Point/Counterpoint: Film versus Digital Cameras

Does film offer a more thoughtful process or is digital photography truly superior in every way?

When it comes to capturing our most meaningful moments, which camera should you reach for first: digital or film?

If you’re debating which type of camera results in better photography, see if the arguments of our writers below can sway you to agree with them.

Film offers a more mindful approach to photography

When digital cameras became readily available to the general consumer in the late 1990s, the general public drifted towards using that as their main method of capturing moments. The ever-improving technology of digital cameras provides us with a variety of options for how we capture moments. Just when we thought the world had left behind analog photography and moved on to the instant gratification that digital photography provides, film slowly started making a comeback.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate for all types of photography and I am thankful to have the privilege of having a functional phone and digital camera that allow me to instantly capture moments no matter where I am. I do think, however, there is something to be said about the slow process of film photography. 

Film allows us to be more mindful about the moments we capture. With a limited number of exposures available per roll, you are forced to be more thoughtful about the pictures you take. It’s easy to take a thousand photos of the same thing just to find the perfect one. However when shooting a roll of film, you have to think about all the variables that will affect how your photo turns out. 

When shooting on film, there is less pressure to take the perfect photo because you don’t have to focus on nit-picky details. Instead, when shooting on film, you get to be more in tune with the process of taking the photo rather than the end result — leading for the photographs to have a more raw, human aspect to them. 

From medium format, to 35mm, to instant film photography that was pioneered by Polaroid, there are many avenues one can take when exploring the world of film. Even within those categories, the outcome of your photos is affected by the type of film you use — whether you want your photos to be bold and bright, cool or warm toned, or the classic black and white, there are many options to choose from. 

Film photography teaches us about patience. You don’t get to see your photos until after you’re finished the roll and receive it back from the developers. Picking up your newly developed film evokes a feeling similar to opening a gift on Christmas morning — you don’t always remember every single picture that was taken, but once you see them you get to relive the memories you captured. It’s like a gift from your past self to your current self. 

Trust me when I say the end result is worth the patience film photography requires.

-Sofia Capettini

The superiority of digital cameras leave film cameras as a relic of the past

What do film cameras, VHS tapes and phone books all have in common? They are all hella obsolete. In the case of phone books and VHS tapes specifically, you would likely be hard pressed to find anyone who seriously believes that these relics are worthy of any revival. 

So here is where things get strange. Recently, film photography has undergone a revival where some photographers have decided to not only shoot exclusively with film, but have gone on further to espouse as to why film is actually better to modern digital cameras. However, digital cameras are undoubtedly far superior to their film counterparts. 

I will admit that there used to be a time when 35mm film cameras were superior to a digital camera (e.g. DSLR or Digital Single Lens Reflex camera).

However, in that era Nickelback was still cool and having a Nintendo DS made you the coolest kid on the school yard. Film doesn’t hold a candle to a modern image sensor on a full frame DSLR such as a Nikon D780 which provides 25 megapixels of photo density and allows a mind blowing 14 stops of light range. 

This makes DSLRs objectively superior when compared to film. Modern DSLRs are also up to 100 times more sensitive to light than their film counterparts. They are also designed to shoot much faster than many older film cameras and employ autofocus technology — something missing on many older film cameras. 

Second, with a DSLR you can see your picture immediately after taking it. I am pretty sure that I don’t need to go into lengthy detail as to how that’s a good thing. On the flipside, you will need to be patient and wait a couple days to develop film — to which you can only take 30 photos per roll — before you can see your photos. On top of that, not all photo labs process film anymore. So, if you plan to shoot film, you’re gonna have to plan ahead.

Last, I firmly believe that the hands down largest benefit of shooting digital is the ubiquitous presence of photo editing programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom. With these programs, not only can you change the exposure or composition of a photo, you can touch up faces in portraits, remove blemishes from photos and some programs such as Luminar even use Artificial intelligence to do all of this for you. Film? Nope.

There was once a time, perhaps in the early 2000s, when film was superior to digital photography. However, those days are long gone. Unlike film, which limits photographers, the features offered by digital photography are game changers. When you tie in photo editing programs, it really is a wonder to me why people bother to continue shooting on film. I think it’s time to leave your film camera where it belongs: next to your VHS film collection and your old dusty PS2 console.

-Alexander Cheung

Sofia Capettini

Hi! My name is Sofia and I’m really excited to be working as The Gateway’s Art Director for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. I’m going into my fifth and final year of working towards my Bachelor of Design in Visual Communications Design. In my spare time, I like to take care of my plants, annoy my cat Napoleon, dabble in film photography and tend to my nearly unhealthy obsession with noodle soup.

Alexander Cheung

Alex is a writer and photographer with the Gateway. He is a senior contributor and specializes in tech and travel.

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