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?

While both cameras take high-quality images, there are several differences between traditional photography and digital photography. Traditional film photography is cheaper to get into because film cameras are generally less expensive but involve the use of photographic negative film to capture your images in the camera. To see your images requires a lengthy process of using chemicals to develop it by yourself or sending it out to another company to develop the film for you. Most people scan their negatives but traditionally photographers created prints in the darkroom. However, prints from film negatives generally last longer, most film cameras do not need to use batteries to take an image, and the resulting image have better color and is generally sharper. Digital cameras on the other hand have a high initial cost, requires batteries and digital storage media, and for best results requires another device like a computer, phone, or tablet to edit the images. However, digital cameras are getting better every year, you can share your photos quickly after taking them, and you can see your image immediately to see if you need to change your settings.

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

Easier access to editing 
Generally higher-resolution photos
Ability to control lighting 
Prints last longer
High initial cost
Costs add up 
Photos ready to share immediately
Time-consuming to see images
Requires batteries
Generally, no batteries are needed

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.

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

What are the Similarities Between Digital and Film Cameras? 

The most significant similarity between a digital and film camera is their ability to take photos. Whether you’re capturing a moment you want to remember forever or taking portraits or scenic, artsy prints, 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, so both cameras types have these features. Aperture and shutter values are almost identical and the size of the photo each camera can print is nearly the same size.

What is the Difference Between Analog and Digital Photography? 

They both have a lens, flash, and viewfinder, and they 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 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 is to develop the images yourself – after investing in the right chemicals and equipment. You can choose to send your film roll to a company that processes photos for you, but it takes more time 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 $500. 

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) 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 aren’t connected to the internet, don’t store data, and don’t leave any data trail.

Comparing Image Quality

Digital cameras have an automatic function that controls exposure and focuses for you. To get the best quality photos, 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, so photographers don’t need to be quite as precise with exposure and focus. A good photo taken via analog is typically higher in quality. Film photography also has a higher dynamic range, better color transitions, and controls highlights better. On the other hand, digital handles shadow 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.

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 three 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 with chemicals and the best scanners to digitalize your pictures. You also need a lot of time on your hands.

Shelf Life and Storage of Photos

Memory card storage and permanent storage on 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 out of the sunlight 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 even if properly stored.

Comparing Battery Life

Most film cameras don’t need batteries to take photos; those that use standard batteries you can find at the store are easy to replace and long-lasting. Digital cameras have specific batteries that often drain very quickly. it is often recommended that photographers should carry around extra batteries to supplement their digital camera’s battery life, especially with mirror-less 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 time for developing, the use of negative film, and allows 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 share your image with friends and family quickly. The pros and cons below describe what’s great (and not so great) about digital photography:

Instant photo review
Equipment is expensive
You can correct problems with photos by quickly taking another
Picture quality isn’t always perfect
Memory cards provide permanent storage
Exposure problems are hard to fix 

What is Traditional Photography? 

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 pictures. The film is usually plastic, transparent, and coated with microscopic light-sensitive crystals on one side.

After capturing the photo, the photographer uses a combination of a light-tight room and developing tank and a series of specialized chemicals to treat the film to create a negative. Then the photographer uses an enlarger in a dark room, usually lit by a red light, (see this article on why they are red) to project light through the film negative onto light-sensitive paper to create a visible image. The red darkroom is necessary because the film is exceptionally light-sensitive until adequately treated. 

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:

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
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


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.


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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