Fact or Fiction: Digital is Cheaper than Film


When I tell people I still shoot film they often ask ‘Isn’t that expensive?’ They assume that digital is cheaper because there is no subsequent cost of buying and developing film. But what people forget is the depreciation in the cost of their digital photographic equipment and the sheer quality of film.

I bought several digital cameras in the early 2000s that are totally obsolete now – I have a better digital camera on my phone! They are totally useless now. I couldn’t even sell them on eBay.

The last digital camera I purchased was a Sony SLR – which I bought for £280 (US$450 / EUR336) in 2008 for a trip to Nepal. I took about 500 photos with it on that trip and have used it infrequently since. That’s 56p per photo. Compare that to the last film camera I bought for a trip to the USA last month. The camera was a Pentax ME Super with a 50mm prime. I also picked up a zoom lens for it. All for £30 (US$50 / EUR37).

Pentax ME Super

On the USA trip I shot three rolls of black-and-white film and two rolls of Kodak Ektacolor 100ISO. The film cost me about £30 (US$50/EUR37) and the developing £15 (US$25/EUR19). So that’s £75 (US$120/EUR92) for 252 photos including all kit, film, and development – 30p per photo. That’s almost half the cost of digital!

Pentax ME Super

What’s more, the quality of film is far superior to digital. A medium format film image can record an equivalent of approximately 50 megapixels.

How much does a 50 megapixel camera cost? Significantly more than a Diana F+, I bet!

Medium Format: Bronica ETRS and Holga

Clearly, most people would shoot more than 500 photos on their digital camera. But what digital camera bought today will still be considered good quality will still be working in 30 years time? My guess – very few.

Of course, I can see the benefits of digital. I will continue to take the occasional photo using my phone camera. But I don’t want to give up the excitement of shooting film. For me I still consider it giving great value for money. It provides wonderful results and I love being able to call myself a lomographer.

written by bsmart on 2012-05-31 in #lifestyle #digital #value #cost #film #expensive #compared #cheap #developing


  1. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    I returned to analog photography after two years of digital. Digital images are flat, and lack of plasticity

  2. mikeydavies
    mikeydavies ·

    i like the idea of if i bought a nikon d40 for instance, easy enough go to jessops or currys and buy one and someone else bought one too, if we took a pic on full auto (im not a photographer, i'll probs just use it anyway, doesnt it just figure out the best results anyway?) and if they took a pic of the same thing, it will look exactly the same, of course there is editing, but these things take time, you'll never get bored of the unpredictability of film and that feeling of buying a camera that takes the craziest pics and you dont even know it! the future is analogue!

  3. coolsigg
    coolsigg ·

    a well written article! my D700 had depreciated by about 1000GBP from 2009 to 2012. my lomo cams? hardly any depreciation! :) LOMO on!

  4. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    I liked this article so much! BEAUTIFUL PICTURES!

  5. bsmart
    bsmart ·

    Thanks all @superlighter @coolsigg @mikeydavies @sirio174

  6. hakimbo05
    hakimbo05 ·

    Awesome Article!!!!

  7. chib3h
    chib3h ·

    :) I've been thinking about how to explain this issue to my friends and family for some time now... Now I'll just let them read your article..

  8. antibiotyx
    antibiotyx ·

    film photography = priceless!

  9. ashton1961
    ashton1961 ·

    Nicely done article!

  10. bsmart
    bsmart ·

    A flurry of activity on this article over the last few hours. Wonder why! @chib3h @ashton1961

  11. chib3h
    chib3h ·

    @bsmart Its probably cause lomography tweeted it on their account... :D haha

  12. joaomiguelsantoscunha
    joaomiguelsantoscunha ·

    I really, honestly, don't agree with you. Digital is cheaper, when you really do buy a good digital camera you get the money back quite quick. You don't pay films or development, and these are the main issues here! I can take 500 photographs in one day with my digital, but not with analogue. it would be too expensive. It's true it won't last forever, but neither will a analogue camera. It always depends on the quality you buy, a better camera will last longer, supposedly! I have a digital camera for 7 years now and she still works amazingly well, because back then I made a big investment in this camera. I haven't bought memory cards since then. So I did make the investment once and that was it! Of course, analogue is more fun! the waiting and wishing, the cries of joy when you get amazing results. But don't say it's cheaper, because it isn't! It's a very nice hobby, but still an expensive one. I'm not saying too expensive, but certainly more expensive then digital.

