You’re Making a Mistake if You’re Not Telling Your Friends to Start With Film

You’re Making a Mistake if You’re Not Telling Your Friends to Start With Film

Photography is a dream job for many, and everyone thinks we’re so lucky to do it. To that extent, they also all “would love to get more into photography.” While we get pretty good at sifting out which of our friends are actually serious about that goal, here are a few suggestions for how to get over the biggest barrier to entry by starting with film.

Sure, we’re well into the 21st century. As such, digital photography is something we all immediately assume. But getting a digital camera isn’t necessarily the easiest (i.e. cheapest) way to start, even if it’s cheaper in the long run. However, our friends don't often get to see the long run if they don't stick with photography, because they never get truly inspired. Many of us — myself included — recommend to friends to just go out and buy the cheapest camera they can and start shooting. Or even use their iPhone. But those options often set people up for failure.

Shot on Kodak Tri-X

The Problem With Digital

The biggest barrier to entry with actually getting into photography as a hobby (or more) is not the picture-taking itself. My public relations specialist sister takes more pictures in a single night out with her friends than I do all month. Photo-taking is not her problem. Her problem in getting truly inspired by her own photography is in the lack of quality (no offense to her: I'll explain soon). And this is where beginners struggle when it comes to digital photography.

Where digital photography shines is when you know how to edit. Digital sensors capture all this incredible detail in a raw file and let you pull out amazing color on demand. But to do this, you have to spend at least 10 minutes connecting your camera, importing your images to your computer, loading them into Lightroom (assuming you already know how to use it or are good with figuring out software on your own, which isn’t common with many photographers who are just starting out), and then have to spend at least 30 minutes to an hour editing a shoot (we’re working quickly, here), all while naturally knowing what your photos need — which you know because you’ve edited so many photos before, right? Not for your friends.

Shot on Kodak Ektar 100

Instead, beginners blow over $500 on a starter DSLR setup and publish the most flat, boring, tungsten-light-muddled images onto their Instagram feeds. Maybe they even wonder why their images don’t look so amazing and add filters on top of their images, bringing them down to the level they were already at with their phones anyway.

The Film Solution

Film has a multitude of advantages for anyone starting out. But first, let’s get the bad out of the way. Of course, you have to expose your photos pretty well. This isn’t that different than shooting digital for those just starting out, because you likely won’t have that much exposure latitude with a cheap digital camera anyway. But it’s still something to think about. Also, shooting film does require buying the film and processing and scanning services. But the pros outweigh this con for beginners (more on this later). And that’s about it.

The great thing about starting with film is that the color work is done for you. You choose a film based on what you think looks nice (there are countless examples online if you need them), and the processing and scanning work provides a file that needs all of zero minutes of work before you’re ready to post on the ol’ IG. Each and every time, as long as you have a decent exposure, your friends will be thrilled with the results — shocked, in fact. They will still need to train themselves in finding compositions that are interesting to the eye, but the color work — one of the hardest parts of photography — will be completely taken care of.

Shot on Kodak Ektar 100

Additionally, film photography is easier than people think. I see this all the time: so many people want to try film, but are afraid because “it’s hard.” However, this thinking is simply naive and stems from the feeling of actually messing up a tangible, finite resource: the film. But messing up a frame — or even an entire roll — just doesn’t happen that often. Will it happen more in the beginning? Sure. But this fear that you will mess up 90 percent of your first images on film is completely misguided. You and your friends will be absolutely fine — happier, in fact, since the images you do get will all be so much better than those your other friends get back from their digital cameras and don’t yet know how to edit. Be sure to get a camera kit that has some kind of built-in meter (it’s just easier to start with) or learn more about the Sunny 16 Rule. But that should be all you and your friends need to start shooting film successfully.

Amazingly, shooting film actually cuts down on waste. Forget about “slowing down” because you’re shooting film. Sure, you do slow down a bit. But the best part about this is that you are simply being more selective in your choice of captured images. You won’t rattle off six needless copies of the same shot that you end up hating because you’re testing your camera’s maximum rate of fire. And in the end, you’ll find those film shots are 90 percent keepers (likely up from 10 percent with digital).

