Digital vs Film

10 Apr 2000

I've been shopping for a digital camera, and I've come across several arguments in favor of sticking with film, at least until digital cameras are better and/or cheaper. That's certainly worth considering, and I've been using film until now, waiting for cameras to get better and cheaper, so I obviously buy into it to some extent.

One page I found argued that film cameras were cheaper and higher resolution because you could buy a camera for $40, and it would use 35mm film, which has much better resolution than consumer-grade digital cameras. That's true, and if all I wanted was a high resolution camera, I'd stick with film. Unfortunately, I want high resolution pictures, and those cost more, especially since I want them in my computer and not just on a shelf.

In the past 20 months of picture taking, I've gone through 34 rolls of film. That's about 800 pictures. I estimate that's cost me about $400 for film, negatives, prints, and fairly low resolution scans (640x480 for the first 26 rolls, 1500x1000 for the most recent 7). Had I gotten the super high resolution offered by the Kodak PhotoCD service (3000x2000), it would have cost $600 more. So to beat a digital camera for 800 pictures costs $1000, about the same as a good digital camera.

To be fair though, I'm usually happy with 1500x1000, and I could have just those exceptions scanned in at high resolution ($1 each). That would save lots of money and would be a big hassle. I'd almost never bother, so I can't really count it as an option. As the makers of US crypto export policy know, it doesn't matter what you can do, it only matters what you will do.

My film camera is easier to use than any digital camera I've looked at. It's also smaller, starts up faster, the battery lasts long enough that I forget it has one, and I've already paid for the camera. For taking pictures, no digital camera can match it in price, performance, or convenience. But for getting pictures, film is both inconvenient and expensive. Taking 24 pictures costs me $20, and I have to wait until I finish the roll before I can see them. I know I'll enjoy the convenience of a digital camera, and I hope I don't miss the convenience of my film camera too much.

I'll probably take more pictures with a digital camera, but even at my current rate, it will pay for itself in two years. Maybe by then there will be digital cameras as easy to use as my 35mm.