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Do I have to use film for wildlife photos?

Using Film for Wildlife Photos
Elephants never forget, and thanks to these photos, you won't either.
Elephants never forget, and thanks to these photos, you won't either.
David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Film has long been the medium of choice for wildlife photographers. But just because it's the way things have always been done, does that still mean it's the right way?

When you buy any camera, you'll want to think about what kinds of lenses you want. Sophisticated zoom features and interchangeable lenses are two factors that can differentiate digital pictures and those taken on film. With a good digital camera, though, the only person who may be able to detect such a difference in quality would be a professional. At minimum, a photographer using a camera with film may need a 35 mm camera with a normal zoom lens (28 - 105 mm) and a telephoto lens (70 - 300 mm) [sources: Alaska Outdoor Journal; Fairlie; Hill].

Photographers should also stock up on films of various speeds to ensure a great picture no matter the shooting conditions. Film speed measures a film's sensitivity to light. "Fast" film speeds, for example, are highly sensitive and don't require much exposure to produce an image. A "slow" film speed, on the other hand, would need a longer exposure time to produce the same image. Low-speed films, such as 100 or 200 speed, are best used in bright light and when the subject is stationary, such as a crocodile sunning itself on a rock. When you're shooting more active animals, or when you're shooting at night, you can then reach for a high-speed film like 400 or 800. These films are better for action shots, because the shutter closes more quickly after you take the picture, framing the subject at the exact moment you want to capture; digital users can alter shutter speed with the push of a few buttons.

If you're using high-quality film, then each picture can get fairly expensive. You can't shoot and shoot the way you can with a digital camera, unless you're willing to make a hefty investment in film and developing. Of course, it's possible that such a constraint may end up creating better pictures, as you'll take your time with each one, making sure it's perfect before you click.

One huge disadvantage of film is that you won't know if all your fancy equipment did its work until you get home and develop the film. That's one reason why people are turning to digital.