Shot on Kodak Portra 800

Finally, while some are worried about the cost of film, film photography is actually cheaper for beginners. A $400-$600 digital camera setup is still a chunk to put down up front — and all for a starter APS-C camera and kit lens. A film camera, on the other hand, can be had for anywhere from $100 to absolutely free depending on what bargain hunting you do on Craigslist, at thrift shops, or through eBay. Odds are one of your friend’s grandparents even has an old camera they can use. Just $15 more gets you your first roll of film, processing, and scanning. So for an average of probably $50 or so, you can help your friend get amazing results that will entice them to get more into photography as opposed to mediocre results that will have them regretting their $500 DSLR purchase.

Yes, it might have seemed odd to present the idea of starting with film in 2019. But with better color, a more affordable barrier to entry, and the general satisfaction of doing it the “real way,” shooting film will give your friends the best chance of actually falling in love with photography, and not being intimidated by it if you can get them over the first hump.

Shot on Kodak Tri-X

Quick Film Gear Tips for Beginners

  1. Get a simple and affordable camera with a built-in meter to start. People talk about the popular Canon AE-1 or Nikon FG (which I started with in 7th Grade), but plenty of Pentax (like the K1000) and Minolta cameras out there are just as good and can often be had for less. But you can find a steal of a deal on any of these if you look around a bit.
  2. Don't worry about big zoom or telephoto lenses. Start with a simple 50mm lens with an f/1.8 or f/2 aperture. Even an f/2.8 aperture is fine, but all of these should be fairly affordable. You can likely get the best deal by going for a kit, where the body and lens are included together (in which case, don't worry so much about which lens to start with — just get out and shoot).
  3. If you want to get more into film and are looking to move beyond 35mm, look into buying an affordable medium-format camera such as the incredible Mamiya M645, or even rent one if you're not sure yet.
  4. Start with affordable film, but stay away from film that expired a long time ago if you're just starting, as you likely won't get consistent results. You can get a ton of deals on film on eBay (try for $3 per roll or less) for films like Kodak Ultramax, Kodak ColorPlus, Fujicolor C200, or even Lomography and black and white films.
  5. Find affordable processing, and don't be afraid to mail your film out. I run Film Objektiv, which also offers only high-quality scans, but at a good price. But we also have a Film Processing Price Comparison Chart for the U.S. that we highly recommend using to see what's in your area.

Have additional questions about getting started with film? Ask away below!

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128 Comments

Previous comments
Daniel Medley's picture

"You said film makes things difficult.

I simply replied that I disagreed and explained why I think it's simpler."

Simple does not necessarily make things easier. The equivocation between "simple" and less difficult doesn't make sense.

In my opinion, anyway.

Just like at the gym. People need to stick with the 5 lb weights--they're much easier!

Will Murray's picture

"Just like at the gym..."

Now it's just getting stupid.

Johnny Rico's picture

Just have your friends shoot Jpeg then. I love the casual plug for Film Objektiv at the very end that explains the bias and how this is an editorial style ad.

Personally, I cannot think of a worse way to drum up business than trying to sell film to newbies.

You would have a better chance converting skilled digital natives or luring back old-school film shooters before you'd convince complete newbies to invest in this. Hipsters who wear an old Yashica Electro 35s could be a market, but they won't be buying much film as they just have the camera hanging around their necks for show.

Michael Holst's picture

It's hard to take this comment seriously

Because?

It's worth me noting I do shoot film and own multiple film cameras (I even have one of those Yashicas). I started out as a digital shooter & when I think back on how I taught myself, if I had the extra burdens of film I am not sure I would have stuck with it as long as I have & I doubt I would have invested anywhere near as much money as I have.

This is a self-serving article pushing a bad idea which is more likely to hurt film than help it.

The FStoppers community is rarely united in much, but judging by the comments here everyone agrees the premise of this article is rot.

