What is the Difference Between Digital and Traditional Photography?

Photographers worldwide have differing opinions on whether a digital or film camera is better. As technology evolves, photographers are continually upgrading their cameras to the latest and greatest. On the other hand, many still swear by traditional film cameras. So, what’s the difference between digital and traditional photography?

The major difference between traditional film cameras and digital cameras is you need to purchase film and to develop it to see the images. Most people scan their negatives but traditionally photographers created prints in the darkroom. Digital cameras use digital storage to save images and generally need a digital device to edit the images.

See the chart below for the digital cameras vs film cameras:

Digital Cameras
Traditional Film Cameras
Easier access to editing: just need a computer, tablet, or smartphone
Generally higher-resolution photos with better color rendition
Some digital cameras show in real-time what the camera sees (smartphones and mirrorless cameras)
Prints last longer much longer but require a darkroom to print yourself
High initial cost
Costs add up over time (buy film, need to develop film, & scans)
images are ready to share immediately
Need to develop negatives to see the images
All digital cameras require batteries and needs to be recharged
Many film cameras only need batteries for the light meter and still work fine without them
A chart that shows differences between traditional film cameras and digital cameras.

As you can see, digital and traditional photography each have their advantages and disadvantages, but both can create beautiful, timeless photos. To decide which camera you’d prefer, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each and decide which you prefer.

What are the Similarities Between Digital and Film Cameras? 

An Olympus 35mm Film SLR camera vs Fuji Rangefinder Style Digital camera
An Olympus 35mm Film SLR camera vs Fuji Rangefinder Style Digital camera

The most significant similarity between a digital and film camera is their ability to take photos but different on how and what you do after you take the image. Whether you’re capturing a moment you want to remember forever, taking portraits, landscapes, or street photography both types of cameras will do an excellent job. Both cameras can produce high-quality images.

Most digital and film cameras come equipped with a lens, flash, and a viewfinder. Aperture, shutter, and ISO settings are essential pieces of photography to control the light entering the camera so both camera types have these tools.

What is the Difference Between Analog and Digital Photography? 

Both cameras have a lens, flash, and viewfinder, and both take photos. So, what’s the difference between a digital and an ordinary camera? There are many differences, advantages, and disadvantages to using each. 

Digital photos can be easily manipulated. Photos taken on a film camera cannot be manipulated until the negatives are scanned or used to make a print in the darkroom. However, digital cameras are constantly evolving with new technology so much so your new digital camera may be obsolete in a few years like many from the 1990s. Film cameras never go out of style or lose their advantages and many cameras made as early as the 1920s (or before) still work just fine.

Comparing Cost

The cost can be an essential factor in determining if you want to use a digital or ordinary camera. Regardless of which type of photography or camera you choose, it’s an investment well worth it. Digital photography may be cheaper in the long run, mostly because you can immediately fix photo issues by taking a new one. In contrast, the film would require extra hours and lost film.

Cost of Film Photography

Film cameras are time and money investment. While purchasing an analog camera will only set you back about $50 to $100 for the less expensive cameras, there are other expenses to consider. The cost of film, developing, and scanning adds up over time.

The best way to save some money with film photography is to develop the film yourself – after investing in the right chemicals and equipment. You can choose to send your film roll to a company through the mail that processes photos for you, but it takes more time and cost more than if you do it yourself. There are also extra costs associated to scanning your photos to get them up online. 

Cost of Digital Photography

Digital photography has an expensive up-front investment, but there’s not much more money involved after that. The best digital cameras can cost upwards of $3,000, not including memory cards, additional lenses, and extra batteries. If you’re looking for a more beginner camera, there are options available around $300 to $800

After the initial investment of buying the camera and desired add-ons, there isn’t much more you need to buy. Taking and editing photos (if you already have a computer, tablet, or smartphone) is free. The only real cost you might run into is printing the images with an inkjet printer or having another company print your images.

Privacy Concerns of Cameras

There are increasing privacy concerns about digital cameras. For example, cell phone cameras embed location data in images and when those images are uploaded to social media sites, people are able to mine the location date. Also, images have been stolen from “the cloud” in the past so that isn’t safe either. However, film cameras (including instant cameras) aren’t connected to the internet, don’t store data, and don’t leave any data trail.

Comparing Image Quality

Digital cameras have controls that automatically adjusts exposure and focuses the image for you. To get the best quality photos on a DSLR, it’s best to stay in program or manual mode. This makes it easier to be as precise as possible when taking digital images. Severe under or overexposure can be difficult to fix in editing.

