beginner's question on digital vs film SLRs

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by michael, Apr 24, 2006.

  1. michael

    michael Guest

    I'm planning to take some photography classes in the fall at my local
    community college and i've been having trouble deciding whether to
    start with a film or digital SLR camera. the only real appeal i see
    with digital is that any mistakes i make while learning won't cost me
    in film. a friend has offered to sell me his old film camera with all
    the lenses for $200. it's in excellent condition (unfortunately i
    forget the brand) and it sounds like a good deal judging by the lens
    prices i've researched. however, it is an older camera (from the 80's).
    i don't know how relevant dates are with film cameras, though i'm sure
    there have been some advances in 20 years. i do want to learn film
    photography, though mainly because the idea of developing my own photos
    holds some personal appeal.

    anyway - any suggestions?

    michael, Apr 24, 2006
    1. Advertisements

  2. michael

    ian lincoln Guest

    What brand is this film camera? All that glass may be compatible with
    DSLRS. As for developing your own photos you will need at least a tank,
    measuring equipment, chemicals. then either a quality scanner or enlarger
    and a darkroom. Oh yeah and paper. Ok at college but quite inconvenient at
    home. Still if already second hand you won't lose so much money later.
    What you will miss is the feedback. On a dslr all the camera settings are
    recorded. Not only can you see what picture came out you can see what you
    did right and what you did wrong. If the camera and equipment isn't auto
    focus you won't be able to transfer your experience to digital as easily.
    Best give all the equipment details so you can be better advised. No good
    getting ahwole lot of lenses if there are only one or two good ones in the
    ian lincoln, Apr 24, 2006
    1. Advertisements

  3. In my opinion film is, for all (ok ok, most) intents-and-purposes, dead.

    In a learning environment we learn by doing something - evaluating the
    response (feedback) - adjusting what we're doing - and repeat until we get
    the results we want. To do this in a digital environment is easy - no need
    to remember what shutter speed you used - or what F-Stop - or whether or not
    you dialed in an exposure or flash compensation (etc) because it's all saved
    in the Exif data along with the image, and additionally you can review your
    results instantly. Using film by comparison you'd have to take many detailed
    and time-consuming notes - send off the film to be developed - and then
    review the results. If they're not what you were after, the opportunity to
    redo them could well have long since passed.

    I think you need to be careful you don't fall for the "self-fulfilling
    prophecy" trap. I used to teach scuba diving - people learn to dive for
    pleasure - the two biggest things that add to that are a warm wetsuit, and a
    mask that doesn't leak - but people wouldn't want to spend hundreds of
    dollars on buying a quality suit and mask in case they didn't like it - so
    they get a cheap worn-out suit and a leaky mask - find that they're
    miserable in the water because of it - then go away thinking "scuba diving
    sucks - I'm glad I didn't spend hundreds of dollars on new equipment". Same
    with photography - the bottom line is that a good-entry level camera and
    lens is going to cost a lot more than $200, but the results are worth it.

    You get what you pay for.
    Pete Mitchell, Apr 24, 2006
  4. Perhaps for someone wanting to learn photography, the DSLR is not the best
    choice, if they only have a limited amount to spend? Better to spend US
    $200 - $300 on a really good non-SLR camera with full manual controls,
    without the expense of extra lenses, flashguns etc. Yes, it would be
    important to appreciate the limitations of such kit, but learning to work
    round the limitations may be a good experience.

    The OP would find computer processing as satisfying as darkroom processing
    with chemicals and, particularly for colour, easier to achieve consistent
    results. I would certainly not recommend spending $200 on film kit today.

    David J Taylor, Apr 24, 2006
  5. I suspect that for $200 you could have a lot of fun with a film camera - and
    still learn a lot, but at the end of the day it'll be much slower learning
    than with a D-SLR, and ultimately (I suspect) $200 he'll have to write-off
    at some point.

