Where to start?
It seems that everyone has been getting into film photography lately. With so many cameras and film stocks, it can be hard to know where to start. I got my start in photography with film and have been shooting it for almost a decade, and I've gotten several friends into it as well. It can seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be as scary and expensive as the hipsters make it seem.
Note: None of this is sponsored content. None of the links are paid. I'm just a fan.
Where do you even get film developed?
This is the question I get most often about shooting film. Every drugstore photo center has been remodeled for creating prints of digital photos instead of developing film, so where can you even get film developed?
There are some drugstore chains that have started taking film again, but most of them send your film to a third party to do the actual developing. I prefer to skip the middle man and send my film directly to small, local photo labs instead. You can search online to find one local to you. In Seattle, I usually go to Panda Lab, but have also gone to Kenmore Camera. Moody's Film in Burien is another option I've heard good things about, and they have several dropboxes around Seattle, including at my go-to camera shop, Glazer's. Most of these places will also sell you film.
If you can't find an option local to you, there are also places that take orders by mail. You usually ship your film in a bubble mailer with your info and any instructions you have for development. I haven't done this myself because there are so many options local to me, but I know other people have had success with it. Darkslide Film Lab is one example of a mail-in lab that I've heard great things about, and it's a woman-owned small business!
How do I buy film?
Most of the places that develop film also sell it, so that's often the best place to start. These are some of the places I also like to shop for film:
- Big photography online retailers: B&H and Adorama
- Blue Moon Camera, Cat Labs, Film Photography Project, Lomography
- Glazer's, Kenmore Camera
And don't worry about the different sizes of film; most people will start out with a 35mm camera, so if the film says "35mm", you're doing great.
Where to buy film cameras
You may have heard that shooting film can be expensive (and it definitely can be), but the camera part of it doesn't have to be. I've got four different film cameras, and I only paid money for one of them. If you're just getting started in film and don't want to break the bank before you decide if you even like it, here are the best places to find a working camera:
You'd be surprised by how many people are holding on to old cameras they don't use anymore. Your grandparent who you remember seeing with a camera at every family reunion might be eager to have someone bring new life to their old favorite toy. Family members, friends, and local Buy Nothing groups can be great resources.
This can take a little more scavenging and can be tricky to verify that your finds are functional, but it can be a great place to start. If you're just starting out, exactly which camera you get doesn't really matter as much as getting your hands on one, so if you see something cheap, give it a try. eBay and Craigslist can work as online equivalents. Just remember to keep an eye out for scammers.
ONLINE AND IN-PERSON CAMERA SHOPS
If you want to buy a used camera and have some guarantee that it's working, getting one from a reputable shop is a great way to go. If you're in the Seattle area, Glazer's and Kenmore Camera are great options. You can go in person and ask the professionals about the different cameras, and you can also browse online. KEH is a great online resource for finding used cameras, but any of the sites mentioned earlier for buying film also sell used (and sometimes new!) film cameras
With the resurgence of film photography, there are starting to be more new options on the market. You can get disposable cameras on Amazon, Walmart, or any of the shops I mentioned above. There are also some "reloadable disposable cameras" like Lomography's Simple Use cameras. You can buy them from the Lomography site itself, but many of the options above also sell them, along with similar options from other brands.
What kind of camera to start with?
Looking at every type of film camera that's been created in the past century can be overwhelming. There's also a lot of what I consider to be bad advice out there that will steer you towards something that is more expensive and complicated than you need. However, I have a few suggestions based on your photography experience and what you want to get from it.
NO PHOTOGRAPHY EXPERIENCE
If you love the aesthetic of film photography but have no idea what "aperture" means, I suggest starting with a simple point-and-shoot camera. These function similarly to disposable cameras, but without the waste. You literally point it at what you want to take a picture of and then click the shutter. Some have a few more buttons and settings than that, but you shouldn't need any photography knowledge to use them beyond figuring out how to load film into them. There are trendy point and shoots that can go for hundreds of dollars on eBay (like the Contax T2), but if you just want something to capture some fun pictures with friends, there are plenty of options that go for under $100 that will work just fine.
Many DSLRs use the same lens mounts as the 35mm SLR film cameras that were created in the 90s or later for the same brand, so if you are already invested in a certain brand/system, get an SLR that works with it. Because these tend to be newer SLRs, many of them also have modern features that make working with them a lot easier, like autofocus, aperture- and shutter-priority modes, and auto-advancing film, and if you get one in the system you're already using, the buttons and dials will mostly be in familiar locations to you and you won't have to buy new lenses.
For example, if you already have a lot of Canon EF lenses, those should all work on any EOS film camera. From there, you can pick the option that best suits your budget and goals. Just trying to dip your toes into film as affordably as possible so you can start using them at weddings? You can grab an entry-level SLR like the Canon EOS Rebel G in excellent condition for under $50. Want a pro-level camera to get high-quality photos and all the bells and whistles? The Canon EOS-1 V is costly but will do the trick.
Start taking photos!
Once you've got your camera and film, go explore! You'll learn something new with every roll of film you shoot, and if you like it, there's so much more you can dive into: different film stocks, medium and large format film, double exposures, developing your own film, and so many other areas to learn about. At the very least, you'll make some memories and have some cool pictures to show for it.
And if you ever want some professional film photos taken of you, let me know! I offer rolls of film as an optional add-on for every photography session booked with me.