Agfa APX100

Bunker light

What – Use Film? – You must be mad.

I’m not a film fanatic – Ok maybe I am just a bit. Digital is superb for convenience and quality and some shoots would be frankly impossible with film – such as low light indoors without flash using ISO 2000+ with no discernible grain. There are many more things go wrong with film shooting so I wouldn’t use it for that ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ photo shoot either.

However, for  ‘everyday’ photography’ it’s fine and can add a certain ‘something’.


Colour transparency (E6 processing) is very expensive – £10-15 per roll of 36 including processing. Better to use digital.

Colour negative (C41 processing) works out at around £8 per roll of 36 including processing. Not bad for occasional use.

Black and White negative – cheap – £2-5 per roll of 36 and about 25p in chemicals to process. That’s much more attractive and useable.

Chemicals are still available, though printing supplies are harder to obtain.

OM2, Ektar


To do it yourself – a scanner – new ones available from £50 to £hundreds. Mine was £170 – a Plustek 7500 and works flawlessly. Scans from most print labs aren’t very good unless you pay a lot for them.


Very cheap as long as you avoid ‘collectors’ pieces. £80 for a good condition Olympus OM2n or Canon A1 plus standard lens, £80-£100 each for a fast (2.0 or 2.8) 28mm or 135mm 2.8 prime.

It could be that I learned using film and it still feels natural to use the equipment. An all manual SLR does absolutely nothing for other than tell you if the exposure is about right, you so you’ve got to really think about what you’re doing. Even aperture priority SLRs make plenty of errors when metering. This is generally good for you, and the quality of my pictures on digital after a spell using film is noticeably better. On film I just take fewer, better shots.

You’ll also get better at judging a scene – there’s no point at looking at the back of the camera after the shot and no point in hoping to rescue it using a raw converter afterwards.

If you were just starting out, a complete SLR kit with 3 relatively fast prime lenses and a scanner could be had for the cost of a basic DSLR and slow kit lens.

If you’re an established digital photographer it’s worth it just to improve your technique and understanding of photography. The images you’ll get will look different to digital straight away, and therefore different from most other agency photographers.

If you just like a challenge – pick up a cheap refurbished compact camera (mine’s an Olympus Trip) and try to get a picture sold from it. Probably instant profit, fun to do and a good tongue in cheek windup for digital gearheads – “Full frame compact camera – £50”.

If you just want to experiment with simplicity, take out a film SLR, one lens (a 50mm is a good choice) and a spare roll of film. When I did just that a few weeks ago and was rewarded with 10 agency quality shots.

Fast Film Lenses – Zuiko 50mm f1.4


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