    So if the educational value is worth $200, and he is a long way from being
    able to afford something like a Canon 350D, then I'd say go for it - but
    it'll be $200 that he'll have to replace at a later stage when he makes the
    inevitable jump to digital.
    Pete Mitchell, Apr 24, 2006
  6. michael

    Jon B Guest

    David J Taylor
    Depends what he is buying for $200 doesn't it? If it is a kit with
    various lenses he may be getting a good deal of lenses to run on his new
    DSLR purchase next year... Of course if it was a Canon FD, or a bunch of
    old Sigma EOS lenses they won't be worth much for future use.

    I'd recommend going the digital approach though. As somebody else has
    said it gives you intant response, you can experiment (don't use
    program), learn, play and get instant feedback of what has or hasn't
    work and reshoot till it does [1]. Digital is an expensive initial down
    payment today, but over time it soon pays back in saved film costs, you
    can actually go out and enjoy taking as many or few pictures without
    worrying about the end cost.

    [1] Flash is a particularly good example of this I've found, and I'm
    actually experimenting more with flash as I can see if it is working, or
    wrecking a shot. With film the flash spent more time in the bag as it
    was much harder to guarantee results.
    Jon B, Apr 24, 2006
  7. michael

    J. Clarke Guest

    Find the instructors for the courses and talk to them. The courses may be
    geared toward film or toward digital--if so then that pretty much makes the

    Beyond that I have some thoughts but not many answers.

    An "older camera from the '80s", assuming that it's a good model in good
    working order, should work fine. What it won't have is quite as much
    auto-everything as a newer one. Any zoom lenses will likely be slower or
    not quite as sharp as current lenses--prime lenses from the '80s should be
    fine--also you won't find extremely wide zoom ranges.

    If you've never done darkroom work you may find it less appealing after
    you've done it. Black and white is easy and fun. Color is finicky and
    gets expensive very quickly. Important question to ask yourself--is there
    a room in your house where you can set up at least 6 feet of counter space
    and have running water and a reasonably sized and shaped sink and no
    spousal conflict in total darkness? If not then setting up your own
    darkroom is going to be problematical. If your kitchen can be darkened
    completely and if your wife isn't going to go ballistic and if your local
    regulators don't get shirty about photographic chemicals in the drain water
    then you're probably in good shape there.

    Digital has several appeals. The first is that most of the pro world is
    headed that way. The second is that you can easily preview before you
    print. The third is that additional shots don't put you out of pocket--you
    can, for example, bracket any shot in which "capturing the moment" is not
    at issue without using up a lot of film on shots that you _know_ you aren't
    going to use. The fourth is that a darkroom that can do optically and
    chemically what Photoshop can do is, well, "high end" doesn't begin to
    cover it. Of course you can scan your negatives into Photoshop for editing
    and printing but if you're going to do that you may as well start out with

    The big downside of digital for learning is that if you don't use it
    _carefully_ you don't learn--the fact that there is a cost (other than the
    minuscule amount of electric power needed to charge a camera battery)
    associated with even _seeing_ what you get on film can make you more
    disciplined and think more about each shot, the downside is that it can
    make you excessively so.

    The advice used to be "start out with a manual camera and Tri-X" and I think
    that was sound--focus, shutter speed, aperture, lighting, and composition
    are the fundamentals--if you understand those you aren't going to go far
    wrong. Unfortunately there's no real equivalent in the digital world, at
    least not at a reasonable price. Any good digital SLR and many of the
    better point-and-shoots have manual modes that are more or less convenient
    to use, but most of them still have auto-everything options, and on many
    the manual settings are far more awkward than they were with film cameras.
    In that sense an older film camera has an advantage as a learning tool.
    J. Clarke, Apr 24, 2006
  8. What does the local college suggest? The local Photo programs here at the
    community colleges don't do film. They pulled out the darkrooms a year or
    two ago. Their equipment list says the student MUST buy a Nikon D70s and a
    Mac PowerBook. Their is a good chance you may not have a darkroom at
    Darrell Larose, Apr 24, 2006
  9. michael

    piperut Guest

    Everyone has made some valid points. I have a few comments:

    1. You really need to talk with the instructors of the photo courses
    you are going to enroll in to decide if this camera kit will do the job
    or not. Start here.

