Last week, we answered a question about why MRI machines are so loud. This week, we answer another commonly asked question: Is there a difference between film X-rays and digital X-rays, and does it matter?

The answer is yes, there is a difference (several actually) between digital and film X-rays, and those differences do matter. Here’s why:

German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen is credited with discovering the X-ray in 1895. (Other scientists had observed the X-ray, but Röntgen was the first to really study it and imagine what it could be used for.) A few weeks after his discovery, Röntgen took the first human X-ray picture of his wife’s hand (shown at left). Röntgen later won the first Nobel Prize in Physics for the X-ray.

The X-ray proved to be an invaluable tool for the medical profession, as it allowed physicians to see inside the body without surgery.

Originally, all X-rays used film to produce the images. Like the film you use in a camera, it had to be treated properly and images had to be developed in a darkroom. As technology developed, digital X-rays were introduced, using digital sensors rather than film, to produce images that are available immediately and need no development. Think of it as similar to camera technology — cameras all used to use film to produce images. Now most cameras on the market are digital and produce digital images. You already know what the benefits of digital pictures over film pictures are: no sending film out to a lab for processing, clearer images that can be easily expanded, sharpened or tweaked, and the immediate satisfaction of not having to wait for your pictures. Plus, your pictures can easily be stored on your computer or in multiple places, unlike a negative which is easily lost or damaged.

The same applies to digital X-rays versus film X-rays.  Digital X-rays have some clear advantages over the old-fashioned use of film. For example:

  • Digital X-rays expose patients to far less radiation than film X-rays, so they pose less of a health risk.
  • The images produced by film X-ray are often less clear than digital, and this sometimes results in the need for a second round of X-rays, meaning more radiation.
  • Digital images can easily be edited, enhanced, and quickly sent to a physician for a diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance of effective treatment.
  • Film X-rays require the use of hazardous chemicals for development, resulting in dangerous environmental waste.
  • Images are immediately available with digital X-rays, but require time for development with film.

As you can see, not only are there significant differences between film and digital X-rays, but those differences really do make a difference. At Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology, we are committed to minimizing radiation exposure for patients and to providing patients with the best technology, which is why we ONLY use digital X-ray.

Do you have any questions about X-rayUltrasound, MRI, CT, or other scanning procedures? Feel free to email us with your questions!