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For many years photographers had only one option for capturing images: physical photographic film. Film technology has existed for well over a century and remains in use today, but in recent decades, a new form of photography has risen to prominence: digital photography. Today's digital cameras are inexpensive, and they produce high-quality digital images. Meanwhile, dedicated photography purists remain committed to traditional film cameras, sparking a robust film vs. digital debate.

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What Is Film Photography?

Traditional film photography captures images by exposing individual frames on a roll of film to light. Film is made of plastic and layered with silver halide crystals that darken when exposed to light, capturing negatives of images. When a photographer uses up all the exposures on a roll of film, they take it to a darkroom and develop the photos using liquid chemicals.

Film photography materials

3 Advantages of Shooting Film

Film photographers swear by film for its signature look and image quality.

  1. High dynamic range: Standard film boasts impressive image quality, with greater variation between light and dark. This is particularly pronounced in black and white photography.
  2. Analog warmth: Like audiophiles who prefer the analog warmth of a vinyl record to the digital precision of an MP3, film aficionados prefer the warm film grain of images shot on non-digital single-lens reflex cameras (SLRs). The warm film look is all the more apparent when using high-end film such as Velvia 50 or Kodak Portra 400.
  3. Lower initial costs: Whether you're shopping for an entry-level 35mm film camera, a medium-format camera (which has a larger sensor), or a large-format camera (which has an extra-large sensor), traditional film devices tend to be cheaper than their digital counterparts—at least upfront. Keep in mind that the costs of buying and developing film will add up over the years.

3 Disadvantages of Shooting Film

The drawbacks of traditional film involve convenience and utility, both during photoshoots and post-processing.

  1. Limited exposures: Rolls of film contain a limited number of exposures. For photographers who rely on taking many shots of the same image—like those who use the bracketing technique—this can be a hindrance.
  2. A long developing process: Traditional film must be developed in a darkroom, and the process is time-consuming. There’s also the chance of ruining your photos: If undeveloped film is exposed to sunlight, your photographic images will be completely washed out.
  3. Higher long-term costs: Years of buying film can add up and ultimately make analog cameras more expensive than their digital counterparts. Shooting film onto memory cards is far more economical than buying rolls and rolls of film.
DSLR camera taking a picture of Eiffel Tower

What Is Digital Photography?

Digital photography replicates the process of traditional film photography, but it uses an electronic sensor, rather than film, to capture images. These digital photographs are stored on a memory card, and their resolution is measured in megapixels.