In this day and age, do 35mm film cameras have any advantages over high-end digital cameras?
I am thinking mostly about image quality, but sure, other aspects are interesting, too.
I don't think we can talk about quality difference anymore. The definite difference, in my opinion, is the need of power of digital cameras. If you are going mountain climbing then a film camera might be more appropriate since mountains still lack power plugs.
Also, film cameras have a very low starting price. If you are a novice it is economically convenient to be able to have an SLR for almost nothing just to see if you like photography.
Other than that, there's the love some people have for manually developing film, but that's about it from my point of view.
One huge advantage is that the cost of a full frame digital camera can be prohibitively expensive for beginners and enthusiasts, but it is possible to buy 35mm cameras very cheaply which fit the same set of lenses.
I bought a 35mm SLR from eBay for under £10 and it fits my Canon EF lenses (but not EF-S).
Don't forget that there are different costs associated with film cameras - film, processing, etc.
One advantage with older film cameras is that they don't rely on a battery - your battery won't run out, and it won't not work when you're somewhere really cold. (I used to do a lot of mountaineering and when you're at altitude before dawn it's pretty cold, and batteries don't work well when it's really cold.)
As an example I still have my dad's old reliable Olympus OM-1. It does strictly have a battery, but only for the light meter so you can still guess the light and take a photo. The aperture and exposure time are set by physical controls and taking photos is all mechanical. A wonderful first camera, though I have to admit sadly gathering dust these days.
I have found using an old, fully manual film camera useful as a learning tool as it makes you think about every aspect of the photo before pressing the shutter button, even more so when you are using 120 film with only 12 shots per roll. Check the ISO, meter the light, set the shutter speed and aperture and after all the time spent on that you may as well take some more time composing the shot.
Film is still superior when it comes to very long exposures (minutes to hours or even longer), which tend to become very noisy on consumer digital cameras.
Digital cameras can be used to simulate very long exposures by taking many shorter exposures (30-60 seconds) and compositing them in software, but it's often possible to see the discrete steps of the individual frames in the result.
Well, the biggest advantage for me, is I already have several beautiful Full Frame Nikon F2 bodies, and several excellent Nikkor AIS lenses. In other words, the pinnacle of traditional 35mm equipment. Yeah, I know that's not the kind of reasons you had in mind, but my dilemma is, when, if ever, will digital "mature" to the point where one does not feel compelled to go out and buy the latest technology every couple of years?
For me, I expect the point will come when 35mm film and/or processing is no longer available. This will come sooner than I would like, I'm sure.
One minor advanatge of film cameras is that you can get different types of film, slide being the most common one but there are also some infrared sensitive films that gave very interesting effects.
Thats said I sold my superb Nikon F80 to a film student years ago for a tiny fraction of what it cost new.
A ten year old film camera body in good condition can be expected to have the same image quality as a brand-new film camera body, all other things being equal. The same cannot be said for a ten-year-old digital camera versus a new digital camera. It seems that camera bodies are like computers these days, something you buy knowing that you'll want to get rid of it in three years.
However, we may be in a transient phase -- once the technology has matured a bit, perhaps the changes will level off.
Simply, 35mm cameras have larger sensors than APS-C type sensors which are standard on entry level fully manual dslr's.
Full Frame dslr cameras provide much greater quality sensors but start at $1500 or so.
Using 35mm film and converting to digital, you will want a decent scanner which might cost you $700 which doesn't include specialized scanning software which is another chunk of change.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_versus_film_photography (be sure to check out the comparison of sensor sizes about mid way down.)
Artistically, a film camera allows you to shoot and process your film into negatives which you can then print in a darkroom. Each print made in a darkroom is a unique, hand-made product which has a certain integrity.
Practically, a digital camera, a computer, and the software cost a lot less then a camera and a darkroom plus all the consumables used in the camera and the darkroom.
