These days cameras and photography, in general, are easy to start doing, and even can open up a whole new hobby to you and a way to capture better family events, trips, and even everyday life. But one thing that a lot of people are starting to do is taking their photography in a different direction by reshooting film. Yes, the film never went away, it just sort of made itself into a nice little niche. Shooting on film or shooting a digital camera is no different the same general principles apply it’s just how they capture images and what happens afterwards that is different. Your average digital camera is no different from the film and even plate cameras of the past, light passes through a lens and hits a light-sensitive media. But what if you want to pick up film from shooting digital, or just jump into film in the first place? Well, that is what I’m going to be covering today. I will start with the first question you need to ask, why do you want to shoot film? Once you have that answer, you can start thinking about the camera system you want to get into based on existing equipment. And then we get to the good stuff like camera bodies, lenses, and film. Then the finishing with processing, scanning, and printing.
Table of Contents
- What to think about first.
- Good Starting Cameras.
- Good Starting Films.
- Processing, Scanning and Printing.
What to Think About First
This question is probably the most important one to ask when you are considering to shoot film; it won’t take long to do a little bit of soul searching. Shooting film can be an expensive endeavour and often a frustrating one. Lots can go wrong, the cameras are getting old, and the price of film, processing, scanners, and more can all add up. So here’s the question, why do you want to shoot film? Are you picking up film photography to slow yourself down? Or maybe thinking getting that old K1000 will improve you as a photographer? If you think these two things, you can get both those with your digital camera; those two things are a matter of a mental switch. Now if you want to shoot film for the enjoyment or you just plain want to give it a go, then, by all means, keep reading. Now that you’ve made your choice, the second step is to figure out a budget. Trust me; it is easy to fall down a rabbit hole that will end up costing a lot of money. Unlike digital, where you have your initial payout and then some extras cost along the way (lens, media). When it comes to film it will cost you money every time you walk out the door to take a photo. The final step is to take a look at your existing cameras, the reason being that several film cameras out there can easily accept many of the lenses that work on your digital cameras. That said, not all digital lenses will work perfectly on your film cameras. Let’s break that down. There are several lenses mounts out there that date back to the days of film, the two oldest being the Nikon F-Mount (first showed up in 1959) and while it has seen some changes over the years, it has remained the same basic form factor. That said there have been changes over time. The original Nikon F uses what’s called Non-AI lenses; these have a hard time translating onto cameras beyond the Nikon F4 without modifications to the lens or the camera body. However, Nikon D-Type lenses will work on cameras back to the Nikon F3 as they still have the aperture ring. Most modern Nikon lenses are G-Type, lacking an aperture ring so using them on cameras older than the F5 will curtail their functionality. Also, watch out for Nikon DX lenses, these are designed for crop sensor cameras. The next lens mount is the Pentax K-Mount; these lenses will work easily on almost any Pentax or similar K-Mount camera out there. But even still you do have to watch out as like the F-Mount the K-Mount has changed over time. Now I have little experience with modern K lenses, best to check out Wikipedia to figure out your own lens catalogue. Now if you’re a Canon shooter, you’re almost golden, the EF-Mount has changed little since its introduction in the 1980s. That means that a lens produced back at the start of the Canon EOS system will work on a modern digital SLR and vice versa. Just watch out the EF-S mount as they are designed for the crop sensor and will cause damage to your film camera when mounted. Similar to the EF-Mount, the Sony A-Mount (which is originally the Minolta A-Mount or Alpha) will work on Minolta cameras back to the original Maxxum 7000. The only thing to watch out for is the modern G-Type or SWM lenses, they will not work on older cameras, but they will work on modified Maxxum 9 or natively on Maxxum 7 cameras. And the final lens mount that has remained fairly similar since its creation is the Leica M-Mount, and while there are again several variations on the lenses from its creation until now, the mount is the same. Leica M-Mount has always been and always will be manual focus and aimed at semi-automatic or manual cameras. But like everything Leica M-Mount you will pay a premium. But there are excellent alternatives, such as the Voigtlander Bessa line or rangefinders. Of course, if you’re shooting mirrorless and shoot adapted manual focus lenses, you might have an excellent collection of an old manual system already. And you know that’s a good place to start as well in picking out a camera body. It’s just always good to look at the lenses you have if you don’t want to get into a heavy investment of buying a whole new system.
Good Starting Cameras
Okay, so you’ve gone ahead and realised that you’re getting into film because you want to and you’ve looked through your existing lenses, and now you’re ready for that first film body. While today there are a limited number of new cameras on the market, and these can be fairly expensive. If you have plenty of M-Mount lenses and a lot of disposable income, then a Leica M-A might be worth a look. But if you’re a Nikon shooter and have a lot of FX glass, then maybe a Nikon F6 is the way to go, it will give you the same experience as your Nikon digital SLR. If you need something a little more manual, then a Nikon FM10 is a good choice. If all of these are out of your price range or you want something a little more classic, then read on. On the used market prices can be rather hefty on certain cameras. Leica’s even the oldest M-Mount cameras on the market carry a price tag, and medium format cameras are not cheap either, especially the iconic ones I’m talking about a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex. But if you’re just getting into film photography, I recommend sticking with a 35mm camera. If you have a selection of Canon, Nikon, or Pentax lenses that are designed to work with full-frame (36x24mm) digital bodies you’re in luck. You can pick up cheap and cheerful 1990s autofocus camera bodies that won’t break the bank and work with your lenses. The Canon EF lenses will work with any EOS camera body, a good Rebel or Elan are excellent choices. For Nikon, your AF-D or AF-G lenses will work great on an F80. I have little experience with Pentax cameras, but the K-Mount will work the same way as the Nikon F and Canon EF. Of course, you might have no lenses that will work with newer film bodies, so you have a lot of freedom, or you just want to try your hands at manual focus or older camera systems. Most people will go straight for the Pentax K1000, but honestly, that system is a little overhyped. Why not check out a Pentax ME Super or the KM or KX. If you’re a Nikon shooter, you can take a look at the Nikkormat cameras, either the FT2 or FT3, and older is the FTn which is a strong camera. Plus all these cameras can use Pre-AI, AI, and AI-S lenses. Of course, for a bit more an FM or FE (FM2(n), FE2) are excellent options. More of a Canon shooter, then the AE-1 (Program) is an OK choice, but getting a little old, but the FTb is a solid choice that doesn’t require a battery to function. But don’t just limit your choices to either Nikon or Canon. The Minolta SR-T line is excellent choice and the Rokkor glass is amazing. And finally, there’s the amazing Olympus OM-1 and the Zuiko glass is another good performing lens.
