Film vs. Digital

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by kingalexthe1st, Oct 14, 2013.

  1. kingalexthe1st macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    Hey everyone,

    I know this is a bit of a strange topic to post in a digital photography forum, but does anyone here use film? I read this great article and now I feel totally inspired to buy a film camera! So much so that I've asked my girlfriend to get me a Pentax for xmas.

    I never thought there would still be advantages to using film over digital, but just look at that colour saturation right out of camera! And, like a lot of us on here, I'm always tryng to improve, and going film looks like it will improve my composition skills a hundred-fold as I'll take my time so as not to waste a shot. Plus, the equipment is so cheap compared to digital. A full frame camera with 50mm lens can set you back only £150.

    So, I'm wondering if anyone here uses film and, if you do, is there advice you have before I jump in to the deep in with this?

    Thanks y'all,
  2. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    I used film for many years, but the last time I put a roll of film through a camera was about six years ago, just before I bought the D200 that I still use. I wouldn't go back to film.

    Yes, you can buy a (used) film SLR very cheaply, along with some excellent lenses. But every frame you shoot costs money, and you either need to find a good film processing house or do all the dev & printing work yourself. I can't deny the attractions of 'old school' photography, but spending hours in a darkroom, inhaling chemicals, is not how I want to spend my time.

    Colour saturation? Controlled by a slider in Aperture or PS... Compositional skills? It's just as easy with digital; you just need a little self-discipline. If you give film a go, I'm sure you'll enjoy it... for a while. Then the sheer convenience of digital will beckon you again... :)
  3. kingalexthe1st thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    I'm not thinking that film is 100% better than digital, the convenience of digital is obviously a massive draw. It's funny you say that every shot costs money because I think it's exactly that that will force me to become better. Knowing that there is a financial cost to every shutter click I'm sure would make anyone slow down and ensure they have the best possible composition.

    I'm just finding it a little frustrating setting up a shot and getting what I think is a great photo, only to realise that I need to put more work in to LR just to get the colours back. Sure, it's only a few sliders, but I don't want to spend more and more of my time in front of a computer (he says, using one to type away on an online forum) when I could be doing anything else.

    I'm sure you're absolutely right in that the convenience of digital will draw me back. I was never going to give that up anyway. We'll see :)

  4. GoCubsGo macrumors Nehalem


    Feb 19, 2005
    I've used film a lot longer than many, I think. In my opinion, having shot digital for a very long time now, film makes me think more. Film required me to actually learn the basics of photography as opposed to just getting lucky. When you can't see your results right away, it becomes vastly more important to get it right in camera.

    I used to shoot a lot of large format (8x10 and 11x14) and at a few bucks a shot, again it becomes hugely important to get things right. Not to mention, carrying around a negative the size of a notebook isn't easy so I would wind up with only a half dozen or so chances to take a picture if I was using field cameras.

    I love film and I use it here and there just for kicks. Nothing replaces the convenience of digital but nothing will ever replace the pure joy I get from standing in a darkroom for hours.

    I like it when people who have never shot film discover it and want to try it. I think everyone should work with film at least once, if only to appreciate the medium.
  5. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    I appreciate that it's harder these days to 'slow down and smell the roses'. We rush around with our cameras - snap, snap, snap - and then wonder why the pix aren't as good as we'd hoped. But you're already aware that you'd like to slow down. So my question is: what's stopping you? A ball and chain would slow you down. A stone in your shoe would slow you down. Or you could take a big deep breath... and commit as much time as it might take to get the shot you want...
  6. kingalexthe1st thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    I can't argue at all with that. You're absolutely right, and wise like a miniature buddha. Although I think I might be falling in to the 'better equipment = better photos' mindset, which I'm keen to avoid, there's some kind of romance about film that's still luring me in.

    That article I mentioned says something along the lines 'it's like music lovers who will say vinyl just feels more organic than a CD'. I like that.

    Doylem, you mentioned something about finding a good print house. I really wasn't aware of this; I just thought (naively) that they mixed up the chemicals, dunked the negatives, did some voodoo black magic and generated the photographs. I'm guessing it's not as simple as that?

  7. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    There's a lot to learn about making a good print from a well-exposed b & w negative. You can set up your own darkroom (spare bedroom, cupboard under the stairs, etc), or you can farm the work out. But it was never cheap. And now that film is just a small photographic niche, there aren't so many companies involved.

