Recently, we asked our Instagram followers what advice they’d give to new film photographers. We’d like to take the opportunity to share some of their advice with you as well as some comments of our own. If you’re new to film photography, these tips can help you figure out your place in our little community.
I’ll preface this by saying that people disagreed and contradicted each other on almost every topic. That’s okay! Everyone’s opinion matters, and nobody is more right than anybody else. The important takeaway is that everyone interacts with film photography differently and there’s no “correct” way to do anything!
If you’re still unsure about film photography, feel free to message us on Instagram or send me an email at email@example.com . I’m always happy to help! With that out of the way, let’s ask a big question.
What Are Your Intentions?
“Why are you into it? Is it the inexpensive resolution of medium format? Nostalgia? Follow that?”
“The gear is a distraction, the story inside the frame should be the only concern”
“Be yourself, don’t follow any popular film photographers because no one’s the same.”
If you’re looking to get into a hobby, it’s great to ask yourself why. Why do I want to be involved in this? Why do I want to pick up film photography? It’s a tough question to answer.
Maybe your friends do it and you like their photos. Maybe you saw a celebrity or YouTuber that made film photography seem cool. Maybe a relative gave you their old camera as a gift. Regardless of what piqued your interest, it’s important to think about what you’d like to get out of your experience with photography.
Do you want to delve deep into gear and history? Do you want to take photos of your friends? Do you want to become a professional photographer? This answer may change as you learn and grow within the hobby, but setting out with intentions can never hurt.
While there may be many ways to interact with film photography, the most important thing to remember is that everything is valid. There is no “correct” way to shoot film. Photography is art, and film is simply a medium to explore the world around us.
What Camera Do I Get?
There are tons of different cameras out there, from ancient folders to modern compacts. It can be overwhelming for a new shooter, especially with all the recommendations and opinions out there.
So what kind of camera should you go for? We have a great article on finding cheap 35mm SLRs that you can read for a more in-depth look, but the advice we got from Instagram can mostly be separated into two categories; Manual and Automatic cameras.
“Light meters with selection wheels (not digital displays) will teach you your options 10x better.”
“Get a manual SLR that does not have an electronic shutter + a simple handheld light meter.”
“All manual everything, jump into the deep end”
“Just buy a needle meter camera, you will learn the most from it”
“Less is more. Don’t go crazy on gear. Just get a Pentax K1000”
“Don’t get an automated film camera. Sometimes the process of photography feels more rewarding”
By manual, we mean cameras that work without batteries. Something like the Pentax K1000 is a great (and popular) example of a manual camera. We also call these cameras mechanical. The Instagram community holds mechanical cameras in high regard (and is willing to pay more for them) for a few reasons.
Mainly, they’re not dependent on electronics. That means that if something goes wrong, it’s theoretically fixable. If a circuit board breaks inside your electronic camera, it likely needs to be replaced entirely. When your camera can easily be 50+ years old, it’s good to know it can be fixed.
The downside is that many mechanical cameras are quite a bit older than electronic cameras. During the 1980s onwards, mechanical cameras were more or less entirely replaced by electronic ones.
This means that many mechanical cameras have sat unused for a long time. Because of the way mechanical systems work, the shutters and light meters in these cameras can go out of tolerance if they’re not used and serviced regularly.
When people recommend manual cameras, they tend to mention the process of photography just as much as the end results. There is a certain creativity that comes from having to figure everything out while shooting manually, and it forces you to learn the rules of exposure.
“start with a point & shoot”
“90s autofocus cameras are a cheap way into film photography”
In this context, automatic means battery dependent. These cameras require batteries for all functions. Even though cameras like this have been in production since the 1970s, most of the people recommending these specifically mentioned cameras from the 1990s and 2000s.
The reason most cameras became electronic was because it allowed access to a new world of automated features. Electronic cameras can have automatic film advancing, autofocus, and exposure modes where the camera can pick every setting for you. These are not possible with a mechanical camera.
Automatic cameras are also generally lighter from more plastic material and smaller from more advanced machining processes. Newer lenses are generally sharper, with better microcontrast and color rendition.
The downside, some say, is the lack of connection with the camera and the photo. According to these people, using an electronic camera that automates things separates the photographer from the photo.
“Find a camera you like and just have fun”
“Just get the camera that you can buy and start doing it, there’s no perfect camera”
“Get different cheap cameras, try a lot of stuff before buying what some YouTuber tells you is ‘best’!”
