If you’re anything like me, the satisfaction of firing the shutter and advancing the film in your favorite film camera is merely unrivaled by any digital camera, no matter how top of the line it may be.
For several years, film shooters have been getting away with cost-effective steals by continuing to shoot film. Heck, three years ago, I could walk into a thrift store on any given day of the week and find a quality 35mm slr camera. In fact, in 2017, I purchased five Canon AE-1 Program cameras for under $40 and managed to flip them on eBay for superior profit margins. Sadly, those days are over now.
Not only have the cost of film cameras gone up in thrift stores, online, and at garage sales of all places, but the cost of film rolls have also skyrocketed in 2020. In January, all Kodak products rose thirty percent in price. Why do you ask?
Well, the secret got out. Film shooters around the world started sharing the joys of shooting analog. Whether it was a catchy hashtag on Instagram, or your favorite Youtuber singing the gospel of their newly acquired Contax G2, word got out.
I had a field day when I switched over to primarily doing film photography. I became a film camera collector overnight, and a through and through #staypoorshootfilm enthusiast.
As with most good things that came to an end in 2020, so did my spending habits regarding film photography. Don’t cry for me. I’m not easily dissuaded. I came up with a game plan to ensure I didn’t lose much ground at all in my photographic pursuits despite the monetary obstacles in my way.
Here the top 4 ways I’ve been saving money in film photography in 2020:
1. Buy cheap film stocks
Suppose you decided to tune in to practically any top Youtube film channels. More than likely, you’ll be persuaded to buy Kodak Portra 400. If there were a poll taken today, this film stock would be voted most popular. It’s beautiful and versatile film stock, but it also costs about $10-$12 per roll of 35mm film, depending on where you buy it.
Now with that same $12, you could buy a three-pack of Fujicolor 200. My math’s a bit rusty at times, but I believe three is still greater than one.
Some other affordable film stocks to consider:
Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400
Kodak Color Plus 200
Kodak Pro Image 100
Kodak Ultra Max 400
Kodak Gold 200
2. Shoot black and white film
If you thought the film stocks I mentioned above were cheap, you’d have a field day choosing a black and white film stock.
Let me paint the picture for you. As I mentioned earlier, the ever-popular color negative Kodak Portra 400 costs about $12 a roll of 35mm film. Kodak’s top of the line black and white film Kodak Tmax 400 costs about $8 a roll of 35mm film. Oh yeah, already cutting costs, and I haven’t even gotten to the cheap black and white films yet.
Allow me to introduce you to the world of bulk loading. What’s bulk loading, you ask? It’s buying one hundred feet of 35mm film and rolling it into film canisters yourself. Sound a little complicated and like a lot of work? Yeah, it is. However, it’s worth it if you’re committed to getting the most out of your money.
Bulk break down:
One hundred feet of Kodak Tmax 400 sells for roughly $100. Let’s be conservative and say you get 20 35mm rolls at 36 exposures a piece in each canister. That works out to $5 a roll, give or take. Now, if my math is right, that’s $3 cheaper per roll than if I were to buy this film stock sold per canister in stores.
The bottom line, shooting black and white film, allows you to stretch your dollar and shoot more film while doing it.
Cheap black and white film stocks to consider:
Kentmere 100 or 400
Arista EDU Ultra 100/200/400
Foma Fomapan 100/200/400
Ilford Delta 400
3. Choose 35mm film photography over 120mm film photography
This one may hurt a lot of people’s feelings because medium format photography delivers boss results. I know! It’s also expensive.
Let’s stick with Kodak Portra 400 and compare a 35mm roll and a 120mm roll.
35mm roll of Kodak Portra 400: roughly $12
120mm roll of Kodak Portra 400: approximately $10
Hang on a second; the 120mm roll is cheaper! It is, but it’s not at the same time. Stay with me here.
With that 35mm roll of Portra 400, you’re getting 36 exposures. Nice. Now with the 120mm roll of Portra 400, you’re going to get anywhere fro 10–15 exposure depending on which medium format camera you’re using.
All in all, you’re getting about half the exposures or less. For 15 frames, you’re paying about .66 cents per frame. At the lower end, with ten frames, you’re paying $1 for each one. In comparison, you’re paying about .33 cents per frame on the 35mm roll.
Okay, no more math, I promise. My head hurts a bit too. It all boils down to this; medium format photography costs more money. It’s not just the film either. Medium format cameras are significantly more expensive than 35mm film cameras. To date, I’ve never bought a working medium format film camera for less than $50.
4. Develop your film at home
Developing your film at home may seem like a daunting task, but don’t forget we’re trying to save money. And post-processing your film can eat a lot of your funds in film photography. Different labs have different fees depending on the service they provide. However, they charge you per roll, and if you shoot a lot, it adds up quickly.
I’ll be the first to admit developing color film at home is tricky as it’s critical to keep your chemicals at a specific temperature during the processing. Additionally, after mixing the chemicals, they only last for about two weeks, according to most manufacturers.
A hack I use is to wait until I have about 10–20 rolls of color negative film, then spend the weekend developing the rolls. This tactic ensures getting the best results as the chemicals are fresh.
Developing black and white film is a bit easier as the process is more forgiving with the chemicals. They keep longer and offer more flexibility with temperatures during the processing.
The upfront costs of buying the equipment and chemicals will run you around $100, but you’ll save way more money on processing costs in the long run. Plus, developing film at home adds more creative control to your photography.
If you’re a film shooter or looking to get into shooting film, give my money-saving hacks a try. What’s the worst that could happen? You shoot more film this year. You’re welcome.