is with the camera itself."

Is your writing less authentic now than it would have been 20 years ago, using a pen and paper?

How is creating a double exposure with Photoshop less authentic than doing it with a film camera? Sure, you can't accidentally make a double exposure with a digital camera. But if you had intended to create one in the first place, what does it matter when or how you do it?


Digital photography is relatively young, but is maturing quickly. And as it matures, prices drop. Comparing a film camera to similarly featured digital camera, the initial cost is higher. However, unlike film cameras, digital is a format that pays itself off.

As for only using digital for snapshots, well, I would have to disagree. With manual focus, 5x zoom, shutter (8" - 1/1000) and aperture (f2-f8) priority I've got more than enough flexibility to create very high quality prints and images. Oh... and I can shoot 15 seconds of motion video if I so choose. Then again, you could make a flip-book from your prints.

One advantage of digital is that you learn more quickly.

The key to learning anything is feedback. Film is bad in this respect. You take the photo, and you only get to see the results when you develop them. Which could be anywhere from an hour to a week afterwards. And unless you write down the camera settings for each shot (which can really take the joy out of photography), you will probably forget what settings you had used.

With digital cameras, feedback is instant. You can see if you have made mistake in composition, lighting, or with camera settings. And you can correct it straight away.

And as Mordax said. Control is another big advantage. Unless you have your own darkroom setup--which can be very expensive and time consuming--you don't have full control of the process.
This may not be a biggy for people who want to get their holiday snaps printed. But when you need to get the images on to a computer, digital is much easier, cheaper, faster, and reliable. And you stay in control throughout the whole process.

I think that digital will overtake film very soon in most of the 35mm SLR areas. But film will still be around for along time because it's cheap and flexible. A good example is pinhole photography, where a lot of people create their own cameras, and use a wide variety of film formats (including home made). To make you own digital camera and CCD, would be incredibly expensive and hard to do.

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