The True Costs of Shooting with Film vs. Digital

Screenshot image from the video by Travis Mortz

It shouldn’t be an issue anymore, but the case of film vs. digital cameras remains a long-standing topic for both beginner and intermediate photographers. Among the most debated aspects of this is which one is the least expensive. If you’re just about to start with photography and are wondering which route won’t put a dent in your wallet, Travis Mortz of Forest Hill Film Lab weighs in on the specifics of this debate to help you decide.

Like many film photographers, Travis strongly believes shooting with film is hands down cheaper than digital, any day of the week. To prove this and debunk the belief of some people that it’s too expensive, he made a video to share his notes and computations. Watch it below:

“What does it take the average person to start shooting, right now?” Travis sought to find out. If you’re totally new to photography and want to start with the most convenient route — getting a new camera straight from a photo supply store (or Best Buy, as Travis suggests) — a current model, entry level Canon DSLR camera will set you roughly $899. Once you’re far along into your photography and want to move on to more advanced models, you’re going to pay extra for that as well.

“You’re not paying for the ability to make digital photos,” Travis said, because technically, you’re already doing the same with your smartphone. Contrary to the belief of most, you’re not shooting for free as well, because you still shell out a considerable amount of money when you get a new camera or upgrade your gear. “When you shoot with digital, you never buy down, you always buy up.”

A film camera, by comparison, will cost you way less — Travis found a Pentax Spotmatic SLR with 50mm 1.4 lens for $18.99. For the film to use with it, you can grab 10 rolls of Fujicolor C200 for $27 off ebay. As for developing, which is what most consider to be the most expensive aspect of shooting film, it costs roughly $11 per roll.

This part of the comparison is only one aspect of Travis’ argument. The most important part is the fact that with the $900 budget for an entry level DSLR camera, you can already grab an advanced or high-end film camera you can learn and practice with. If you want to upgrade your analog setup, you can also do so for far cheaper. And with film, you end up with photos you can scan and print for generations to come.

Still, cost can be viewed as a subjective matter to photographers, just as the choice to shoot film over digital. Biases will always lead you to favor one over the other, so you might want to draw your own conclusions based on the medium that will best suit you.

Whether you’ve just decided to start your photography journey with film or are already a little further along with it, you’ll surely learn a trick or two from Travis Mortz through the Forest Hill Film Lab YouTube channel.