There are more and more people by the day looking to get into film. And why not, right? Depending on what you’re looking for, it may be too late.
I don’t know that there’s a single photographer who is cued into the photography community who wouldn’t agree that film photography is reaching new heights of popularity that haven’t been seen since before the rise of digital cameras. The difference between then and now is that back in the late ’90s when film was still king, film cameras were made new and were in no short supply. Dozens of manufacturers had multiple models ranging from point and shoots to autofocus SLRs. Indeed, even medium format cameras were still made new. Nowadays, these cameras from the former film dynasty are aging more and more, and those with digital interfaces are becoming less and less reliable in addition to them getting harder and harder to fix. This tailspin that we are in has got to a point that the only expensive “modern” camera I owned, the Fuji GA645, was sold in fear of the day it gave out it while in my possession and that I wouldn’t get my money back for it.
To those asking if it's too late to get into the film, I would say that, of course, it isn’t if it’s something you really want to pursue. Perhaps, though, film is something that you’d like to get but aren't quite sure yet if you would like it or whether you would like it enough to warrant the cost of the camera, film, and development. In fact, the cost of getting into film is the primary deterrent for most people at this point. So, if you’re undecided, let’s get into whether or not it’s worthwhile at this point for you.
Getting Into Film
Let’s say that you’re just now wanting to get into film. Let’s say that you’ve made it to 2021 to see the popularity of film blow up in recent years and how film has made its way into the Instagram accounts of some of the most popular photographers of the day. Perhaps you’ve been spurred on by friends that you know that have gotten into film and loved it. I mean, let’s face it: no one these days gets into film and doesn’t enjoy it to some extent! Regardless of the reason you want to get into film, it’s perfectly fun and supplements digital photography perfectly if for no other reason than that it teaches you to stop and appreciate each and every shot.
With all of that said, the question for many new photographers looking to get in the game is simple: “is it too late to get into film photography?” This is a perfectly valid question for a number of reasons, the most important of which is simply the cost. The fact of the matter is that in just the last couple of years, prices for cameras have skyrocketed far beyond what I would have ever thought. Take, for example, two and a half years ago, I bought my full Mamiya Pro-TL kit with a 55mm f/2.8, autowinder, and manual winder, with a back for $300 and tax. And truthfully, I thought that I was paying such top dollar at the time, I nearly didn’t buy it. During the holidays of 2019, a buddy’s wife bought my buddy a full Mamiya RB67 kit with the waist level finder and prism, both, for $320. I wouldn’t even dream of seeing either of those today for those prices.
What Are Your Expectations?
What happens when money is less of an issue, but you have high expectations for the gear itself. Perhaps you want something with modern amenities like autofocus and/or aperture priority mode. For some people, they want the experience of the film but they still want a high-quality image or at least something more high quality than what you’ll get from higher grain film on 35mm. For those individuals, medium format and/or large format would be required. Gone are the days that you can get a Mamiya RB67 kit for less than $300 any day of the week and at any shop that sold film camera gear. So, if someone still wanted to spend less than $300 for a whole kit, they may need to move down to 645 or even 35mm and in lesser popular systems. As a matter a fact, $300 can still get most older, manual 35mm cameras and a lens. Once you move into medium format, however, $300 doesn’t go very far anymore. Indeed, $300 may not even get you a medium format camera kit that is in good shape unless you really luck out and stumble into something great on Facebook marketplace or an antique shop or something where the seller doesn't know the value of what they have.
So, with prices for cameras going up and up, is it about the time to buy your first camera, or has that time passed? I would argue that it depends on what you’re looking for. In brief, if you’re open-minded about what you get and/or are willing to spend a decent amount of money, you can surely find something. As is typical with the used market, supply is typically limited in quantity and variety. As such, your expectations of what to get will dictate much of the success you have in finding a camera that meets your needs at a price you’re willing to pay. Last week, I put together a list of cameras that I thought were the most overrated and underrated cameras at the time (you can find it here). As much as I hate doing it, I felt that I had to move the Mamiya 645 Pro(-TL) from the underrated section to the overrated section due to how outrageous the cost of a good kit has become. In all honesty, if I was getting into medium format now, there is no way I would even look at the Mamiya, and instead, I would likely go with a Zenza Bronica camera.
It’s About Time
Now that I’ve said all this, if you’re still thinking it’s time for you to get a camera, I would say you should probably go for it sooner rather than later. If there’s anything that you should be picking up from this article, it’s that the prices of cameras are not getting any cheaper, at least not in the near future. So, the next time you see the camera you’re considering buying, you should probably jump on it. If you’re still unsure because things are too expensive, it’s probably too late for what you were thinking of. Instead, perhaps consider broadening your search to encompass other film formats and cameras.