Is Shooting Film a Waste of Money?

I think film is overrated. Let me try to prove it to you. 

Now, before you call me an ignorant millennial, I do want to mention that I started shooting film in high school, continued shooting film in college, and I shot and edited my own film in my grandfather's custom darkroom. I've personally never owned a medium format film camera, but I've assisted multiple photographers who shot with both medium and large format film cameras. I've compared film side by side with digital. 

There's no doubt film has a certain "look," but most photographers continue to spread rumors about film cameras having better resolution and dynamic range. This was true when DSLRs shot 6 MP, but now, digital is better in almost every way. Even if film was higher resolution, most lenses made for film cameras are not nearly as sharp as today's lenses. Don't believe me? A few years ago, I had a meeting with one of the executives of Hasselblad. He explained that all of their lenses has to be completely redesigned to handle the increased resolution. He also pointed out that no matter how sharp a lens is, a roll of film will never lay as flat as a digital sensor, meaning that each shot will be slightly different on film. 

The other strange argument that film shooters use is that they prefer shooting film because they don't have to edit their photos. This means one of two things: they are saying that the "look" of film is all of the editing their photos need, or they are saying that the lab is doing all of the post-processing for them. These arguments are silly to me, because you could easily do a batch effect on all of your digital images to make them have a "look," or you could hire someone to retouch your digital images. 

I do still think there are reasons to shoot film. Lauren Jonas, who is in the above video, has used film to stand out in a saturated wedding photography market. High-end clients are willing to pay a premium for portions of their wedding to be shot on film. In a world where literally everyone owns a digital camera, you might have to do something "different" to stand out. 

Perhaps the best reason to shoot film is simply because you like it. Most luxury items are technically "worse" than their more popular competitors. My buddy's luxury watch can't keep time as accurately as my phone, and he spent over $10k on it. Patrick Hall spent thousands of dollars on vinyl records that literally sound worse than digital files (don't me started on this).

But we're human; sometimes, we like to feel special, and we're willing to pay a premium for it. I'm sure I spend money on tons of things that would be ridiculous to you. I'm not mad at people who shoot film, but let's not pretend that it's better than current digital cameras.

I've been wanting to make a video for years where I try to make digital files look like film and I was always going to use Alien Skin's Exposure software. It's a coincidence that Alien Skin recently started sponsoring our videos and was also willing to sponsor this one. The software is 100% free to try, but you can use the code fstoppers at checkout to save 10% if you decide to buy. 

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Lee Morris is a professional photographer based in Charleston SC, and is the co-owner of

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Yes .. Volume and Retouching makes Digital Cheaper

As Karl Taylor says. I can get the shot weather it's a camera obscura or a phase one your broke ass can't afford. Totally accurate quote taken from the internet

Whether I get the shot of the wether is often dependent on the weather :-)

If you need more try a cost analysis on all the costs of film paper chemicals and whats a staggering cost .. the most expensive re touch and image modification in your life. But if you are smart seek medical help for your mental and financial illness

Retouching and what little that can be done as post process is at stellar prices.
Don’t forget to add cancer medical payments with film process

Perhaps you should take a look at a cost analysis. This time, be sure to include the cost of camera and lenses. Digital cameras and lenses are much, much more expensive than film cameras and lenses.

Also, one doesn't necessarily need to include the cost of paper and paper chemicals. Many, including myself, process and then scan the film. The post processing is all done on a computer just like with digital cameras.

Which digital camera compared to what film camera? Full frame camera can be bought very cheaply these days. Second-hand digital full frame cameras and even cameras like the 5D Mark III can be bought very cheaply.

Well, if you are going to look at a used digital, you must look at a used film 35mm. You can pick up a used 35mm for next to nothing or probably get one for free from someone who thinks they are useless now.

No, you look at used digital cameras vs used film cameras. You look at brand new Film vs brand new SD cards lol.

Come on man stop moving the goal posts lol.

I'm pretty sure we were saying the same thing. I was just saying that if you are looking at used digital cameras, you have to look at used film cameras. That's why I said you can get them for next to nothing or possibly for free. Nobody's moving the goal post.

I don't think I can agree with you on this one but I also think it's perfectly reasonable for us to disagree :).

I could buy a used Nikon D610 (body only) for about $600. For the same price I could get a Rolleiflex 3.5 Xenotar standard focal length. For even less I could get a Mamiya RB67 plus a few lenses. I could also for much less get a Fuji 6x9 which also has a gorgeous standard lens.