    "Voodoo black magic"? Well, it used to feel like that, working with a red light in the darkroom, watching the image appear on a pristine sheet of Record Rapid (printing paper with beautiful tones and a creamy 'base'). I feel a twinge of nostalgia, just thinking about it.

    Of course, you also have the option of using 'slide' (transparency) film, which is what I mainly used... getting a local firm to do the devving.

    The sharpest rise in my personal learning curve came when I went digital. The two disciples aren't so different: you're still dealing with light and shade, line & tone, composition, colour harmony, etc. But learning how to turn out good images from film seems a bit like learning to drive in a Model T Ford. It's possible, but, hey, we've moved on... ;)
  8. MiniMoke macrumors member

    Nov 12, 2009
    I use digital and Film cameras, and I can say that using film is a lot more demanding on your time and skills. Not the fact of taking pictures, which is much more deliberate with film and much more satisfying.

    It's the processing that demands time and patience. First if you don't develop yourself, you wait for your negatives. If you develop yourself, it takes time to do the process right.

    Then you'll want to scan the negs - A LOT OF TIME goes down the drain when you use a good negative scanner of the cheaper kind, scanning the pics one by one. If you are the happy owner of an expensive top of the line scanner with automatic film feeder, you're lucky.

    Then you have to process the pictures - not too much different from processing the digital (RAW) pictures, but you'll need to acquire other skills and techniques to achieve your 'look'.

    Nothing beats the feeling of my Olympus 35SP, my Olympus Trip 35 or my Olympus XA2, but it's certainly a hell of a job until you get satisfying results.

    Just try it for yourself
  9. someoldguy, Oct 14, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2013

    someoldguy macrumors 68000

    Aug 2, 2009
    Doylem's comments are right on the money . If you want to force yourself to slow down , why not find a 1 G memory card and set your camera to shoot RAW+FINE JPEG ? This will give you around the same number of shots as a roll of film (I checked this out on a 15MP 50D and got 40 shots/card).

    On a recent trip , I took my old film body and 4 rolls of B&W film along with my digital stuff , just for entertainment purposes . Developed the film myself using gear I had from the old days , and scanned the negatives . Posted a couple of the resultant images on POTD last month . I probably spent more time/image cleaning up the scans than I ever do with my digital images . A B&W conversion in digital would have had a lot more detail , and I would have had a lot more control of the final result.
  10. MacCruiskeen macrumors 6502

    Nov 9, 2011
    This may sound odd on this forum, but part of the appeal to me of continuing to shoot film (as I have for 40 years) is that it is time away from the computer. I spend enough time working that I want to be able to do something that doesn't need them. I can do my own b&w processing, which I like doing. I find time in the darkroom to be enjoyable. I like that my cameras force me to do everything in my head. One drawback to being able to buy used gear for cheap is that it tends to accumulate. I started with a Nikon F, now have an F2, an OM1n, a Konica III (rf), a Mamiya RB67, Graflex 4x5, Shen Hao 4x5, and a Fuji 6x9 rangefinder. Plus a couple of plastic toy cameras. Sure, film, chemicals, paper, etc., cost money, but so what? It's not going to break me. I've had more expensive hobbies.Do you always choose the cheapest option? I'd guess not, otherwise we'd be having this thread on AcerForums.
  11. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    I got my first camera (a box camera with 620 film) in the mid 1950's. Got my first digital camera in 2001. I never shot film since.

    While my 2001 camera image quality wasn't as good as film, recent digital cameras easily beat anything I ever had before. Photography is now more exciting for me than it has ever been.
  12. kingalexthe1st thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    That is actually a very clever piece of advice. I had never thought of restricting my SD card! One piece of advice I always see around the internet when it comes to preparation is "always have a spare SD card", so i have 2 x 32 GB cards. I'm definitely going to invest in a 1GB now. Thanks for the advice.

    Deep down, I think this is also what I want. I spend so much time in front of a computer, or my phone or my ipad that tech is just creeping in to absolutely everything I do. Maybe I do want to have something that just takes me away from all that.

    Now this interests me because it seems that there are those of you who have never looked back after making the switch to digital, while there are a few who, if I may paraphrase, are going 'yes, but there's just something about film that's still quite nice'. Horses for courses?