    2. To really learn the art and science of photography, you need to
    start on an all manual, manual focus, film camera that you use a light
    meter. (IMHO). The closer the camera gets to an all manual film camera
    the better. Most cameras now come with built in light meters.

    The reason I make the second statement - it forces you to take your
    time, and learn to compose your photos, and think about the shot. You
    are forced to learn the rule of 3rd's, etc. Down the road, this pays
    bid dividends.

    So, even if the camera kit is an old Canon FD mount kit, and the
    instuctor says it will work, if you want to really learn the art and
    science of photography, it might be worth the investment realizing that
    you are investing in it for education, and not as a long term camera
    usage. You will out grow the camera in a few years. However, you will
    learn a lot more about photography by using an all manual camera to
    start with then if you have a auto focus, auto everything digital

    This is the way I would teach someone, but I might have a person that
    really wants to learn photography start by making a pin hole camera
    like I did when I was ...oh 7 or 8 years old.

    piperut, Apr 24, 2006
  10. Another thought or two: If he's really a friend, he'd loan you the
    camera for a few months. Or rent it cheap.

    In any event, please say just what kit he's offering, and you'll get
    lots of opinions should you ask for them. Hell, you'll get lots anyway...
    John McWilliams, Apr 24, 2006
  11. Get the school's catalog and it should to some extent make that decision for
    you. No point in getting a film camera if they only offer classes in
    digital, or vice versa. It's hard to imagine the same classes would cover
    both. If you're going to start with digital, you certainly don't need to
    start with a digital SLR. They cost a lot more money than a beginner needs
    to spend on his first digital camera.

    Yes indeed. Also film cameras nowadays have rapidly diminishing appeal (to
    put it mildly), except to some collectors.

    Developing and printing black and white is fun and educational, though it's
    educational mainly about a technology that just doesn't matter much anymore.
    Processing color on the other hand (absent very expensive machinery) is a
    real chore, and since digital color photography is both far easier *and*
    offers much more creative control over the finished result than film does,
    it's hard to see why anyone today would want to take up color photography on
    film unless they had some special reason, like a need to make slides.

    Since you already evidently have a computer, you already have at least
    90-95% of a digital "darkroom." With digital you won't have an enlarger to
    buy, or easels, or trays, or developing tanks, or chemicals. At first you
    won't even need any software other than what comes with a digital camera --
    you can get more advanced software when you're ready for it. Almost any
    decent inket printer will let you make good 8x10 or letter-sized prints, and
    4x6 prints you can make for pennies at your local Wal-Mart machine or

    It's true that starting out with film (as most of us did) is likely to teach
    you important things about exposure and composition. Most of that carries
    over at least somewhat into digital also, though not all of it does in
    exactly the same way. But the fact remains that whatever is important in
    digital, you can learn in digital.

    John Falstaff, Apr 24, 2006
  12. michael

    Andrew Venor Guest

    I'd suggest that before making any decision you should check with the
    instructor and see what type of camera he requires for the class. If
    the class requires a film SLR then the decision will be made for you.

    BTW, the last time I took a photography class in collage about 10 years
    ago I used a Canon FT-QL from 1966. Which was fine, seeing that my
    instructor wanted his students to control the focus, depth of field and
    exposure manually so we would learn how to do it instead of just relying
    on the cameras software.

    Andrew Venor, Apr 24, 2006
  13. michael

    Paul Furman Guest

    If you want to go with film, get a medium format. That's a real
    advantage and something that will continue to have benefits. For 35mm
    digital is pretty much the way to go except maybe with B&W film. MF used
    should be fairly reasonably priced. For digital get a cheap DSLR body
    and a fast 35mm fixed focal length lens. The classic 50mm prime is like
    a telephoto portrait lens on a cropped frame DSLR. The only thing you'll
    really miss on a cheap DSLR is mirror lockup and the dim viewfinder but
    a fast lens will help with that. A used 20D or 10D will give mirror lockup.
    Paul Furman, Apr 25, 2006
  14. michael

    piperut Guest

    Infrared is one area of photography that still has to be done with an
    all manual camera, and you have to load it in a dark room or changing

    There are some inexpensive MF cameras around. Kiev has come a long way
    with their quality issues from a few years back. I think a basic Kiev
    kit with an 80 mm lens is around $600 or so. (Not that the OP wants to
    go that route, but MF might be something to look into.) The Kiev
    lenses are really nice. They bodies used to be the sore spot, but
    what I have read lately, they have fixed most of those problems.

