The Comparative Cost of Film and Digital Photography


People often don’t understand that just like with film cameras every single photograph taken on a digital camera has a cost. They seem to think that you can take an unlimited number of photographs for an unlimited amount of time at no cost.


Well that just isn’t true.

Every single image has a cost whether it’s film or digital.

The difference between digital and film is in the magnitude of the cost.




Let’s illustrate the different direct costs of capturing an image by comparing a DSLR body with the cost of instant film.

Now let’s assume that a DSLR camera only lasts as long as its shutter is rated for. That shutter serves as a substitute for instant film.



Polaroid’s I-Type (instant) film costs $15.99 per 8 pack whether it’s color or black and white. The closest thing to a value pack only saves you a few dollars.

The cost per shot of Polaroid instant film comes out to $2 and $1.88 value pack


Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant film

The closet comparable product to Polaroids 8 shot pack is Instax’s 10 pack which costs $8.99. The value pack which contains 60 shots costs $36.95

The cost per shot of Instax Mini instant film comes out to 90¢ per shot for the 10 pack and 62¢ per shot for the value pack.


Which of course means Polaroid’s film costs ~ $1.20 more per shot than Instax’s (triple the price).


Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The Canon 5D Mark III costs $2300 for the body and is rated for 150,000 shutter cycles.

2300 / 150,000……. 1.5¢ per shot.


Every time you press the button on your 5D it is costing you one and a half cents.



The A7R II is unofficially rated to 500,000 shutters cycles (Sony you coward, just officially state it).

The body costs $2700… divided by 500,000… So that would be one half of a cent per shot.


Let’s compare…

The costs to take a digital image is obviously drastically lower than the cost for film… but it still has a cost.

A camera body has a limited lifespan, it is a precision instrument that can only remain precise for so long, and its parts were ultimately only designed to live for a certain amount of time.


The shutter of a digital camera is often the point of failure. There are many other reasons a digital camera can die, your imaging processor can fail for example, but a shutter failure is easy to identify and immediate.



And while camera bodies generally last beyond the number of shutter cycles they are officially rated for, some have lasted for 2 million shutter cycles, it’s a good example of the limited lifespan of a camera.



Cost per shot:

A7R II……………………………………..  .5¢

Canon 5D Mark III………………. 1.5¢

Instax Mini Film………………….. 90¢

Polaroid I-Type…………………$2.00


The cost of instant film is over 100 times that of a digital photograph.

Which is absurd in our modern world. $2 for each photograph? When people won’t even buy 11¢ prints from Snapfish??? Yikes.


Even though digital photography costs far less than film it still costs money to do it… just because it seems like it shouldn’t doesn’t mean that’s the fact of the matter.


Photographers aren’t button pressers, they are professionals with very real capital costs. Whether it’s the enormous cost per shot of film or just the enormous cost of equipment in general… there’s always a cost.



What Is

Capital Cost - Capital costs are fixed, one-time expenses incurred on the purchase of land, buildings, construction, and equipment used in the production of goods or in the rendering of services. Read more:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.