    Thanks for your replies, everyone. It's great not only to get some advice but to hear some stories as well :)



    One thing I forgot to mention was that with a film camera you can get a full frame body for about 1/10th of the price of a FF digital camera, no? To me, that sounds like a nice advantage.
  13. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    Mar 25, 2009
    Folding space
    I learned on film and for me the main difference is in the processing. With film, for most people, that is done by an outside lab and you have no control over the outcome. Those of us who have developed our own film have had the experience of nasty chemicals on our fingers and quiet time in the dark. There is a zen to watching film work through the various baths that digital can't provide. But this is a huge investment for just a hobby. If you send it out, it's a crap shoot as to what you get back. I quit photography for something like 30 years after closing down my wet darkroom and only digital got me back in the game. Now I can shoot anytime I want with zero preparation and get any result I want in software. The fact that I learned the art on film has helped a lot, for sure. Get a cheap film camera and shoot a roll or two for fun and interest, but stay away from color. I was never able to get the color I wanted from any lab.

  14. MacCruiskeen macrumors 6502

    Nov 9, 2011
    Also, remember that there is no rule that requires you to choose one or the other exclusively. Sometimes people forget that you can just use what you want when you feel like it.

    And we won't mention that digital cameras are not like the mechanical beasts of old that will work for decades. Digital cameras are marvels of consumer electronics, which means they have relatively short life-cycles. How many people shoot with a ten-year-old camera, or even a five-year-old one? They don't; they're trapped in the upgrade wheel like everyone else.

    A great source of information is the forum
  15. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    You really don't have to as you say 'jump into the deep end' given that a great deal of film cameras and some lenses are relatively cheap now.

    What you should consider -
    1) where/how to develop film (will you do it yourself or send it out and if the latter, know of a good lab that is consistent)
    2) be prepared to learn some concepts that elude many born into the world of digital cameras. As others mentioned, understanding how real f stops work vs t stops and also shutter speed and of course exploiting whatever lens you are using to get the most out of it.
    3) if you continue forward, consider checking with local schools and similar that rent darkroom space. You may want to enjoy learning how to print black and white or perhaps colour (negative or slide/transparencies as your source).

    I admit a keen love for quality silver prints (b/w printing) and Cibachrome for colour work from transparencies. I was happy to see some ink printing papers emulate the clay based papers used by some (Barista etc) in b/w printing of yore.

    If I could make one suggestion - consider getting a camera that lets you do everything manually - focus, aperture and shutter. This becomes part of the craft and art of photography. Learn to use timers on the camera and "mirror up" settings as well for both longer exposures and close-up/macro work (on a tripod). My first camera spent a great deal of time on a "Star D" tripod and a 90mm macro lens and I still have some amazing Kodachrome slides and b/w negs.

    In short - GO FOR IT!
  16. acearchie macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2006
    Just wanted to chime in as a partial film user.

    Whilst film was around whilst I was growing up being a 90's kid I never really had the chance to properly shoot it whilst it was 'mainstream'. I have since got my own equipment, developed both B&W/colour and scanned myself.

    I really enjoy the process knowing that every element of the picture has been created by me.

    It has taught me a lot about photography and has definitely improved my skills and techniques.

    As Doylem rightly says it is possible to just tape up your screen, buy a smaller memory card, limit yourself to lower ISOs etc. but I would really recommend a film camera.

    You can learn anything and everything online but there is still a reason why people go to university. My point being that whilst it's easy to limit your DSLR there is great fun in physically only being able to take a set amount, not being able to see and having to trust your metering. The digital 'pretend' methods don't cut it really.

    IMO dynamic range, skin tones, saturation (linked in with DR) are the main reasons to give film ago. These things happen with developed film instantly and don't require hours in PS and LR.

    Also your price of £150 is quite high. If it's something your not sure you will be into then consider checking out charity shops. I did a project involving up=selling old cameras and most of the stock we found was under £10, normally with a lens and in good nick.
  17. alphaod macrumors Core


    Feb 9, 2008
    I love film, but I find the convenience of digital outweighs it significantly now that the resolutions are up there.
  18. Jessica Lares macrumors G3

    Jessica Lares

    Oct 31, 2009
    Near Dallas, Texas, USA
    Absolutely HATED film. Hated the stink of the chemicals, literally smelt like them for four months. I only managed to get a few good shots out of it too.

