So You’d Love To Get Started Shooting With Film

get started shooting with film praktica tl1000 with takumar 50mm lens

The some-time incoherent ramblings of someone who’s fallen in love with film photography all over again…

The information, ideas and suggestions I am sharing here are based on my own experience and are presented from a New Zealand (my home) perspective. Your personal experiences on getting started shooting with film may differ.
I hope my ramblings make sense.

Have you decided you’d like to start shooting with film, but you’re unsure where to begin?

There is no doubt that, just like vinyl LP records, film photography is making a comeback – not that it ever really went away. Even though some predicted its total demise, film photography never died but was merely pushed into the background once digital cameras become cheap and plentiful from, say, 2004/5 onwards. Of course, digital photography also impacted on the major film stock manufacturers with many struggling (e.g. Kodak) as demand for film plummeted. Many common films simply disappeared from the market.

back garden rose Shot with a Nikkormat FT2 shooting with film
Shot with a Nikkormat FT2/Fujicolor C200

But now, with film on the way back, many photographers are looking to start shooting with film for a whole range of reasons:

  • maybe they grew up shooting film and want to go on a nostalgia trip and a wander down memory lane;
  • they may be bored with digital photography – too many megapixels and too much sharpness – and want to try something new (old);
  • some old school photographers think film just looks better;
  • they love the look and feel of old school film cameras;
  • they want to slow down and go back and learn the basics of photography;
  • and so on.

My reason for going back to shoot film is partly of all of the above, plus one more reason. I’m a born dabbler. I enjoy fixing old things and trying to get them to work again. This is what happened with the first old camera that I acquired – a 1991 Canon EOS 1000F, originally purchased in 1991. More on that soon…

But the primary reason for this story is to share some of my experiences, ideas and suggestions with you about shooting with film – some of the whys and hows, and some dos and don’ts I’ve learned along the way – and maybe help you get started shooting with film.

Bear in mind however that my experiences in getting started shooting with film are presented from a New Zealand perspective. If you are overseas, your experiences with camera and film availability, prices, etc will surely differ.

5 Easy Steps To Get Started Shooting With Film

1. Get yourself a camera

I grew up with film photography, and when I first rediscovered film photography several years ago it was really by chance. We had had an elderly Canon EOS1000F camera sitting in the cupboard for the best part of 20 years – a hand-me-down from my partner Lyn’s father when he passed away.

One day I decided to get it out of the cupboard and see if it still worked. My goodness how camera batteries have increased in price! The camera seemed to work okay, so I put a film in it to try it out. I think it was a 24-exposure Fujicolor C200 film – probably the cheapest I could buy. After rapidly firing off the whole roll, I sent it off to our local lab (now closed..) who developed it and scanned it to TIF format for me.

Boy – was I disappointed. The results were not good. Only 5 exposures on the whole roll sort of came out…

Canon EOS 1000F

This was the very first photo off the roll. The camera had a sticky shutter – a not-uncommon fault with the EOS1000F as it turned out. The remainder of the shots were useless too! Thank goodness for the ‘net where I found a video showing me how to fix it. I am pleased to say that today the repair I made is still holding up!

But, as is my way, I digress.

Here are some options to find that camera to get you started:

  • ask members of your family if they have an old film camera tucked away in a cupboard;
  • ask friends the same (I’ve scored a few cameras from friends);
  • make contact with any local photography groups;
  • try your local photography store;
  • check out the offerings available online. Remember that it’s buyer beware on sites like TradeMe or E-Bay, but many camera shops have their own online offerings. Here in New Zealand Wellington Photographic Supplies and A B Donald are a couple of examples;
  • and if you just want to try shooting with film as a one-off there are even new cheap and cheerful plastic no-frills cameras that can be bought for less than $100.00.

There are some caveats to bear in mind however.

I recommend that you avoid (at this stage) any non-35mm format cameras, and also avoid any electronic cameras that require an obscure battery that is hard to come by (and therefore will be expensive!), and certainly avoid any camera that requires a mercury cell battery as such batteries are banned.

Perhaps try to get started with a fully manual, mechanical camera that only requires a battery for its light meter – if it has one. Mechanical cameras include the likes of early Prakticas, Pentax K1000, early Nikons – and many more.

One of my favourite 35mm compact is the Olympus Trip 35 – a wee gem of a camera with auto-exposure that requires no batteries at all. At one time I had three of them!