Michael Holst's picture

Your reply is a much better articulation of your point than your previous comment. I still don't agree but at least it's not full of over-generalization.

Where did I over-generalise? The hipster jibe? To hell with those posers. There is a reason everyone loathes them and its because they are the worst type of pseudo-intellectual, culture co-opting, self-righteous people on the planet. They literally do what I accused them off: taking well-loved items and styles from other cultures and use them as empty affections.

My other point about who is more likely to be enticed by film is not an over-generalisation but an opinion on who would be mostly likely to be attracted to shooting film. In my view, complete beginners are by far the least likely because of the cost of entry, the learning curve, the punishing cost of mistakes, the maintaining of older equipment; pulling a aprt and old film camera or lens for maintance would be intimidating for most film shooters let alone newbies. I am sure there is more.

Ryan Cooper's picture

This is one of those topics where I couldn't possibly disagree more. I've seen this argument a lot that scarcity makes photographers more focused on composition. I have yet to see any evidence of it. In fact, my observation is that for the most part, it does the exact opposite. It makes new photographers risk-averse to experimentation because each time they push the shutter it costs them money. Thus, they are vastly less likely to experiment and when they do experiment the feedback loop is an eternity so the opportunity to test a creative theory then evaluate if the test succeeded or not and adapt is wildly longer. As a result, film photographers learn slower and more often than not plateau lower.

While there are photographers who pushed the film to the limit, the vast vast vast majority of film photographers over the years are very conservative with things like composition. The advent of digital was like pouring gasoline on the fire of creativity and that shows in how much more interesting work is being done, even by amateurs, today.

Take even great photographers who's career spanned film and digital. Joe McNally, Jay Maisel, etc. You can pretty much draw a line between their film work and their digital work because the moment they picked up a digital camera, the quality of their work skyrocketed.

I'm not saying you can't be a great photographer when shooting film. Rather, the point is just that film works AGAINST the photographer in terms of creative growth.

This;

"they are vastly less likely to experiment and when they do experiment the feedback loop is an eternity"

Which is why I use to take detailed notes on date, time of day, exposure settings, sometimes even compass direction or if I had to "PUSH" the roll. That was the only way to recall what you did per frame as you would sometimes do "bracket exposures" ect....

For newbies that are truly interested in photography, learning to shoot manual will probably be the greatest thing they can do to understand what they are doing. It would be extremely helpful to them if they had someone to help mentor them.

michaeljin's picture

Have them shoot JPEG+RAW and the picture profile you select will do the color work for you as far as the JPEG goes. There are also plenty of excellent film emulation presets that can be purchased that will do this, too, and compared to the cost of purchasing film, developing it, and scanning it, presets like Mastin Labs or RNI will save you tons of money while giving you excellent results. Alternatively, encourage them to buy a Fuji camera which has fantastic built-in film simulations if they enjoy that look.

I like to shoot film, but even as someone who grew up around it, it adds a ton of complexity on the front end that you don't have to think about with digital photography. The lack of immediate feedback makes it far less forgiving for a beginner to use. Unless you're shooting black and white, the inability to change your white balance also means that you have to take color into consideration and use corrective filters to compensate (if you want to be doing things properly). The cameras are older and increasingly difficult to get serviced. The development process adds another stage of complexity if you want to do it yourself. If you don't want to develop the film yourself, you need to find a good lab which is not always easy. Costs will rack up quickly if you're not developing yourself. And no, shooting film does not mean you end up with 90% keepers. People are just as capable of taking garbage photos on film as they are on a digital camera.

You know what really demoralizes beginners? Spending money on a roll of film, spending money for development and scanning, and realizing that you just spent $20 for 36 photos of blurry or improperly exposed cats and flowers. Even worse is getting a blank roll back and knowing that you spent money on nothing because you didn't load the roll in your camera properly. People aren't born knowing how to do photography so it's likely that you're going to make a LOT of mistakes before you start to get meaningful results. Analog photography will punish beginners a lot harder for those mistakes than digital will.

