Is film or digital better for action photos?

Using Film for Action Photos

A flamingo gets ready for takeoff.
A flamingo gets ready for takeoff.
Jami Tarris/Getty Images

The first step in successfully taking an action photo with a film camera is purchasing the right speed film. Film is classed according to its sensitivity to light by the American Standards Association, with higher numbers requiring less exposure. Film of ISO 400 or higher will be best for action photography; keep in mind, however, that that type of film is not available at Wal-mart or the corner drug store. You'll need to go to a photography supply store. Your camera will automatically detect the film's speed and set the shutter speed accordingly. While this higher speed film may produce a grainy image when printed in larger sizes, the fast speed is the only way to get an image that isn't blurred.

As digital photography takes over, film is becoming increasingly difficult to find outside of big city photography stores or on the Internet. Some photo stores are gradually cutting back on their stock of film as they sell what they already have on hand.

When talking about purchasing film, we touch on the main drawback of using film for action photography -- cost. Rolls of 36-exposure film are priced at about $6 a roll, and an action photographer may shoot hundreds of photos in an effort to capture that perfect image. There's also the cost of processing, whether in a commercial lab or by the photographer in his own darkroom. Processing and printing a 36-exposure roll of film averages about $17 on the Internet, plus shipping and handling fees. In-store processing is becoming a thing of the past and is usually only offered by photo supply stores. If you opt to process your film yourself, remember to factor in the cost of chemicals, darkroom equipment and supplies when considering film versus digital.

On the other hand, film cameras are less expensive than comparable digital cameras. Nikon film cameras for instance, range from a little more than $300 to $2,800, while Nikon's DSLR cameras begin at around $500 and go up to nearly $8,000. Single-lens reflex cameras, like film, are becoming increasingly difficult to find at brick-and-mortar stores, but they're still readily available on the Internet.

For several years after digital technology was first introduced, film still offered higher resolutions and was more forgiving of focusing and exposure errors, but most photographers say those advantages have evened out over the years as digital technology has improved. In the next section, we'll look at the advantages and drawbacks of digital photography for action photos.