A Beginner's Guide to 35mm Film Photography

Published 22/6/2016

Film photography is making a comeback. Lately it seems there are more and more photographers who are rediscovering and advocating how fun the process of shooting film can be.

We hope that if you're reading this it's because you're curious why. Maybe Dad just gave you his once-prized SLR and you want to try it out, or maybe you just want to see what all the fuss is about. If so, read on, because we've put together a few helpful tips about what you need to get started and shoot your first roll!


.. A Camera Body

These days you can pick up a decent 35mm film camera second hand for less than $100. Ask relatives, check thrift stores, or go online and try TradeMe. There's a whole section dedicated to film cameras.

We recommend doing a bit of research before you buy. There are a lot of different options available, from automated point-and-shoots to SLR cameras. Many SLR film cameras are completely manual. There's no autofocus, and you will need to be prepared to manually set your exposures, wind your film forward, etc. But don't let that put you off if that's not your style, because there are also plenty of options that do include those automated features!

Whatever you decide on, it's worth spending some time with your camera's user manual to get comfortable with how your new camera works. If you don't have a manual for your camera, try Googling the camera model. Many manuals can be found online, for free.

When looking for a lens, generally a standard wide-angle to medium telephoto zoom is a good option.

If the camera doesn't come with a lens, it may be advisable to stick to a camera brand like Canon or Nikon as this generally makes the process of finding a suitable lens much easier. Just make sure to check compatibility with your camera before you buy a lens! Have a look through the lenses in our second hand store and if you have questions about compatibility, just ask us!


.. Film

There are a lot of different 35mm film stocks available, but as a good rule of thumb a negative (print) film with an ISO around 200 or 400 is a good place to start when you're shooting in daylight conditions. Experiment with different film stocks until you find one that you like. For colour film we recommend starting with Portra 160, Portra 400, or Fuji 200. For black and white images, Ilford 400 is a good starter film.

You may notice that many films come in both 24 exposure and 36 exposure rolls. Generally the cost of developing is the same regardless of which you choose, so many photographers prefer 36 exposure rolls for this reason. You might prefer 24 exposures however if you're anxious to finish the roll and see your results!


.. Patience

One of the biggest differences between film and digital photography is that with film you won't be able to assess your images as you're shooting. This means you'll want to take a little more time to make sure your exposures are correct. If you're using an SLR, learn how to understand and interpret your camera's spot meter. This article introduces the Zone System, which is a great place to start.


.. A good Film Lab

It's worth doing a bit of research to find a film lab that you like, and thinking about how you want to look at your images once they're developed. Do you want to have them scanned to a CD so you can share them online? Or would you prefer prints? Generally it will cost less to add these extras at the time of developing, so it pays to consider in advance how you want to share your results!

It's also possible to develop your own film, and this can be incredibly fun and rewarding! There are plenty of tutorials online, but it's important to remember that you'll be dealing with chemicals, so a well-ventilated room and common sense are required.

.. And Editing?

There are various schools of thought on this one, but generally, we think you can't go wrong straightening up your horizon lines a little!


.. And that's it!

Easy, right? If you get stuck, there are a whole lot more tutorials out there online. And don't be afraid to ask us questions, we're here to help!

Now go make Dad proud. Happy shooting!


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