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.

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    leaving this here for future generations: clarkvision.com/articles/film.vs.digital.summary1/index.html
    – Baczek
    Aug 21, 2012 at 18:05
  • Of course, it's a different medium in many ways. Depending on the photographer’s needs, one may be more suitable. There's also the experience of making prints, particularly with B+W. The experience of split contrast printing, preflashing, dodging, burning, bleaching, etc, etc may have been replicated as effects in digital processing but in terms of actually "doing it" there's no comparison. Not that one is necessarily better but one may be more enjoyable for some than the other.
    – moorej
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:44

18 Answers 18


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.

  • Very good point!
    – gabr
    Jul 16, 2010 at 16:35
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    You can always carry another set of batteries and with the current power consumption by average cameras (including DSLRs) it is not that much of a factor in my opinion.
    – Shaihi
    Jul 16, 2010 at 19:35
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    I disagree with the low price, yes the camera is a low price, but developing rolls of film and buying new rolls becomes very cosly. Dec 19, 2011 at 14:14
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    If you're mountain climbing in low temperature, then you have to think about how that effects the sensitivity of the film too. Low temperatures cause problems all around. Also, unless the film camera is fully manual, it will still need power for the meter and modern ones usually for the shutter too. Aug 21, 2012 at 2:14
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    With modern B+W film you can blow your highlights by multiple stops. As long as you have something in your blacks you can split contrast print a huge dynamic range. It doesn't take multiple shots (as in digital HDR) and it's easier to stay away from that over-processed HDR look (personal taste).
    – moorej
    Jul 11, 2014 at 17:54

With a film camera, with every shot you take you get a new "sensor". With digital, that sensor stays in place and gathers dust and dirt.

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    Every time when you change film would be more correct. And yes, that's a good reason even now when the variety of different films has narrowed from what it used to be. One can pick BW film, negative, slide, different sensitivities, different grain structures.
    – Karel
    Jul 16, 2010 at 10:55
  • Dust is the bane of every photographer whatever the technology. Strips of plastic dragged through cameras create dust attracting static electricity. Advancing to the next frame is just as likely to make the dust problem worse as better. The difference is that with film dust spotting is required for every print, while with digital it can be done once to the file. Aug 13, 2010 at 18:01
  • Negatives get dust too. And scratches. And they degrade. If you have dust on a sensor chances are you will be cloning the same spots across a series of many images, making the process much quicker than cleaning dust from scanned negatives where dust differs in every shot. Feb 28, 2013 at 18:29

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.

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    It can actually be a cheaper way of buying lenses as well, if the seller doesn't realise that they'd work on a digital body... Jul 16, 2010 at 7:08
  • At this point you no longer need a full-frame digital camera to match the quality of 35mm film, 1.5x to 1.3x crop cameras are not that much different in terms of DOF you can get. Feb 28, 2013 at 18:28
  • @KendallHelmstetterGelner The difference in DOF with a 1.5x crop camera is more than a whole stop. Given the price difference between f/4 and f/2.8 versions of the same lens, or even f/1.8 and f/1.2, it can be a big deal, and in some cases it's cheaper to buy a FF camera than it is to buy the equivalent lens for APS-C (e.g. a 5D + 50 f/1.8 can be had cheaper than a 35 f/1.4)
    – Matt Grum
    Mar 1, 2013 at 9:15
  • That's all true but only matters if you need to shoot wide open frequently (or need the narrowest possible depth of field). If you are talking just about the need for better shutter speeds modern digital cameras produce better results at high ISO than film does, which negates the need for full frame again. Mar 1, 2013 at 18:42
  • I think the question becomes: What advantages does 35mm film have over same priced digital?
    – Rene
    Jan 16, 2014 at 8:09

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.

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    A lot of my film cameras (all but one) rely on motorised wind on though. Jul 20, 2010 at 8:08
  • And a lot of the later film cameras needed a battery to fire the shutter as well (it prevented the inevitable slow-down of clockwork shutters set slower than sync speed, and made exposure more consistent in general). The pro Canon F1n, for instance, was only battery-free at 1/90 and higher, while IIRC the Nikon F3 and Minolta X700 were completely battery-dependent. (The Nikon FM series only used the battery for metering.)
    – user2719
    Aug 21, 2012 at 0:21

Film cameras dont have Moiré effect.


Just a personal opinion - nothing (I can afford) in digital world comes close to a Velvia slide projected big. And just as with 35mm film cameras, the price of good projectors has made the same drop.