“Shoot with whatever you have! Becoming a gear junky is expensive af… I know it lol”
So, what’s the conclusion? Well, there isn’t one. Both sides make good points, and at the end of the day it comes down to intent and experience. Different cameras may suit different people in different situations!
If you’re looking to take great photos of your friends, your dog, or snapshots, a simple automatic camera could be best for you. If you want to delve into professional landscape photography, though, maybe a manual approach would suit you.
Regardless of what cameras are recommended to you, it’s important to know yourself and your learning style. If you’re someone who likes to test the waters and go slowly, something more automatic may help you do that. If you like to throw yourself into the deep end and figure things out on your own, then try a mechanical camera!
How Do I Find a Camera?
“Buy from stores/sellers who professionally check their gear!”
“Know your stuff, go on facebook marketplace, find ignorant sellers, bargain for $20”
“Don’t buy it online”
“Ask your family for old cameras. Learn to shoot on digital first. Have fun.”
“Buy serviced camera, cheap (new) film, take picture, send to lab and repeat”
“More money =/= better pics”
We go into more detail about the buying process in our Cheap 35mm SLR Guide, but it suffices to say that most sellers do not test their gear, and most gear is not working 100% properly. Here at Kamerastore we know that better than anyone.
When you’re paying a lot for a camera and possibly having it shipped overseas, it’s really frustrating when it doesn’t work properly. A few horror stories can scare people off of online sales altogether even if there are reputable sellers out there.
As many options as there are, sometimes all it takes is finding a camera in a secondhand store or receiving one as a gift from a relative to spark interest in a hobby. If you ask your relatives, you may be surprised how many film cameras pop up!
“Don’t be afraid of using a meter app. Getting used to not seeing your image takes time.”
“If you shoot digital try to get something you can use your existing lenses on”
“Invest more in lenses than camera body”
“Learn the exposure triangle”
“The light meter’s results aren’t up to artistic interpretation. LISTEN TO IT!”
Between a camera, lenses, light meters, film stocks, batteries, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, film photographers have a lot to keep track of! If you’re not looking to jump into the deep end, you should take a look at these tips.
Meter apps for your phone can be great stepping stones if your camera doesn’t have a reliable light meter. While they lack the accuracy and consistency of actual exposure meters, anyone with a smartphone can use them without investing more money.
Some people can meter scenes by eye, but don’t expect that of yourself at the beginning. Learn the rules of the exposure meter before you try to break them.
The exposure triangle is another rule to learn. This refers to the relationship between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in photography. When you adjust one, the others have to change as well in order to get proper exposure. If your aperture gets wider, your shutter speed gets faster and vice versa.
Because we set the ISO based on the film inside our cameras, that’s constant. We work with shutter speed and aperture to determine proper exposure! If you’re not familiar with these concepts, don’t worry. It takes time to understand, and you don’t have to know everything right away.
If you already have experience with a DSLR, it might be worth looking into a camera that uses the same lenses. Because lenses affect image quality more than bodies, starting with a few good lenses can drastically improve your film shots. Not only that, but using a film camera that handles like your digital camera will help you transition.
Encouragement & Conclusions
“It’s ok to not take good photos. It’s a learning process. Gotta stay shooting!”
“There is no such thing as “wasting” film. Each shot is a learning experience!”
“No moment isn’t special enough to use film - no roll is ever wasted!”
“Don’t expect perfection and don’t think that film makes your photos automatically good”
“Ensure the lens cap is off and the camera is pointed at something interesting”
“Shoot, shoot, and shoot! Trial and error makes way to perfection”
“At first, have fun. Then you’ll figure it out.”
Film photography is meant to be fun. It’s a hobby and an art form. You can use it to express yourself and capture moments in a unique and organic way. You can use it to interact with history and appreciate mechanics. You can use it to spend time with your loved ones.
Don’t let anyone tell you what a “good” photo is, or what film photography “should” be. As long as you’re enjoying yourself and not hurting anybody, the way you interact with film photography is valid and important.
But you should know this medium is imperfect and not guaranteed to make your photos better. Film is finicky in ways digital is not, and if you make a mistake it could be days, weeks, or months until you know about it.
That’s how we come to the main advice above; go out and shoot! The best advice we can give you is to give film photography a try. The more you shoot, the more you’ll understand your camera and your art. So get out there and learn something about the world, and about yourself!