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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How to Get Started With Film Photography

Film photography is making a comeback—Kodak has just relaunched Ektachrome, a film they discontinued five years ago—and for a good reason: when everything is digital, going analog is fun. It can also make you a much better photographer by forcing you to slow down and think. Here’s how to get started.

A Few Key Terms

The high-quality digital camera market is more homogenous than the film camera market was. You really only have three major digital players—Canon, Nikon, and Sony—with two camera designs—DSLR and mirrorless—and two sensor sizes—crop sensor and full frame.

The old film market, by contrast, was like the Wild West. There were dozens of serious camera manufacturers—including Leica, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta and many more—with different camera designs—including SLRs, rangefinders, medium format cameras, large format cameras, and instant cameras—that could all use hundreds of different film stocks from yet more manufacturers—like Kodak,Ilford, and Agfa. The combinations were practically endless. With that in mind, lets hammer out some key terms.

  • An SLR is a single lens reflex camera. They’re the precursors of the modern DSLR.
  • A rangefinder is a mirrorless camera that was popular with street photographers.
  • Medium format and large format cameras shoot film stock that’s larger than 35mm. They’re more expensive so probably not the best camera to go with if you’re just starting out.
  • Instant cameras are basically old school Polaroids. The film doesn’t need to be professionally developed.
  • 35mm film stock is the most common film size. It normally comes in rolls of 36 exposures and works with any 35mm camera.

Getting Your First Film Camera

If someone in your family has an old film camera and a lens or two lying about, dig it out, and you’re sorted—at least to start with. If you’re not that lucky, then let’s look a little deeper into buying your first film camera.

Film cameras vary in price pretty dramatically. A rare, desirable medium format camera in good condition could sell for thousands of dollars. On the other hand, you can pick up a solid 35mm SLR for less than $50. To start with, you should aim for the lower end.

RELATED: How to Find Compatible Lenses for Your Canon or Nikon Camera

If you shoot Canon or Nikon, then I’ve got some good news: get the right film camera and you’ll be able to use most of your existing lenses. Canon’s EF mount is from the late-80s and Nikons F-Mount is from the late-50s. For Canon shooters, I’d recommend the Canon EOS 620; I got one in great condition for $40 on eBay. For Nikon fans, check out the F2 or F3. They go for around $100. There are lots of these cameras still out there.

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