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Digital or film?

Until recently, traditional advice would be to go for film if you want quality or digital if you want convenience. Massive improvements in technology over recent years has caused a rethink.

Professional magazines have conducted technical and visual tests and now usually come out in favour of digital. The fact that most professional sports and magazine photographers now use digital is probably proof enough that pound for pound, the quality of digital at least matches or passes that of film.


Jargon buster

Pixel stands for 'picture element', one tiny square of detail in the picture. Imagine a photo broken into squares. Each square is one colour, one brightness. A photo broken into just a few squares would be very blobby. The more squares, the smaller each square and the greater the detail. A megapixel is 1,000,000 pixels. A 3 megapixel camera breaks the picture down into 3 million bits of detail.

In practice the pixels are not necessarily square, and there are other considerations such as the quality of the lens and the way the image is recorded. Nevertheless, as an overall principal, and all else being equal, the more pixels the more detail.


If you buy a film camera, the cost of film and processing (depending on the quality) will probably amount to about £1 for every 6 photos - and you pay whether the photo is good or bad. With digital, once you have the equipment, taking the photos is free other than such things as battery costs and wear and tear. You only pay for the pictures that you want to print. Printing costs are usually cheaper than film, because you don't have to pay to process the negative, just to print the photo.

If you use film you will probably be careful about how many pictures you take, because each one costs. Some professionals would say this is a good thing because it makes you think about the picture, the composition and so on rather than just snapping away. On the other hand with digital, you can take the extra picture or two, take the shot from different angles and at different camera settings, because each shot is free at the point of taking. Then decide which one to keep when you have the final photos to choose between.

Digital photos are also easier to adjust after you have taken them. With film, changing the colour balance, brightness etc is difficult and expensive. With digital images, software is readily available that allows you to change those and other things, and to improve or even rescue shots. You don't necessarily need any equipment. Machines that take your memory card, allow you to make adjustments and then print the improve result are appearing in shops all over the place and in most cases there is an assistant to help you if necessary.

Buying a cheap low resolution digital camera is not a good idea unless you only want very small prints. Some compact film cameras are very cheap indeed and so if budget is limited this may be the only realistic choice. Remember, though that what you save on buying a film camera you may soon spend on buying and processing film.

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