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Are Film Cameras Obsolete?

Do You Still Use a Film Camera?

I still recall, quite fondly, my first experiences with photography at a Girl Scout camp when I was about 10 years old. I had a Brownie camera that required the operator to hold the camera mid-chest and look down into a view finder, then press the button to operate the shutter. Now, I'm not that old, but it sure seems to me that we've come a loooooong way in the last 3 or 4 decades with respect to photography.

These days, almost everyone owns a digital camera. Whether point and shoot models, or single lens reflex (SLR), most still camera models on the market do not require film anymore. Is this a benefit or drawback? What do true photographers think of the new developments?

At a photography class in 2001, most of the class was still using film cameras, even though the digital age was well underway. To me, it seemed a "pure" photography experience at the time, to discuss f-stops and aperture, while those few students were "cheating" by using digital camera features to help create unreal shots. Cropping and red-eye elimination were the first advancements of which we took notice. Then, it continued so that digital images could be manipulated to whiten subjects' teeth, brighten colors and reduce shadows. How can photographers using film cameras in a digital age, continue to showcase their talents?

Goerz Tenax camera with a 150mm f 1:4,5 Dogmar lens and a Compur Shutter

Goerz Tenax camera with a 150mm f 1:4,5 Dogmar lens and a Compur Shutter

35mm film

35mm film

Diagram of how still film photography works

Diagram of how still film photography works

Diagram Illustrating When Film is Superior to Digital and Vice versa

Diagram Illustrating When Film is Superior to Digital and Vice versa

The primary advantage to using a film camera, as opposed to digital, is that you'll have a record of every shot you make. Many digital camera operators review and delete shots that they do not like. But with film, you cannot do so. One of these days, you may find that this is a benefit. When the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal broke, the person with the film camera was the happy winner. Most of the other photographers that took pictures that day had digital cameras and had already deleted what appeared to be a meaningless photo shot. Oh.... what they wouldn't give to go back in time!

When film is developed, you receive your negatives, along with prints. In other words, a permanent record is yours forever. You can use negatives to create additional prints in the future. In the digital age, you must request a CD or DVD on which to store your images. Many people risk losing a significant number of photos that are stored on their computer's hard drives, and nowhere else, in the event of a malfunction.

Perhaps most significantly, use of certain film cameras and film can produce higher quality, detailed prints. With higher megapixel digital cameras being marketed now, however, the differences between digital and film prints are becoming smaller.

It is said that there are four factors that should be considered when comparing digital to film prints:

  1. Resolution
  2. Noise/grain
  3. Dynamic range
  4. Color Quality

Resolution (sharpness and detail) is improved with higher pixel counts. Some people believe that you'll need to have an 11 megapixel digital camera to produce enlargeable prints at the resolution of 35 mm film.

Noise/grain. If you want to avoid noise in your digital prints (the counterpart of grain in film prints), you'll want to invest in a digital SLR camera, as opposed to a point and shoot. Grainy, noisy images may result with higher shutter speeds.

Digital cameras generally have less dynamic range than film cameras. That is, you may get less contrast, and "flatter" prints with a digital camera. One commentator has stated, "Film responds to light with a nice "S" curve--as light intensity increases, density gradually levels off in a region known as the response "knee," which is responsible for much of the detail and beauty in the highlights of fine silver-based prints. It is absent in digital sensors, but as long as highlights aren't blown out, prints from digital sources look fine." - Norman Koren

Finally, with respect to color quality, prints usually do not suffer from being digitized. However, if you wish to make color slides, your best bet will be to use a film camera instead.

An Olympus film camera

An Olympus film camera

What Does the Future Hold for Film Cameras?

As technology advances, it seems likely that film cameras may be completely replaced by digital cameras. I continue to own a 35mm Pentax SLR (film camera) and a Cannon digital SLR.

Admittedly, the Pentax never sees the light of day. Someday, these film camera relics will be worth a lot of money. And certainly many photographers will choose to make prints using both film and digital cameras. Serious photographers often enjoy the darkroom experience of washing, adjusting and fine-tuning their work.

There isn't a right or wrong way to pursue a photography hobby, profession or passion. Chose the camera that you like, and subjects that interest you. You're sure to be happy with the end results.

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What do you think - are film cameras obsolete, or will we continue to see artists use the medium to create great photographs?


