31 January 2011

The Logistics of Film: Cameras, Film, and Processing

Since I wrote about why I shoot film, I've gotten some questions about buying cameras and film, processing, and printing. I'm happy to answer questions, but I figure putting them into a post so they'll be there to refer to might be helpful. Though there's something to be said about learning on your own, these are things that I would have liked to know before I got started. It would have saved me a some money and some aggravation.

So here's my two cents on film photography for anyone who has asked and for the rest of you who haven't. Note: I am no expert when it comes to photography or shooting film or much of anything really. Also, this is copied, pasted, and modified from email correspondence with Julie. Hi Julie!

Buying a camera
I bought my film camera, a Pentax ZX-M, at a camera shop in 2001. It looks like it's a basic starter camera and would now cost about $200. I'm really happy with it.

I've seen a lot of folks on Flickr post that they've gotten their cameras at secondhand stores or on sites like Freecycle. I haven't looked at any pawn shops, but I think that might be a good place to look for any camera equipment, digital or film. Also asking friends and family members if they still have an old SLR is a good idea. People always have stuff like that tucked away in their attics.

Purchasing Film
I usually buy whatever film is on sale at Walgreens or Rite Aid. A lot of times the sale is four rolls of 200 or 400 speed film for $8-10. I have had better results with Fuji film than Kodak (that's for the non-specialty film -- I still want to shoot Kodak Portra). I haven't tried any off brand film, though I've read that they're cheap and not a bad place to start til you get your feet on the ground. I recommend getting 400 speed film unless you know you're going to have a lot of light where you shoot. Our house tends to be kind of dark and it's really hard to get a good exposure with 200 speed.

I've heard good things about these two companies, but haven't actually purchased anything from them. My next film purchase will be from B&H, and I plan to get some Portra and maybe more black and white film. The last roll of black and white I shot was Ilford HP5, which I liked, but I can get it cheaper online.

My suggestion, because it's worked for me, is stick to what's cheap and easy until you feel like you're ready to move on to something else. It's killer to shoot an entire roll and find out that only a few shots turned out. Even more killer to spend a bunch of money that you're essentially throwing away.

Processing and Printing
I have been getting my film developed at Walgreens. Unless I know I will want all the prints I ask for processing and a CD, no prints. At first I was paying to get prints made and finding that only a few shots would come out. I also was scanning them, which in my estimation is a frustrating waste of time. For $2.99 I can get the photos on a disc and don't have to spend upwards of an hour scanning and cursing the scanner because of bits of dust that end up on the image. The processing and CD cost about $8. With prints it would be about $13. Also, at Walgreens you get everything back in an hour (if you're really nice to them, they sometimes can do it faster), which is a bonus.

When I order prints, I get them from Snapfish when they're running a sale. It's not the best quality, but it's far better than the one-hour at any drug store, which has proved to be streaky and discolored. I can import my photos to Snapfish straight from Flickr, and that saves a lot of time. I have also heard good things about a company called Mpix, which offers professional-grade printing for affordable prices. Only $.99 for a 5x7. That's cheaper than Snapfish.

Final Thoughts
I thought shooting film was going to be a major expense, but I find that I can shoot about a roll a week (sometimes I can shoot a whole roll in a day!) and it evens out to about $10 a week. Of course if I start buying better film and paying for better processing, my weekly expenditure is likely to go up.


julie said...

this is a great reference! thanks again for the tips. i found out my in-laws have an old nikon film camera, so my parents are going to bring it to me when i see them next week. am so excited!

Anonymous said...

thanks great tips i took some photos an had them put on canvas prints last week they look great !

sandra said...

I finally got around to starting a Portra roll last week, but haven't had the time to really get into it. I've only taken about five shots so far. I'm hoping that by the end of this coming weekend I'll have it finished and sent off for developing. I have been using Mpix for all my printing for the past couple of years and I have to say that I love the quality there. I always used Kodak Gallery until a couple of Christmases ago when they completely destroyed the color on a large order of photos. It was really, really bad. I immediately uploaded those same photos to Mpix and re-ordered and the difference was amazing. Their b&w processing is gorgeous, especially when you request the b&w paper to be used. The metallic paper is beautiful too, when you want a really colorful photo printed. I can honestly say only good things about my experience with them. I haven't used them for film yet, but I will with my next roll...we'll see how it goes!