I have all made all of the mistakes with film

Darren Loveland's picture

All really good points. You piqued my interest on the first paragraph, is it possible to import the raw and JPEG file of an image and have lightroom render the preview of the RAW file showing the JPEG settings and characteristics?

I am not sure it's a mistake. I think it is harder unless the person wants to shoot film.

If cost is the question I just sold (for a friend) a Canon Rebel 3 with 2 kit lenses for $230. That would be the total investment for a beginner. IMO it's a pretty great camera. Buying a $100 K100 is cheaper than the Rebel but they then need to buy film and processing. $10-15 per roll. forever.

I think an easy way to teach my friend exposure would be to show them the proper exposure, and then under and over exposed frames. While at it I can show what different shutter speeds and apertures do.
I can also show what different lenses to and compare side by side a 28mm photo and 50mm or 135mm also in about 20 minutes. for 0$. Instant feed back is a great teaching tool. Waiting a week for the film top come back...not so much.

You're making a mistake if you are telling your friends to execute on every cockamamie idea that internet bloggers come up with.

I don't think many people will agree with your idea.
Failing is part of the learning process, digital allows you to do this more cheaply and gives you immediate feedback.

Timothy Gasper's picture

This was how I taught young students getting into photography. Had Nikons, Minoltas, Pentaxes,Canons and Olympuses...all film cameras from the 70s. It is important to learn how the camera functions, to use correct exposure combinations of f stop and shutter speed, how and when to use exposure compensation (if available) and most important...the properties of light. They had so much fun and were filled with curiosity and then a desire to learn and explore more.

Sorry, but this is just nonsense in every dimension. If you enjoy the cosplay aspect of shooting film then by all means enjoy yourself. But otherwise the expense and out-datedness of chemical photography will not make you a "better" photographer, nor your photographs more sophisticated or richer.

"The cosplay aspect of shooting film..." F@cking love it! Well said, Tanaka.

I started with film, pre-digital. And taught others to do it. And no, it is NOT better to start folks with film these days.

Basically the author seems to think there's something special about film snapshots; there isn't. His workflow: snapping without light meter, auto processing and "printing or scanning, is basically what everyone did with their Instamatics back in the day. And no more of them graduated to SLRs or to doing their own darkroom work than now graduate from smartphones to DSLRs. In fact, I bet more move on. Why? because contrary to the editor's assumptions most smartphone users that have come into our club already post process in apps. Or online. You had no leeway to do that with film snapshotting back in the day. None. Can't even crop. (And BTW, my club is mostly seniors, so not exactly the snapchat generation. None want to do film again, even though they have.)

Part of success in photography is in getting an eye for what is good. My instructors were always hammering at us to shoot more, do brackets, take chances. And that's far easier with digital.

Doesn't make any sense to me. If you seriously want to learn how exposure works - sensitivity, aperture, exposure time - a digital camera will help you to get these right much quicker than film any day, simply because you can compare your pictures to the scene right there, instead of having to wait for your pictures to be developed. You want to have more business, or stay in it at all? You'd rather encourage people to get a digital camera with interchangeable lenses, play around with them, not be afraid of manual focus lenses, and then they're ripe to make the best of film photography.
Don't get me wrong, I love film photography. I did a bit of it before digicams became a widespread option, but started getting really interesting in photography with digital cameras. Then I started toying around with vintage lenses, and quickly enough I felt like trying the cameras that came with them. I ended up liking them and using them a lot, but I do not think I would have gotten results I am happy with so quickly had I not had built up experience with digital cameras.

Logan Cressler's picture

This is the dumbest article I have seen so far today. Congratulations, you take the cake. I will now instruct everyone in my town to start with film. Where will they get film? Have to drive 6 hours one way I guess. That should really slow them down. How to develop it? Guess they will have to send it out in the mail, that should really slow them down. Hopefully starting with film will slow them down so much they give up and just keep using their phones. That was the point of this article right?

SO DAMN MORONIC.

I started on film, in a darkroom because my high school gave me that option. I will also say I spent more on film, paper, and chemicals than I have on all my digital gear combined.