Film cameras have a higher resolution (depending on the scan) and more latitude, so photographers don’t need to be quite as precise with the exposure. A good photo taken with an analog camera is typically higher in quality. Film photography also has a higher dynamic range, better color transitions, and controls the highlights better. On the other hand, digital handles shadows much better.

Analog vs. Digital: Which is More Convenient? 

When thinking of convenience and time spent on analog vs. digital photography, it’s essential to consider how much time you want to spend on it. For quick and efficient photos, digital is the way to go. From taking a shot to editing and sharing, the process can take as little as 10 minutes if you’re using a smartphone or tablet.

If you have the time to invest in analog photography, the photo quality could be well worth it. The same shooting process, processing, scanning, and editing can take up to two or more days. If you send your film to a company to develop the negatives for you, it could take much longer.

If you decide to develop the images yourself, you need to know everything about working in darkroom, working with darkroom chemicals, and the best scanners to digitize your images. You will also need a lot of time on your hands.

Shelf Life and Storage of Photos

Memory card storage and permanent storage for files from a digital camera are much cheaper than storing film photos. They don’t take up a lot of space and are relatively inexpensive. Film cameras require film canisters and film storage books, which can take up a lot of space, and need to be properly stored away from sunlight, humidity, and heat. However, memory cards are easily lost, can be corrupted (lose your date), and aren’t waterproof. 

Also, generally, the image quality of a digital photo doesn’t worsen over time, whereas analog photos tend to disintegrate over time – like slide film – even if properly stored.

Comparing Battery Life

Most film cameras don’t need batteries to take photos and those that do use standard batteries you can find at a pharmacy, are easy to replace, and long-lasting. Digital cameras have specific batteries that often drain very quickly so it is often recommended that photographers carry around extra batteries to supplement their digital camera’s battery life, especially with mirrorless cameras.

What is Digital Photography? 

Digital photography is becoming more popular with the age of smartphones. It’s quicker, more comfortable, and convenient than traditional film or DSLR photography. Electronic photodetectors capture an image either manually or automatically focused by the camera’s lens. Digital photography allows users to take images without the need for developing with chemicals, the use of negative film, and allows for them to be edit electronically.

Pros and Cons of Digital Photography

Digital cameras produce images of the modern world. They provide instant gratification, making it easy to quickly share your image with friends and family. The pros and cons below describe what’s great (and not so great) about digital photography:

Pros of Digital Photography
Cons of Digital Photography
Instant photo review
Equipement is expensive and can easily break
You can correct problems with photos by quickly taking another
Picture quality isn’t always perfect
Memory cards provide semi-permanent storage
Exposure problems are hard to fix 
Pros and Cons of Digital Photography

What is Traditional Photography? 

Developing a print in the darkroom with a red safelight
Developing a print in the darkroom with a red safelight

Traditional film photography has been around since about the 1900s. The process used to create images using a film camera won’t be changing anytime soon. This form of photography uses photographic negative film to capture images. The film is usually plastic, transparent, and coated with microscopic light-sensitive crystals on one side. You need to develop the images in darkness before you can see the images.

After capturing the photo, the photographer uses a combination of a light-tight room or bag and developing tank with a series of specialized chemicals to treat the film to create a negative. Then the photographer uses an enlarger in a darkroom, usually lit by a red light (see this article on why they are red), to project light through the film negative onto light-sensitive photography paper to create a visible image.

NOTE: The darkroom with a red light is necessary because darkroom paper is exceptionally light-sensitive until adequately treated, except for specific colors like red.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Photography

Traditional photography is an age-old tradition. There’s nothing like the anticipation while waiting for a beautiful photo to come to life in the darkroom. The following pros and cons outline the best – and worst – aspects of traditional photography:

Pros of Traditional Photography
Cons of Traditional Photography
Don’t need to know how to use a computer to print and produce photos
There’s a delay between capturing an image and seeing the results
Cameras are inexpensive and don’t require large batteries
Developing the negative film and/or paper is a time-consuming activity; it’s often hard to get the exact image you wanted
Photo details are arguably better than digital
Pictures can’t be easily edited or manipulated as digital images

Conclusion

Whether you’re interested in film or digital photography, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Digital photography requires many batteries, privacy concerns, and the cameras and technology are ever-changing. However, digital cameras provide instant results and are easy/quick to edit on a digital device.

Film photography is more expensive and time-consuming, but traditional cameras produce high-quality images and can become lifetime hobbies. Also, many photographers say once they learn film photography they become better digital photographers.

Lee

My name is Lee and I love photography and learning. I received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in 2010 and have worked as a university professor for the last 10 years in addition to being a working photographer. I started this website to learn more about digital and film-based photography and to provide a resource for all of my students.

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