Analogue photography is not cheap. Let’s start with that. If you, like us, intend to go through rolls of film like rolls of toilet paper in a four-person house, it’s going to be pricey. That’s a fact. After your first camera, you’re bound to end up with several (especially if you know people with them). Rolls of film go from $5-$15. Chemicals and developing equipment are also expensive. But, there are ways to save.
1. Buy in bulk.
Generally, buying in larger quantity lowers the price per unit. In the case of film, Ilford HP5 is around $7 per roll (and that’s from the official Ilford website). B&H is one of the best places for film. One roll of HP5 is $6.99. A pack of 50 rolls is $269.99. If you buy the bulk package, the price per roll is $5.40. That’s a savings of $80. Another choice is bulk loading. Buy 100′ of HP5 for $80 on B&H. You can get about 20 or more rolls from there, cutting your cost down to $4 per roll.
2. Find people with cameras.
I bought my first camera, a Pentax ME Super, off an acquaintance on the Facebook Marketplace. It was $40 and came with two lenses. Anna found a huge load of film stuff for $75. The box included three cameras, flashes, batteries, and lenses. Jackpot! After we shared our first rolls of film, people began offering their old cameras. A colleague at work gave me his grandfather’s Canon Ftb. A student’s mother gave me two slide projectors with screens, an early Canon EOS and a Pentax K1000. Every camera since my first has been free. You most certainly know people with a film camera. Ask to borrow it and see if it works.
3. Do your research.
You may think that film is dead. It is not. There are a LOT of websites out there where you can buy film cameras, film, and accessories. Don’t check one website and buy from there. Explore the possibilities. When buying new films to try, I checked Amazon, B&H, and half a dozen other sites. It turned out B&H had the best priced film stock. But there are great clubs, organizations, and individuals posting content and sharing links. Do the leg work and find great deals!
4. Develop at home.
Developing chemicals are expensive. The Cinestill C-41 Liquid Developing Kit for color is $42.95. This kit is capable of developing 24 rolls of film. That’s $1.79 of developing chemical/roll. Black and White developing is a similar rate, but requires a few more steps (developing, stop bath, fixer, and wetting agent). Developing at home takes time, but the process is exciting, educational, and enlightening.
The alternative is even more costly. Many organizations are available to develop film for you. The cost of developing rolls varies. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10-$15 per roll. The choice is between spending more money or more time. I would say it’s time well spent, especially so you can develop your film exactly as you see fit.
Side note from Eric Kim: Apparently Costco develops and scans more cheaply than other places. According to his 2015 article about developing 164 rolls (which mentions my boy Garry Winogrand), Kim states that it costs $5/roll to develop and scan for C-41. No Costcos in Maine, so I don’t have this experience.
5. Scan yourself.
Another cost of developing film is scanning your pictures. You have a few options. One is the phone app “FilmBox” by Photomyne. For a few dollars, you can capture an unlimited number of negatives and watch them transform into pictures before your very eyes. Anna and I use this app to see what our pictures will look like. The quality is fine for social media, but we can talk more about this later.
Option two is to take pictures with a DSLR while your negatives are on a light box. This is a great combo with “Negative Lab Pro,” which is an add-on with Adobe Lightroom Classic. It costs $99, but worth every penny. The last option is scanning on a flatbed, which is something Anna and I haven’t done yet. We’re looking into this option now. Either way, scanning yourself will save tons of money instead of having companies do it for you.
I hope that some of these ideas help you save some money. All that money you save can be spent on more film gear!
So, you ready to get started?! Check out our recommendations on Kit.co. Our Starter Kit!