Shooting Film, Shooting Less!

Shooting Film is said to be expensive!

And it’s true when you don’t take into account the initial cost of a good digital camera and the recurring costs for ever newer models thereafter.170615 - Canon AE-1 - Ilford HP5 (13)

Film cameras, with some exceptions (looking at you, Leica!) are cheap as chips for the most part if you don’t go for some models that are overhyped. Most can still be serviced if something is wrong with them and after all, most will survive us anyways.

So yes, shooting film has a constant cost for buying film, developing and printing.

But printing should not be counted, as either no one prints his photos any more (a shame!) and if you do, the cost will be the same as for film.

Now for developing, the cost might depend on how you go about it. Standard development in a cheaper lab and a set of cheap prints cost about what? Fifteen to twenty euros? I really don’t know any more. Less if you just want scans instead of prints.gart4-leica-003

Now if you send off your films to a really good lab, such as MeinFilmLab, it’s going to cost a bit more but the quality of the prints or scans will be much better!

So how do I go about managing the cost of film?

I simply have fun! I develop and scan my films myself, which is always a very nice adventure… the developing part I mean. The moment you open up your developing tank and lift out the film is magic! Yes, it’s work, but it’s fun.170106-leica-iiia-ilford-hp5-014

But then the dark side of film starts! You’ll either have to step into your darkroom if you have one and wet print or you’ll have to scan the film which is a bore! It takes about an hour for me to scan a roll of film albeit in very good quality on my Plustek Opticfilm 8100 scanner. Then some more time to ‘develop’ the scans on my computer and I’m done.

What does this cost?

A roll of my go-to film, Ilford HP5 is about 5,5€. My scanner cost about 180€ and has seen a couple hundred rolls of films already, so this is a rather negligible cost.001-7

Development is VERY cheap, at least black and white. I use Rodinal and Ilford Rapid Fixer. No stop bath, just water. As Rodinal itself is quite cheap and a 500ml bottle serves for about 80 films that comes down to less than 20 cent per roll of film. About the same for the fixer.

Where does this leave us? A roll of filming development has a cost of about 6€ that is 16 cents per frame. Honestly, I can live with that. And I can live with the chore of scanning as it really helps me to get a relation to the photo, to see it reaching the image I had in my mind when I pressed the trigger. I am much more involved with each shot which is one reason that makes me prefer film (apart from the feel of these great cameras).

What it all comes down to is numbers! How many photos do you make?

With digital, people tend, in my eyes, to overdo it. Taking multiple shots, maxing out the frames per second the camera offers, with the hope that there will be the right shot amongst. One short walk will result often in dozens, if not hundreds of shots.001-35

A month of photography or a vacation shooting film at such a rate might yield a thousand photos (of mixed quality) or even more. If I apply my ‘film cost calculation’, this amounts to 160 € a month, nearly 2000€ per year. Mind you, if you take ‘only’ 1000 photos a month…. Can get even more expensive!

But with film I don’t shoot like that! I recently reorganised my photo library and I know exactly how many photos I have made in the last years. Since I went back to film I shot exactly 3645 photos. Beginning in January 2013…. Five whole years of shooting film amounts to an average 729 photos per year! 61 photos a month, not even 2 rolls on average.

So my running costs of shooting film are about a dozen euros a month. I can live with that.160603 - Fomapan 100 - Olympus XA2 - 013

And this is not just a recent thing. When I was young I used to take about half a dozen rolls of the much regretted Kodachrome 64 for a three week vacation. And I usually had the odd roll left over after returning. Of course when I stayed at home it was much less. But who makes only 180 photos in three weeks nowadays?

So I never lost my habit of being a frugal shooter. Of being very selective. And it’s this habit that helps me now with the cost of film.

Shoot film, develop at home, scan at home (accept the time lost for the sake of saving a lot of money) and you’ll never regret to use your film cameras!

Thanks for reading!

14 thoughts on “Shooting Film, Shooting Less!

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  1. Even if you do pay someone else to process your film, it’s so much less expensive today than it was, adjusted for inflation, in the 1970s and 1980s when I started shooting!

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  2. “(apart from the feel of these great cameras)”. That to me is the biggest draw of film photography. I much prefer the hardware experience of film. Am I using a solid piece of precision engineering or a plastic box with clever software manipulating the image in the way it thinks is best? Or am I just too old and cynical?

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  3. As always it comes down to trying different ways and embracing what works for you. And that balance of time and money that’s present in any hobby. Would you rather spend two or three hours to develop/scan/process a couple of dozen photographs yourself, or pay someone else a few pounds to do it for you and use that time for something else you value more?

