Analog vs Digital Film: Understanding the Pros and Cons
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Analog Film?
  2. What is Digital Film?
  3. Advantages of Analog Film
  4. Disadvantages of Analog Film
  5. Advantages of Digital Film
  6. Disadvantages of Digital Film
  7. How to choose between Analog and Digital
  8. Why the choice matters

Imagine you're standing in a photography store, trying to choose between an analog and a digital film camera. You're not alone; many photographers — both hobbyists and professionals — grapple with this choice. To make an informed decision, it's important to know the advantages and disadvantages of analog vs digital film. This blog post will help you understand key differences, their pros and cons, and guide you in making the best choice for your unique needs.

What is Analog Film?

Analog film, often just called 'film', has been around for more than a century, captivating generations with its unique charm. It operates on a simple yet fascinating principle: light hits the film and alters the chemical composition of silver halides — tiny light-sensitive crystals embedded in the film. When you develop this film in a darkroom, the altered silver halides turn into a visible image. It's like magic!

Here are some key characteristics of analog film:

  • Physical medium: Analog film is a physical medium, which means you can touch and feel it. It's a tangible proof of your art.
  • Unique aesthetics: Analog film offers a distinct look that digital film often tries to emulate. It's known for its rich colors, deep contrast, and fine grain which adds texture to the image.
  • Resolution: High-quality film, like a 35mm, can offer very high resolution. This means you can enlarge your photos without losing much detail.
  • Longevity: If stored properly, analog film can last a very long time — even a hundred years or more! This gives it a sense of permanence that digital files might not offer.

Understanding these features of analog film can help you weigh its advantages and disadvantages against digital film. Remember, the goal isn't to find the 'best' between analog and digital. Instead, it's about finding what works best for you.

What is Digital Film?

In contrast to analog film, digital film doesn't involve any physical medium or chemical reactions. Instead, it captures images using an electronic sensor that translates light into digital data. This data is then processed and stored as a digital file. It's a bit like translating a poem into a different language — the essence remains, but the form changes.

Here's a breakdown of some key features of digital film:

  • Instant results: One of the biggest advantages of digital film is that you can see your shot right away on the camera's display. This allows for instant feedback and adjustments, which can be a big plus, especially for beginners.
  • Flexibility: Digital files are easy to edit and manipulate using software. You can change colors, correct exposure, remove unwanted elements, and much more. This gives you a lot of creative control in post-processing.
  • Storage: Digital files take up much less physical space than analog film rolls. Plus, you can store thousands of photos on a single memory card and easily back them up on a computer or cloud storage.
  • Economy: Once you buy a digital camera, there aren't many recurring costs. You don't need to buy film or pay for development, which can add up over time with analog film.

As you can see, digital film offers a host of benefits, particularly in terms of convenience and flexibility. But does it mean it's better than analog in every way? Well, not necessarily. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between analog and digital film often comes down to personal preference and specific needs.

Advantages of Analog Film

Alright, let's dive into the world of analog film. Analog film, also known as traditional or film photography, relies on a physical medium — usually a strip of plastic coated with light-sensitive chemicals — to capture images. When this film is exposed to light, it creates a chemical reaction that forms a latent image. This latent image is then developed in a darkroom to produce a photograph.

Now, you might be thinking, "Sounds complicated. Why would anyone choose analog film over digital?" Well, here are some reasons why some folks prefer analog:

  • Unique Aesthetics: Analog film produces a distinctive look that's hard to replicate digitally. Many people love the organic grain, rich colors, and dynamic range that film offers. Plus, each type of film has its own character, adding an extra layer of creativity to your work.
  • Tactile Experience: There's something satisfying about manually loading film into a camera, focusing the lens, and hearing the shutter click. This hands-on approach can feel more rewarding and engaging than shooting with a digital camera.
  • Focus on Craft: Because you can't instantly see the results, film photography forces you to slow down and think more carefully about your shots. This can help you develop a deeper understanding of photographic principles and improve your skills.
  • Longevity: If stored properly, analog films can last for decades without losing quality. In contrast, digital files might become unreadable over time due to changes in technology.

Clearly, analog film has its own charm and advantages. But it's not all sunshine and roses. Just like digital film, analog has its downsides, which we'll explore in the next section.

Disadvantages of Analog Film

Despite the romantic allure of analog film, there are some downsides to consider. So, if you're thinking about going old-school with your photography, here's the other side of the coin:

  • Time-Consuming Process: Remember the darkroom we talked about? Well, it's not just a room. It's a process. Developing film is a time-consuming task that requires patience, skill, and a certain level of expertise.
  • Costs: Analog film can be pricier than digital. You have to buy the film, pay for developing, and if you want to share your images online, you'll need to digitize them, which is another expense.
  • Limited Shots: With digital, you can snap hundreds, even thousands of photos. But with analog film? You're limited to the number of frames on the film roll, usually 24 or 36. This can be nerve-wracking if you're trying to capture that perfect shot.
  • No Instant Gratification: In today's world, we're used to seeing results right away. With film, you have to wait until the film is developed to see if your shots turned out the way you hoped.

