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

im making sure im a good friend by telling to not touch film.

Instant feedback is a great help to newbies - they can learn exactly what they did - if you shoot film, you don't see your results until the film is developed (and negative film is almost too forgiving) and scanned/printed - with digital, you see what you have and can immediately change your exposure, meter differently, etc. "Oh, the flash exposure is too much, let's drop power, close the aperture"

user-239119's picture

I think that only those who started on film can truly marvel at the instant feedback of digital. Fine point: especially for those learning.

I shoot film (and of course digital) for a number of reasons, but would not recommend to a newbie shooting film for the exact reason you highlighted.

Logan Cressler's picture

"You're making a mistake if you don't tell your friends to take their first airline trip on a biplane."
"You're making a mistake if you don't tell your friends to adopt a wolf as their first dog."
"You're making a mistake if you don't tell your friends to only hunt and eat food caught with spears."
"You're making a mistake if you don't tell your friends to first learn to drive with a horse and buggy."
"You're making a mistake if you don't tell your friends to write their nonsensical words on paper and NEVER POST THEM ONLINE EVER AGAIN."

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Thank you Logan (and most other commenters) for a truly entertaining set of replies to the silly premise in this article. I was thinking especially of your horse and buggy analogy since my teenage daughter started Driver's Ed...at no time did they try to teach her to harness a horse to a wagon.
This "learn film first" way of thinking is just plain wrong.

I do agree that people should use film if they want to, but not because they'll receive any special benefit from it. In fact, if the goal is to wind up with something to post online anyways, as the author suggests, starting with film is totally pointless.

Logan Cressler's picture

Just wanabe hipsters trying to find a way to be different

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Heh, heh...in that case there's always growing a beard and wearing wool hats in the summer.

John Tyson's picture

Why would you assume someone is trying to be hip or cool if they shoot film. Can't they just like it without all the judgment? I mean, who are you? What do you like? What if people said the reason you like the things you do is only because you want to be cool or hip. Choose positivity first, bro. It's free and makes the world better.

Logan Cressler's picture

If they are telling everyone it is a mistake to start new shooters with digital and instead tell them to start in film, while being “found at the best local coffee shops,” then yea, hipster alert for sure.

John Tyson's picture

Unclench and give peace a chance, broseph!

Logan Cressler's picture

No war needed, just spittin facts. If I offended you I appologize, I will buy you a fat free no soy mochawrapachino next I am in portland.

Sorry Adam but this is somewhere between poppycock and balderdash. Honestly, it is. Folks should start with what they have available and move from it only after they both feel comfortable and become curious. I will bet you that for most folks that starting point would be their phone. Or try this approach... there was a time when we didn't let students touch a camera for the first three semesters as they learned optics, theory and chemistry. At that time, the feeling was that using a 'small' camera would be too difficult for students to properly assess composition so they started with 4x5 cameras (usually a Speed Graphic, Crown Graphic or Busch Pressman D) and Durst or Beseler 45 enlargers. And then they started ferrotyping their prints. Students went to 35mm from 4x5. After the 35mm revolution in the mid to late 1970's students started with 35mm but just about everything else remained the same. Oh, usually students didn't touch color film until their senior year. All I can say is thank God those days are long, long behind us.

Christopher Eaton's picture

Nope. Let's just stop wasting natural resources to shoot film.

Also, stop buying overpriced vinyl records. They do not sound any better.

P.S. Get off my lawn.

Stuart Carver's picture

Nicer to DJ with though.

Logan Cressler's picture

You forgot to tell him to pull up his pants

And stop using that dirty paper stuff to pay for your coffee already! You're holding up the line.

John Tyson's picture

So chasing GAS and buying digital equipment, filling landfills with unwanted "old tech' is somehow better than me using a camera made 40-years ago, that is not in a landfill. You realize the amount of waste and pollution that goes into extracting the raw materials to make the "cool new camera" to appease your digital GAS is exceptionally worse than reusing exiting film camera stock, yeah? Your logic is flawed, homeslice.

Logan Cressler's picture

Why do you think that you have to buy new cameras all the time to shoot digital? That is your perception, not reality. Or it is some sort of straw man argument you are trying to make because you are not intelligent to win an argument on your own merits, so you have to contort what others say to try and vilify them.

Did anyone say anything about GAS? Did anyone say anything about buying the newest camera body all the time? NO. YOU did. Only you. You made your own counterpoint to counter because you don't have a real argument.

Anthony Caldera's picture

I like film, so I won't tag on your main thesis. But this point was BS:
"mediocre results that will have them regretting their $500 DSLR purchase"

I (still) shoot with a Nikon D3200 because I don't believe a more expensive camera will make be a better photographer. I don't regret the camera, nor the results I get from it. Ever.

John Tyson's picture

3200 is a great camera! Most DSLRs are. We live in amazing times!

I disagree. As most photographers of a certain age, i started with film and changed to digital when is was around 44. Of course because there weren't digital camera before that.

My learning got speedier with digital. I could see what I did wrong or right, I could see what certain settings did or didn't do.
Digital makes it far easier to learn photography.

Dan Howell's picture

been there done that (for years). Totally disagree on virtually every point. nice try though.

Simon Patterson's picture

I won't be encouraging anyone to start photographing with film first, for the same reasons I didn't start my child's bicycle lessons on a penny farthing.

Z K-P's picture

When authors are scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something controversial to say about photography...this is what you get. Explicitly written to stir things up.

No, film is not the way to start someone off on the road to photography. It is not even remotely practical in this day and age. No immediate feedback on your composition is a hindrance to learning. The resulting failures after getting film developed will turn most new comers off, once they see the mistakes the made, and have NO IDEA why those happened.

Sorry this entire article is a huge miss.

C Fisher's picture

I love seeing articles where the comments just rip the author a new one 🤣

When I was a kid I wanted to play the guitar and everyone insisted that I learn acoustic first. The problem is, for a 6 year old, acoustic guitars are hard to play. If I tried hard I could get the hang of it, but I just never wanted to put in that work. Fast forward to my pre-teen years when I still wanted to play guitar and finally got an electric guitar. I LOVED playing that guitar and played all the time. I even went back and started playing acoustic again and found a new appreciation for it. BUT, without that electric guitar I wouldn't have kept playing long enough to do that.
Does learning the struggle-bus analog way technically make you better? Sure, absolutely. But I think it's also a purist/gatekeepery approach to getting people into a hobby.

I would never suggest that a friend start with film. What a waste of time. For the most part, I only see hipsters with film cameras.

John Tyson's picture

Really. Is that what YOU see? Not interesting, and likely an over generalization, but thanks for contributing to the bucket of useless feedback.

Stop trying to overcomplicate things to sound cool. It's like saying to tell your friends to use a typewriter rather than a keyboard.

John Tyson's picture

Why would you assume someone is trying to be hip or cool if they shoot film. Can't they just like it without all the judgment? I mean, who are you? What do you like? What if people said the reason you like the things you do is only because you want to be cool or hip. Choose positivity first, bro. It's free and makes the world better.

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