    I really admire people like you Frank who keep film as “old school” as possible by developing your own film. If you’re going to use film why not make it as timeless as possible, like photographs were doing decades ago.

    Do you ever make your own prints? Or outsource and have prints made from digital scans?

    You can’t beat the feel of old film cameras. But I wonder if there is a quality factor too. Maybe many people compare the quality of an old film camera that in its day was expensive and pro level, with only a budget level plasticky DSLR of today, most of which are pretty horrible!

    I haven’t used one myself, but I’m pretty sure using a digital Leica today would be a very satisfying experience in terms of the quality and craftsmanship and a world apart from a consumer level digital camera.

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    1. Sure a Leica MP would be a treat but financially it’s very far out. Otherwise there are great solid feeling DSLR’s too but they are expensive. My extremely solid Spotmatic cost just 20 euros.

      As for prints, as I said I set up my ‘darkroom’ in the bath twice but unfortunately it won’t be a long term solution. So I print mostly at home with my crappy Canon printer. Pergaps one day I can get a good one. If I want bigger prints I order online.


      1. The Spotmatics are indeed beautiful machines! I would like to hold and try a high end digital camera to see how it felt in comparison.

        Another factor must be materials. Classics like the Spotmatic (and Takumar lenses) are pretty much entirely metal and glass. Modern cameras are almost entirely plastic and silicon. It would interesting to try a modern camera that is still crafted from metal, as I assume something like a Leica is.

        Prints is a whole other topic I have a draft post about currently. I only very recently had some prints made (via a mainstream online place), the first time in years, despite being fairly prolific in shooting!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Looking forward to your prints post!

        And yes, a digital Leica might be the right stuff. Better still it’s very basic, no settings other than the needed ones. But then there’s the price…. 🤔


  4. I can’t imagine even the most expensive digital camera ever equalling the awe I feel every time I press the shutter button on my 100% mechanical Olympus OM1!

    I also develop and scan at home and I must say I get as much satisfaction from the scanning/post-processing as I did from wet printing back in the day, perhaps slightly more, even, given that failed dodging/burning attempts aren’t costing me a sheet of 8×10 Multigrade any more. When post-processing analogue images, by the way, I limit myself only to processes that are directly analogous to what I would/could have done with the Durst colour head I used to use in the eighties – no trickery involved.

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  5. I do both. Digital as well as film. And I do both „avec modération“ and great pleasure. The films I use are mostly Ilford Delta 100 and 400 (not very cheap). Also Fomapan 200 ( good quality, low price) I am going most probably to try reversal again. Right now I am going to develop a few b&w in Tetenal Ultrafin t plus. And I think I will not change my habits for a few Euro. To precious that „time lost“

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gudde Mëtteg Här Lehnen,

    Merci fir dëse ganz intressanten Artikel, et war erem schéin vun Eech ze lessen :-)!
    Et get keen Hobby dee näischt kascht, an ech fannen dass eisen Hobby, Filmfotografie, awer nach ganz erschwinglich ass!
    Wat sin e puer Euro am Géijesaatz zu där Freed déi een mat Fotoe ka maachen, egal ob digital oder op Film? Virun e puer Deeg huet mäi Papp mir aal Fotoen vu fréier gewisen wi heen jonk a nach bei sengen Eltren war, s/w an e ganz klengt Format mat gezackte Ränner um Fotopabeier, ech wetten et ware Kontaktkopien vun enger 6×9-Kamera.
    Ech hun och nach viru kuerzer Zäit Fotoen eremfonnt a mengen Eltren gewisen déi ech virun 30-40 Joër gemeet hun, a si hu sech gefreet wi Krëschtdag a Gebuertdag zesummen!

    Wat ech well soën, wat sinn dann e puer Euro fir e Film an eng Entwécklung, egal ob doheem oder am Labo, géint di onbezuelbar Freed, Gléck an di Emotiounen di een domat ausléise kann?

    An dem Sënn, léiwen Här Lehnen, fir Eech an Äer Famill e schéine Krëschtdag, vill Gléck am Neie Joër, a vill schéin Fotoen a Blogs och fir 2018 :-)!


  7. Fantastic thoughts! I’ve recently started shooting film and much of what you wrote is exactly why I continue to be drawn in by film. I already enjoyed photography but the “process” of using film from beginning to end makes me enjoy it even more now. Thank you for your fantastic thoughts.


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