  13. bernizt
    bernizt ·

    I'm sorry but I agree with I have to agree with joaomiguelsantoscunha's comment. Analog is more expensive than digital. The comparison of digital cost vs analog cost can only be done if you compare the same amount of pictures taken with both mediums. It's true that the cost of the equipment makes a big initial difference (although there are both really expensive and really cheap digital and film cameras) but on the long term, if you use both digital and analog cameras, digital would always win in terms of price.
    I'm also an analog lover and I certainly get a lot of satisfaction from film, but price is not one of the reasons.

  14. deepfried_goodness
    deepfried_goodness ·

    Both digital and film have their places. I use both regularly, though film is now only as a hobby while professionally it's just digital. The cost for both how much you're shooting, and what camera you're shooting with can vary widely. A $60 Lomography Fisheye and a few rolls of film is a fraction of the price of a good DSLR and a good 8mm fisheye lens. However, a good 10.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera is a fraction of the price of a medium format Mamiya with a dedicated fisheye lens. And while the point-and-shoot will depreciate quite fast, you'll also probably get a few thousand pictures out your initial $100 investment before the electrics wear out. Whereas a few thousand pictures of medium format is the price of a small car or a down payment for a house.

    I also briefly mentioned electrics wearing out. My current favorite camera to shoot with is a medium format Minolta Autocord from the mid 60s. I'm pretty sure it will still be working when my Canon DSLR has long been sent to electronics heaven. So there is also that aspect of cost to factor in.

    Having said that, very few of us have gotten into this for the cost. It's for the love of photography and everything that entails.

  15. brandkow93
    brandkow93 ·

    I shoot nearly exclusively film and my dslr is saved for ebay photo graphs, though i have to disagree with you, digital is cheaper, my 40D cost me £300 and has a minimum shutter life of 100,000 images so 300/100,000=0.003p a photograph, also you say medum format is 50 megapixels, yes that is true but with a plastic diana lens in front of it its not gonna look like it at all, with a hasselblad? yes. Also a diana or holga will never produce superior image quality to a dslr but it will produce a much wider dynamic range, have nice colours and tones. Both Digital and Film have there place in photography, and i dont know why some lomographers just bash digital for no reason. Like i said i shoot nearly exclusively film but i can appriecate digital photography and photographs.

    Also i completely agree with you when you say will " what digital camera bought today will still be considered good quality will still be working in 30 years time? My guess – very few." my geuss is non, my 40D is already obsolete and its only 4 years old, we live in a time of consumerism where companies bring out new products all the time, making the old one untrendy and seem low tech, whereas my trusty kiev 4 will never be obsolete.

  16. brandkow93
    brandkow93 ·

    Also one more thing, "film is unpredictable" is an incorrect statement, film its self is very consistant and isnt unpredictable, expired film does get a little unpredictable but the images from an the same expired roll will all look similar, Its the plastic lenses on many lomo cameras that make it unpredictable.

  17. savi0325
    savi0325 ·

    I too have found myself coming back to 35mm. I've been using digital for years, but then i started to see that it wasn't as fun as 35mm used to be. You didn't really put that much work into setting up the shot or enhancing your 'EYE' becasue you knew you could snap endless pics and get instant gratification. As soon as i purchased my lomo's, my love for film was brought back to life. Now i look at places with a new appreciation for them and love carrying around my cameras for those great shots. Digital is def a great quality product, but i think it speaks alot about the love for analoge when you have sites like instagram that take your digital stills and 'edit' them to look like 35mm shots. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery!

