Chemical Vs Digital Cameras

"Momma, don't take my Kodachrome away!" -- PaulSimon?

As of 30 December 2010, the last place on earth that processed Kodachrome completed its last roll and shut down the line. This after Kodak ended production of the film 22 June 2009. If you have any exposed bu unprocessed Kodachrome on hand, you officially have zombie film.
While claiming that *all* chemical photography is obsolete is silly, the long term (thing 10 years) prospects of 35mm are not good.
[moved here from ZombieTechnologies]

Cameras - "Chemical" VS Digital [Although the actual term should be "film" camera <ahem>] Really? Where can I buy a $100 (US) digital camera with the resolution of 35mm film?

Where can I buy a $100 (US) digital camera with the resolution of 35mm film? Vinyl is obsoleted by CDs because CDs are universally available for essentially the same price. If it costs me $2000 for a hi-res digital camera, but $100 for the same res chemical camera, the chemical one is not obsolete.

There's another issue that comes up. The digital camera from 3 years ago is inferior to the digital camera of today available at the same price. Too bad that means you have to replace the entire camera. Back in the 80s, Kodak came up with a new emulsion technology they branded T-MAX. Instantly, any camera ever made that used 35mm, 4x5, or 120/220 film got an upgrade. One digital camera where the back with CCD is a separate piece that can be changed out is the Hasselblad. Try pricing that one.

Also, what's available in digital cameras with interchangeable lenses? Hundreds of new and used film cameras available at all price ranges but the very cheapest have lenses you can change. Lens technology improvements + film improvements mean that a camera made in the 50s -- or even earlier -- can perform as well as a newly-minted model fresh off the assembly line.

More disposable technology. --StevenNewton
Total Cost Of Ownership

OversimplificationAlert?! Digital cameras are not generally more expensive than chemical cameras. Their purpose is to take pictures with them, and producing a picture the chemical way can be (and generally is) much more expensive. You have to consider these costs, and then the cost ratio is a function of how many pictures you'll take over the life-span of the camera.

This has already been beaten to death on I have a 2.1 megapixel digital, and several reasonable 35mm cameras. The digital cost $450 a year ago, plus probably the same amount again for more memory, accessories, CD-burner, blank CDs, high quality printer paper, colour printer etc. However, I have taken over 1000 digital pictures since then, and maybe shot one roll of 35mm. For me, 35mm is obsolete. Your mileage may vary on this one of course, but digital camera resolution is getting better, and prices are going down, and neither of these are happening for 35mm. In the sciences, digital imaging, especially due to the linear response to signal, made chemical film a niche use item several years ago. -- AndyPierce

Update on digital camera technology (Dec 2002): Foveon's X3 digital sensor provides resolution equal to or surpassing 35mm film. Initial consumer camera will be the Sigma D-SLR for around $3000. See -- AndyPierce

[Update on digital SLR prices: Canon has begun a national TV ad campaign in the USA to sell the EOS Digital Rebel SLR (6.3 megapixel) with a medium zoom for just under $1000. Yowza! My next camera.]

With my chemical reflex cam, I use up two 36 shot rolls for one 'good' picture I'd like to keep, on average. I have to have them all developed so I can find a good one. Often others are also usable, but need digital correction. I have to scan them, manipulate them, and print them out again. With my digital cam, I take many more shots, because shooting costs essentially nothing, and I also keep more in my archive, because archiving and retrieving is much more convenient and also costs essentially nothing. As a result, I end up with more 'good' pictures. Most of them stay in the digital domain anyway, but when I do need a hardcopy, that's no problem either. True, inkjetting is expensive, but shops who develop on real photo paper from digital media are becoming ubiquitous and prices are getting ever lower. I still sometimes use different chemical cams, because the results look different. -- NeKs

One individual, or one industry, migrating from one technology to another does not make for obsolescence. As a chemical analog photographer and a programmer, let me give a counter example. I installed Linux on my home machine in 1998. The last time I used a version of Microsoft Windows at home was to run a US income tax preparation program in early 2000, but otherwise I have done all my work in 3 years in Linux. In February of 2001, I put together a new top-end computer from components and installed Linux - the machine never had a Microsoft Operating system. In Open Source development, Linux is the primary development platform. Yet whatever your personal biases may be, it would be absurd for anyone to assert that this makes Microsoft operating systems obsolete zombie technology. -- StevenNewton

Heh. The comments above tickle me. I'm a chemical photographer, I work mostly with medium and large format. How soon until I can buy a digital camera that can capture the amount of image information that my 4X5 loaded with ASA50 can for the $400 that it cost me? By the way, silver-halide negatives and prints (the kind I mostly do) aren't analogue, really. Dye based media kind of are, but a silver grain is black or it isn't. On the other hand, all the image processing is done with analogue computers.

That argument is invalid. The world is made out of atoms, each of which can be in only a discrete, not continuous, quantum state (skipping issues of quantum superposition, or if you prefer, after measurement collapses the wavefunction). Your argument would equally well lead to the conclusion that digital computers are actually analog computers.

No, the correct conclusion is that macroscopic analog and digital phenomenon are a matter of the macroscopic states exhibited, not of the systems they are reducible to.

In other words, silver-halide film is indeed analog, not digital; it captures what appears to be a continuous scale of grey tones. Furthermore there are no digital artifacts such as Mach banding. So long as you're using it in the linear portion of its S-curve response, of course. -- DougMerritt

What about film grain? There are limits to the resolution one can achieve with any medium, and film's limits are hit much sooner than solid state sensors as soon as you get out of the nominal light exposure curve.

