The Cost of Film vs. Digital Photography

Lighthouse - Minolta SRT 101 - Kodak Double X 5222 - Minolta MD W.Rokkor 35mm f2.8

Hello! Today I’m blogging a little differently. I’ve been thinking about the true cost of digital photography versus film photography and how it affects me.  For this post, I only intend to pour out my random thoughts about that topic and along the way include a few film photos I’ve recently taken. I’ll start out with a “just for fun” image. In post-processing, I usually stick to the standard adjustments of exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc. and stay away from my weaker artistic side but my Film Once Day Challenge has been intriguing me to experiment more on images. I’ll slip one in here. Only one, for now, I promise.

As a long time digital photographer, I recently started a project that involves shooting 35mm film. You can find a few of my Street Photography digital images here: www.instagram.com/dspaedt.

Horse - Olympus XA - Kodak Tri-X 400 - 35mm f2.8 - f8 1/250
Horse – Olympus XA – Kodak Tri-X 400 – 35mm f2.8 – f8 1/250

I knew it all along. Digital Photography can be expensive. In the beginning, I believed I was shooting digital because I was saving boatloads of money. However, I quickly learned that a two-megapixel point and shoot produced crappy images. Shortly after that, I started to leak money, all in hopes of finding the right digital gear. I just keep selling digital point and shoots at a small loss to try yet another disappointing camera. Finally, I made the leap for a prosumer DSLR and my image quality (when shooting low ISOs) desires were satisfied.

Pier Post - Minolta SRT 101 - Kodak Double X 5222 - Minolta MD W.Rokkor-X 28mm f2.8
Pier Post – Minolta SRT 101 – Kodak Double X 5222 – Minolta MD W.Rokkor-X 28mm f2.8 – f11 1/60

But in the digital world, satisfaction is short-lived. The next need was photo editing software. Actions, presets, noise reduction applications, image organizing software, web image hosting sites, etc. All of that software gets hungry and it needs a more powerful machine (PC) to feed it. Digital images don’t print themselves. I needed a specialized photo printer, photo printing paper, volumes of ridiculously overpriced ink and multiple PC monitor calibration pucks. For a long time, there was no end.

Mushrooms - Minolta SRT 101 - Fujicolor Superia X-Tra 400 - Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4
Mushrooms – Minolta SRT 101 – Fujicolor Superia X-Tra 400 – Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 – f2.8 1/1000

Digital also introduced me to noise. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, with film, you have grain. But do you know what I did about grain when I shot film? Nothing! If I wanted less grain, I went outside and shot a lower speed film. Not with digital, if you want less grain (noise) you sell your current camera and buy the newest version of the same camera you just sold. I know a guy (yes . . . me), who isn’t so bright, that actually owned a Canon 30D, Canon 40D and Canon 50D. Why would he do that?

No Biking Today - Minolta X-700 - Fujicolor 200 - Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4
No Biking Today – Minolta X-700 – Fujicolor 200 – Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 – f2 1/750

All along that digital path, it shocks me that it never crossed my mind to once again pick up a film camera and everything would be just fine or at the very least, less expensive. I’ve never had aspirations to be a world-renowned photographer. I just enjoy taking pictures, seeing what comes out and printing the occasional image that intrigues me. A $50 film camera and a roll of 35mm film, then and now, would easily achieve those goals.

Hunter Skateboard Park - Canon 70D - Digital - Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART - f5 1/250
Hunter Skateboard Park – Canon 70D – Digital – Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART – f5 1/250

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll never let go of digital. Perfect image quality. Faster, easier, quieter, and today, noise has become virtually non-existent for my style of shooting. But I think rediscovering film has helped slow down my future digital camera purchases for a long time to come. When I found the Fujifilm X100T I was convinced I might have found the perfect camera. Film has only helped to solidify that opinion. I’m fairly certain I won’t look for my next digital camera until film photography finally pushes me out of its game because of cost. It will be interesting to see how that happens. I’m guessing that eventually, it will be the cost of the film that makes me fold my hand and step away from the fun.

Michigan U.P. Waterfall - Canon 30D - Digital - Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS
Michigan U.P. Waterfall – Canon 30D – Digital – Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS – f16 1.6

But today, I believe we’ve arrived at a wonderful time for anyone first taking up photography. If you’re reading this blog you might be surprised to learn that I would tell them to purchase an older prosumer Digital SLR and take pictures until their shutter finger bleeds. Review every picture after taking it both on the camera and on their monitor and print anything that intrigues them. Using this method you can learn solid photography fundamentals all on your own, produce wonderful images on the cheap and do it in a very short amount of time. If you’re just starting out, the film path can be a slooooow process. I checked and I confirmed that a Canon 20D recently sold on eBay for $54. That price is currently cheaper than most film cameras I ogle over and in good light that camera can produce incredible images that you can print large enough for any hobbyist. The photos above and below I took with a Canon 30D which is essentially the same camera.

Happy Valentines's Day Mom - Canon 30D - Digital - Canon EF 85mm f1.8
Happy Valentine’s Day Mom – Canon 30D – Digital – Canon EF 85mm f1.8 – f2 1/60

For now, I’ll continue to explore film photography because I do enjoy it, but it’ll have to remain a low-cost game for me to continue playing. I encourage you to follow along on my film adventures. You can subscribe via email or click the “follow” button in the bottom right corner if you’re a WordPress reader. Thanks for reading along.

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My Film Beginnings Project has also intrigued me to try using other 35mm film cameras along the way. If you have a working 35mm film camera that you no longer use please take a look here to see what I’m thinking. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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4 Comments

  1. Also, you could look at it this way: with digital you’re basically paying for only one sensor, but with a film camera you basically swap out the sensor every time you put in a new film! So you’re not buying rolls of film, you’re buying sensors, and now it sounds even more affordable 😀

  2. I think that’s reasonable advice, to tell new shooters to get an older DSLR.

    Digital really is less expensive than film *if* you buy a camera and *stick with it for years*. Like I’ve done with my Canon S95. It cost $600 new (I think) but I’ve not bought anything else digital since then.

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