  18. freelancer
    freelancer ·

    Film is cheaper then digital? I don´t think so. Like brandkow93 said, about 100,000 images for the most dslrs. I don´t know about p&s digitals, because they have electronic shutters. But, lets be honest, it´s much more cheaper then film.
    For economical and of course for your bread&butter- professional purpose, you definitely go digital! No doubt! Thats how the world is moving right now. Go with the flow.
    BUT for ART - you go analog. For expressing yourself, for giving your images a soul - you go analog. For creating something that almost lasts forever - you go analog.
    Something that is and will always be used in governmental archives: MICROFILMS. You just need a magnifying glass and whatever lightsource you have at hand to read it! Also in a thousands of years. When all the digital memories faded away centuries before.
    A contemporary german photographer, named Jim Rakete, once said: "Film freezes the time, digital accelerates it."

    A lot of people have forgotten about analog photography, like they´ve forgotten about record/vinyl, nowadays. For example my father. He grew up with both of it and lived with it for about 50 years. But today he cannot handle my old filmcameras anymore!!! But he´s a pro with digital stuff!! Sounds kind of weird. Don´t you think? But when I show him some analog pictures I´ve taken, he loves the look of them. But cannot say why he prefers them over the digital ones.
    And that´s the good thing about it: As soon as people have "tasted" it again! They absolutely instantly fall back in love with it!!!
    Consciously or unconsciously - most people prefer analog photos because the photos are analog just like them.
    We humans are analog. Humans are not ON/OFF, black and white or 1 and 0 binarycodecs - they are analog. Different shades of grey. Like a good analog b/w-image! Even analog noise (grain) sounds better than digital clipping (noise). We are analog humans stucked in a digital world.
    Film is most beautiful, warmer, charming and cosier. But it is absolutely not cheaper!!!
    It´s worth it! Like a good wine.
    I hope my words make any sense to you.

  19. ariannapaloma
    ariannapaloma ·

    beautiful pictures and nice idea for the article!

  20. bsmart
    bsmart ·

    Thanks for taking the time to comments guys. Looks like I've started a bit of a debate here. All interesting, relevant points raised.

  21. carinaryca
    carinaryca ·

    I love this article and the pictures =) .
    Digital photography is good for photo manipulation, and you can always delete photos you dont like, I wont lie, I love digital. I just don't agree that film is cheaper, on a long term you will spend alot more money on film, development and scan than you would on a single digital camera, you can always buy a memory card with more storage space. The diference is that film is still awsome and it's worth the money, even if it's not that cheap, but that's just my opinion.

  22. foodeanz
    foodeanz ·

    Enjoy the magical and the beautiful moment of film while u can....Nice article...=)

  23. foodeanz
    foodeanz ·

    I agree with @savi0325...i'm not talking about whose cheap and whose not...just enjoy film format while it still exist in this world and share it with your family, child, friends and change their perceptions on analog cameras.Nowadays, people started to forget about the existing of analog cameras (35mm/medium format/110 format) and of course Polaroid camera (instant camera). Kids nowadays don't even know how to use analog camera.

  24. sapphire-st
    sapphire-st ·

    I enjoy both digital (hi+lo fi) and analog (films+instants). If I need to compare both according to expenses, I'd say digital cost less, but not cheaper. All the same to analog, it cost more, but not too expensive as some may think :)

  25. polarhei
    polarhei ·

    well, there are lots of things to consider, if you have the skill, then film (negatives) is really good and doing more things than digital.

    If you take some shots sometimes,film is still applicable. I now have to consider about this, but film is not in volume, in quality.

  26. buckshot
    buckshot ·

    @bsmart: Good article- well done for provoking this argument! @freelancer: Love your comment "We humans are analogue!" Too right!

  27. schemerel
    schemerel ·

    I guess it's kind of like making your own clothes. It's probably cheaper when you buy a dress at H&M, but nothing compares to carefully choosing your fabric and buttons, and putting in the work yourself and then proudly wearing your own creation. It's got more soul, you actually feel connected with your product. I hear a lot of people saying that because of the economy you should make your own things, when in fact its more expensive to do so, but I think that people (unconsiously?) aren't looking for a cheaper solution, but for a more personal solution. Because of massproduction things lose their value, and people feel like numbers. Thats why we love to slow things down and reconnect with ourselves, our possesions and the world itself. - at least, thats how I think about it.

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