Film is Back.
Film photography is making a comeback. It’s been long enough since digital cameras became mainstream that photo enthusiasts are starting to rediscover the joys of developing their own prints at home. There are a few approaches to this, and this article will look at the basics of what it takes to get started with film photography again.
Getting a Camera and Film:
The entry cost for film photography is actually surprisingly low, especially compared to buying a fancy new DSLR camera. What you will need is a film camera of some kind, and many analog SLR (single-lens reflex, the standard for pro photographers) cameras sell for as little as a few dollars on eBay. Thankfully film photography is still alive, but still not so popular that analog cameras are very expensive.
Then, you just need film, with the 35mm format being the standard for these cameras. Films can be bought in small batches for a few dollars each.
Choosing How to Develop:
Once you’ve had fun snapping photos with your friends like you did in the ’90s and have got used to the anticipation of not seeing the results immediately, you can start to think about getting them developed. There are three basic options: Do it all yourself, do some of it yourself, or send it off to a lab.
Negatives and then Digital Scans:
To develop the negatives, you’ll need a tank with a reel to load the negatives onto, a blackout bag (or a totally light-tight room to work in), a tool for opening the film canisters, C-41 developing chemicals (check out online photo stores), a thermometer, measuring jugs, glass storage jars for your mixed chemicals and drying clips.
Once you have your negatives, you can then use a specialized scanner (which actually only costs about $20 or so on eBay again), and get digital versions of your precious analog photos. They’re then ready to be shown off on Instagram, or you can head to your local photo lab and get physical prints made from the digital scans for a few cents each. This is a good option because you can choose the best photos to print and ditch the duds.
The whole process can be done in less than an hour (plus drying time) once you’ve got the hang of it, and you can get a big enough canister to develop multiple films at once to save time, too.
Developing the prints yourself requires a lot more time and equipment, but for the true enthusiast, there’s no comparison. In addition to the negative equipment, you’ll need the right chemicals, a print processor, enlarger, photo paper, safety gloves and tongs, trays, a sink and a darkroom to do it all in.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but after some practice, many photographers choose to move on to developing their own prints. Note that black and white and color photography use different chemicals, and the process for black and white is far simpler, so is a great starting point for beginners.
If it Seems like too Much:
That’s okay, it does take some getting used to. Check out detailed guides and videos online and take it slowly. Simply buying a cheap SLR in good condition online and a few rolls of film, then getting all the prints done at the lab is a great start and lots of fun.
If you’ll only be doing it for special projects or events then this might be acceptable, but at least doing the negatives yourself and scanning them digitally will make the cost of each film far cheaper in the long run. There are a few steps, but it’s really not that tricky once you’ve got the hang of it, and once you have the equipment the per-film cost of developing is really minimal.
Developing your own photos may seem way beyond the skills of the amateur photographer, but if you’re happy to invest in some basic equipment and take the time to learn how to do it safely and effectively, you’ll find it’s not so tricky.
Film photography may be less practical than snapping pictures with your iPhone, but if you’d like to get into it as a hobby and a DSLR is out of reach financially, or you just love vintage stuff, it’s a pretty niche and exciting way to take photography more seriously.