I have been told that most photo labs now use scanners and print your photos from these scanned images. I live in an area with only a few photo labs such as Wal-mart, Target, and the local Groceries, so it is unlikely that they are using anything but the least expensive printing method available. I do not have the resources to develop my own shots, but recently found an older 35mm SLR and have considered started to take some shots with it, however I worry if what I have been told is true.


Is it true that because of current printing methods for 35mm, shooting in this format will be necessarily of lower quality than my DSLR?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvote? :( I thought the question was good, even if it was naive. :/ \$\endgroup\$
    – BBischof
    Commented Feb 9, 2011 at 0:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ While all the answers you got are about image quality. There are substantial differences that can favor analog SLRs, particularly that they can run for years without recharging (assuming enough film) and they are far more sturdy than even the toughest DSLR which is suitable for extreme environments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 19:23

4 Answers 4


You asked two slightly different questions.

Is it true that analog SLR’s are obsolete unless you develop your own photos?

No, that is not true. Film may have been supplanted by digital, but it is in no way obsolete.

Is it true that because of current printing methods for 35mm, shooting in this format will be necessarily of lower quality than my DSLR?

It's true, for places like Walmart and their ilk that use cheapo film scanners, however, I wouldn't necessarily say that Walmart, Target and your local grocer are photo-labs. They can develop prints, but like you said, they're going to use the most cost effective method (read: cheap) method they can get away with.

If you are serious about getting good quality prints from your film images, there are still a number of pro labs that develop film and most of them offer mail-in services. Many can be found on the web, and offer a range of service from your standard dip-and-dunk, to more specialized processing.

Also, check with local camera retailers (instead of the big chain ones), as they will often have an attached photo-lab.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank for parsing and answering my question. I had a bit of a tough time wording it correctly, but you extracted it sufficiently well. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – BBischof
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 7:03

There are tons of variations on this situation; a lot of it will depend on your cameras (both film and digital), as well as what you typically do with your photos. If you only tend to upload to Flickr it's a very different answer than if you like to print at 20x30.

Anyway, I'd say the basic situation is this:

A simple print from a color negative will look a lot like a simple print from straight-from-camera JPEG. And I mean a lot like it; they're being printed on the same machines, with the same color correction, and so forth. From Target, etc, they'll probably turn out a little over-saturated and gaudy, but 40 years of colour photography has shown that's what most people like.

For anything more complicated, you need a good custom lab, access to a darkroom, or – having ruled those two out – the current favorite of mainstream film users: scans!

This is where digital's advantage really picks up compared to the chain stores: you don't have to scan it, you've got the full-quality image right there. Getting good scans from chain stores is quite hit-and-miss, large scans suitable for large prints might be too expensive, or not even available. I'll emphasize that it's definitely worth checking out all the options locally; it can vary even between different stores in the same chain.

That said, I think the "typical" situation would be that the simplest chain-store scans are usually the size they'd use for their normal size of prints: suitable for 4x6 or 5x7, perhaps 8x10 with a bit of care. For large prints, digital has a definite advantage.

For posting online, I'd probably still lean towards digital, but the quality you get from the chain-store scans is much more likely to be an acceptable level for Flickr or other online galleries - I think it's worth noting that some of the better film photographers I know on Flickr have found ways to work with chain stores only.

The scanning situation is why a lot of regular film shooters get themselves a scanner; you get better scans and better prints, and pays for itself pretty rapidly.

PS: I know it's not what you asked, and certainly not worth getting into for a few rolls of experimenting, but processing your own film is almost certainly much simpler than you think. If you find you like shooting film, it's definitely worth looking into a little closer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this answer and your post script, I will definitely give it some consideration. One of my main impediments is space. :/ \$\endgroup\$
    – BBischof
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BBischof that's one of the things I mean. A develop/scan process means you don't need a whole room; just a small shelf for bottles + a scanner. (Might still be too much space for you, but it's less than most people's first instinct.) \$\endgroup\$
    – ex-ms
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 17:16

There is a number of different routes to take here:

  1. Shoot film (I don't like the term analog here) and have your photos printed at a photo lab. Photo labs have been taking the digital route here for years: the developed film is scanned and printed on a digital printer. You shouldn't worry about print quality; the scanner is good enough to capture all details of the film (film has a limited latitude too!)

  2. Shoot film and darkroom print yourself. This is becoming a rare art now, for obvious reasons: it's more complicated, especially if you want to do color. That being said I still prefer "silver prints" for B&W over digital prints, this is somewhat subjective, but silver prints have this extra "je-ne-sais-quoi". The bottom line is that you have total control yourself of every step in the process, especially if you also develop your films. (I find that B&W films developed by a lab often lack contrast.)

  3. Shoot digital and have your printing done by a lab. Here the lab starts out with a digital file like the one it obtained from scanning in 1). Print quality is good, esp. for standard small formats like 10x15cm or 5"x7". Larger format quality depends on your file's resolution.

  4. Shoot digital and print it yourself. Most inkjet printers have excellent print quality, and again you have total control; you can experiment as much as you like. Some drawbacks: most inks are not waterproof, you're limited to A4/letter size, and inks are not cheap.

Especially if you want to shoot B&W, I'd say: try film, and maybe try to make your own prints. Film is not dead! After all these years I'm still thrilled when I see the image emerging on what was just a sheet of white paper. :-)

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you turn to a professional photo lab, they might very well be able to provide you with color profiles which, along with a color-calibrated monitor, means you won't have to experiment any (with colors, at least). \$\endgroup\$
    – user
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very late and just as an aside, but even if your final goal is a silver-gelatin black and white print (or platinum/palladium, or what have you), there is still a tremendous benefit to digital. That's true both of the "everything but the final print" option as well as shooting film, scanning, then "baking in" your negative spotting, dodging and burning, etc. It's not exactly trivial to make good digital negatives (negative transparencies, as opposed to DNG files), but being able to contact print without the fear of ruining an irreplaceable "real" negative more than makes up for the drudgery. \$\endgroup\$
    – user32334
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 11:48

I think it will depend on what you're shooting. Basically you get a "sensor" that does not have the limitations of digital ones, so there it is a plus in having some way of overcoming limitations your equipment may have.

It is possible to find a good scanner that has film scanner capability for an affordable price that would let you get very acceptable results. Once you have your shoots digitalized, use them as regular for post-processing, displaying, publishing and printing. These steps of photography are more cost-effective, and are more broadly available both in options as in quality ranges. Doing this may be the only way of getting some shots that would otherwise require a very expensive digital camera, which may be out of you budget (Certainly way out of mine!). Just make yourself sure you don't spend too much developing the film.

If I had a film camera, I'd use it to make long, very long exposures, light painting, multi-exposure, etc... since the longest exposure I can get from my DSLR is around 1 minute. Also, I would definitely shoot in slide film (i.e. not negative) then, I'd scan it at a very high resolution and use the files as if they had come out of a digital camera, including the printing process. Obviously I'd keep the developed film as they would be my "raws".

So, if I have only one example of how a film camera can be used to extend your possibilities creatively wise and cost conscious, then no, Film SLRs are not obsolete.


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