Ever wonder as to “which 35mm or 120 medium format film I should buy?” or “35mm film shop near me” or “where can I buy 35mm or 120 or C41 film?” or “where can I black & white film near me?” or “where can I buy color film?”
If you asked any of the above questions, this post is for you. So, you are just starting into film photography, let’s take an estimate of costs associated with your new passion:
Camera - handed-down, inherited - no cost. Unless it needs light-seals or mirror foam replaced. Then, you will incur $15-75. $15 for DIY, cheaply. Go to a hobby store and buy felt and foam and watch YouTube to DIY. Yay! To have them professionally installed and film-testing your camera after installation, $75. That is using laser-cut seals which are made/cut precisely for your camera model and include the labor-intensive process of removing the old seals and foam completely. The new seals and foam won’t adhere (stick) correctly unless the old seals and mirror foam are completely removed.
Now, you may miraculously find both, a film-tested and a camera with replaced light seals and mirror foam online - say, a Pentax K1000 ($150-250) or a Canon AE-1 ($250-350) or an Olympus OM-2 series ($250-400) with the costs varying based on what lens you get with it. For LRGV Customers, I sell film-tested film cameras with a 30-day warranty. To see available cameras, click here. Remember, if you buy a cheap camera with light leaks or are not sure it works, you are taking a risk with the cost of film (minimum $5) and the cost of developing ($20-36) per roll. Add to that the cost of a disappointment :(
Cost of the film - you can get basic black and white 35mm rolls for as low as $5. These would be like the Arista or Fomapan, 36 exposures. Of course, you will have the so-called learned folks on Facebook Groups having you believe that those films are of inferior quality or sh*t in their opinion. But, show them an image taken with those film stocks next to one taken with the more expensive film stocks taken with identical camera + lens setup and developed similarly and they would not be able to tell you which is which even if their life depended on it. Seriously. Try it. I have done so on more than one occasion in various Facebook Groups with hilarious outcomes. So, you can follow a YouTube film photography guru and spend your money on a film that costs twice or thrice as much or you can tell yourself “I am a newbie to film photography, and $5 film that gives me 36 exposure is an affordable way to trial and error my learning.”
I sell 25 varieties of films for color films, I typically recommend the $6 24 exp color films.
Cost of developing film - call it developing or processing, it all means the same. Your negative has to be treated with chemicals to make the images appear on them so that they can be scanned or printed. Your neighbor may do it for $5 a roll or even for free. Take it to CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, or, Target and they will charge you $18 or so and give you a set of prints and, a CD with your scanned images. What about your negatives? They destroy them. Yup. Too costly to return negatives back to the store or the Customer due to the logistics and labor involved. And, they take 3-4 weeks. If you can live with that, go for it. Otherwise, there are several online outfits that do a fine job - The Dark Room is one of the most popular ones. For $20 including shipping and prints, negatives returned along with scans and, a 2-3 week turnaround, it is a good deal. I charge $36 inclusive of taxes to develop and scan a roll. No prints. $46 includes prints. I return the negatives. Scans are done at a pro lab that uses a Noritsu scanner and if you drop off the film on Monday before 3p, I return everything by Friday after 3p. So, take your pick - don’t mind waiting 2-3 weeks, go with a decent online pro lab. Want it sooner, come to me.
Oh, one more thing. That neighbor that does it for free or for $5 - it is highly unlikely that they have a dedicated film developer and scanner like pro labs do. Chances are that they hand-develop the film. Meaning that there is no consistency from one roll to the next. Colors, contrast, dust, etc., may shift from roll to roll. Meaning that if you are a newbie learning film photography, you don’t know if your picture taking is off or if the development is off. I have one Customer that prides himself in learning film photography and developing simultaneously as he wants to save money. Wow. He has no reference or benchmarking on either his development or photography and therefore, in the long run, he is spending more than if he were to send his film to a pro lab for development. He would know where his photography is off. Oh well.
So here are my recommended films. I have shot all the films that I sell and developed them - you can find my pricing here:
Black and white - Arista 100 or 400 24-36 exp. Fomapan is made by the same facility in Czechoslavia so, highly likely it is the same film but, slightly more in cost.
Color - Kodak Gold 200 or 400, Color Plus 24-36 exp. Oh, of course, Fuji Superia XTRA or Fuji 200.
POST-NEWBIES meaning you are ready for the next step
Black and white - Any of the Ilford or Kodak films with 50 ISO to 400 ISO such as Ilford PanF 50, Ilford Delta 100, Ilford FP4+ 125, Kodak TMAX 100, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford HP5+ 400, Kodak TMAX 400, Kodak TRIX 400. Plan on shooting in low light on 35mm, try out the Ilford Ilford Delta 3200 or the Kodak TMAX 3200. And, of course, there are boutique and rebranded films such as those marketed by Adox, Agfa, Bregger, Kosmo, and, others.
Color - Cine Still 50, Kodak Pro Image 100, Kodak Ektar 100, Portra 160, Portra 400, and, of course, Portra 800 which I find to be the most versatile color film I have ever shot with. Regardless of when I shoot with it - middle of a sunny day or evening or indoors, I am always happy with the results. The grain is noticeable given the higher ISO but, I find it quite pleasing.
Having shot with the small variety of disposable film cameras out there, my preferred one is the Kodak 800 which goes by a couple of different names such as Kodak FunSaver 800 and Kodak Power Flash 800. As long it says 800 in the name which is for the ISO, you are good. It uses the Portra 800 film stock which as I explained above is the most versatile color film stock in my perception. Fujifilm QuickSnap disposable film cameras are okay as long as you are shooting in good light. Note that they use 400 ISO film as Fuji doesn’t make 800 ISO film as of 06/16/2021.
If you shoot regularly, you are spending more money than necessary if all you shoot with is disposable cameras. And, you are getting inferior results when compared to an SLR. Better to buy a quality point & shoot camera and then buy the film separately. Better yet, buy something like a Canon AE-1 Program and use it in point & shoot mode. Disposable cameras are made with the cheapest components that have to last just long enough for you to shoot one roll. The lens is made up of cheap plastic so the optics are okay. The Canon AE-1 Program is built from metal and the lens is made from metal and glass. No plastic there. So, your optics are superior which means superior images.