    I still have a kiev 88 with a few lenses. I do take a few photos with
    it now and then.
    I use digital more and more, as it is quicker, and I bought a fisheye
    for the digital.
    However, once in a while there is something I am unable to take with
    the digital, or I take something and I say... that really should be a
    square photo...

    Back to the OP question...

    What is the make of camera and the lens mount?

    Post that and we can go from there....

    Also, OP, I would take that information and talk with the instructor of
    the courses you are looking at taking. See if the camera kit will do
    the job.

    There are reasons for learning on an all manual camera, and there are
    reasons for learning on a digital camera. This is going to be a trade
    off that you will have to make.
    Learning on an all manual camera is going to force you to learn the
    basics quicker. Learning on a digital is going to force you to learn
    the digital darkroom quicker.

    Or go back to the real basics... build yourself a pinhole camera and
    take that to class!

    piperut, Apr 25, 2006
  15. michael

    DoN. Nichols Guest

    [ ... ]
    Hmm ... there are web sites detailing how to remove the IR
    filter from the Nikon D70's sensor, so you can take IR photos.

    Of course, you probably still have to do a lot of chimping to
    determine exposure manually, becasuse I suspect that re-calibrationg the
    auto-exposure for IR would be non-trivial.

    DoN. Nichols, Apr 25, 2006
  16. You can do most things - at least, film processing and colour printing -
    with a dark room for loading film into a daylight tank, and exposing
    paper and again loading into a daylight tank. The wet processing can be
    done in daylight.

    Bit more difficult for B&W printing, as most paper varieties do not like
    being processed in a rotary tank - they tend to go soft and scrunch up.
    You can get away with using trays in the darkroom and then taking them
    to the sink (in daylight) for washing.

    My darkroom was organised on these lines - I had no convenient place to
    have a sink or running water in a darkroom - and I processed around a
    thousand E6 films and Ilfochrome prints. Its still there, but my work is
    mostly digital these days and it's getting overgrown with clutter....

    I disagree that colour processing is inherently much more difficult than
    B&W. You have to be a little more careful with temperature control, and
    the process has more steps, but in many ways reversal colour printing is
    actually simpler, given a well-exposed (i.e. not over-exposed) slide -
    there are less variables to worry about.

    I do however agree with most of the other comments.

    David Littlewood, Apr 25, 2006
  17. michael

    Skip M Guest

    IR does not have to be done with a manual focus camera, as noted in other
    places, there are digital cameras that will do IR, and an AF camera will do
    it, as long as it doesn't have an IR film counter sensor, such as the Canon
    1 series and EOS 10s. Even if it does have an IR sensor, it only fogs a
    couple of millimeters at the bottom of the film frame...
    Skip M, Apr 25, 2006
  18. michael

    piperut Guest

    Okay, I have not worked with IR photography since 1979. I am not up to
    speed on what you can do with digital IR. However, the work I had to
    do with IR photography fogged images was not an option. What I was
    doing with IR photography, and film... I really don't want to get into,
    other than it was not an option to have fogged images.

    I also don't want to play with the stuff again :)

    piperut, Apr 26, 2006
  19. michael

    C J Southern Guest

    Hmmm - my guess is you're a private investigator and you were capturing
    evidence of unfaithful husbands <you don't have to answer that!>
    C J Southern, Apr 26, 2006
  20. michael

    Skip M Guest

    Well, part of my point was that there are/were AF film cameras that don't
    fog the film, i.e, the Canon 1n, 1v and 10s. There were others, but I don't
    remember the designations.
    Skip M, Apr 26, 2006
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.