So for less than a five year old body-only DSLR, I can my choice of some iconic film cameras with incredible optics. These can all be purchased used from reputable dealers. Both Blue Moon in Portland and KEH offer 6 month warranties.

That Nikon D610 probably needs another battery and SD cards too. So tack on another $50-100 there. Then if you want a good standard lens to match the film options I mentioned, you’re looking at another $300-500 for a 50mm lens with comparable image quality.

Yes sir...exactly. I bought the Fuji GX680 with finder, back and 115mm lens for less than 600. Also bought a Nikon F5 for only 220. Already have plenty of lenses. Hasselblad 500CM as well...only 125 for the body and 115 for 80mm lens. But this was years ago. I see prices have gone up, but still cheaper than comparable digital. I buy most always from KEH.

State of he art Nikon film camera is about the same price as a refurbished Nikon D850 right now.

Maybe so, but here's one of the great things about film. Unless you need ulta-fast focus or frame rate, you can use a 50 year old camera and get the same results as using a state of the art camera. Regardless of the camera you use, the "sensor" (film) quality is the same. Not true with a digital camera.

Don't get me wrong. I use a digital camera 98% of the time. Digital has fantastic quality and a multitude of other benefits. My argument with the author is with him saying that film is not as good as digital and that it is a luxury item. Depending on the film and your workflow, film isn't expensive, especially if you are using a $50 camera vs a $1000 camera.

This is an opinionated article - It depends on what your end result is: Posting on Instacrap? Showing off a pic or two out of thousands (of bad shots taken)? I'll admit that I shoot 80% digital. But for something in the gallery, over someones couch, or on a wall in LinkedIn's COO's office - Then it's film without a doubt.

I haven't heard the argument that film photos don't need to be edited, and the question of resolution also isn't an argument I've heard much from experienced film photographers. The greatest argument for film, and one that isn't sufficiently discussed in this article, is the 'look'. I just love the look of the photos I get from my Hasselblad 500CM; it's so easy to get beautiful portraits. I find that digital photos tend to have a homogenous crispness, while there is more variation in film, dependent on camera, lens, and type of film.

I'm always willing to listen to a good argument, and I know that digital is essential for most professional work. But most film photographers I know enjoy the process of taking photos with film and developing them. It isn't necessarily about quality, which is a dubious concept.

And, frankly, the article lost me by suggesting that digital music sounds objectively better than vinyl.

Film photos need to "edited".
I thought I was a good printer until I hired a really good printer for a project.
She would take hours making just a couple prints. Dodging, burning, bleaching, using hot developer. Doing different variations with different grades of paper. It wasn't easy and the smell of fixer still makes me a little nauseous.

Exactly sir. We were waiting for you to mention all this. There's a quality to film that just can't be found in digital. I shoot both but mostly film and have found that digital strives to make photos look "perfect." It does seem to have a real feel to it. I've taken photos with both and the slides look just as I saw them. I could tell the digitals were...well, digital. It's not a bad thing but I just want the photo to look like how it is seen. Of course filters or editing can/should be made to make them pop to your eyes but that can also be done by slapping the photos on a quality downloaded disc and go for it on the computer. Now we can have both medias. Shooting with the Leica R8 I also have that luxury.

Lee and I had the amazing opportunity to listen to a massive vinyl collection against a bunch of lossless Apple digital files. The sound system was about $25,000 and he had everything from old jazz records to pop, rap, 80s rock. We synced the songs up and he a/b’ed them with 3 of us having our eyes closed. Each one of us thought a different source was the digital instead of the vinyl. We did about 10 songs, some of them like Thriller I knew like the back of my hand. We were all less than 50% correct when picking them out. The only time we could tell was on old jazz albums where the vinyl was a bit poppy.

Sometimes the vinyl would be a bit warmer and the digital would be clearer. Sometimes the vinyl would be brighter and the digital would have more bass. But the overall consensus was that vinyl never sounded “better” and rarely could we pick out the difference. That evening clearly made me believe that the arguement of vinyl being the superior format was bogus. It’s not. But that being said, last year I bought about $3000 worth of vinyl and still love the process of pulling a random album out and playing it on my stereo.