  • This is rather subjective. I too have Velvia film, but the colors reproduced are a function of the light that goes through the slide, so you can't compare that to print at all, digital or analog. Jul 16, 2010 at 9:14
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    It is subjective. I said it's an opinion and I didn't compare projection to print. Still, the effect of projecting a slide (doesn't even have to be Velvia) is what keeps me shooting it.
    – Karel
    Jul 16, 2010 at 10:48

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.

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    Film underwent constant improvement during its lifetime, too, but you got the improvements each time you bought your first roll of the new film. The economics still favor a new digital body every couple of years: A Nikon D800 at $3,000 costs the equivalent of 300 36-exposure rolls of C-41 film and processing (without prints) at a decent lab. That's a total of 10,800 frames, which I shoot easily in two years. Downgrade to a D300 ($1,700, 170 rolls, 6,120 frames) or a D5100 ($850, 85 rolls 3,060 frames) and it still becomes pretty easy to justify a new body even if you don't shoot as much.
    – Blrfl
    Aug 21, 2012 at 16:10
  • @Blrfl : Your argument makes even more economic sense when you consider how much someone could save merely by trailing the camera market by a year or so and buying used gear. You are exactly right that sensors are equivalent to buying film, they just happen to also be attached to a body. Feb 28, 2013 at 18:32
  • I used a Nikon F3 for many years while I was waiting for digital to get to the same level for a price I was willing to pay. It had to have the same sensor area (26 x 24 mm), take the existing lenses so I could upgrade incrementally, have resolution at least as good as what the film could be scanned to, and sensitivity as good as the most sensitive film I would ever consider using. That has now all happened, and I now use a digital camera. You can't argue for 35 mm film over digital anymore on resolution and speed, for a few years now. Jan 15, 2014 at 23:59

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.

  • You can also have the same range of effect from some digital cameras shooting IR. In the Sigma SD-1M camera, the hot mirror is just behind the lens and removable for easy IR shooting. Feb 28, 2013 at 18:34

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.

  • Not quite all other things equal, but a 9+ year old 1Ds Mark II has similar IQ at equal ISO as today's top-of-the-line APS-C cameras. This is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but digital cameras don't go out of date as quickly as you'd think. Plus, tech development in film stopped a long time ago; if film was still the best technology we had, I'd expect modern film to far outstrip decade-old film technology. Mar 7, 2013 at 21:52
  • I guess I'm looking at this from the standpoint of an old film guy, who expects camera companies to carry the exact same model for decades. Nikon's F1 came out in 1959, the F2 in 1971, the F3 in 1980, the F4 in 1988 ... oh heck -- ever since they invented the integrated chip everything has gone to hell ;-) Mar 9, 2013 at 16:51
  • Sure, but I'm sure the film in 1959 wasn't anywhere near as good as the film in 1988... Mar 9, 2013 at 18:14
  • I don't get the point.. sure a 10 years old computer is not fast as today ones, but I'd still use a 286 rather than a typewriter (as long as power is available). The question was about film and the current state of digital, if nothing else the fact that digital is evolving at a fast pace is an advantage not a drawback.
    – Marco Mp
    Jan 15, 2014 at 18:52
  • @ChinmayKanchi Technical development in film did not stop along time ago. Newer stocks of films like Portra 400 allow from more pushing and pulling than previous stocks. Tabular grain films weren't available until the 80s and have been improved greatly since then.
    – moorej
    Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08

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.

Regards, Mark.


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.

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    Can you elaborate on that stability, especially factoring in lossless duplication and the rather flammable nature of some older film stocks... Prints, especially mono's might be another story though. Mar 1, 2013 at 14:03
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    Well, apart from the issue of filmstock stability (nitrocellulose flammability, acetate breakdown, who knows about polyester), you have to keep several things in mind about digital. The first is that you need access to the codec algorithms for any digital data. Also, we don't know if "archival" media really is, and the denser it is, the more that can be lost to a minor scratch. On the other hand, we still have some of the very earliest chemical photographs ever taken, so at the very least we know silver chemistry is good for over a century.
    – BrianX
    Mar 5, 2013 at 1:11

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 :)

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    I don't think this question concerns moving pictures. I think 'film' means the use of an analog camera to take pictures. Jul 16, 2010 at 9:11
  • It depends on what English speaking country you are in. Most movies still list the Director of Photography in the end credits, and they are not referring to someone who shot publicity stills during production.
    – Michael C
    Mar 7, 2013 at 5:51

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