The other thing to consider is camera quality. Sure, film has higher resolution than digital, but the optics of most consumer cameras aren't good enough to take advantage of that. I find that my 5-megapixel Nikon digital takes better pictures than my 35mm Yashica or my 24mm (APS) Canon Elph, both of which are quality cameras. -- StefanVorkoetter

blurring is bad you're wrong no, you're wrong

Any photography is a balance of the science and art that IS photography, both in nature, physical limitations and expression. While some photographers choose to use their cameras for artistic purposes(for its emotive and expressive capabilities), others still use photography as a recording or timeline tool. Which ever way you view this, be aware that others may not use photography in the same way as you do. Below is an example of two people who have different expectations on what photography should be used for and the nature in which they should be taken.

One significant difference is that depth of field is very different between digital and chemical cameras. (At least, for most "affordable" ones.) Basically, for a given aperture setting, things will be in focus over a _much_ wider range of distances with a digital camera. In some respects this is good - it's easier to get your whole picture in focus, and you can work with wider apertures (i.e. let light into the camera "faster") with a digital camera. But in some respects it's bad - with a digital camera it is very hard to deliberately get some of the image, e.g. the background, out of focus. Of course, the way a digital photographer would blur part of an image (or do numerous other special effects) is to take a clean picture, and perform the special effect in Photoshop. Not really. Blurring done in PS doesn't look the same as the kind of blurring you get from a good lens. Things farther away are blurrier than close objects when done in-camera. You might be able to do this in PS, but why bother when it's easy to take the picture in it desired form? Conversely, if you want it all sharp, use a smaller aperture. The point is, a good camera gives you control over the picture, instead of making everything sharp whether that's what you want or not.

From here it is hard to adjudicate a meaningful conversation that is relevant to the topic. I thing making another (OffTopic) page and transferring it there would help... or just delete the whole argument. Its Semi Flameful anyway. -- SusanRoy

This is a symptom of the size of the image sensors that are currently used in most digital cameras. See

Other differences between film and digital cameras

Another difference applies when you have a wide range of brighnesses in your image. From what I've read (I don't have much film camera experience) it is best to expose analog photos "correctly" for the darker parts of the image, and then tone down the brighter sections in development if necessary. With digital, you must do the opposite, because otherwise the bright bits will end up 100% white and there'll be nothing you can do to salvage them in Photoshop. -- JohnRusk

what about motion picture cameras?

On a related note, how long before film-based motion picture cameras are replaced with digital camcorders? In the world of television - the conversion is happening already as more and more high-value content is shot with digital TV cameras (HDTV in particular) and less with film. (Many programs intended only for television broadcast, and not cinema distribution, are nonetheless shot in film - or at least have been until recently). AttackOfTheClones was shot digitally - though many are of the opinion that it still was a waste of celluloid. :) [I thought very little television was done with film.. isn't most television done with videotape today? ] For quite a while, many prime-time shows have been shot in film and then transferred to tape for air; film cameras have long been of higher quality than video cameras (digital or analog). For direct-to-air stuff like news or sports, video cameras are of course required; but for stuff which is produced well ahead of being broadcast film is still commonly used.

Motion-picture film is expensive, and so are prints of film-based motion pictures. Digital storage is cheap - the only thing expensive nowadays are HD cameras, and those will surely come down in price. The remaining issue is the fidelity of digital imaging technology vs film - film still has many advantages, both in resolution and color depth. But as with still cameras, this gap is narrowing every year.


In a sure SignOfTheApocolypse?, Kodak recently announced that they would no longer manufacture 35mm non-disposable film cameras for the UnitedStates consumer market.

Yes, but, Kodak's stock has been in the toilet for a long time now and their management's track record of bad business decisions does not inspire much confidence that this new decision is correct either. :/


I'm a big fan of DigitalCameras because I'm lazy and cheap.

However, I recently took a photo (analog) from an old album and scanned it, blew it up about 8x, and extracted details that I'd never been able to see before.

When I tried that same stunt with a digital photo, I had significant data loss at the same mag.

How was the digital photo produced - i.e. what did you print it on? (And what camera was it shot on, and what was done to it in the digital domain?) A professionally developed photograph (digital or analog) will be of quite a bit higher quality than something printed off on a $200 Epson, after all...

I have a better DigitalCamera now, but It concerns me a bit that Kodak (and presumably others) are looking to lose this (film) technology. When detail and speed counts, the same performance in digital costs a whale of a lot more.

-- GarryHamilton


I have found a digital camera that's now the object of my TechnoLust. Canon makes a 6-megapixel unit which sells for around $1,000. One of the guys with whom I work bought one, and took up-close-and-personal shots of the recent forest fire here in Northern (Western) Nevada (Carson City) and the antics of planes and helicopters fighting it.

The shutter speed is good enough that it froze 'copter rotors in rotation and isolated the rotating blades on a small firefighting planes. Awesome camera. Hell, by next year or the year after, I might even be able to afford one!

Oh, and the Canon 35mm that my daughter wants - the $500 unit - has been reduced to $200. There may be a pattern here.

This page is a heavy RefactoringCandidate. Eh?
Update Feb 2006: From the NewYorkTimes: (

As of April 14, 2006, my strong objections to chemical photography as a zombie technology have evaporated. While there's still room for artistic and special interest uses of film and paper, it's clear that the industry is seeing a dramatic change. I now feel like the cabinetmaker who practices the craft with hand tools - admirably skillful and fully capable of producing something of use and value, but genuinely practicing an archaic form. -- StevenNewton

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