    My first digital camera only held the amount of shots that 35mm does to begin with, so it wasn't far from it. It was pretty basic too compared to it. For being only 1.3MP I got a lot from it.

    Advice? Shop around for film developers, that's a big part of the development process. It might not be as cheap as going local, but some of my stuff has come back with scratches before. Let someone do that part for you and focus on the printing yourself.

    Do you know how to use a DSLR? That's another thing. Your viewfinder won't tell you much other than how much you're zooming in. One slight off setting and that's a lot of wasted film.
  19. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    DOn't worry about the cost of film unless you plan to shoot 1,000 frames of it. If you shoot a rool a week which is reasonable for a serious amateur then what's that costing your $10 a week? That fits in a students budget.

    What you do is get a 100 ft roll of bulk film and reload the 35mm film cartridge and process in a daylight tank. No need for a darkroom and all the equipment is cheap. Then you scan the negatives

    I used film for many years but don't see a need to shoot 35mm film again. If you wnt to do film, pick a format that is DIFFERENT than your dSLR. 35mm film and dSLRs are to much alike. Get either a medium format or (better) large format 4x5 camera. Even with 4x5 not number of shots you take is so small the cost ail fit in a student's budget. 4x5 has a look that is unique, awide and smooth range of tones.

    OK, one other use of 35mm is shooting slides. Then you need a slide projector. The images look so much better then people today are used to. The brightness claerity and resolution is better then any digital projected. But don't bother with 35mm negtive film. Buy the larger camera. Get a Pentax 67 and load it with 120 roll film.


    You only got a few good shots? Hating it and notbeing able to do good work go together, one causes the other.

    But obviously one can do good work with film. Go to any library and look at 1970s and 1980 vintage Sport Illustrated or National Geographic. All those images are film.

    I managed to get thousands in decent images. I used to buy black and white film in 100 foot rolls and reload it onto casssets. I'd get 40 exposures on a roll for about $1 per roll. It might cost $2 now.
  20. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    There are several people in the digital image world that also miss the days of film photography with respect to the way cameras were handled. If you have time you should check out (for fun) forums and news items related to

    Fuji X100s
    Fuji X-1pro
    Fuji X-E1

    The first two are rangefinder capable cameras, X100s with fixed lens and X-1pro with interchangeable lenses. They also can explore a hybrid finder that shows a mini lcd image when the rangefinder facet is not sufficient. The X-E1 is all LCD only within the viewfinder. What sets these cameras apart (beyond expense) is they have dials/knobs akin to old rangefinder cameras which in some respect is homage to Leica. While I am not suggesting you get one of these cameras, just know there are many who have gone this path as a keen compromise that allows for the 35mm film type of shooting but having the best of digital at their disposal.

    I own three cameras now - Nikon FM2 w/105 macro, Fuji 645w (both are film cameras - 35mm and 120 rollfilm) and the Fuji X-E1. If you were around my neighborhood I would have happily sold you the FM2 as I would prefer it go to someone who could appreciate a fully manual camera.
  21. teleromeo macrumors 65816


    Dec 2, 2006
    kidnapped by aliens
    The article the topic starter is referring to has to be taken with a large grain of salt :

    1. The Look

    The look is a bit different, true. Just get used to it and learn to use Lightroom or Aperture and Photoshop. You'll have a lot more ways to get your pictures in a good shape. Don't try to imitate the older look of of film, it's like putting fake scratch noises on a newly recorded song.

    2. Film will make you a Better Photographer, Promise!

    It all depends on you and your eyes, not your camera.
    Don't use your camera to point and shoot like an average tourist in front of the eiffel tower. If you do as they tell in that article with digital gear you'll achieve even better pictures. A little bit of trial and error won't harm your budget.

    3. Film is a Time Saver

    Developing and scanning all those images is time consuming. If you're a die hard analog shooter you'll print your negatives with chemicals in your dark room which is even more time consuming.

    4. Film Gear is Cheap (but this Might Change in the Future)

    Unless you get it for free it's a waste of money. Save your money to buy better stuff for your digital body.
    Also you'll spend a lot of money in film and development.

    5. BOKEH Madness

    Lens blur depends on the lens, not on the fact you shoot analog or digital. Get quality lenses with a good aperture range and learn how to use them. Stay away from digital blur when you are processing your files.

