Buying into Film

One of the distinct advantages of digital over film is its relative low cost. Once you buy a digital camera, lens, and a memory card, your financial investment is limited to recharging batteries.

That's kind of a false math, however. Film cameras are plentiful and extraordinarily inexpensive. If you approach the question from a budgetary perspective, you can get into film for quite a reasonable price.

Assume an average DSLR kit will run about $500. Accessories will rack it up another $100.

A decent film camera can be had for less than $50. An excellent prime lens for it will be no more than $200. (Remember, with film the camera is nothing more than a box that holds the film itself. Quality is determined by the lens.) You can then get an Epson scanner for $200, so you can scan your negatives and share them in the digital world.

Quality film cameras can be had for any price.
Getting set up in film can cost a few hundred less than buying that next digital camera. Moreover, if you carefully buy into a major system (like Leica, Canon, or Nikon), your lens investment will likely work with both digital bodies as well as film bodies.

There's no way around the fact, however, that film is an ongoing expense. But there are ways to minimize that cost. Black-and-white film can cost as low as $2.50 for a roll of 24 exposures. Developing it yourself will cost around a dollar a roll and also accelerate your appreciation of the process of making images. There are many such easy ways of stretching the money you saved buying a film camera and maximizing your artistic growth.

Getting your feet wet without processing it yourself is still possible, even if a little more expensive. Ilford XP2 film can be processed at any lab that does C41. My local Walgreens processes it for six dollars a roll while I wait. (Only 30 minutes!)

Thinking in terms of pure dollars doesn't tell the whole story, either. Time is valuable, and shooting film can dramatically reduce the time you spend post-processing because film takes care of all those "develop module" settings as soon as you trip the shutter. That means you'll have more time to get out shooting, which is the whole point of photography in the first place.

If you want to improve your photography, it's going to take an investment. The advantages of film toward helping you along that path are well worth the reasonable cost. And you won't be alone: just read along with me!