As someone who shoots both I find myself shooting less and less digital. My gravitation towards film has nothing to do with resolution. Film has a certain look and I don't care if you have Alien Skin, VSCO, or any of the "film" presets out there. It's just an interpretation of a digital file to make it look like something else. Ultimately both have their advantages and drawbacks, but I don't think anyone is going to be convinced that you might as well shoot digital and edit it to look like film if you want the true film look. And for someone who wants something to look like film, why not just actually shoot it? Your upfront costs for digital are higher and your back end costs for film are higher. Just a cost tradeoff in my opinion. Film or digital is just a preference and one isn't better than the other, but they are definitely not the same from an aesthetics point for anyone who knows what they are looking at.

Yeah but for many wedding photographers, they own both systems. They have the digital gear and the film gear. It’s like the biggest waste of money for their business. They’ve spent more on their gear than anyone I know shooting just digital.

Valid points. And I understand the idea of hybrid shooting, but if people own too much gear that is on them not the systems. I suffer from G.A.S. as bad as anyone else so I definitely can relate. I think ultimately a client is going to be happy with the results of whatever camera someone chooses to use as they hire people based off their style/look not the camera itself. At the end of the day people should just choose what works best for themselves.

Film is not expensive and it's definitely not a luxury item. It can even be argued that it's a lot cheaper in a lot of situations.
Also, call me back when there's a digital TLR on the market. Or a camera with a curved digital sensor. ;)

I certainly don't get that "luxury" feeling when I'm bulk rolling my HP5 and developing it in my kitchen sink. I do get personal, creative satisfaction though.

I've been taking photos for over 65 of my 77 years. I've had a commercial (advertising) studio and commercial darkroom. I've been in Ansel Adams darkroom back in the day and he in mine. I've shot a lot of film from large format to 35. I got one of the first Nikon D1s and wore it out. The thing that I'd never give up with digital are all of the post processing capabilities that never existed with film. There really is no equivalent in film for Lightroom and Photoshop or Topaz or any of the many other wonderful plug-ins. Last weekend I shot a polo match. I shot over 3800 frames at high frame rates with three different cameras. I never could do the with film - -at least not without twice as many cameras and at least two assistants reloading the cameras. The darkroom for the film would have been a nightmare as would have been the review of all those images. Digital is a lot more than the camera and the lens. Post production does things that simply are not possible with film.

Today, I think film is more in the realm of "art" photography. I don't think any film shooter would try to cover a polo match with, say, an old EOS 1V at 10fps. That would be a little crazy. But hauling out a 4x5 for landscapes and printing in the darkroom? That's going to produce something that really isn't possible with digital (at least not the affordable digital).

You may have a point about "affordable" digital. I did haul that 4x5 out to shoot landscapes. There is nothing that I could produce with that 4x5 that I can't do with digital. On the other hand I have three Nikons (and I'm supported by NPS if there is another one I need that I don't have), I have a host of Sigma and some Nikon lenses. I process on an iMac Pro and I drive three large monitors. I am supported by Topaz software and have all of their plug-ins (and I absolutely love them). On a whim I weighed my kit that I took to shoot polo -- 53 lbs without the two tripods with gimbal heads and the monopod!
However, I would have shot well over 100 rolls of 35mm film and the cost would have been pretty high where after I buy the card the digital exposures are free. I also would have had to pay a couple of assistants for a couple of hours. I figure I have about $35K of equipment listed on my insurance policy.
When I was shooting film I had about a half dozen Nikon F and a bunch of lenses, two Hasselblads with multiple lenses and backs and a 4x5 (An Arca Swiss at Ansel's recommendation). Then I had enlargers for each of the formats, and a dry and wet darkroom, with paper safes and print dryers (Two dryers - one drum dryer and on simply a frame for air drying. Of course the lights and timers, etc. Then there were the fans and filters to keep dust out of the darkroom. Consumables like film and paper along with the chemicals. Film may have been more expensive than digital!
I still have a fifty year old tripod that has served both film and digital!

Yeah a lot of the Old school “used it for decades” photography professionals I know would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to go back to film, they simply won’t touch it.
As for landscapes there are many stitching programs (PTGUI for instance) that render a larger resolution format moot.
@ John Ellingston WOW! I’m sure you have some stories to tell!

For a lot of us it's also about the process. We can debate image quality all day long, but making shit by hand is just fun.

This is the one argument I can agree with!

