For a photographer who used to spend hours in a darkroom, mixing chemicals, loading paper under enlarger lenses, squinting in the dim glow of safe lights and inhaling the scent of acetic acid on a regular basis, the advent of digital photography was a true revolution .
Instead of projecting images onto light-sensitive celluloid film strips, digital cameras save pictures as bundles of electronic code for computers to read and translate into visual images. Other than that fundamental difference, comparisons of digital and film cameras still are divided into primarily the same two groups. There are inexpensive, easy to use cameras for amateurs to point and shoot, and there are more expensive, more elaborate cameras for professionals who want complete control over shutter speed, aperture and depth of field.
In the past, the sharpness of a photograph depended on the size of a negative, with film stock ranged from miniature spy cameras to large, letter-size press camera sheets. The digital equivalent is the number of pixels, with six mega-pixels now becoming rather standard and eight close to the top end. Depending on the size of the storage card and the resolution setting selected on the menu of the digital camera, as many as hundreds or as few as a dozen images may be stored.
One big difference between film and digital cameras is the viewfinder. While it was quite easy to peer through the small viewfinder of a film camera no matter what the weather conditions, many digital cameras have viewfinders on the back that are like miniature television screens and near impossible to see when direct sunlight is shining on them.
In addition to physical differences, there is also a change in thinking patterns required when switching from a film photography attitude to a modern, digital mentality. It used to be incrementally expensive the more film pictures someone took. Each roll of film, with 24 or 36 images on it, cost several dollars to be processed. On top of that, each image printed from those rolls cost a few cents. Shooting a dozen rolls of film on a vacation might cost one or two hundred dollars to have all the pictures printed. Frugal photographers would have been associated to take more than a few snapshots of even the most picturesque attraction.
With re-usable digital camera memory cards now able to store literally thousands of images, and with the ability to download those images to a portable, laptop computer at the end of most vacation days, anyone shooting pictures with a digital camera today can click the shutter to his heart's content, knowing that at least one of them may have captured the perfect expression on the subject's face. Of course, with such an attitude, the added cost becomes the time expended in doing computerized photo editing.
Since the need to replace old darkroom skills with new computer editing ones, even the most stubborn old-school photographer is probably pleased to welcome a better way to take and process pictures, thanks to the digital revolution.