A guide to film photography

As digital photography continues to grow in scope and popularity, analog photography or film photography The techniques are experiencing a resurgence among amateur and professional photographers. Analog cameras can be harder to find, but there are still plenty of film cameras available on the market.

If you want to develop your skills as a photographer, exploring film photography can be a very rewarding and enjoyable activity. Here are some of the key points to understand when considering shooting a movie.

Understand the basics of film photography

Early analog cameras used sheets of glass and metal coated with chemicals to create photographic exposures. Back then, photography setups were heavy, bulky, and expensive. They also needed extensive training and a heavy financial investment to get started.

The introduction of 35mm film and other popular film types made photography a more affordable hobby for enthusiasts.

How does film photography work?

Photographic film is made of strips of plastic coated with a chemical emulsion. The emulsion found on negative film is light sensitive, so when exposed to light, the camera records an exposure.

Developing film in the darkroom removes remaining light-sensitive chemicals, locking exposures into the film roll so you can create photographic prints.

Movie Types

There are a few common types of film, but most fall into the categories of color film, black and white film, and slide film.

Color film and black and white film are the two types of negative film. Areas of the image that appear dark on a negative will appear light on a print, and areas that appear light on film will appear dark on a print.

Slide film produces a positive image, so areas that appear bright on the film will be bright when projected onto a screen and dark areas will remain dark.

If you want to make prints in a darkroom, you will need color negative film or black and white negative film.

What are the differences between film photography and digital photography?

The mechanics of photography are similar when shooting film compared to digital shooting. Film cameras and digital cameras use camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to control exposure. But there are a few key differences to be aware of between the two.

Physical vs Digital

The main difference between film cameras and digital cameras is the method of recording an image. While film cameras like 35mm cameras, point-and-shoots, and SLRs capture exposure on negative film, digital cameras like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras capture images with a digital sensor. and save images to a memory card.

The movie can be more difficult

Learning film photography can be trickier than learning digital photography because it takes longer to review your images and check your progress. Film photography supplies are cheaper initially, but over time you will spend more on rolls of film and developing your film. With digital cameras, your primary investment occurs up front.

film camera with film
Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

What to Look for in a Film Camera

If you’re ready to try filming, you’ll first need to invest in an analog camera and a lens (or more). Canon, Nikon, Leica and Fujifilm are some of the most common analog camera brands. Other brands like Lomography, Pentax, and Mamiya also produce analog cameras that are worth exploring. It’s also worth noting that not many camera manufacturers make new film cameras, so you might want to consider buying a used analog camera.


When shopping for a film camera, consider your ability to expand your kit in the future. SLR cameras are great because you can always add lenses to your kit for more creative flexibility. Compact cameras offer less flexibility but are generally very inexpensive.


Some cameras are entirely analog and require you to manually advance the film frames using a film advance lever. Other film cameras are battery powered and automate parts of the photography process like loading and advancing film.

film camera on table
Photo by 𝓴𝓘𝓡𝓚 𝕝𝔸𝕀 on Unsplash

3 reasons to try film photography

Even with the latest and greatest updates in DSLR and mirrorless cameras, film photography is still experiencing a resurgence. Whatever its use, it seems more and more people are finding film photography fulfilling. Here are some of the attractions and reasons to try film photography.


There is a certain pleasure in using a finely designed machine. That’s why people pay thousands of dollars for mechanical watches, and that’s why when you hold an old TLR in my hands, you feel a certain respect and awe for something older than you that works always good.

The rapidity

There are not any. Film photography is slow – no notifications popping up on your screen, no ability to spray and pray, no distractions. You need to focus (pardon the pun) on your photo, and nothing else. Because if you don’t get it right in the camera, you don’t get the shot.


You never know what you’ll get until you’ve taken the shot for a long time. This means that when you take the photo, it may take a few weeks (or, if you’re doing the development yourself, at least a few hours) before you know what your photo looks like.

But film photography also has its challenges. For me, when I started photography, the biggest thing was the cost. Buying and developing a film is expensive. Sometimes it’s frustrating to send an entire roll out for development only to find there was something wrong with the camera and the whole roll sucks. And some people just don’t have the time and patience to deal with a movie.

street photography on film
Photo by zhenzhong liu on Unsplash

How to get started with film photography

But despite the downsides, there are definite upsides to filming, and we encourage you to try it. Here are three ways to get involved: as a hobbyist, diver or drastically.

splash around

The barrier to entry, as a bubbler, is not very high. All you need is a camera, some film, and a place to develop the film. There are still plenty of places to find film cameras online, including my favorite, Adorama’s used department, but you can also check out other online markets and your local flea market.

Garage sales are also good places to look. Development is a bit more complicated – the days of every drugstore developing your film for you are over – but it’s still not hard to find film development services in your area who will mail you prints or , even better, will send you high quality scans.

When it comes to cameras, know that there are plenty to choose from. You can certainly opt for the classic 35mm format, but be aware that if you want to choose a different format, another advantage of film photography is that starting with film in unconventional formats is much cheaper than using the corresponding numerical equivalent. Explore the most common film camera formats to find the one that’s right for you.

Divisione in

Get started straight away. Buy a camera, but also set up your own darkroom and develop your own shots. It is incredibly satisfying to develop your own impressions. Contrary to many people’s assumptions, there’s also a lot of editing you can do in the darkroom. In fact, many Photoshop tools, and their names, are derived from darkroom techniques.

You can make beautiful black and white prints without spending an incredible amount of money or time learning the technique. (Color prints are more complicated, but totally doable – give them a try!)

As for developing chemicals, you might not have trouble finding them in your neighborhood, but you can get all the chemicals – plus everything you need to set up your darkroom – on line. Check out our guide on how to develop film for all the essential tips.


You live life on the edge. You’re not going to get the thrill of developing 35mm film prints – you’re doing everything to the max! I’ve got you covered – have you ever thought of large format cameras? What about lomography? Buy an old Holga and try to make it look better? Pinhole cameras are easy to make, but you may need a two-hour exposure to take your picture. Daguerreotyping makes it possible to produce a unique silver print on glass.

Be comfortable as a film photographer

Practicing shooting with film can be both fun and frustrating. No matter how careful you are with your camera settings and trying to get the right exposure, you can still waste the occasional roll of film or two trying to perfect your techniques.

Buying movies in bulk or experimenting with expired movies is a great way to practice without spending a lot of money. Start with a simple movie until you consistently get the results you want. Once you are more confident, you can start investing in unique and expensive types of films.

As with all types of photography, practice makes perfect. The more you work with your camera, the better you will get. The bottom line is that watching with film photography, even in addition to your usual digital photography, opens up fun new ways to make the world brighter and make you a happier photographer. Get out and go do some magic!


42West by Adorama is the content destination for photographers, filmmakers, audio creatives and all things electronic. Check out our up-to-date editorial articles on all the latest gear, tutorials and interviews with the most relevant insiders in the industry today.

About Debra D. Johnson

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