Learn More About 35mm Film Cameras
Slow down and give each picture significance and intent. Continuously pressing the shutter without entirely reeling in the composition or framing is much simpler. When it comes to film photography, each roll of film, on the other hand, forces you to reconsider the photograph you're trying to make.
SLR cameras (single-lens reflex), compact (point-and-shoot), and rangefinder are the three basic types of 35mm film cameras. The SLR is your DSLR's film counterpart (the D stands for "digital"). There is an optical viewfinder on this camera, as well as interchangeable lenses. The compact is a smaller and more lightweight camera with a fixed lens that can be either a prime or a zoom (fixed focal length)
Want to get started at getting yourself 35mm film? Let's take a step back and talk about what are the types of medium format cameras for photographers to get started and each's functions or features.
Let's dive into everything you need to know to get started with film cameras!
Why Shoot with 35mm Film Cameras?
There's a good chance you have a close friend who still has a retro camera with them. Every weekend, he spends his time aimlessly roaming around the Barbican, photographing leaves and balconies. If it came down to it, they'd protect their Instagram "aesthetic" with their lives.
Both Canon cameras feature ‘shutter priority,' which means “you can select your shutter speed, and your camera will automatically choose an aperture” (the hole in the lens that determines how much light passes through the camera body). Canon is known for bridging the gap between photographers and hobbyists in the 1970s. The (almost) indestructible Pentax K1000 and the Olympus OM-1 are two other excellent choices.
Check out retro markets if you want to try out a camera before you purchase it; but, without the safety net of eBay or Amazon, you'll have to know what to look for. “Check all of the shutter speeds when you pick them up to make sure they're not sticking, meaning they're opening but not closing. That'll be your first stop.”
It's also worth seeing if your camera's replacement batteries are still available. "Mercury sales were considered a little risky in the late 1980s, so many batteries were phased out." Just in case, do a Google search before you purchase.
Finally, if you really want to pursue film photography, avoid Lomo cameras, which create those once-popular but low-quality shots that swept Instagram a few years ago - the ones where color bleeds into the frame's edges.
"Some people mistakenly believe that all old film cameras are Lomography, but this is not the case. Lomo cameras have filthy old plastic lenses that contain smeared images. I've spent my whole life trying to stay away from shots like that!"
Here are a few points that might make it a closer reality to you:
- It teaches you to “feel” your exposure. Modern cameras have lots of advanced technology built-in that is meant to help photographers expose their photographs correctly, and this technology is incredibly helpful. Film cameras are archaic compared to these high-tech devices. They require much more understanding of how light works and how a camera should be set to capture a specific scene in the way that you want it depicted. Shooting with a film camera forces you to build this understanding and feeling of light and create your own methodology and style on how you want to shoot a scene. This skill is directly transferable to shooting with a digital camera.
- Less flexibility in post-processing builds the skill of exposing correctly during shooting and reduces reliance on software. Very often, when you shoot with a digital camera, you might capture an image that is under/overexposed. It’s too easy for us to giggle and say “I’ll take care of that in post.” Not only can you not review your film images until much later, but you also don’t have nearly the same amount of flexibility in post-processing as you do with the film. The exposure of a RAW digital file can be manipulated by around 14 stops in either direction; film cameras can only manipulate a film image around 2 stops in either direction. It’s much more important to get your shot right the first time when shooting a film.
- It introduces intention into your shots. The cheaper price range on average for a roll of 35mm film costs about $12.99 on Moment. To get that developed costs additional time and money, then you have to digitize it and organize it after the fact, which requires more time and supplies. Clicking the shutter button is what most people think about when it comes to photography, but that action is quite literally the smallest part of the photographic process! It’s hard not to think about the time and money that goes into it before and after you click that button. When you shoot film, you’ll be more conscious of this and will frame your shots more intentionally, taking fewer pictures but capturing more meaning with each shot as opposed to mashing the shutter button on a digital camera. (Mashing that shutter button can still be fun, don’t get me wrong!
