There’s a bunch of hipsters out there who will tell you that film is better than digital.

They’re actually kind of right. But not for these reasons:

Film has a certain “look” that can’t be replicated by digital cameras. Films do have distinctive colors, contrast, and grain – but there are numerous post-processing methods that replicate this effect. While it may not be easy to replicate film, and while the world’s foremost experts may correctly discern the difference, the vast majority of viewers will not. If you care about the “look,” you have the ability to reproduce it digitally – just not easily.

Film has higher resolution than digital. This is true, but worthless. Are you shooting 8×10 large format cameras, or getting giant prints made for galleries? No, you’re not. (And if you are, I’m just very, very jealous.) Film, when paired with an excellent lens, does rival or exceed digital for the quality of the images. But any relatively recent digital camera has long since surpassed the point where it is “good enough.” [Megapixels don’t matter.]

Film is better to learn on. There actually is a lot to learn when it comes to photography. I always thought aperture was a great place to start really focusing on technique for learners – but film forces you to wait before you can see the results of different methods. Digital lets you immediately see the effect of the settings you’ve used, and even tags your photos with relevant information for later. There are things you can learn from film, but it’s definitely not better to start with.
  • So, what are the reasons to use film?

Film is fun. It’s neat to have a surprise when you finally see developed images; it’s something to look forward to. Antique cameras – while quite hipsteresque – are cool. Getting something physical as the result of your photography prevents your images from ending up in the [digital graveyard.]

Film is cheap. Old cameras can be found online for a song and a dance. A newish, low-end DSLR and kit lens might be $400 if you’re lucky. One quarter of that would have gotten you a film SLR and a lens or two – perhaps more. The remainder could be spent over the course of a year on purchasing, developing, and printing 20 rolls of film. Sure, that cost will add up – but it’s cheaper to get started with film, and you can always adapt your excellent-and-inexpensive manual focus lenses for a digital camera later.

You only take pictures worth taking. Each shot costs money. It’s around $0.50 a shot, counting film and development costs. So, when you’ve composed, focused, and are getting ready to press the button – you’ll think, never mind. This one isn’t worth it. Instead of taking 200 digital pictures, you’ll take 36 film ones. The average quality will be superior because you took your time.

Film forces you to take pictures rather than look at them. This is actually really important, and it’s hard to describe unless you’ve shot both film and digital. Normally, when you take a picture with a digital camera, you immediately look at it. Was it good? Should you change something to make it better? The immediate peek at the screen is sometimes called “chimping,” and you can probably guess that this is not a flattering term. Your thought process is taken off of “take good pictures” mode and turned into “critique this photo” mode. It’s like trying to make your bed and vacuum at the same time; you’re better off doing one at a time, and both will end up better. When you are using film, your focus is solely on the taking of pictures, and this is a much more pure and enjoyable experience.


In the end, film can frustrate you with your mistakes, and blow you away with surprises. But if you’re into photography – and especially if you already have a DSLR but are looking to rekindle your love of this hobby – film should be a part of your photography kit.