Advantages v. Disadvantages of Digital Photography by Scott Bourne
I only use digital cameras. It’s been 30 months since I’ve used film. That said, I have made every attempt to fairly compare the two mediums. Try as I might, I simply cannot come up with as many disadvantages as advantages in the face-off between digital and film. While I may have left out some small point, this list is fairly comprehensive. You be the judge.
The Advantages Of Shooting Digitally
When you have a chance to make a very important photograph, there is no denying the fact that being able to instantly look at a histogram, verify your exposure, double check your composition, etc., is very rewarding and reassuring.
You have the ability to immediately deliver the image to client:
Clients LOVE being able to get their images quickly. In the wedding and portrait business or the advertising world, there are few more powerful phrases than; “You can have the picture today.”
Instant ISO/white balance change from shot-to-shot:
In the film days, I would think nothing of rewinding a roll of Velvia if it got too dark to shoot at ISO 50. I would just move to Provia 100 and waste the rest of the roll. Changing film like that is not only expensive, it is time consuming. With my digital camera, I hit a button and can change the ISO from 100 to 3200 on a shot-by-shot basis. I also don’t have to worry about adjusting (adding filters) for indoor/outdoor lighting since I can change the white balance with the click of a switch.
Digital media is more portable:
I can make hundreds of full resolution exposures on my One Gigabyte compact flash card, which is smaller than a matchbook cover. It would take more than eight rolls of film to do the same thing. Film is bulkier. On a recent workshop, I brought five one-meg CF cards capable of holding more than 1800 images and I transported them in my shirt pocket. It would have taken more than 45 rolls of film to make the same number of images. There’s no need to hand check CF cards at airports while film is subject to damage from x-rays.
It is easier to store digital images:
I have 123,000 slides from my film days. They take up several file cabinets worth or storage. I have the same number of images on six 200-gig fire wire hard disks that are roughly the size of two packs of cigarettes. The slides need to be stored in the dark and in sealed bags to protect from ultraviolet light, dust, heat, etc. The disk drives can sit out on my desk year-round with no problem.
There are no film or processing costs:
For me, this is the big one. I used to spend $1250 per month on film and processing. That amount of money has paid for two digital bodies in the first six months of the year. I am able to charge my clients the same money, but I take home the difference in the form of a bigger paycheck. I no longer have to make tithes and offerings to the green and gold. (Sorry Fuji…Sorry Kodak.)
There is no chance of lost, damaged or mishandled film at the lab:
My friend Paul does wedding photography. He sent a recent wedding to a lab in Indiana. The wedding featured a family from Austria. The film was lost in transit. Enough said.
No film to store in the refrigerator:
My wife is glad that we can now store food (instead of film) in our $1000 refrigerator. CF cards don’t need to be refrigerated.
Digital is less harmful to the environment:
I am surprised there isn’t more said about this. Especially by nature photographers who tend to be very eco-conscious. Film processing is a dirty business. More and more governments are heavily regulating the processing of film because the chemicals involved are very toxic and obviously bad for the environment. CF cards need no developer or fixer!
No scan-related costs:
When I shot slides, I would have to scan my images to print them on my computer darkroom system, or to send them to certain publishers who only want digital submissions. This meant increased costs in both time and money. I would have to spend time scanning, cleaning up the scan, and saving the scan.
Unlimited perfect copies from the original:
Rod Barbee, my friend and fellow teacher at Olympic Mountain School of Photography, will rip five or six exposures of every image he makes with his Nikon F5. He needs to make several slides so that he can have multiple originals. Digital images are the same every time you make them with no image degradation. There is no need to make more than one original.
Some markets accept only digital submissions:
More and more of today’s publishers are going to digital pre-press. I would venture a guess that by the year 2007, there will be nothing but digital pre-press. That means that all images, whether shot on film or digital, will have to be brought into the digital domain. Already, some publishers have made the decision to restrict submissions to the digital format since this is where the product will be headed if the image is selected.
The Disadvantages Of Shooting Digitally
Higher initial cost:
There is no denying the fact that digital has a higher initial cost. A flagship film body will usually cost 50 to 75% less than its digital counterpart.
Digital cameras are not equal to film cameras in features:
My Canon EOS 3 has a faster frame rate and better auto-focus than my 20D. While the difference in features between the two is narrowing fast, I would have to give a slight edge to film cameras in this department.
Digital requires greater battery consumption:
A set of batteries in my EOS 3 would last a week compared to two days in my 1D MK II. If you use a camera with a CCD instead of a CMOS sensor (Say a Nikon D100 v. a Canon 20D) you will have only hours of shooting time. This can be a problem on a long field shoot in areas where electricity to recharge batteries is not available.
This is another area that is quickly changing but there are some who still think that digital photography is somehow less valuable than film photography. Reasonable or not, it is a stumbling block for some people.
Poor low-light performance:
Every digital camera I have used performs poorly (when compared to film) in low light. Everything from poor auto focus to noisy images can be a problem with digital photography. There are ways to work around these problems and they are quickly becoming non-issues, but they are real for now and should be considered.
Some markets refuse digital submissions:
Some scientific or nature markets may resist digital for fear of “authenticity” issues. While fewer and fewer of these dinosaurs exist, they are out there and might be a consideration for a few more years until the perception problems mentioned above are solved.
Potential equipment failures:
While film bodies can fail and film can jam, digital brings a whole new set of worries. Will my compact flash card crash? Will my hard drive crash? These problems can be managed but are certainly real and need to be considered by anyone switching to digital.
Digital has a steeper learning curve:
This is probably the biggest disadvantage to most film shooters. If you are not computer-savvy, or if you don’t know Photoshop, then digital will be much less useful to you. Learning color management and workflow issues will overwhelm some people. Not everyone can learn to take advantage of the digital explosion. But there are new tools introduced every month that make the process easier. Within the decade, this problem will be solved.
More frequent obsolescence:
As far as my wife is concerned, this is the biggest disadvantage of digital photography. I bought a Canon D30 in September of 2002 for $2,200. I bought another one three months later for $1,400. That is a price drop of $200 a month! As technology advances, it creates obsolete cameras. In the film world, your old Nikon F1 will still work for almost anything you need or want it to do. Not so with digital cameras. They tend to become obsolete much quicker. As the digital trend continues to grow, this will be less important.
Whether or not you switch to digital photography, digital is and will remain a force in the photo universe. If you are interested in digital, rent or borrow a digital camera to get the feel of it. Spend some time with a friend who shoots digitally and see how they handle their digital workflow. In time, I think that digital photography will be the norm and that film will fall far behind. Whether or not you agree, it only makes sense to investigate digital as an alternative medium. Then you can decide for yourself if it is time to switch.
Article Copyright 2005, Scott Bourne – Photofocus Magazine
About the Author
Scott Bourne is the author of “88 Secrets to Selling & Publishing Your Photography” and “88 Secrets to Photoshop for Photographers.” Both are available from Olympic Mountain School Press, http://www.mountainschoolpress.com His work has also appeared in books, magazines, galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and on posters.
Scott is a professional photographer, author, teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding, magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is wildlife photography.
Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and media-related subjects. He’s appeared on national television and radio programs and has written columns for several national magazines. He is the publisher of Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious photographers and also serves as the executive director of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig Harbor, WA.
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