    6. Forget to search the Rumours Sites

    That counts for digital gear also. Do a thorough research before you buy your camera and you'll be set for years. Just like Doylem I have a D200 since 2006. The money you save on film can be used to buy a new camera body from time to time. The D800 I bought this spring was a fantastic investment but also I still use my D200.
    Anyway if you go the analog way you'll be searching secondhand sites instead of rumour sites.
  22. Padaung macrumors 6502


    Jan 22, 2007
    I adored spending time in the darkroom - I loved the smell of the chemicals, and the joy of crafting a print. Every print is different (no matter how much care you take to make them identical). The previous responses on this thread show that not everyone felt the same!

    However, when did I last use a darkroom? Probably about 12 years ago. Film will not make you a better photographer, only you can do that yourself by practice and learning.

    I agree it requires a different mindset when using film - you can't change the ISO every shot, no checking on the screen to view a histogram, composition etc.

    I do still have a film camera and love using it once in a while (last time was on a holiday 2 yrs ago). I get the negs processed by mail order and get them to scan the negs so I can 'develop' them on the computer.

    Do I recommend trying film, yes - it is part of photography's history and has a unique charm and satisfaction about it. Learning to print can be very rewarding, but takes up a lot of time (hence I haven't done it in so long! Maybe again when I eventually retire...)

    eBay or a local camera shop are possibly your best bets for picking up cheap darkroom equipment. Have you asked any relatives if they have an old camera knocking about? You never know, and someone may have some old darkroom equipment shoved in a shed somewhere!
  23. MacCruiskeen macrumors 6502

    Nov 9, 2011
    Actually, what I usually say is that shooting with no automation will make you a better photographer. The real issue is making your brain do the work and not the computer.

    Making a good print is time consuming no matter how you do it. And I'd rather spend time in the darkroom than with Photoshop. Photoshop isn't fun.

    I agree that bokeh is oversold. It really is not a consideration for me. If you buy decent gear those things will take care of themselves.

    It is possible that the money I've spent on everything in the past ten years--the cameras, darkroom stuff, film, chemicals, etc.--might add up to enough to buy a D800 today if I'd saved it instead. I've probably got about $500 worth of film in the freezer right now (mostly some 35mm bulk rolls and boxes of 4x5). There's enough in there to get me through several years of shooting. I need to restock my 120 supply, which is mostly what I've been using recently.
  24. kingalexthe1st thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 13, 2013
    Wow! Thanks for all your responses! It's really interesting to hear your own personal experiences with film, and while I don't have time to reply to each one fo your comments (there's at least one bit in each that I'd like to address), I'll try to fit some into this reply.

    First off, yes I know my dslr pretty well. I only shoot in manual so I know the relation of shutter, aperture, ISO and how each affects the look of the resulting photo (although I'm googling t-stops at the moment, had no idea they exist. Thanks, phrehdd). In fact, it's partially because I know my way around relatively well that I want a new challenge.

    One thing that has surprised me time and again with this thread is how many times people have mentioned the development process and the possibility of learning the ins and outs of a darkroom. I NEVER considered this; I thought I could (and would) hand over any negatives to the nearest processing company and get some well-processed pictures back. Mainly because I would trust them more than myself, being professionals and all.

    And one final thing, B&W seems to have been mentioned a few times as being more likely to get decent results than colour, as there is less for the processing to screw up? I might start off with this then, I've never really shot any B&W with my dslr so maybe it would be a good first step in to the foray of film :)

  25. Padaung macrumors 6502


    Jan 22, 2007
    Printing & processing B&W film yourself is a lot easier than colour film. The chemicals and processes required are more simple.

    You can also print colour negs onto B&W paper to make a B&W print yourself and then get a colour print from your local photo lab if you want. B&W prints from colour film don't match using a dedicated B&W film though.

    I came back to post this link, but having read your reply I think the content isn't relevant to you as you seem to have thought it over quite a lot already:

    Here are some links that combine the new and old worlds ;)

    Kinda tempted to give this a go myself! This is where one of the super high resolution screens on the Samsung phones would be of use so as to get maximum print quality - you could use a DSLR for taking the photo, do basic edits on it, and send it to the phone for printing. Then still do some dodging and burning during printing to make each print unique.

    Good luck and have fun!

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