Shooting Film on a Budget: Money-Saving Tips for Film Photographers

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Kathleen Frank

Shooting film is not always the most budget friendly hobby. The cost of buying and developing film adds up, and balancing that with the excitement of wanting to shoot more film is a struggle for so many photographers. But… there are a few things that can help! I gathered up some tips to help ease the costs and let you shoot film a little more freely.

Shooting Film on a Budget Money Saving Tips for Film Photographers
Shooting Film on a Budget Money Saving Tips for Film Photographers
Shooting Film on a Budget Money Saving Tips for Film Photographers
Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Choosing a Budget-Friendly Camera

Film cameras come in such a wide range of prices, but if you’re looking to keep overall costs down, I suggest going with a 35mm camera instead of medium format. Not only are 35mm film cameras generally cheaper than medium format, they also take 35mm film, which opens you up to many cheaper film and developing options.

Finding a fully manual camera is another great way to save a little money. Cutting out those extra features will mean a lower price tag. You can find many reliable 35mms for under $50.

A few 35mm film cameras I love and suggest looking at are the Canon A-1/Canon AE-1, Pentax K1000, Olympus OM-1, and the Minolta X-700. Each of these also have similar models that might be a step or two down in quality/reliability, but are even more budget friendly and great starter cameras.

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Where to Buy Your Film Camera

My favorite and most cost effective tip for finding a film camera is not to buy one at all. Reach out to family members and friends to see if they have an old film camera lying around.

The next place to look would be thrift stores, Craiglist, and yard sales. These are great places to find cameras for cheap, but they’ll usually need testing and aren’t guaranteed to work.

You can also look at eBay or film gear buying/selling groups on Facebook (such as the Film Photo Gear group). These are a nice compromise between cost effective and reliable. You’ll get more information on the working condition of the camera, and if you keep an eye out for a while, you’ll be able to find a good deal.

The more expensive but more reliable option would be a seller like KEH Camera. I love buying from KEH because the quality is excellent, you can trust their ratings, and they have a great return policy. No surprises! But it does cost more for this, so it’s not the most budget friendly option. If you go this route, check out their bargain category. There’s a nice price break, but still a camera in solid working condition.

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Choosing the Right Film to Save Money

Finding a cheap camera is definitely a bonus, but the main reason to go with a 35mm camera is to shoot 35mm film. 35mm has more exposures per roll and is available in consumer versions, both of which make it more cost effective than medium format.

On a roll of 35mm film, there are 24 or 36 exposures. With medium format, there are only 10 to 16! That is a huge difference in the cost per shot. If you compare a roll of Kodak Portra 400 in both 35mm and 120, the medium format is almost double the cost per shot (35mm is approximately $0.25 per shot and medium format is around $0.46 per shot).

Developing works the same way. If you send your film out to a lab for developing and scanning, the price per shot for 35mm is much cheaper than medium format.

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Professional vs Consumer Film

Another way to save money is to shoot consumer film stocks instead of professional film stocks. Films such as Kodak Portra, Kodak Ektar, and Fuji 400H are all professional grade films. They tend to be higher quality with more stable colors, made for professional photographers. Consumer films, like Kodak Gold, Kodak Ultramax, and Fujifilm Superia, were made for the general public, and you can find many of them at much more affordable prices. They can all be found $4-$6 a roll, whereas professional films are more like $8-$13 per roll.

Also, make sure to buy rolls that are 36 exposures. Some stocks will also come in 24 exposures. Generally, you’ll pay the same for developing whether it’s 36 or 24 exposures, so going for 36 exposures will save even more money.

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Buy in Bulk

If you’re tight on funds, buying in bulk can be difficult, but it is a great way to save money long term. Buy a large amount to get the price per roll down, and store what you’re not using in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. As long as you keep it in the fridge, you can even store it past its expiration date.

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Developing Film on a Budget

The most cost effective way to save money with developing is to develop and scan the film yourself instead of sending it out to a lab. There’s an initial investment for the supplies and chemicals, but, if you shoot a lot of film, you’ll be saving money in no time.

Here are a few step-by-step articles for developing b&w and color film at home:

How to Develop B&W Film at Home

Develop Color Film at Home

And here are a few articles about scanning your negatives at home:

Scanning Film Negatives with a DSLR

Intro to Scanning Your Own Negative

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Basic/Budget Scans

If you’re not ready to jump into developing your own film, see if your lab offers basic or budget scans.

After your film is developed, the lab scans the negatives into a computer and tweaks the exposure, color, and contrast of each image to make sure they look as good as possible. With basic scans, the lab doesn’t do these individual tweaks and just uses the basic settings on the scanner. This saves the lab a ton of time and saves you a lot of money! Usually, the images will need some minor adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop, but, for me, it’s always been worth it for the money saved.

Here are a few labs that offer basic scans: TheFindLab, Indie Film Lab, Goodman Film Lab

I hope these tips help you save a few dollars and encourage you to shoot more film! I’d love to hear your favorite film related money-saving tips, so please share in the comments!

Shooting Film on a Budget: Tips for Film Photographers to Save Money by Kathleen Frank on Shoot It With Film

Kathleen is the founder here at Shoot It With Film, and you can read more of her articles here, such as Your Guide to Medium Format Film Photography and 5 Great 35mm Film Cameras for Beginners. You can also check out her work on her website and Instagram.

Leave your questions shooting film on a budget below in the comments! And if you want to learn more about shooting film, read all of our film photography tutorials here!

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Blog Comments

Love the post, just getting back into film and finding some of the prices eye watering.

We’re so glad you enjoyed these tips! Some of the costs can definitely be rough, but love that you’re getting back into film!

[…] much does it cost?”. While rolls of film and cameras can go for quite a bit these days, this article from Shoot It With Film has plenty of information for choosing between cameras, film types, and […]

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