Maybe your budget could run to almost every film photographer’s dream – a vintage Leica!

Having said that, you don’t necessarily have to avoid electronic cameras totally. My Canon EOS1000F is electronic – as is a rather sophisticated Minolta Dynax 8000i I also have.

Olympus Trip 35

2. Buy some film

As I mentioned earlier I recommend you start your film adventure with the 35mm format. The main reason is that it is 35mm film stock is readily available almost everywhere.

Fuji and Kodak still seem to dominate the local market, although – some of the more “exotic” types like Portra, Ektar and even good old Kodak Gold 200 are hard to come by – at least here down under.

Of course, when it comes to buying film, the cost can be a major consideration. Colour negative film is still considerably more expensive than black-and-white film, but you may prefer to shoot in colour.

Don’t be tempted to buy a top-end film to start with. Kodak Portra (when available in NZ) can be up to $45.00 a roll! The least expensive colour option at the time of writing is Fuji C200 for about $26.90.

Shop around – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that buying your film from an overseas site will be cheaper. It may be – but check the exchange rate and freight charges before hitting the “buy now” button.

Having said that however – buying overseas does give you more choices. I purchased my first rolls of 35mm film from the Lomography website back when the exchange rate was favourable

Currently, my preference is for black-and-white – a preference driven by the fact that I like the medium, and black-and-white costs less then colour.

I am waiting on 2 rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 ($12.95/24 exposures) to find their way back to me from the lab right now. Such anticipation…so watch this space.

Olympus Trip 35

3. Go out and take some pictures

One of the most common mistakes beginner film photographers make is loading the film incorrectly. If in doubt turn to Mr Google for help. There are so many great tips and tricks and videos on the ‘net to help you on your journey.

It’s also important to set the correct ISO/ASA rating and to remember not to change the dial once set. Shooting with film is different from digital where you can change the ISO rating as you see fit.

If you have a camera with a fixed lens be prepared to do a bit of walking to get framing and composition correct.

If you have decided to shoot black-and-white, look for textures, shadows, contrast, and unusual light patterns, but don’t get hung up on photography “rules”. Breaking the rules never did any harm – so do what makes you feel good!

One of the great things about shooting colour is that colour negative film is very tolerant of being over-exposed. And that’s a good cue to say don’t start with colour slide film. It is NOT tolerant of incorrect exposure and could turn into an expensive waste of film.

Learn the Sunny 16 rule…it could be a lifesaver.

Nikon F75

4. Get your film developed

At this early stage of your shooting with film journey use a pro service for processing.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that local camera stores and local film labs have fallen by the wayside in recent years. I used to use my local camera shop/lab but it closed 2 years ago.

Hopefully, you are lucky enough to have a photo lab where you live, otherwise, you’ll need to send your films away for processing. Before deciding on which lab to use, ask around for recommendations. Ask fellow photographers…ask on Facebook…ask in photography forums…and ask Mr Google too.

Most decent labs will be able to process your 35mm film and deliver your results as negatives only so you can scan them yourself, as scans on CD (or via e-mail, Dropbox, or similar), or even as prints. I know – prints in this digital age!

If you scan the negatives yourself, or have the lab provide scans, make sure they are in TIF format so that you can tweak them without quality loss in your favourite photo processing app. After all, if photographers used to apply a bit of dodging and burning in their printing process, you can do the same with your app.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of scanning negatives. The subject warrants a whole story on its own.

Nikkormat FT-2

5. What’s next?

That’s an easy question to answer…start all over again.

Start at step 1 if you’ve been captured by the allure of film photography and vintage cameras and want to invest in another camera (or two), or start at step 2 – buy some more film!

There is of course a lot more to what’s next.

You may eventually want to move to the next level and start developing your own negatives…and maybe even move onto printing, and displaying your photos.

For me – right now – those are a couple of steps too far.

Last words…

You won’t always get the photo you want when you click the shutter.

In that respect film photography is no different from digital photography.

Suggested reading:

  • Shooting Film – Ben Hawkins & Liza Kanaeva-Hunsicker
  • Old School Photography – Kai Wong

Sample images

The photographs in this gallery were shot using various cameras I collected and repaired in the last two or three years (but unfortunately haven’t held on to…).

As always I look forward to hearing from you so please feel free to contact me, or leave a contact in the Leave A Reply area below.

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