Good Starting Films
While today you cannot just walk into your corner store and pick up a wide variety of film like you could before, there are still plenty of options available to the new and seasoned film shooter. And actually, today with the increased global economy film that once stayed east (or west) of the Iron Curtin can now be had by any film shooter. And there are still new film stocks that pop up every so often. That said, it’s not cheap to purchase, and the costs do go up on an annual basis. But there are still deals to be had. If you are just getting started and have no desire to process your film at first, you can start with some inexpensive colour film. Kodak ColorPlus 200 (a continuation of Kodacolor VR 200) is one of the least expensive colour films out there but does require purchase through a dedicated camera store. There is the standard set of consumer films Kodak Max 400 and Gold 200. Fujifilm still produces their Superia line, in both 200, 400, and 800 flavours. In fact, my good friend Aly just wrote an excellent piece on Superia 400 and well worth the read. Now, if you’re used to being able to shoot a wide range of sensitivities with your digital camera, you will want to spend the extra cash and start with Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot the film down to ISO-100 and up to ISO-1600 on the same roll and just had the lab process the film normally and every frame worked. If you want to shoot black & white and want a clean modern look, then the Ilford Delta or Kodak TMax films are excellent options, not only are they sharp they are fine-grained. Both are available in 100, 400, and 3200-speed flavours. But again you’ll pay a premium for them. Plus they are traditional black & white films so you can process them at home (you can process your colour film at home also). Now if you want something a little less expensive, especially if you’re going to start processing your own black & white films at home. Check out Fomapan films or Arista films (which are repackaged Fomapan films) another solid option is Ultrafine (which is produced by Ilford). So, you won’t be losing a fifteen dollar roll of film if you mess up (and you will).
Processing, Scanning, and Printing
Like everything else in film photography you have a lot of choices once you’ve shot that first roll of film on getting that film into a state where you can share your work with the world. The fastest, easiest, and most hands-off method is just to let them do everything. There aren’t as many film labs around these days, there are plenty out there have expanded their market to include mail-in service. Some of the best labs I’ve worked with and still work with is Borealis, Old School Photo Lab, The Darkroom, and Film Rescue International. And in the GTA there are still some drop-off labs Downtown Camera and Burlington Camera. These labs will process, scan, and upload the scans that you can then download and print on your home inkjet. And even these labs can take your scans and make the prints for you. But if you want a little more control and for more money and frustration you can process your own film at home, and processing your own black & white is just as easy as processing your own colour negative or colour slide films. The steps are the same as is the initial equipment purchase, it’s only the chemistry that’s different. Scanning your own film is also a whole other ballgame and there are plenty of options out there, and for that, you’re best to explore on your own. But these days there are three options, the first is using a flatbed scanner like an Epson V850. The second using a dedicated film scanner like the Nikon Coolscan V ED. But these dedicated scanners can be expensive and often older and require a bit of adapting to get working on a modern computer system. Another option for dedicated scanners is the Plustek 8200i which can be had for a far lower cost. And even with scanning, you can let the scanning software do all the work, or do all the work yourself using a post-production software tool like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. While black & white is fairly easy to get to a point you like, colour can be a bit trying to even the best photographer. The newest method is using your digital camera to digitise your negatives. You’ll need a copy stand, light table, some form of a holder, and a macro lens (or something that can achieve close focus). I have no real experience with this method, but there is a lot of resources out there. The one piece of software that I do recommend is Adobe Lightroom, so you can use the Negative Lab Pro plugin that makes life super easy when scanning colour film. As I have no experience with this, I turn you over to B&H who put together a nice article. Now if you don’t want to go through all the scanning, you can darkroom print your negatives. But you need a lot more money, time, and space. That is if you’re putting one into your own house, but you can always borrow a friend’s darkroom or rent time in a community space.
One of the greatest parts of shooting film these days is the Internet. A whole community of shooters have been brought together for good and for ill through social media. These communities have helped bring together a lot of knowledge once held in the minds of many or tucked away in dusty volumes or long disposed of magazines. That said, there remains plenty of ‘gatekeepers’ who are less than helpful. So before you join all the groups on Facebook, take a peek at the community first, some are helpful, others not so much. The same goes for photosharing sites like Flickr which has an active film photography community. The most important thing that will help you is that everyone has their own way of doing things, you should figure out first what you like and stick with it and try as much as you can early to find your own happy place. Join communities that are welcoming and can and do answer questions from all levels of photographers. If you head over to my own links page, you find the top two sections for the Film Podcase Union and Camera Blogger Alliance are filled with excellent resources in both podcast and blog forms. There’s also a camera resource which links to labs and material sources. And my final piece of advice, leave the ego at home, be humble, be willing to learn and be willing to make mistakes.