One advantage of film is you an get everything you need really cheap. I recently acquired material from an estate for simply taking it away. 100 per lot cases of Ilford B&W 120 film, over 1000 sheets of 4x5, hundreds of feet of 35 with new film cartridges and loaders, hundreds of rolls each of 10 different 35mm B&W films. Cases if NIB 4x5 film holders, SS trays and tanks of all sizes, Jobo processor, 2 very professional enlargers, cases of cans of Kodak developers (Microdol-X D76, HC-110, T-Max etc.), gallons and gallons of rapidfixer and all that. Diafine, Accufine. The works. Also thousands of sheets of paper and roll paper. So shop Craig's list and lab closings.
I don't use enlargers except for archival prints. I use medium format and scan the negatives.
As for longivity, B&W negatives are great. I have lost thousands of our of work from forgetting that writable CD's (according to a library archivist back when they were pretty new) have a short lifetime. I have painstakingly restored early panoramas on CDs that can not be read anymore - and a lot of video clips. DVDs are not much better. Some SD card makers give a data retention in the 100 year range. Acetate negatives will last a lot longer than that. How about the Cloud? Obviously vulnerable with some recent big examples, however it may turn out OK or it may remain nonviable under constant attack for content deemed inappropriate by various governments - and they change all the time. A personal cloud with copying to new TB hard drives every couple of years might be OK.
As mentioned, cameras and good lenses are cheaper. But you don't get instant results ad can't just shoot hundreds or thousands of bracketed shots like digital and you are changing and keeping track of film.
BTW, I have some Ektachrome kits and other Kodak E- series chemical kits I have no use for. Maybe some boxes of 4x5 color film.
Here's my opinion, based on my tests & what I've read...
Recent digital cameras with APS-C type sensors have slightly better picture quality (in all respects except one) than the very highest quality 35mm film (I'm talking 25ASA Kodachrome or Kodak Technical Pan).
Exactly how much better is debatable, because at extreme magnifications, the degradation of film and digital images differs (and that's ignoring the fact that the film scanner alters the film image).
The one respect where film is still better than digital is in dynamic range... in laymans terms, the brightness range that can be captured. This is especially true of print film, less so of reversal or slide film. However, my tests have been done exclusively on digital cameras with 12-bit sensors. I have not tested more recent digital cameras with 14-bit sensors, and it is entirely possible that these are equal to 35mm film.
With regard to dynamic range problems, these can largely be worked around for still subjects, by using HDR (high dynamic range) techniques, which can give dynamic ranges far in excess of any type of film.
More information about quality differences between digital & film is available on wikipedia, here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_versus_film_photography
In other respects, digital photography has so many benefits, its difficult to list them all, but some of the most important (to me) are:
a) lower cost... it costs nothing to experiment and throw away experimental photos that don't work out.
b) the immediate image review feature of digital cameras means that if a photo does not work out, you can immediately try again.
Film has the advantage of being more stable for archival purposes, but other than that the only advantages are subjective. Do you prefer the way film looks? Use film. Otherwise, the savings you get from buying a used film SLR body will eventually be eaten up by processing costs; that in and of itself is a huge argument in favor of digital.
One of the most important advantages of digital is that it allows you to adjust on the fly. That instant feedback means you don't have to wait for the film to be developed to know what you have...and, more importantly, what you DON'T have.
Even mid-range digital cameras have gotten so with low light and high dynamic range that you can shoot photos that you could never shoot -- especially handheld -- with a film camera.
Plenty of cinematographic movies/series are now been shoot in Full DSLR cameras with very expensive lents :)
An example is the House M.D. season finale
a very good Photographer and Cinematographyc called Vincent Laforet Blog Website uses the Canon 5d mkII and 7d to shot almost everything and the images are just "out of this world" (just see his blog and website)
last video of him about talking about Cinema 5D (Cinema with Digital Cameras)
his the one that shot that great short movie "Reverie" with the first 5d mkII that Canon asked him to shoot before make the camera public back in 2008
I still have my Canon 5 QZ (35mm) but I can tell you... it's for souvenir! as it's expensive to get pictures from it (camera film plus revelation of the film), I bought the 550d and kept the Lens ... was a great deal :)