Shooting film is an incredible experience as a photographer. Lets face it, loading a roll of film into a camera is a lot more exciting than inserting a memory card! Film has an inherent romantic quality to it, from the variety of beautiful analog cameras, to the gorgeous aesthetic of different types of film, and even the process of shooting film itself.
I think one of the wonderful things about film are the constraints it provides. It forces you to work within it’s limits, which has the effect of simplifying photography.
Why Shoot Film?
Digital photography is certainly a lot more convenient than film. But film still has a ton of benefits! Here are a few reasons you might be interested in shooting film, or at least experimenting with it.
The look of film
Each type of film reproduces colours and tones slightly differently, giving each one a signature look. Different films also have different amounts/quality of grain to them which can be quite beautiful. The overall aesthetic quality of film can be difficult, or even impossible to simulate with digital processing (despite the efforts of many photoshop actions and preset developers!).
The process of shooting film
Each roll of film has a limited number of exposures on it. When you know you only have 12-30 shots on a roll of film you take the time to make sure each shot counts! The other half of the process can also be fun; developing your own film, and the excitement of getting prints or negatives back from a lab and seeing how they turned out. It’s almost like Christmas!!
Helps you learn photography
I envy the people who learned photography on film. Seriously. The point and click ease of digital photography seems like it should make it easier to learn photography but it actually enables you to skip learning a lot of the essential photography fundamentals! And you can definitely develop some really bad habits along the way. A lot of photography concepts became clear as I learned more about film.
A Crash Course
So, to help you learn a bit more about film, I put together a few videos to show you a few different types of cameras and the different formats of film they use! Let’s go!
Part 1 – 35mm Film
Cameras in the above video: Pentax K1000 SLR, Zeiss Ikon rangefinder. Both 35mm format.
A few examples of 35mm film. The color shots below are Fuji Provia color slide film.
The B&W shots below are Ilford Delta 400 film.
Part 2 – Medium Format & Large Format Film
Cameras in the above video: Medium format Hasselblad. Large format Horseman.
The following are a couple large format shots: Kodak Ektachrome.
The following square shots are medium format (taken with a Holga, to be discussed in the next video). The color is Kodak Porta 160VC and the B&W is Fuji Neopan 100.
Part 3 – Instant Film and Toy Cameras
Cameras in the above video: Polaroid SX-70, Polaroid 600, Fuji Instax 210, Medium format Holga, 35mm Lomography Fisheye.
See the above medium format photos for examples of the Holga. Below are some shots taken with a Polaroid SX-70.
Below is an example of Artistic-Z polaroid film that allows you to move the emlusion around after the photo is taken. It’s discontinued now but it was a lot of fun to shoot!
Below are a couple examples taken with the Fuji Instax 210.
Where To Buy Film Cameras
Film cameras aren’t produced new at the same volume they once were, with digital being the new standard. But they are really great to purchase used! Many film cameras were really well built, and are still in fantastic shape.
- Check your local classifieds (Kijiji, Craigslist, or eBay classifieds). Stuff pops up there all the time. Also keep an eye out at flea markets and thrift stores.
- eBay – A great place to check prices, a huge market for used gear.
- KEH – Their website is a pain to use (slow!), but they feature tons of used camera equipment. I also like that you can sign up to have a catalog mailed to you each month. Even though I don’t purchase gear from them often I enjoy leafing through the catalog and seeing the stock they have.
- B&H Photo & Adorama – Both sites feature new and used camera gear
Where To Buy Film
- B&H – I pick up most of my 35mm (also known as 135) and 120 medium format film from B&H. They have great selection and low prices. If you’re looking to start developing your own film you’ll also find the necessary developer / stopper / fixer / and clearing agent solutions here along with developing tanks (look for a Patterson developing tank).
- UltraFine Online – I’ve purchased some cheap large format film from this store. They sometimes have specials on expired film.
- The Impossible Project – If you’re looking for Polaroid film this is pretty much your only option (along with eBay of course).
I haven’t experimented with a ton of different of film but I can recommend a few that I like the look of.
