Today I wanted to share with you how easy and affordable it can be to dip your toes into film. I love film. But the one big drawback is cost: purchasing a new camera, the film itself, the processing, etc. Thankfully, you can get started with 35mm film for next to nothing! And 35mm film isn’t just for hobbyists – not at all. I shoot 35mm film at most of my sessions, as well as for travel and personal work. I love many things about 35mm film:
- It has more than double the frames as a medium format roll, yet the cost of processing is very similar
- I can use my favorite lenses (usually my Canon 50mm 1.2)
- It’s super fast and easy to load, unlike a medium format camera (funny story: I shot a winter session here last year and my hands went so numb that I was literally physically unable to load my medium format film, ha!)
- It’s a bit more compact setup than a medium format camera, so it’s easier to take along on activities
- BIGGEST PERK: you can get very inexpensive 35mm cameras, while medium format cameras can be very expensive
The one “drawback” is that 35mm is quite a bit more grainy than medium format film and is a smaller image – however, this rarely bothers me at all. I’ve blown up 35mm film to 16×20 images and it looked fantastic!
How to dive in: Get an SLR that matches your DSLR
While mirrorless is continuing to grow in popularity, until recently the vast majority of us were shooting DSLRs… which were essentially the digital version of the more recent film cameras, SLRs. A DSLR and an SLR from the same brand feel somewhat similar and should be compatible with the same lenses. So step one, figure out what SLR makes sense for you!
I am a Canon shooter, and I’ve used multiple models of Canon 35mm film cameras. As you can see from the photo above, I currently have five sitting around my office (kidding, I don’t have an office – I have part of a guest room and part of my kids’ playroom, ha!). I’ll admit, a couple of these are broken and I haven’t thrown them out – I’ve just put off deciding if I want to get a quote on getting them fixed or if I shouldn’t bother because replacing them is too affordable (and hence the route I’ve taken so far).
I’m not an expert on the detailed features each camera model offers, but you can trust me on this: for basic shooting (including manual mode and autofocus), each of these cameras delivers. Unlike a digital camera, where the quality of the camera itself makes an enormous difference in your image quality, a film camera is simply exposing your film and focusing your lens. The quality comes from the film and the lens that you use, not from the camera itself. So your photos will look just as great with the cheapest camera you can find (as long as it works), as they will with a higher end 35mm camera.
The models I’ve used so far are the EOS A2 (my current go-to), EOS 620 (two of them), and the EOS 1N, plus the EOS Elan 7 that is still sitting in the bag I bought it in and is a backup. The 1N is a more “professional” model and retails for $400+ (though I got mine for much less than that), while the EOS 620 I purchased for around $35 and I currently see for sale anywhere from $50-$100. And yet for my purposes, there is zero difference. I have simply picked my film cameras based on whatever was cheapest but met my basic needs (manual mode and AF).
I have purchased most of my used cameras from KEH Camera, and have had great luck. There are all kinds of cameras available on their site, and thorough details about each one in the listing. Just know that you should read about the condition indicators before purchasing a camera, so that you know what level of wear and tear it has and if you’re comfortable with that. Personally, I couldn’t care less what my cameras look like and I will buy anything that isn’t As-Is (which is not functional).
A few things to note….
If you’re shooting Canon like me, any of these models I listed will fit your regular Canon lenses and will have autofocus. There are also tons of other models that will work for you, but make sure that you confirm that your lens is the right mount type and that the camera model has AF if you want it.
If you’re not shooting Canon, don’t worry – there are tons of options for you also! Nikon has many models that will work with your Nikon-compatible lenses as well – you do need to spend a little time reading through camera specifications as you shop, but it isn’t difficult to figure out.
If you’re shooting any mirrorless model, Canon included, then you will likely NOT be able to use your mirrorless model compatible lenses, unless you are still using your DSLR lenses with an adapter of course.
I’ve found these cameras to be much less reliable than my Pentax or my digital cameras – I’ve had a couple that drain a battery way too quickly (I had to pop it out between sessions, but typically a battery should last a LONG time), and the shutter just fell out of my 1N (the most expensive model) after working great for a couple years. I would highly recommend having a backup if you are using one of these for professional work or depending on it for personal use. Most of mine have been awesome. And thankfully, purchasing a second cheap camera if/when you’re ready to use it heavily during your sessions is not a big investment at all. Don’t be nervous or turned off to 35mm – just be prepared.
Extra important bonus tip:
Don’t use the in-camera light meter! The light meter that is built into your camera is overall very limited and somewhat inaccurate. I am not going to get into how to meter right now since that’s a big subject for another day and one that you can find great articles about all over the internet (check out Photovision’s film tips here). Just know that you shouldn’t trust it, and should either get a light meter or learn to assess your light without a meter. Personally, I do the second – I don’t own a meter and possibly never will. Some film shooters would find that shocking and awful, but my method works great for me and I have taught it to many other photographers. I love shortcuts that work, and this one does. 😉
If you’re curious about film and want to give it a shot (no pun intended, but my dad would appreciate it at least!), start by figuring out what SLR you could use with your current lenses and dive in! I would LOVE to hear about your film adventures and any questions along the way. Tell me how it goes!
Hey, friend! I’m Hannah, a photographer and educator based in Boise, Idaho. I am passionate about equipping family photographers to create the work they dream of and build profitable businesses in alignment with their own vision and values. If you’re interested growing as a photographer and business owner, check out my mentorship and coaching offerings, and read more about me to learn why I believe so strongly in what I do.