FILED IN: EDUCATION
Despite what some think, 35mm film photography is not dead. It’s actually very alive and well. While most people never intend to switch back over to film photography for their full-time medium, we fully understand the desire to shoot film (either for fun or to mix into your business).
Though, shooting film can be daunting, we get it. Which is why we’ve created this beginners guide to give you all the info you need to start shooting 35mm film.
The term 35mm is referring to the format of the film and the image sensor. 35mm is easily the most common but also the most affordable film option out there (which is why it’s great to start with). The easiest way to look at film numbers (ie. 35mm and 120mm), is the larger the number, the larger the sensor on the camera, therefor a higher quality. Higher quality can also mean less grain – so if you get the hang of 35mm and you’re not digging the grain, you should look into medium-format (120mm).
This is by far one of the biggest decisions you’ll have when starting out in film photography. For starters, you’ll likely be looking for and buying a used camera, which can be both fun and scary. But the best thing to remember that when it comes to film cameras – you’re not dealing with the same differences that you’re dealing with when it comes to digital cameras.
If you load a Nikon FG and a Canon AE-1 with the same exact film and have the same mm lens on both cameras – they will produce identical images. Really, the only differences between film cameras are: the lenses you’re using (or whatever is fixed onto the camera), the film you are using, and the automation that the camera provides.
That being said, there are five main types of 35mm film camera options. A disposable, a point and shoot, a fully manual SLR, an automatic SLR, and a Rangefinder (which I wouldn’t’ necessarily suggest starting out with).
Most of these camera’s will require a battery (though some will work just without the automatic features with a dead battery which is nice). Most either require batteries that look like watch batteries which can be picked up at Target / Walgreens / Best Buy / Online, and some will just take AA batteries or another version. 99% of batteries will be easy to find – just make sure to always have extra on you if you enjoy using all of the features your camera offers.
Honestly, we believe that picking the right film can be more important than picking your camera. This is all about your style and what you like when it comes to coloring, contrast, and grain.
If you’re starting out, we almost always recommend starting out with a cheap color-negative (color film) to start out. Kodak ColorPlus 200 is cheap and has a nice look to it as well as Fujifilm Superia 400. Color is cheaper to process than black and white as well so you won’t be waisting as much money at first if you’re still figuring things out.
A few general tips when picking film, Fujifilm is usually a bit more green/cool, whereas Kodak is usually a bit more yellow/warm. Another tip is to look at the color of the box, it’ll indicate the tones of the film. Also, the number on the film (ie. 200, 400) is referring to the film speed (ISO) that the film was made to be shot at.
We highly suggest not getting caught up in the “Portra 400 is the best and only film out there” mentality until trying other film. While Portrait is great and beautiful (and incredibly hard to get your hands on) personally, Dana and Bri both prefer Kodak Gold (and it’s a bit cheaper which is always nice).
This is a really good YouTube video that helps you pick out what film you like. Be sure to use the worksheet he’s created that is linked in the caption.
This can be the most difficult part of shooting film. Finding a working film camera in good condition at a decent price can be a bit of a task these days. Typically you can buy the more expensive and modern cameras at most camera shops or online at some of our favorite camera stores (KEH, B&H, Robert’s Cameras, and Moment).
You can also sometimes get lucky with local camera stores having used film cameras for sale, these are usually the safest way to go, because you can guarantee the camera works properly. Now, sometimes it’s fun to gamble with eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Depop, and Yard sales – but we always suggest being thorough in asking questions and at least testing it out to see if all of the mechanisms work. If you were to go this route – shoot through a roll of cheap film for fun (not a real session) and get it developed to make sure the camera properly works.
Below, we have a list of our favorite film cameras in all different price ranges as well as some good film options to try.
Keeping and storing film in the fridge (yup, sounds crazy) keeps it fresh and increases the lifespan of the film (significantly). We keep ours in their original canisters in a plastic Tupperware container in the fridge. It’s also important to note that just because you’ve put a roll of film in your camera, doesn’t meant it’s “safe”. Be sure to shoot whatever film is in your camera within less than a week or so so it doesn’t degrade half the film.
This article has some really good tips on how to properly store your film – https://thedarkroom.com/tips-for-storing-photography-film/
All of the settings are generally the same as they would be when using your DSLR or Mirrorless camera, so if you’re already shooting on manual, shooting in film wont be much different for you!
The main difference is what happens when you change your ISO when your film is rated for a certain ISO. This is when “pushing and pulling” your film comes in. You push your ISO in increments called “stops”, which just means your change your ISO on the camera to your desired stop and meter the whole roll as if it’s at that ISO. Keep in mind, your camera won’t recognize that though, so using an external light meter is important in this sense. Keep in mind, you’ll need to tell wherever you get your film developed at that you shoot the roll at a different ISO for processing.
While in theory this shouldn’t matter too much, it actually does. Finding a good quality lab is incredibly important and make take some trial and error on your part. Sometimes, you can get lucky and your town/city will have a place in town that does a really good job, which can result in a tad bit quicker turnaround time.
Though, if you don’t have a local spot, here’s a list of online locations for getting your film developed.
You can either opt to get your film back in prints, or digitally.
It’s okay if your film doesn’t come back perfect the first time, or even the second, or third. Heck we even get rolls of film back that have some issues somewhere in the roll – it’s sort of the art of things. Sometimes it’s user error and other times it’s the camera or film, we’ve broken down some of the most common errors below for you.
Now get out there and start shooting film!
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D & B