Digital photography has seen rapid growth since its introduction and has largely replaced film photography in the mainstream consumer market. The number of available brand new film cameras has declined significantly, although some are still available from the more popular camera manufacturers. The availability of developing and printing outlets, once commonplace on the high street, has declined in parallel with the decline in camera and film manufacture.
A film camera is one in which a section of photographic film is exposed to light via a lens which focuses the scene in front of the camera onto the film surface, or the film plane. The film is later developed with photographic chemicals, yielding either a transparency (a positive), which shows the scene in its original colours, or a negative, with the colour scheme reversed. Transparencies can be viewed directly with projectors or viewers, and negatives are normally printed onto photographic paper, although they can be scanned electronically into digital files while rendering them into a positive image with the correct colours.
A wide variety of film formats have been available since the adoption of film photography by the mainstream consumer market. Sheet film, medium format roll film, and 35mm are the most popular of the formats still in use. Many others have been discontinued from manufacture although some may remain in stock at specialist retailers. Generally speaking, the larger the film size, the better the quality
Discontinued Film Formats
A number of film formats reached the mainstream consumer market over the years, but have since been discontinued or are in decline. The most recent of these was APS, an enhancement of the 35mm format, which offered various automated features by means of DX coding on the film cassette. Cartridge-based formats, where the takeup and feed spools as well the film exposure area were all contained in a plastic cartridge, were aimed at the amateur market due to their appeal with regard to ease of loading. Kodak's disc format allowed cameras to be made small and flat, with some models barely larger than the film disc itself. All of these have now obsolete or semi-obsolete.
A digital camera uses an electronic photodetector, or image sensor, to record the scene in front of the camera by focusing it with a lens onto the sensor. The sensor records electronically the elements of the image, and the camera stores this as digital data, either in the camera's internal memory, or on a removable memory card. The resultant image data, as individual files for each picture, can be stored, transmitted, viewed, or published. Typically, the photographer transfers the image files from camera or card to a personal computer, wherein they are stored on the computer's hard drives or on external storage media.
Benefits of Using Film Cameras
Although film cameras are disappearing from the new market, with some makers having abandoned production altogether and developing and printing materials seem destined to become rarer and rarer, current opinion holds that film photography has a number of qualitative advantages over digital.
Digital image sensors are built from a grid of picture elements, or pixels. The resolution of a given image sensor is broadly stated by the number of millions of pixels on the sensor, each million being expressed as a megapixel. In this way, a sensor with 12 megapixel resolution offers better quality than a 6 megapixel. Since the pixels are commonly arranged in a rectangular grid pattern, examination of fine detail can reveal a ragged pattern to edge detail, and digital sensors can be susceptible to distortion by moire effects where the subject has a regular pattern itself.
Film media, on the other hand, is unaffected by issues of regular pixels or other elements as the grain effects caused by the film's makeup are randomised. To many users, this gives a far more pleasing edge effect when photographs are enlarged.
The size of the digital image sensor is also a limiting factor, and many mainstream digital cameras are fitted with sensors smaller than a standard 35mm film frame, which in itself is the smallest of the current film formats. This can lead to issues with light sensitivity, pixel noise, and the need for greater enlargement relative to the original image size at later stages. A limited number of digital cameras are fitted with full frame sensors matching the standard 35mm frame size of 24x36mm, and these are generally aimed at the professional user.
Film media are available in a number of sizes, from 135 or 35mm film, through medium format, 120 or 220, and on to large format sheet film, which is available in sizes of 4x6 inches and above. Even the smallest of these, at 24x36mm, is larger than the mainstream digital image sensors.
Estimates have been made which express the resolution of film photographs in terms comparable to digital, and while these vary, and while the final resolution can be affected by the film speed and formulation of developer chemicals used, a conservative average might be somewhere between 12 and 16 megapixels for 35mm. As the size of the film format increases, the size of the grain in the film becomes smaller in proportion to the frame size, and resolution improves. Medium format films are estimated at around 50 megapixels, and large formats of 4x6 inches and 10x8 inches are estimated at 200 and 800 megapixels respectively.
In compact cameras, the sensors are commonly far smaller than the comparable 24x36mm frame of a standard compact 35mm camera. In this market sector, this yields considerable advantage to film cameras.
Film Plane Contamination
Dust and dirt can be problematic at all stages of film photography, but film cameras benefit over digital in that, as film is advanced through the camera, dust or contaminants on the film plane will tend to move with the film, leaving the next exposure unaffected. With a digital camera, the image sensor is fixed in place, and unless the camera is fitted with a dust-reduction system which either vibrates or knocks the sensor, dust will remain in place and affect subsequent exposures.
Negatives have long been accepted as evidence of the authenticity of an image. While a print can be retouched, an original negative or transparency can only contain the image recorded via the camera at the time of exposure.
With the growth of digital photography has come the growth of image modification programs. While they have their uses for improvement of photographs, they also have the scope for falsification of images.
Storage, Safety Copies, and Ongoing Costs
Once a single film exposure or set of exposures on a film has been made, little needs to be done in terms of storage but to provide a filing system appropriate to the film size. Any accidents in handling of transparencies or negatives usually have limited effect, perhaps damaging one frame or a set of frames. Digital technology generally, and in terms of storage of images as individual files, is changing on an on-going basis. Incompatibility issues between various PC components like operating systems, motherboards, and data drives conspire to render older drives unusable with newer systems, and the photographer then has to copy all photo data from one drive or PC to another. This is forced upon them by changes in technology not related to photography directly but rather to storage media and to advancements in personal computer technology. The process of copying photos due to personal computer upgrades also takes no account of the making of backup copies of the digital photos. Failure of a single drive in a personal computer can cause the loss of all image data on the drive, not just isolated frames, and hence, the photographer should aim to make duplicate copies of at least essential photographs, if not every last one. This in turn leads to the purchase of multiple drives and other storage media and ongoing expense.
Finding Film and Digital Cameras on eBay
From the eBay homepage, select Buy and Browse Categories. From the category list, select Cameras & Photography. Digital Cameras can be selected directly from the category list on the left hand side, but finding Film Cameras requires selection of All Categories, then Film Cameras from the pop-up category list. They can then be refined by the film format, such as 35mm or 6x7, or by the camera type, such as SLR or TLR.
Although the growth of digital photography seems certain to render film photography obsolete or semi-obsolete at some stage, professionals and keen amateurs still recognise that film photography has many advantages and can often yield more appealing results than digital.