I think there is some differences in film and digital between high or low exposure photography. If you haven't seen the video Bill Lawson uploaded to YouTube about 21 steps of exposure, you should look into it. Yes, if you want to hit the everyday, standard exposure photograph, there is not much of a difference. But if you shoot 10 stops above standardized exposure, digital givens you a completely white photo and film give you a high exposure but not fully blown out. And in low exposure photography, digital does pick up a good quality for low light situations and film gives a very dark different look. Again, this is the 5% of photography that most people may never expose themselves to.

Do you have the link? I always heard early in the digital era that film could capture about 12 stops of light and maybe the D70 could do 10. Now most of the cameras can do much more than 14 with the D850 doing about 15. There really is no comparison now.

Below is the link. The bottom line is over exposed film is ALWAYS better than over exposed digital and under exposed digital is ALWAYS better than under exposed film (period).:

"As you can see, a way-too-overexposed digital photo becomes pure white and unusable while its film counterpart is still surprisingly acceptable. On the other hand, a way-too-underexposed film becomes a cloudy black mess while its digital counterpart still provides some semblance of a photo.

“I think that digital has a usable dynamic range of minus 6 or 7 to plus 2,” Lawson says. “I thought that at minus 8 stops, the grain made the digital image unusable. Of course, this is subjective and your opinion may vary. And different digital cameras may yield different results."

One of the reasons that I'm seeing a lot of professional photographers shooting film is control, in the digital world you have made the image making process a little too democratic. There is a peanut gallery watching the monitor and telling you what to do in real time, when shooting film you are in control and lack of being able to see the image to review leads to being more creative and spending more time on the shot to make sure you have it a couple times not when the AD or CD says you have it and lets move on.

I am not a professional, just a photography enthusiast, hobbyist, and opportunist. I started shooting digital and would shoot just about anything from family vacations, travel, kids' sports, portraits, and landscape. Over the last couple years though, I have moved to shooting mostly film. I love the aesthetic choices available to shooters by simply using a different film. I love the process of shooting and developing and scanning my own film. It feels real, tangible, and it makes me proud to do it. What I like most about shooting film is the sheer variety of options available when it comes to film formats, film cameras, lenses, developers, and the process. There is a very low bar for entry into film shooting. You can spend $5 on a thrift store point and shoot camera, then be off and running. There are decades and decades worth of used film cameras and lenses to choose from, most available for extremely cheap prices. You can build a Nikon kit, a Canon kit, a Minolta kit, an Olympus kit, a Pentax kit, a Bronica kit, a Mamiya kit, or multiple kits for much less than the price of a new entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. It's easy to own lots of film gear that allows you to tailor your shooting experience based on the camera/lenses you choose to shoot on a particular day. As others have said, there's very little up-front cost to shooting film, but more back-end cost when you consider the costs of purchasing more film, developing costs, home lab investment, or professional scanning. For me, it's just different timing for when my money is spent. I don't necessarily think film images are better than digital images. I just like the process, the choices, and the low up-front cost of shooting film. To me, that's where the fun comes from. Remember, I'm a hobbyist so it should be fun!

If you want a photographer who knows what they doing..........find one that shoots film. If you hire one that shoots digital they'll need a computer to fix their mistakes..................

Respectfully submitted........

Haha or just shoot jpeg and dump it to your client’s hard drive (I still offer this option which saves me 100% of the editing time). With two memory cards, digital is much more reliable. With film the film could be bad, it could be miss handled, mis loaded, lost in the mail, ruined at the lab, potentially ruined by X-ray. Augh...the nightmares reliable? I've had Camera's fail. Memory cards fail. External hard drives fail. Computers fail............not to mention the software failure. The use of film and digital came be justified and condemned. It depends on your predilections.

btw.......I shoot and enjoy both. I just took exception to Lee's championing one over the other.

Respectfully submitted

Yeah but with digital you literally can have a backup throughout the entire process. If you shoot weddings you have two cameras (should on any job), you can have two cards in each camera, multiple hard drives, multiple on site and off site storage. With film, you literally have just the film. Sure you have your images scattered over 20-100 rolls of film but at any one time those have to be mailed to be processed.

I see what you are trying to say but there is no way film is equal or less risk than digital. Over time the organic film will degrade too.

I, for one, would not agree to shoot a wedding and wont disparage those that do ........and there are other jobs where digital is best........sporting events, paparazzi, press coverages when the spray and pray attitude rules the day. If one chooses digital over film. Fine. I just don't believe one is more superior that the other. Just to be original post was about the photographer....not the equipment.

