Fuji Learning w/ film vs learning w/ digital

yellow matter

New Member
Feb 20, 2013
Since i've been interested in photography which is not much more than 3 or 4 years ago, i've been intrigued with the learning process. Everybody seems to point out that film is much better to learn, since thinking is crucial before shooting, not only because frame limit is an issue but also because there's no preview of the shot. It seems to me that this can also be an obstacle - there may be fear of wasting film and therefore not take a shot (even more now that film is starting to disappear), and it's difficult remembering which settings were used in each shot. The simplicity of film cameras also demands for a more straightforward approach. And let's not forget the anticipation of waiting for the shots to be revealed.
I have almost none experience with film, have only shot a couple of rolls with an SLR, and some hundred photos with a Canon G7, so i don't really have an opinion.
What do you think?


Feb 13, 2013
Cleveland, Ohio
I would argue the opposite - that these days learning with digital would be preferable since the LCD can provide instant feedback as to what you did right or wrong. Its also cheaper in the sense that once you buy the camera/memory card, there aren't any additional costs for film and film processing. You can always impose your own frame limits, and using an OVF rather than an EVF provides no preview of the shot if that's something you would find beneficial. There is certainly something enjoyable about shooting with a film camera though. My Olympus OM-1MD is still my favourite camera to shoot with even though I don't user it nearly as much as my digital cameras.


Aug 19, 2012
Southern California
Gary Ayala
I think the biggest problem with learning on digital are the seemingly endless combinations of options and settings available, which are not available for film. If you can self-discipline oneself to set-up and shoot a digital camera as if it were film ... now you have the best of both worlds. As your competency increases, one can just add more options in order to advance up the photography learning curve. As you learn, KISS it, (Keep It Simple). There is an objective/technical side, (i.e. shutter speed, aperture, ISO, et cetera), to photography and a subjective side (i.e. composition, seeing light, style, et cetera). Taking and applying the technical end in little sips will keep you from drowning and allow considerable time for applying the newly learned technical stuff to the subjective end of the photographic spectrum.

And, in the medium run, digital is cheaper with a much faster visual feed-back.


Joey Wilson

Mar 19, 2012
My feelings are similar to what Gary said. I shot film for years, and the difference is 'you can't fix it in the mix' like you can with digital. B+W or color print film has more exposure latitude than transparency, and of course you could alter your film or print development processes somewhat. If you really want to put some iron in your spine, shoot transparency film: It's either right when the shutter goes off or it isn't.

Digital is also somehwat backward to film in that with film we exposed for the shadows and runaway highlights weren't usually an issue. With digital, once your highlights blow out, there's no post-processing that will bring it back.

If you've not used film much, I agree you could learn the ropes by using your digital camera set up as a film camera: A locked, single value ISO, a fixed dynamic range, and work from A or S priority depending on your preference. This would approximate film and get you thinking that way. For me, I loved transparencies, especially using Velvia or the recently discontinued Astia, the best slide film ever. I shot lots of Kodachrome, and believe me, the world is a different place at ISO's of 25, 50, or 100 ! But there was nothing like the satisfaction of opening the box from the mail, and looking at slides, and being so proud they were all 'keepers'.


Sep 10, 2012
Interesting discussion. For me it's a bit of both.
Digital is invaluable with its instant feedback, and even more so now with full time exposure preview. For me the is the ultimate learning tool, seeing the impact of any setting before you even take the shot. Ever since I got into mirrorless I hardly ever had a misexposed shot again (you'd have to be really sloppy to).
OTOH, film was great to really learn the basics : aperture, shutter, ISO.
How I go about it is this (and that's how I'd teach students if I were ever to do so, Heaven forbid) : use a mirrorless body with fine and reliable full time exposure preview (that'd be a NEX or an m4/3 body). Forego any automatism (except WB for starters). Use legacy glass (Peaking allowed and strongly recommended). shoot S mode. So you'd pick your own ISO, aperture on the lens' ring, shutter speed from the camera (with instant exposure feedback on the LCD). Voilà. Within a couple of weeks you'd had your basics down pat !


Top Veteran
Feb 1, 2013
Marlow, UK
I learnt the basics with a film cameras (Kodachrome 64 in an OM2 mostly). Much as I enjoyed the experience at the time, it could be a tough business sometimes when you got your slides back in the post to discover that you'd missed the vital instant when an aircraft flew overhead at an air show, or that someone in a rare gathering of friends had blinked at the wrong moment. These days you know immediately if you've got a good picture or not, and you can take corrective action or just have another go.

And some of the tools one learnt with were just clumsy in comparison with today's technology. The OM2 had a feature called depth of field preview - a button on the lens which stopped it down to the selected aperture and allowed you to see what was in and out of focus in the viewfinder. However, in my experience the resulting view was so dim and indistinct you couldn't really judge the image at all, and I never came to terms with the technique. Much easier to look at a nice big digital display on the back of a modern camera to see what you've got.

I wear my scars as a film veteran with pride, but I think it's generally easier and better to learn with a digital camera.



Hall of Famer
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
So I started in the early 90's as a highschool student with a Minolta shooting free b&w film in graphics arts class. I got to develop and print my own stuff, but was almost too young to really appreciate it. In a way, though, I almost had the best of both worlds... I had a film camera and all the good that comes of it (manual controls, solid build, requires at least some knowledge, direct connection to what you're doing) and yet I got to go goof off with free film and shoot whatever I wanted to, free. Then from 2000 to 2012 I had this huge gap of no film.

Then I got an X100, and I love it, but I found that I still missed some of the film experience, so I started rescuing old Minoltas and lenses. I've found that all the above advice is pretty spot-on. It really is cheaper and easier to learn on digital in most regards, but I was missing two things that the X100 couldn't really replicate for me: the differences you get shooting different focal lengths, and the heavy weight of importance that comes with hitting the shutter button on a film camera... "is this shot worth $0.70?" It may sound corny, but having that weight behind each potential shot really makes you get up and walk away from mediocre shots. It makes you try harder in a way that a digital camera will NOT make you. Your own discipline can sub in for the camera, so judge for yourself there. In my case, I just shot and shot and shot and shot. Wheee! And I learned a little, but only very slowly. The Minolta was like boot camp. Shut up, be still, pay attention, think it through, shoot deliberately, then turn in your film and wait a week to find out if you screwed up or not. The highs are higher, the lows much lower, with film. Digital is like taking lithium... everything evens out, sometimes too much. Nothing tops the thrill of shooting successfully on film.


Feb 13, 2013
Cleveland, Ohio
and the heavy weight of importance that comes with hitting the shutter button on a film camera... "is this shot worth $0.70?" It may sound corny, but having that weight behind each potential shot really makes you get up and walk away from mediocre shots. It makes you try harder in a way that a digital camera will NOT make you....Nothing tops the thrill of shooting successfully on film.
Spot on - I find it even moreso when shooting 120 where I only get 12 shots per roll on my Yashica Mat and don't develop/scan them myself.

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