It's laughable to think about now but one of the reasons I started shooting film in 2014 was because I couldn’t afford a DSLR. I soon realised that choosing film photography with a view of saving money was possibly the dumbest decision a person could make, but it was already too late. I'd fallen for film and there was no going back. At this point the only thing to do was embrace the popular Instagram hashtag and #staybrokeshootfilm.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Sure, film photography is never going to be a cheap hobby, but there are ways to make it as cheap as possible. Here are a few of those ways:
Start With 35 mm
If you’re just starting out and unsure of which format to use, do yourself a favor and begin with 35 mm. As well as being the most affordable format, at this size you’re also going to have a lot more options in terms of cameras and film stocks to try out while you figure out what you’re interested in.
Don’t drop a fortune on medium format before you get to grips with the basics. On a roll of 120 film you only get around 12 - 16 shots so if you’re still learning that probably means a lot of wasted rolls before you start to see results you love. 35 mm gives you 36 exposures per roll to play with which is going to be much more cost effective. Anyway, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and you might find out you’re a lover of lo-fi or simply prefer the aesthetic of 35 mm film.
Oh, and when you are ready to try out medium format the Diana F+ is by far the most fun and affordable camera to start with.
Hunt Out Cheap Cameras
Alternatively, flea markets and vintage stores are of course great places to hunt for second hand cameras at bargain prices. If you're buying old cameras just make sure to check everything is in working order (or at least fixable) before you part with any cash.
Using eBay can also be a great option. It’s true that finding cheap film cameras online is harder these days than it was a few years ago, but if you’re smart you can still snatch up a good deal. Here are some tips:
Firstly, if you find a camera you’re interested in buying, make sure to check sold listings to see how much other models have sold for and how much you should be paying.
Sometimes it’s worth buying a camera that is in less than perfect condition. Stay away from lenses with scratches or fungus. But degraded light seals are usually something that can easily be replaced, and a broken light meter might not be a problem if the camera still operates without it.
Also try searching for misspelled brand names, for example ‘Nikkon’ instead of ‘Nikon’ or ‘Hassleblad’ instead of ‘Hasselblad’. A shocking number of people are careless with the accuracy of their spelling, or simply don’t know about the product they’re selling. If you’re lucky enough to find one of these listings chances are you can get a better price as fewer people will be viewing it.
Shoot Cheap Color Negative Film
Ok, so maybe there’s no such thing as “cheap film” these days, but choosing consumer film rather than those described as professional is going to save you a lot of money and you can still get stunning results. Oh, and buy it in bulk!
When money is tight color negative film is the way to go as it’s generally quite a lot cheaper than black and white to get developed at a lab. But for those wanting to shoot black and white, Ilford Xp2 Super is a great option because it is developed using color negative C41 processing and therefore is cheaper to get developed than other black and white film stocks.
However, we know some of you monochrome lovers out there want to shoot true black and white, which brings us to the next point. . .
Develop and Scan Your Own Film!
Yes, it may sound scary for beginners, but developing your own film at home doesn’t need to be arduous, especially when it comes to black and white, which is considerably more straightforward than developing color film. Just check out our simple guide to self developing. The chemicals can seem like a hefty price to pay too but some, such as the fixer, can be reused several times and if you shoot a lot of film it’s definitely worth the investment. Plus you have all the fun of experimentation and creative control over your final images.
When it comes to scanning, a flatbed scanner is one option but for those on a budget who also want great quality scans we have the perfect solution with our DigitaLIZA + and DigitaLIZA MAX scanning kits. These lightweight devices make scanning your negatives incredibly convenient and simple.
Finally, A Word About Bulk Loading
Did you know that you can also roll your own film at home? Ilford and Kodak both sell a small selection of film in 100ft rolls that can be cut down into about 18 smaller rolls of 36 exposures. I confess to never having tried it but with the use of a bulkloader and some reloadable canisters the process seems simple enough (if a little time consuming) and can save you a bit of money with every roll.
Did we miss any tips? What money-saving strategies do you use for your film photography? Let us know in the comments.