Larry DeFehr from Maple Ridge BC on February 11, 2018:

I used to enjoy using motor winders with my film cameras to get multiple shots of an event particularly when shooting sports or during meet and greet moments with high profile individuals. There was only one chance at the money shot.

When digital cameras first came out I was extremely annoyed with the hesitation that the early cameras exhibited. A half a second, or more, latency delay while the camera figured out where to store the image on a memory card was way to long for the style of photography I was used to. Fortunately, that is no longer a problem with the new generation of low latency digital cameras.

With the addition of sophisticated, real-time digital image enhancement features, film is but a distant memory and I won't miss my evenings in the darkroom.

Larry DeFehr from Maple Ridge BC on February 05, 2018:

I decided I wanted to start selling some of my vintage camera collection and started shooting film through some of 35mm SLRs. I used 2 Nikons, a FTN and F bodies using Nikkor wide, medium and tele lenses. The Minolta XG7 had a standard 45 mm and a Haimex zoom lens. Both Kodacolor and Fujicolor films were used.

When I compared the results with photos taken with my Nikon Coolpix P100, 10.3 Mp digital camera I was surprised to find that the Coolpix camera out performed all three of the SLRs. The color, saturation, resolution and dynamic range all looked better with the digital camera.

Hippie Untiet from Wisconsin on July 27, 2017:

Oh this a reply to a comment on slide film. It is still being made. There are stores that still carry it. B & H Photo out of New York, The Darkroom in California, The Camera Shop In Wisconsin. I can go on and on. But slide film is still here. You just have to look for it.

Hippie Untiet from Wisconsin on July 27, 2017:

I use film all the time. See my icon photo. Well that was taken June 2017 with 1974 Minolta SRT-101 with a 75mm prime lens with a light yellow filter. Film is Ilford HP5 at ISO 400.

I have a decent size collection of cameras and not one of them are digital. I use about 5 to 10 rolls of film a week. I also use a enlarger to make paper prints. I use color and black and white. I did have a digital camera for about a month. I really hated it. To many buttons and controls. The quality is not to my liking as well. So I sold it as fast as I could. I am a big fan of Manual Cameras. I like having total control without batteries or a LCD Screen.

Professional Photographer on February 19, 2011:

Film is a whole different media in my eyes, it eliminates the snap happy methodology of some digital experiences. I personally use large format film because at £2 a shot it makes you think a lot lot more about composition, it makezs you wait for the right natural light, it allows you total control and the medium itslef is still sharper and higher in dynamic range than most full frame pro SLR's out there to date. I think more for the apprach film makes you develop towards your photography it should be valued a lot more than it is. The ratio of bad shots to great shots goes down in your digital work when you work more with film too because the learned careful approach you have been applying creeps steadily into digital work too. I use film to make me a better photographer. Think more shoot less and the results can be pretty stunning, it can truly revelutionize the way you take pictures and bring out skills as a unique observer that you never even knew you had.

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on November 28, 2010:

I enjoyed this Hub. My first camera was an "Imperial" (like a Brownie), and I went to have any number of them, including the black-and-white-only Polaroid Swinger. Once I grew up I went to the usual 35 mm camera's, but even with that, I had a Kodak Instamatic that I was really, really attached to because of its size and convenience.

stevbike from Newbury, Ontario, Canada on October 04, 2010:

I have my film cameras still. There are a Pentax ME Super, SF-10 and MX. Every once in a while I will take one out and shot a roll of film. The simple fact that you have limited number images that can be done will help you think and shoot rather then point and shoot. You can transfer this mind set back to your digital shooting. By the way, I tend to keep most of my shoots in digital format. You just never know when the images you deleted are going to be needed!

Norm The Form on August 23, 2010:

I bought a Leica R4S in 1985. Needless to say, I'll use film until the last roll ever is sold (if I live that long). I can have discs made of my negatives for convenience in mailing, etc. It's too bad that slide film is gone - Velvia 50ASA, Kodachrome64 and 25 produced remarkable pictures leading to beautiful Cibachrome prints.

sherbert lemon on February 07, 2010:

am still shooting with my minolta freedom 140ex... have not found a digital that compares with the quality and range of the photos that my minolta takes.. will keep shooting with my minolta until they stop making 35mm film... i just get it on cd and make my own prints... an old saying goes "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and i believe in that saying... until they can make an affordable digital camera that does what my minolta does, i'm not switching...

magnetik on December 06, 2009:

