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  • Writer's pictureSierrah Hankins

Film vs Digital - What's the Difference?

Both film and digital photographs offer something unique. It can be hard to explain the exact differences because both film and digital images can be altered to the artist's desired look - but I'm going to explain the key differences in my own personal photography. If you're a client, this will help you determine which service to book with me. If you're here because you want to get started in photography, (or wanting to explore different aesthetics if you're already a photographer), I hope this article helps give some direction!

The Technical Differences

Without getting into a bunch of technical jargon for the purpose of this post, film photography is typically taken on medium format or 35mm film cameras. It's old school, where you insert your film rolls into the camera and get them developed when you've exposed the entire roll. Digital is obviously modern era, taken on any variety of digital cameras. My personal preference is Mirrorless (I shoot with a Sony a7iii currently). This is really over simplifying it, so I may go into a more technical post later on to those who really want to know where to get started if you're diving into photography.


The Aesthetic Differences

Aesthetics - how do they look different? I've heard it be said that "film captures emotion and digital captures data." This is typically the view taken by film photographers because there's something so intangible about the way film captures life. If you're a film photographer, you'll understand me. If you're a diehard digital photographer, you might get irritated and think digital photography can capture emotion just as well. In my opinion, it really comes down to the grain in the images.

Film photography has such a beautiful texture because of the grain it offers. Depending on how you shoot and what film rolls you use, you can get more or less grain for your desired look. Mistakes can also be really beautiful in film photography. Blurry subjects, light leaks, grain density all add to the nostalgia and feel of film photos.

For my personal photography, I use film to shoot travel, fashion & branding, lifestyle, portraits, and couples.

Developing makes a HUGE difference in how your film photos turn out. I spend the extra money in the beginning on film stock that gives me my desired look, and then again at the end in the developing process. I can choose color preferences, density, scanner types, and I have options of "pushing and pulling." I may go into this further as well on another post - and possibly even start a course for this in the future - but if you're wanting to get started in film photography, don't hesitate to reach out to me with questions.


Digital photography offers really detailed, high resolution images that are sharp and quick to capture. Of course, each digital camera offers different capabilities in this, but this is a general rule. If you're shooting in manual, (which you should be if you aren't already), you get to adjust the look of your photo SOOC (straight out of camera). However, most of the aesthetic look comes in post processing - editing the photos in Lightroom or Photoshop.

I use Lightroom for almost all of my editing, but I'll switch to Photoshop every now and then for really specific things. There's a countless number of ways to adjust your photos in Lightroom, and I focus on trying to get my digital images to look authentic and filmy. I edit to make colors look true to life and I add grain to make them feel more textured. As far as exposure goes, I don't really consider myself a "light and airy" artist, or a "dark and moody" artist. I expose for each photo and what I think looks best with the quality of light already in the photo.

Digital is great for capturing lots of images in a short amount of time. Because of this, I use digital exclusively for weddings & family shoots. I will also use digital for couples and portraits, but I will not use film for weddings or family shoots. Digital offers much more security in making sure you got the image - you can check your image as soon as you take it on your camera screen. And I can snap lots of images in short bursts when I'm working with squirmy kiddos. Whereas with film, each image is more thought out and I take more time with each photo. Also, you don't get to see your images for days, maybe even weeks, depending on how you're developing.


To compact this into a more digestible list, here's the main differences between film & digital in my personal photography:

  • Film offers nostalgic, emotional photos with beautiful, grainy texture

  • The photographer gets to determine aesthetic quality of film in the film stock choice and developing process

  • I use film for travel, fashion & branding, lifestyle, portraits, and couples shoots

  • Digital offers highly detailed, crisp images

  • Digital images are edited to the photographer's desired look in post processing

  • I use digital for weddings, families, portraits, and couples

The two photoshoots below of Jordan and Kayley were shot with a mix of digital and film - can you tell which photos were shot on which camera?

This is a grossly over-simplified article, but I've been asked several times what the differences are and it's hard to really summarize it in a few short sentences. So I hope this helps you make a decision if you're wanting to book with me - or if you're a photographer wanting to dive into the film or digital worlds!

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