Have you seen film prices lately ? $3 a roll for 24-exposure rolls of color 200, $2.25 a roll for black and white? No, I’m not selling, I’m telling. I’m telling you to stop this film is way too expensive complaining, right now. Yes, 35mm box films are $15-$20 a roll. Everybody and their uncle is shooting film right now and the companies can’t keep up. Yes, boutique films are expensive, too, but that’s to be expected if you want to try being artsy with dishwasher-presoaked film or pre-exposed spacey effects. But there’s something else we should consider besides simply blaming the manufacturers. Film is not expensive, but the convenience of pre-packaged film is.
Convenience costs money
Currently, a boxed roll of brand-name film is going to hit the wallet pretty hard. There’s no arguing it. At this point, even buying bundles from retailers isn’t cutting it. It used to be photographers could buy a 5 pack of insert our favorite drugstore film for $25-$30 to spread that cost out, but surfing the retail sites shows they’ve just multiplied the price of 5 rolls and marked the 5-pack accordingly.
The truth is that if we can’t find our favorite film, nicely packaged in a pretty yellow-and-red or green-and-white box, it’s the end of the world.
Get rid of the box
Want to drop film costs for 35mm ? Easy. Grab a 100 foot roll of bulk film and a loader, some film cassettes you haven’t yet thrown away (they’re reusable if you don’t cut the end off too short) and roll your own! Am I to believe the generation that will take time to jump into all sorts of trendy manual jobs like cobbling, leather-working, painting, tiny-home building, and self-sustaining gardening can’t drop a hundredth of that on a bulk loader and some bulk film? It only takes a few minutes to bulk load your own film.
Get out of the box
Another way the film photography community is collectively shooting itself in the foot — specifically the younger crowd — is by sending film off to get it developed. Say it out loud with me: I’m spending $15 on a roll of film, then spending an additional $15 to get it developed and scanned. You’re paying basically Polaroid Instant Film prices for 35mm film! There is not a single film you can find on the Internet, barring some older Polaroid color or Kodachrome, that can’t be developed in your kitchen in 15 minutes or less. All the chemicals and supplies you need to start developing your own film is available, often as a complete kit, for less than you’ll pay for that must have overpriced SLR that everyone says you gotta have *looking at you, Pentax K1000 and Canon AE-1* A bulk 100ft roll of Kodak 5213 (ISO 200) color film is about $110. That comes out to $3.50 a roll for 27 rolls, conservatively. You don’t even have to mess with the Remjet tomfoolery if you don’t wish. ECN-2 kits are readily available now! Black and white film is even cheaper. A 100ft roll of decent black and white will set you back $80. That’s $2.25 a roll, conservatively. Why are you still buying your film in single boxes ?
Get into the process
Honestly, if I had known in the early 90s what I know now about film, I would have never paid a drug store and left my wonderful art in their grubby little hands. Film photography isn’t just picking the camera and proselytizing the benefits to the world – who largely don’t care – to hear. It’s a commitment to the entire process. That’s how it becomes affordable! If I roll my own film, expose it, then develop it, I’ve started to become a part of the process. I’m no longer just the 12 inches behind the camera, I’m in front of it, inside it, and around it. I can truly say the work is all mine.
Get into the bathroom
Wait, wut ? You heard me. Bathrooms can make great darkrooms. Old Beseler enlargers are all over the web for cheap! I snagged mine from a fellow film photographer for a hundred bucks. Now any time I want to see all my negatives from a roll I can put my enlarger in the bathroom, drop the trays in the tub, and make my own contact sheets. Then I can pick which frame I want to print and enjoy the darkroom like my dad used to do in college, and like my daughter is able to do in high school! There is this amazing feeling watching your image slowly appear in the developer tray under a red lamp.
But, I like the box!
If you must have boxed film due to location, regulations, or other circumstances, your options are limited. Not to fret, there is hope! The cheapest boxes of fresh film you’ll find right now are medium format. 35mm film is currently all the rage, but that means that medium format film and cameras are dirt cheap. That’s the best second-place on the podium you could want! You limit your negative count, but your negatives are more defined, less affected by grain. A scanned 6cm x 6cm negative is like a 50megapixel image, although your scanner will dictate that. A printed image is beautiful. Remember that Beseler I mentioned earlier? It can do 35mm and 120, and eBay has plenty of sellers offering 3D-printed negative holders for all the popular 120 formats: 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, and the best one – 6×4.5. Yeah, I said it. Fight me.
Medium format film cameras can run the gamut from $10 to $5000, but I’d say a good old Zeiss folder, or even a Brownie (620 cameras can shoot 120 film – Google it) will be a great camera to get you going for less than a fast food dinner for two. The old Schneider Reomar lenses, etc., are decently sharp, you’ll still look like a cool cat with your hipster camera, and you’ll have negatives that will print sharp up to the size of a car if you like.
Half-frame is an option…
…but why? It’s not going to give you great images. They will give you 48 shots from a 24-exposure roll, and you can do some cool projects with them, but it’s almost a last resort. Lately, some big brand manufacturers have been foisting these plastic toys on us G.A.S.-afflicted monkeys and influencers. I wonder how much influencers get paid to promote the toy cameras ? Note to self: ask one of them. I am not discouraging the use of them. I am arguing there are much more iconic, beautiful, vintage half-frame cameras that are going to get you great results. If you have the money to spend $30 a roll for developed/scanned film, you can afford a really nice half-frame camera. If you want to shoot half-frame, go get a decent camera. Olympus, Minolta, Canon all made great half-frame cameras. Even some old Soviet half-frames were decent. A $100 Olympus Pen is ten times the quality (both build and image) of these $50 shameless cash-grabs. As proof, I went online last night and found a Minolta REPO half-frame for $20.99 from Japan. With shipping, it still came out less than what I paid for my entirely-plastic Kodak H35, and I have another vintage camera to add to the collection!
Not everything is black and white
Film is, though! Not only is it cheaper, but Kodak isn’t the only game in town. Black and white manufacturers are aplenty and the film is great! You can push BW film to get high contrast results. There is a lot of option for grain density (good grain, even for half-frame cameras), and a myriad of developers. Here is where Kodak really comes to the rescue. The two most popular developers are Kodak HC110 and Kodak D76. There’s also Dektol, Rodinal, and even Caffinol. That’s right, you can actually DIY your developer using vitamin C, washing soda, and instant coffee. It was my first developer, and I still use it when I want to go back and try something different.
And, as a last resort… Got a Digicam ?
I just heard a pin drop. Yes, I said it. Boxed color film is expensive, processing at a lab is expensive, and all for what, 35 ‘meh’ shots and one keeper ? Go spend $20 on ShopGoodwill.com or your local thrift store and grab a insert your favorite megapixel count here Coolpix/Powershot/Vivitar digital camera. Keep it in your pocket for the color shots. These older CCDs have a limitation that gives them that similar gritty look (read ‘vintage’) and you can save your ducats for when the dust settles around the color film prices. I just picked up a Nikon Coolpix 10 megapixel point-and-shoot with a charger, battery, and a carrying case for $33 shipped. It is 2×3 and fits in my pocket. Unlike the iPhone, I’m not scared to lose my grip and drop a cheap point-and-shoot.
Last things last, don’t limit yourself or get discouraged by box film prices. Adaptation is fun and challenging, but sometimes practicality means you go shoot some digital on that Mirrorless camera or DSLR sitting on your shelf. The film and sensor are just mediums. Think about it. If oil paints became prohibitively expensive, most artists would not simply stop painting, they’d go find cheaper mediums. Whatever path you choose, keep shooting!
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