"Some people believe that you'll need to have an 11 megapixel digital camera to produce enlargeable prints at the resolution of 35 mm film"

LOL, 12MP DSLRs are affordable nowadays. The argument that film gives better quality images is over, digital is the way forward.

anderbee on October 22, 2009:

I think digital cameras have a little farther to go before they can match the "organic" feel of a film camera, at least that's what I think.

lafenty from California on February 26, 2009:

Even though digital cameras make it so much easier and convienent to take pictures, I still love the look of film, especially black and white. Thanks for your hub. I hope that film photogaphy will continue to be around for a long time.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 16, 2008:

Hi avgulpes - yes, I too have pushed my film camera to the back of my closet and am totally a digital gal. You are correct that memory cards/cameras themselves do allow photographers to take hundreds of shots before filling up. I guess it depends on how long your vacation is and how often you are clicking away. In Hawaii last month, I literally took about 200 shots a day. True artists (aka serious photographers) may prefer working in the "raw" mode, as you mention. I know that my photography teacher from the late 1990s would not do anything less. I can certainly add a few paragraphs about this.... look for an update soon. :)

Peter from Australia on October 15, 2008:

Hi Steph, Great info, I have gone completely digital and haven't touched a film camera for about 7 years.

A couple of points you might like to update. 1) with memory size capacity growing at the rate it is, you  would not have to delete at camera level until you monitered your shots on the computer.

2) I could not find if you mentioned shooting in "raw" mode (the camera not you), and the advantages of this for the serious photographer?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 14, 2008:

Hi andypiper, I agree that you can get some great results and have a lot of fun with traditional film cameras. Hobbyists and artists in particular should still enjoy the medium. But the advantages of digital for work cannot be overstated. The editing opportunities alone are excellent for businesses. Thanks for the comment!

andypiper from Ann Arbor Michigan on October 14, 2008:

Nice article. I like medium format film - the look is just incredible. These days you can buy a great medium format camera for a fraction of what they used to cost and you can get incredible color and detail. Using film is a hobby though. For anything production oriented for my real estate business. digital is the greatest. Add to that most of my work ends up on the internet where cropping, color and perspective adjustments are routinely done and film is completely out!

Lori Osterberg from Denver, Colorado on March 07, 2008:

Great information. I'm always amazed at the number of people still in love with film. We made the switch to digital years ago when we were shooting parallel to try digital out - and the lab lost several rolls. Digital gives us more control - you don't have to send it to the lab, taking a chance they ruin it or lose it. The key to digital is backing up all the time. We have several ways of backing up everything - CD, hard drive, separate computer, off site - just to make sure we never lose those important images.

monitor from The world. on March 06, 2008:

About time. more power to you.

Dale G. Holmes from Brentwood, CA on March 06, 2008:

Great hub! Thanks for all the information!

crazycat from Philippines on March 05, 2008:

I still would want to have a raw camera again. This time, for professional which will have high quality pictures.

helenathegreat on March 05, 2008:

I agree with Zsuzsy that I hate to see it go, but... digital makes it so deliciously easy... Great hub! :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 05, 2008:

Thank you PenmanZee. Change is good and hard at the same time, yes.

PenmanZee on March 05, 2008:

Very insightful Steph. You did a good job of making me yearn for the good old days while at the same time appreciate the advantages of today's advanced technology.

Whitney from Georgia on March 05, 2008:

Definitely! All three are great in their own ways. We definitely took slightly different approaches to the same topic.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 05, 2008:

Yes, I saw Helena's too! LOL! I think its interesting to read our different approaches to the same topic.

Whitney from Georgia on March 05, 2008:

Steph, cool. You did a similar one as mine. Have you seen Helena's?

I did another hub on disposable film to disposable digital.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 05, 2008:

Thanks Zsuzsy! I agree. After taking that photography class in the early 2000s, I vowed never to go 100% digital. Yet.... as you mention, the ease and ability to quickly download photos and use them in Hubs, email them to relatives, etc. Its a real bonus.

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on March 05, 2008:

Great HUB Steph; It's just been since January of this year that I started playing with a digital camera. My mind hasn't been made up yet. My 20 + year old Minolta makes some amazingly good pictures. But the convenience of having your pictures immediately to put onto the hubs has a definite advantage. I hate to see a "tradition" (if I can call it that) go the way of the Dodo.

Super-duper HUB regards Zsuzsy

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