Film vs. digital: What difference does it make?

Reportage holding a recorder equipment in a line.

If the old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words holds true, then the debate on whether that picture is better if shot on film or digitally may be worth several thousand more.

The quality and accessibility of digital cameras has vastly improved over the last few decades. Today, it feels like nearly everyone has access to a high-quality digital camera via their smartphone. But while many opt for the ease of using digital cameras or their phones to record movies and take pictures, others adamantly refuse to join the digital movement.

Professional filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, as well as many art photographers, are passionate advocates for the “old-fashioned” techniques of film. They feel that the natural aesthetic and texture of film is lost when moments and scenes are captured digitally.

Still, there are many professional photographers that do not believe film and digital photography are mutually exclusive or that one style is always better than the other.

“In the photography community, there’s a lot of confusion about the medium of film vs. digital because we talk about these approaches like they are basically the same thing,” says designer, photographer and creative director Dan Rubin. “In reality, film and digital are like a pen and a pencil. You hold them the same way. You can accomplish very similar things with them, but they are completely different tools that are fit for different purposes.”

Pros of film photography

Film photography, also called analog photography, uses light-sensitive rolls of film to capture images. When this plastic film is exposed to light, the silver halide crystals layered within the film darken, creating a negative of the image. Negative images are then taken to a darkroom where liquid chemicals are used to develop and print the photographs.

Some benefits of using film include:

Cons of film photography

Pros of digital photography

Digital photography mimics film photography by using electronic sensors to differentiate between light and dark. These sensors capture digital images that are stored on a memory card. Digital images can easily be manipulated or altered after a shoot using digital photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom.

Some benefits of using digital photography include:

Cons of digital photography

Which photo medium is right for you?

To help you decide which medium is best for you, consider the following:

If you’re still unsure which medium is more “you,” don’t be afraid to give both film and digital a try. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy both approaches to capturing images.

“The worth of your final photo isn't about what medium you use,” says Richards. “You can get equally amazing — though different — pieces of art with film and digital equipment. Photography is about taking your unique inspirations and making them your own. That's what will make your final image memorable.”