This article is completely stupid from a "writer" that is so insulated from reality, I think he actually believes this useless dribble he spouts.

This conglomeration of text (I cant call it an article), should never have been posted. FStoppers should be appalled to post such crap as this. And I am not saying this because I hate film. I actually love film, and long for the day I can have a darkroom again, just because I love the process. But 100% of what was said here is absolute BULLSHIT.

Terry Wright's picture

As a motorcycle instructor, we put students on the smallest, easiest bikes to start. It lets them make all the mistakes they need in a relatively safe environment. 125cc four-stroke machines. I'd never put my brand new student on an old 400cc two-strike from the 70's, that would be a disservice to them and would likely result in them learning bad habits, if not make them unsafe or give up entirely.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I have a 400cc 2-stroke from the 80's my middle son just got his bike license and he's not going near it. Not because it's a smelly thing with a power band as wide as a gnat's scrotum. IT'S MY BIKE AND HE'S NOT TOUCHING IT ;)

"He can be found at the best local coffee shops, at home scanning film in for hours…” Wow! He sure sounds like a hipster. He frequents only the "best" local coffee shops in his gentrified neighborhood...and say what, he spends hours scanning film at home? Ok. So that explains his absurd blog post.

F-stoppers probably has an army of unpaid writers who specialize in click-bait material. The writer sure seems one of them.

Sure go ahead Adam, work with film all you want. But for the love of Gumby stop telling people that they are making a mistake if they don’t tell their friends to start in film. What an absurd article! And what insane reasoning!

Each photo that is used in the article has something that would not have happened if it was shot raw digital. The shadows are too closed down. There is horrible dirt hits in the "Shot on Portra 800" sunset shot. There is lint in the cable car shot. The scans are terrible. Yup! I guess that is the joy of film. By the end of the article you discover that Adam is promoting his own film-scanning service. No thanks Adam. If I wanted dirt hits or lint in my scans, I will do them myself.

I’ve been shooting every format of film for over 45 years. My main format is 8x10. I have shot digital for the last 25 years, primarily with Hasselblads. It would not occur to me to suggest to my friends to start in film. They don't have to start with Hasselblads. But they don't have to live with crappy, dark film scans with lint in them.

I teach photography at an art school in the south and I get this same attitude from other faculty every day: “Students need to start out in film” before they can move to digital. I know teachers who *forbid* their students from touching digital. Why?

That mindset is more often than not a result of two kinds of thinking:

1. The older generation that shot/taught film and got outmoded by digital and have no comprehension of it or have any facility with it. Read the comment by Timothy Gasper above and you will see what I mean. He seems to have lost his will to live due to the advent of digital photography. I'll bet any amount of money Ole Timothy has never touched Lightroom or Photoshop.

2. Hipsters who spend far too much time in the “best” local coffee shops and far too many hours scanning film at home. They also run their own scanning service that they would like to promote by guilting you into telling your friends to start in digital. (They need the money)

I dare anyone to show me that film is cheaper than digital. In fact I will bet the opposite is true.

I dare anyone to show me film shooters are better at composition.

I dare anyone to show me film is "superior" to digital, and not simply an aesthetic choice.

I dare anyone to show me, as the author says, that shooting with film gives people the “general satisfaction of doing it the “real way” “

I dare anyone to show me that somehow shooting with digital is less “real.”

I dare you. I double dare you. I triple-dog dare you. I quadruple kitty-cat dare you.

Logan Cressler's picture

I agree, the photos he chose to show, I would cull out and no one would ever see. Good thing he slowed down for the composition though... Most of them seem blurry or out of focus anyway, either from scanning or from shooting. This is what happens when you make excuses for the shortcomings you have made, either through equipment or ignorance, and you just want to like it so you come up with reasons why the faults are actually benefits.

If any single one of those photos was on a critique the community, they would ALL be 1 star images. Maybe the fish would get 2 stars, but that would be pushing it.

"quadruple kitty-cat dare you" yikes, this guy is serious...

Mark Sawyer's picture

Anything that takes THAT much rationalization is wrong.

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