Pros and Cons of Film and Digital Cameras

Balance cost, quality, and convenience when choosing a new camera

A film camera with rolls of film around it on a table

Etienne Jeanneret / Getty Images

There are advantages and disadvantages to film and digital cameras ​and photography. When deciding between the two, it's important to consider the benefits, distinct features, style preferences, and cost differences for each camera and the results it produces. There are aficionados of both types of photography. Embracing one doesn't mean you can't work in both mediums; professional photographers commonly use both types of cameras. For the average smartphone user, the convenience of a digital camera on their phone outweighs most of the other quality concerns.

Film Advantages

There are a few advantages of film photography over digital photography:

  • There can be a lower initial cost for a film camera than for a comparable digital camera. 
  • Film delivers a higher dynamic range, which makes it better at capturing detail in whites and blacks.
  • Film photography is more forgiving of minor focusing issues and exposure problems. 
  • A film camera often has a higher resolution than what is found in most digital cameras.
  • Film photographers with a limited number of exposures available on a roll of the film must think more about their images before shooting them. Digital photographers tend to take pictures first and think later. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an advantage or a disadvantage.

Film Disadvantages

Some of the disadvantages of film photography are: 

  • Film cameras are usually heavier than similar-sized digital cameras.
  • Film storage takes up a lot of physical space.
  • Purchasing and developing film is a continuing cost.
  • The film must be developed before viewing, so you can end up developing poor photo captures or images taken unintentionally.
  • Unless you have a darkroom, the photographer is dependent on a lab to develop the images.

Digital Advantages

The advantages of digital cameras and photography include:

  • The resolution of a point-and-shoot camera, which is often 12 to 20 megapixels, is a high enough resolution for large prints.
  • A digital camera is usually lighter in weight than a film camera.
  • Memory cards are tiny so they don't require much storage space. One memory card can store more images than a dozen rolls of film.
  • The images from a digital camera can be viewed immediately.
  • You can edit your images directly on the camera or on a computer with photo-editing software.
  • You can choose to print only the images you like best.
  • Many cameras offer built-in filters.
  • There is instant gratification with a digital camera. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your perspective. 

Digital Disadvantages

Some of the disadvantages of digital photography and cameras include:

  • Digital photography usually requires computer skills to manage and edit images.
  • The initial cost for a digital camera is usually higher than for a comparable film camera. 
  • Digital images easily lose detail in whites and blacks.
  • Some digital cameras are difficult to focus.
  • Digital images are less subtle than film images.
  • Digital cameras become obsolete much faster than film cameras.
  • The digital storage can be lost; backups are absolutely necessary.
  • Many digital cameras do a poorer job focusing in low light than film cameras.
  • Digital cameras are bigger consumers of batteries than film cameras. Digital photographers need to keep extra batteries on hand to ensure the camera stays charged. 

In the end, digital and film cameras both take high-quality images. Choose the one that fits your photographic style, budget, and needs.