Degradation occurs in the digital world as well.............hell, for that matter.........time has degraded me as well.


Where does the idea that photoshop is only for fixing mistakes come from? I can do a bazillion things better in PS than ever was possible (for me, YMMV) in a darkroom.

There are plenty of photographers who both know and don't know what they are doing shooting film. And digital. It's a big tent.


"plenty of photographers who both know and don't know what they are doing shooting film. And digital." How very true but the so called pro photographer who shoots digital, and is bad at it, seem to last longer. You make a mistake shooting film........your done.

btw.........I shoot and enjoy both.


You Mileage May Vary - What is true for me may not be true for you.

I like the analogy: If you want a loaf of bread you can buy it at a bakery - so why do people make their own bread? It's about craft and accomplishment at the end of the day. I shoot both digital and film and there is definitely a time and place for both. Sometimes I slow down and enjoy making my own bread.

I wonder how much money digital shooters waste trying out new combinations of bodies and lenses trying to capture that magical look they see in photography books that were shot with film.

It is fair to point out that there’s often no need to ever replace a film camera. Almost all of them can be serviced to full working condition. Every roll of film is a brand new “sensor.” You will have to do a CLA every once in a while in its lifespan, but that’s usually $100-$200.

I shoot both. Both have their pros and cons. Digital is definitely sharper and cleaner, especially beyond ISO 100 on 35mm film or ISO 400 in medium format. If you’re a cropper in post, don’t shoot film.

The one thing Lee doesn’t really factor in here is time. Film costs more money, but it costs less time. You send it to the lab, get your scans and you’re done. Send them off.

With digital, most of the work happens in post. There’s definitely an economic case for shooting film in certain situations. I wouldn’t shoot sports or young kids with film. A head shot though? Absolutely! Getting a cheap Mamiya RB67 and good roll of black and white for a headshot is totally affordable. Maybe you’ll shoot two rolls. You’re looking at $20-30 developed and scanned. Depending on what your billing yourself out at, that’s saving you a couple of hours fiddling in post to get that “professional” look.

Reproducing the look all happens in the photographers head. It has little if anything to do with equipment or the chemicals or the software. A talented can produce that "look" with either film or digital if they truly understand what it takes to make it. I find I have far more latitude with digital images than I did with film. I still have many of my prints from film days. I could reproduce the look of any of them with digital imaging. One of the things I have learned is that if you truly want high quality prints from a digital file you need a professional printer to do it. I have found a bare half dozen of printers in the US that can deliver the true archival gallery quality large prints I sell.

It’s funny, when I look at most of my photography books from 2005 and earlier, I usually think how bad the images look. They are all blurry and not sharp. The reason they are classic is because of the photographer and the subject matter but for me personally the raw quality leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s like listening to early Elvis and Beatles records; they are classics but man is the music production and recording practices so rough. I’d love to hear some of those Stones albums played exactly as they are but recorded with modern equipment. Imagine hearing Charlie Watts with a properly miced kick drum!

It’s always interesting to me what moves people and what doesn’t. My first thought was that there are a lot of photography books with horrible print quality. I have two Weegee books and thought his pictures were horrendously lo-fi(still interesting) until I got the better book.

If you enlarge a 4x5 negative to 8x10 it’s so crisp it looks like one of those Harry Potter living pictures.

You definitely can’t do a lot of the techniques we see in the Fstoppers featured images. You can’t focus stack landscapes. You can’t easily do a sky replacement. Hard to do a completely blemish-free, flyaway-free beauty image (though and good makeup artist can get you close).

Still, I think there’s something magical that happens when constraints are applied (see: George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg).

"Depending on what your billing yourself out at, that’s saving you a couple of hours fiddling in post to get that “professional” look."

Aren't you fiddling with the scanned film images once you get them back from the lab? If the negs are perfect SOOC so then should the digital images also be perfect? Once you leave the optical path then the scanned and the digital images are going to need some fiddling. If you use an enlarger there will even more fiddling!
To get a truly high quality scan of a 6x7 piece of film can be $20+ each depending on resolution.

Digital is superior to analog in so many aspects that this shouldn't even be discussed but shooting film is different. You ride a race car and chopper to get different experiences and so you shoot digital and analog to broaden your horizons but also expose yourself to different approaches to some problems. Ultimately, that's the way to, nomen omen, develop yoursef.

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