So, you want to start film photography. I completely understand you: it’s a beautiful process, and the wait before you see the images is incredibly exciting! But alas, if you’re new to film, it may feel overwhelming. I mean, where do you even start? Don’t worry, Isaac Abner‘s got you covered. In his recent video, he shares everything you need to know before you start film photography.
In the video, Isaac discusses everything from film formats, film choices, camera options, and the development process. He also shares some valuable tips for anyone considering exploring this medium.
Film vs. digital
If you’re switching to film from digital photography, let’s go through some key differences first:
Film photography is slower and more deliberate. The images are stored on film, obviously, and you get a limited number of exposures. You also can’t review the image instantly, but that’s part of film photography’s charm.
Digital photography is faster and more convenient. Your images are stored on memory cards, and you can get thousands of photos on a single card. You can review images instantly, which is certainly convenient if you’re still learning.
Isaac also guides you through various film formats. This includes the most common 35mm film, which is definitely a recommendation if you’re new to the medium. There are also 110mm, 120mm (medium format), and large formats like 4×5 and 8×10. Finally, there’s the instant film, coming in all sorts of sizes and formats. It develops instantly, as the name suggests, and Isaac doesn’t discuss it much in the video.
As I mentioned, definitely start with the 35mm. It’s the most affordable and the easiest to find, and you can have it developed in any lab. Not all labs develop medium and large formats (ask me how I know), so your new adventure can turn into an unnecessary hassle.
Types of film
There are two groups of film types, so to say. First, there are slow-speed Films vs. high-speed films. This refers to light sensitivity, aka ISO. Films with lower ISO (like 100, 200, 400) have smaller grain and they’re ideal for daylight shots. High-speed films like Kodak Portra 800, Ilford Delta 1600 have a larger grain size, and you’ll use them for low-light situations like night photography or concerts, for example.
The other group of film types depends on the colors and the process used to develop them. There’s the black and white film, which you can easily develop on your own. But don’t go there just yet. :) There’s the color negative film, typically with better dynamic range, allowing more recovery of highlights and shadows. Finally, there’s the slide film. it produces a positive image but typically has less dynamic range. I haven’t seen slide film sold here in Serbia in ages, and most of us do color photography on color negative film. Here are some most common films, easy to find and almost every lab develops them:
- Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
- Kodak Ektachrome E100
- Kodak Portra 800
- Kodak Portra 160
- Kodak Ektar 100
- Ilford HP5
- Kodak Tri-X 400TX
Now that you’ve got the idea which film to get, it’s time to discuss cameras. Isaac recommends 35 mm film cameras for beginners, and I agree. The choice is huge: from disposable cameras and point-and-shoots to more serious SLRs and even premium rangefinders like Leica.
Before you make a choice, think about the level of automation and features you want. If you’re already familiar with photography, digital cameras, and manual settings, you can choose a more complex camera or one with no automatic settings. If not, you can start with a point-and-shoot or an SLR that offers more automatic options.
Then, think about whether you need autofocus. Some film cameras offer it, and if you can’t imagine focusing manually or just don’t see well, this is another thing to consider. Vintage cameras have less automation, and newer film cameras have more electronic conveniences. You can find manuals for many cameras online so that you can familiarize yourself with the controls and functionality.
Remember that understanding exposure is crucial, as you might already know from doing digital photography. But redoing a shot with a film camera literally costs money, so think about the exposure triangle, accounting for the film speed, aperture, and shutter speed. Also, learn to focus accurately, whether through manual focusing scales or modern autofocus functionality.
Now that you’ve taken your photos with your film and your camera – of course, it’s time to develop the film. Honestly, the easiest way to do it is just to send your film to a lab. This is especially recommended if you’re just starting. Developing film yourself can be cost-effective, but it requires lots of learning, access to specific chemicals, a dark room, and frankly – a whole bunch of mistakes before you get it right.
You can also post-process film. In fact, terms like “dodge” and “burn” actually originate from film techniques. After all, you can edit developed and scanned film photos in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other editing software you use for digital photos. However, excessive post-processing isn’t something I’d recommend. After all, you want to keep that authentic film look, don’t you?
Summing it up
To sum it all up, Isaac recommends that you start with smaller, cost-effective film formats like 35mm. Also, begin with user-friendly 35mm cameras with automatic features, and learn the essential functionalities and controls of the camera. At first, send films to professional labs for development… You can learn to do it yourself later. And once your film is developed and scanned, tread lightly with post-processing to maintain the inherent film look.