While these disadvantages of analog film may deter some, others find that they add to the charm and challenge of the medium. So, what about digital film? Let's move on and explore its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Digital Film

So, you've heard about the ups and downs of analog film. Now, let's turn our attention to the digital side of things. Here's why you might want to go digital:

  • Instant Results: With digital film, you see your shot the moment you take it. This instant preview can be a lifesaver, especially when you're aiming for perfection or working under time pressure.
  • Endless Capacity: Space is no longer a constraint. With memory cards, you can store thousands of photos, which gives you the liberty to experiment without worrying about running out of film.
  • Affordability: While the initial investment in a digital camera might be high, you save in the long run. There's no film to buy, no development costs, and you can delete the photos you don't like without any waste.
  • Editing Ease: Digital files can be easily manipulated and enhanced with software. This means you can adjust lighting, remove unwanted elements, and add effects to create the perfect image.

Clearly, the advantages of digital film make it an attractive option for many. But, like everything else, it's not without its drawbacks. Let's dig into those next.

Disadvantages of Digital Film

Now that we've seen the bright side of digital film, let's take a look at the not-so-sunny side. Here are some drawbacks you might want to consider:

  • Over Reliance on Technology: With digital film, you're often dependent on software and hardware. If your camera, memory card, or editing program fails, you might lose your precious work.
  • Short Lifespan: Digital devices aren't known for their longevity. Unlike analog cameras that can last for decades, digital cameras can become obsolete quickly as technology advances.
  • Quality Limitations: While digital technology has come a long way, it still struggles to match the depth and richness of analog film. The image quality can be less detailed, especially in low light conditions.
  • Digital Noise: Digital cameras can introduce 'digital noise' into an image, especially when shooting in low light or using a high ISO setting. This can degrade the quality of the photo and make it appear grainy.

As you can see, digital film, while convenient and versatile, has its own set of challenges. But don’t worry, the decision between analog and digital isn't as tough as it might seem. We'll guide you on how to make the right choice in the next section.

How to Choose Between Analog and Digital

Choosing between analog and digital film can feel like picking a favorite child. It's tricky, but don't stress, we're here to help. Here are some things to think about:

  • Your Budget: If you're on a tight budget, digital might be the way to go. It's generally less expensive than analog. You don't need to buy film rolls or pay for development and printing costs.
  • Your Skills: If you're a beginner, digital could be a good starting point. It allows you to experiment and learn without worrying about wasting film. On the other hand, if you're a seasoned pro who loves the craft and process, analog could be the one for you.
  • Your Needs: Do you need instant results and easy sharing? Digital's your guy. Do you crave that classic, warm look and don't mind waiting to see your results? Say hello to analog.
  • Your Personal Preference: At the end of the day, it's all about what you love. Some people prefer the crispness of digital, while others fall for the charm of analog. Trust your gut feeling.

Remember, there's no right or wrong choice here. It's all about finding what works best for you. And who says you can't use both? The advantages and disadvantages of analog vs digital film can complement each other, making you a versatile and adaptable artist.

Why the Choice Matters

So, you might be thinking: "Why does the choice between analog and digital film even matter?" Well, it matters more than you might believe. Here's why:

  • Impact on Style: Each type of film has a distinctive look and feel. Analog gives you a nostalgic, dreamy look that many film buffs adore. Digital, on the other hand, offers a clean, modern look. Your choice can greatly influence the style and mood of your photos or movies.
  • Learning Curve: The choice between analog and digital film can affect how you learn the craft. Shooting with an analog camera can teach you to be thoughtful and deliberate since each shot costs money. On the other hand, digital cameras let you experiment freely, helping you learn from trial and error.
  • Workflow: Working with digital film can streamline your workflow. You can shoot, edit, and share your work all on the same device. If you choose analog, you'll need to develop and scan your film, which can be time-consuming but also rewarding.
  • Sustainability: If you're into green living, digital may be the better choice. You're not using physical resources like film and chemicals that can harm the environment. But if you're mindful about energy consumption, analog could be your pick as it uses less electricity.

It all comes down to this: the choice between analog and digital film isn't just about the technical advantages and disadvantages. It's about how you want to create, express, and share your vision. The pros and cons of analog vs digital film aren't just checklists—they're part of your unique creative journey. So take your time, consider your options, and make a choice that feels right for you.

If you're fascinated by the debate between analog and digital film and want to explore how these two mediums can coexist, check out the workshop 'An Analog & Digital Mix: Customising Your Tools As An Illustrator' by Florencia Fuertes. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques on how to blend analog and digital tools to create unique and captivating art.