- Kodak Portra 160VC is a colour negative film that produces some great tones. Shadows seem a bit cooler and highlights warmer.
- Fuji Pro 400H is another colour negative film that looks great for skin tones.
- You can also try colour positive film like Fuji Provia.
- For B&W I’ve tired Ilford HP5 which is a great general purpose B&W film but the grain seems a bit coarse.
- Ilford Delta 400 is higher quality option with better grain and my film guru seems to be able to push (expose at a higher than rated ISO) and pull (expose at a lower than rated ISO) the film with ease.
- Kodak Tri-X is also a popular B&W option.
- I also like the higher contrast look of Fuji Neopan which seems popular among Japanese street photographers.
- Ilford XP2 is a special type of B&W film that can be developed through colour processing (which can be convenient).
If you’re interested in seeing what a particular film looks like head to photosig.com and sign up for a free account. The site will let you search for images a variety of different ways, one being the type of film. There must be hundreds of different types of film listed there so make sure you using your browsers “Find” function to search within the page. You can also use Photosig to see what shots from different film cameras look like.
Flickr is another place to do a search for the particular type of film, or film camera, you’re interested in.
Where To Get Film Developed
Your local photography store will likely do developing and prints and is a great place to start. You could also experiment with cheaper photo labs (drugstores and super markets). And finally you can also use mail order labs. If you’re in the States then check out Richard Photo Lab. For Canada I’ve used ABC Photo based out of Vancouver. For development and medium resolution scans it will probably run you about $20-$30 per roll. Shooting film can get expensive!
You can also develop your film yourself at home, especially black and while film. They sell kits for colour development but from what I understand the necessity of strict temperature controls makes it a very difficult process. You can develop all formats of B&W film (35mm, medium & large) relatively easily. To develop your own film you’ll need a film tank, developer, stopper, fixer, and hypo clearing agent. You might also want to pick up a film changing bag so that you can load your film onto the developing spools. A good thermometer is also important.
Contrary to what many think you don’t need a darkroom in order to do the development. The film tanks are light tight so once the spool of film is loaded in the tank you’re good. You can hang the developed film to dry in your shower, or closet – something as dust free as possible is ideal. I bought a cheap hanging shoe organizer that I took the inserts out of to create a makeshift film closet.
Scanning and Printing
If you’re super old school you can create your own prints using an enlarger and photographic paper in a darkroom. I think thats pretty hardcore but not really a viable option for most people. The easier thing to do is scan your film and produce your prints the same way you would with digital. I mentioned that most labs can scan your film for you. If you’re looking to seriously get into film then you might want to buy yourself a scanner (or scanners!) as it will quickly save you a lot of money in scanning costs.
For 35mm film the highest quality and probably most economical option is the Nikon Coolscan 5000. The Coolscan is a discontinued scanner that you’ll need to find used (and at prices much greater than the original retail value!). It produces some of the best 35mm scans without moving up to a drum scanner and allows you to scan strips of 6 frames at once. My film guru is sitting on two of these scanners (one still in the box in case his main unit breaks down!). The medium format version of this scanner is the C
oolscan 8000, also discontinued.
For large format I use a Microtek M1 scanner that is special in that the film doesn’t rest on glass and is instead held by film holders and scanned directly by the scanner (this eliminates something called “newton rings”—an artefact that occurs when film is scanned through glass. I use this scanner to scan my medium format film as well which I feel it does a passable job of. It also comes with the film holders for 35mm film, but it does a terrible job of it. I understand the benefits of scanning your own film (money saved, and a greater level of control) but I find the process a bit tedious. None of the scanning software works well with Mac and I have to use VMware to load Windows XP. No one ever said shooting film was simple! But the results really do have a certain magic to them.
The Massive Dev Chart App – This website / app is super handy for developing film. The app features a cool timer that tells you exactly when to do what steps throughout the development.
Squarefrog – Tips on shooting Holga and basic instructions for film development
Junku-newcleus on Flickr – Incrdible body of film work
TommyOshima on Flickr – More incredible film work!
Have you shot film? Take a second to share your experience! What sort of camera / film do you like?