Film Photography On A Budget

I am a big fan of film photography, I don’t object to digital photography and I understand the advantages it has but I just prefer film. Yes it takes longer and you can’t shoot as many pictures (unless you are very rich / have an endless supply of film) but that makes me think more about each image, sometimes it is good to slow things down. Anyway, this isn’t about the pros and cons of film and digital – it is about photography on a budget.

There are a lot of posts out there in the wide world of the ‘net about getting into film photgraphy cheaply and I have read a fair number of them; however, their definition of cheaply seems to be getting kit for a budget of £250 or more. Sorry, but I have probably spent somewhere around that for my entire camera collection – a collection that is probably way too big. So, how can you save money and still get into film photgraphy? Well here are a few thoughts about starting out in film photography based on my experiences.

1. Don’t buy from the Lomography Society shop unless you have a really high budget.
Don’t get me wrong, I love many lomo cameras and own cameras they sell, but the two bought brand new were bought for me as presents. Check eBay (or other online outlets) instead. A Lomo LC-A+ is a couple of hundred pounds on their website, I bought an original 1980’s Lomo LC-A on eBay for around £12 – it had a stuck shutter problem which I fixed by poking at it with a biro while on the bus home (not a repair method I recommend but it worked in this case). This is probably my most used camera. Original Diana cameras sometimes go for pennies online but the modern replica is £50+ so shop around.

2. Set yourself a budget.
I haven’t paid more than £25 for a camera yet, sure it means you have to put more effort into finding a bargain but that just means you get more satisfaction when you do. Trawling through online auction listings is no fun, neither is missing out on twenty cameras but winning the twenty-first for a ridiculously low bid is great.

3. Think about film format.
Do you really want to shoot 110? Medium format? 35mm? Large Format? 110 cameras are generally cheap but there is only one source for film that is reliable and it is not cheap, neither is the processing – which will probably have to be by post as very few shops still do it. Medium format cameras tend to be more expensive as is the film, processing is more common than for 110 (some Snappy Snaps branches will even do it, but not all) but it also tends to be pricier than for 35mm. For 35mm you have the widest choice of cameras and a wide range of prices, processing is fairly easy as a lot of places still do it cheaply. Large format cameras are expensive and processing is pretty much limited to doing it yourself. Of course, picture quality is part of all this – from lowest to highest it goes 110, 35mm, medium format, large format. For someone starting out 35mm is probably the best choice.

4. Think about the type of camera.
There are many different types with many different features, there are also many articles out there about them that are much better than anything I could come up with. when you’re looking at a camera google the details and reviews to find out about it. What you want to do with the camera will determine the type you get.

5. Learn about appertures, shutter speeds, film speeds and how all of this affects exposure.
If you get a completely automatic point and shoot all of this will be controlled for you but you will also miss out on half the fun of film photography. You don’t need all the details and all the maths behind it all but a basic understanding will stand you in good stead and help determine the sort of camera you buy. Smartphone apps and cameras can replace light meters, in my experience they are much more reliable.

6. Film can be cheap.
Lots of places still sell film, don’t just buy from the first place you see and don’t just buy from a camera shop because they are the experts. For example, Boots in the UK sell bags of 35mm colour negative film made by Fujifilm – it is perfectly reasonable film and very cheap.

7. Beware of obsolete items.
Many film cameras are very cheap, some are cheap because they use film or batteries that do not exist any more. Many older cameras use mercury batteries for their light meters and the like, these are no longer made. In some cases there is a modern equivalent that works just as well but this is not always the case. Film formats can be the same – many 127 and 126 film cameras are cheap, unfortunately no-one makes film in those formats any more. 620 film has very, very limited availability, you can re-spool 120 film but it is a pain to do. These are just a few examples, check before you buy – 120 and 35mm are the commonest film formats still available by the way.

8. Don’t drop your cameras.
I know, it seems obvious but I am in the process of replacing my SLR (a Zenit 11) because the strap failed the other day. Ok, it only cost £5.99 when I got it but replacing it is more expensive than not doing so.

9. New isn’t always better.
I’ve had relatively recent cameras fail on me more often than old ones, ‘the newer they are the more complicated they are’ is a rule that is often true. Many old cameras are completely mechanical so they will work in weather and places that an electronic camera won’t (unless it is specially made to do so). I’ve got cameras made in 1936 and 1937 that are still going strong, I also have a mid 90’s point and shoot that is now basically a paperweight.

10. Beware of gas.
G.A.S. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. No, you do not need one of every camera in existence. Just because it is a bargain does not mean you must buy it. I have to remind myself of this every day.

11. Have fun.
Looking at my photos (www.flickr.com/archerctb) it is pretty obvious I am not great photographer but I do enjoy it, if you aren’t enjoying it then do something else you do enjoy.

Ok, not exactly comprehensive but it is only supposed to be a few thoughts anyway. Long live film!

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