Film-flam, ma’am

I keep seeing posts from people using film to make pictures. This is good. It’s nice to know the ancient art is being kept alive. But I wonder how they manage it these days. So I looked up some prices on equipment and chemicals.

Oh my gawd.

Unless you are heir to a vast fortune I don’t know how you’d do it. A single roll of B&W film blows away $20. Let’s compare that to digital: same money would get you 32GB of SD card with change leftover. My Canon manages about 10MB per picture, so every GB is one hundred pictures; hence 3200 photos for less than the cost of 36 on a roll of film.

Backyard, 1964

Now if you decide to develop your own, you’re going to need a film tank and a darkroom or at least a changing bag to load up the tank and some chemicals. Tank $30 and up, often way up. Bag: another $30. We’ve spent $80 already, and that’s without a camera. You should at least be able to get one of those cheap. *cough* Someone I know gave away 600+ of them just last year, and about two dozen of those were Nikon/Nikkormat SLRs. *cough*

But you need developer and fixer at the very least, plus some bottles and measuring cups and stirring sticks and miscellaneous. Let’s see … good ol’ use-it-for-anything Kodak D-76 is only … $40?! Well that makes up a gallon. At least the fixer is only $15. What have we spent so far? $135+ and all we’ve got is (hopefully) negatives. (Yes, there are numerous DIY/homebrew developers and fixers but for someone just starting out adding in the extra variables of using these is probably not such a good idea as it will increase the likelihood of poor results and thus discourage the beginner.)

Now here’s where you can cheat and scan the negatives to digital to make prints. Otherwise you need a darkroom, enlarger, printing paper, trays … Yeah let’s go with the scanner option.

Yard Sale, 1972 – note the ‘Photomate’ printer on the right

The greedy side of me is reeling now because of the huge amount of equipment given away last year. At current used prices the contents of the ol’ family dark room must have been worth a few thousand dollars. The philanthropic side of me is giddy at the prospect that somewhere some people interested in film photography got a break, and heaven knows we hardly ever get those anymore. I like to think that equipment is being used again, not trashed. Especially the Ansco tanks. Really the best multi-film tank design ever.

Well I still have my 35mm Pentax Spotmatic film camera, but the outlay for doing even a single roll of B&W film (there are no nearby processors of any kind) is just ridiculous to me. I could spend that same hundreds of dollars on yet more digital toys and take even more pictures.

But then I’ve done the film thing. For decades. It was the only way then, and even today a photographer can learn a lot from doing even one roll of film. Like digital is cheaper, for example.

Of course you can bide your time and shop around and find some used bargains. You could even get together with some like-minded friends and form a photography co-op. Think of it like a university course: Film 101.

And if you ever want to hear the ramblings of an old photographer … well that’s what I’m here for.

Always something going on at our house, 1978


6 thoughts on “Film-flam, ma’am

  1. As you know, I just bought most of the equipment needed to develop my own film. The tanks and a dark bag were donated but the rest I bought. I already owned a scanner. It was a solid outlay of cash but amortized over the number of rolls of film I’ll shoot over the coming years I’ll still come out way ahead over sending my film out for processing. My favorite lab now charges $19 to process and scan one roll (and mail you the negs). $19!!! Ay yi yi.


    1. Yes, if you’re going to go into it big time it’s worth the investment. But getting your feet wet to find out if you want to … can be expensive – even having someone else do the developing as you’ve seen.


  2. oh. And why don’t I just switch to DSLR and move on? Because the ’70s film SLRs are soooooo deeeeeelightful to use. Nothing like ’em. And it’s still fun to find some arcane old camera and see what kind of images it can make.


    1. You are so right. Film cameras have a certain je ne sais quoi that the techno-machines don’t have. I actually like my DSLR because it has that ‘thwap’ of the mirror like the old SLRs as opposed to the mirrorless silent wonders.
      It’s sad that some people will never know the feel of an Exacta in their hands or marvel at its complex shutter speed dials. I am fortunate to have had and used so many cameras, and yes one of the reasons for getting the Canon was to make use of the old lenses I still have. I wish I’d kept more but … I’ll just put that lament on a repeating loop.


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