- Shooting with older tech helps you to learn about the history of photography. When you purchase your first film camera, you will inevitably want to delve into the history of the camera, which will lead you into the history of photography in general. Integrating film photography into your practice will lead you down the path of researching famous photographers, old photography methods and equipment, and in general, the history of photography. Learning about the techniques of the legends will make you a better photographer, as will understanding the similarities and differences between analog and digital photography.
- Professional quality at discount prices. For an “obsolete” technology, film photographs are incredibly high quality. The level of detail and image sharpness that you can obtain with a film camera is on par with digital cameras today and is a major improvement over most cell phones and point-and-shoot cameras. Because of this perceived obsolescence, high-quality film cameras can go for incredibly cheap. My F100 was $1500 when it came out in 1999; I was able to get one for about $150. Comparing digital photo quality to film photo quality is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but generally, film photographs keep right up with high-quality digital photographs.
35mm Film Cameras Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Is a 35 mm Film Camera?
There are many cameras used in film photography, but they all fall into a few groups. Sheet negatives of 45′′ or 810′′ film are used in a wide-format frame. Medium format negative sizes include 64.5′′, 66.5′′, and 67.0′′, among others. This leaves a small format, or 35 mm as it is commonly called. The 3624 mm film is used in these cameras.
Single-lens reflex cameras, rangefinders, and disposable film were all common at the time.
Let's cut out this tech talk and dive into creative stuff!
Why start with 35mm Film Cameras
35mm is much smaller and typically a more affordable price range than 120 films, meaning they are more portable but hold less space for details and resolution. If you’re truly just starting out your film journey, we’d highly recommend beginning with a 35mm camera; they are less technical yet still deliver a beautiful image should you shoot the roll properly.
Types of Camera
There are several different film formats, such as 35mm (the most popular), medium format, and large format. Each format produces a different size negative, meaning a different size of the camera. Each size produces a different level of detail, the least detailed negative being 35mm, and the large format having the most detail. Because of its small and portable size, coupled with decent sharpness and overall affordability, 35mm SLRs are the most common film cameras of choice. The medium format had its uprise in the 1970s as a way to achieve higher quality and a shallower depth of field for professional portrait photographers while maintaining relative portability. Today it is used mostly for higher-end consumers and magazine editorial shoots. Large format photography, due to its ability to capture an incredible amount of detail, was popularized through portrait and landscape photography. It was most notably used by Ansel Adams to take some of the most widely recognized landscape photographs of all time. Large format is still used today for portrait and landscape photography.
For many reasons, 35mm medium format film cameras are recommended for beginners. First and foremost, they are the most economical, giving you 36 photos on a roll of film. They are also the most portable, easily carried, or fit into backpacks. They are the perfect film camera to carry with you anywhere you go. And most importantly, having the most simple designs, they are the easiest to learn and use. They also have the most space for growth. While the larger formats are made only for high-end consumers and professionals, there are 35mm cameras that range all the way from beginner level to professional.
Selecting a Medium Format Film Roll
You’ve purchased a camera and are itching to get out and take your first shots with it. The next step is to head to Moment and buy a roll of 35mm film. Just like with cameras, there are countless film options out on the market. With the demand for film surging, camera companies like Kodak are increasing their film production.
When purchasing a new roll of film, there are three primary factors to consider - cost, ISO, and the color profile of the film.
As a beginner, we highly recommend you start with the cheapest film you can find. The first few rolls will be spent getting to know your camera, learning which color profiles you like, and understanding how the film differs from digital photography.
ISO (Film Speed)
If you already shoot with a digital camera, you might be familiar with ISO. ISO is basically the film’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the faster the image gets recorded to the film.
With a higher ISO, you also introduce grain (noise) to the photograph. When shooting film, this isn’t as much of a concern as when shooting digital. It’s still something to consider, but film grain has a much more pleasing look than digital noise. That’s why they built in a grain setting to photo editing software!
If you are shooting outdoors, you can go with a lower ISO like 100 or 200. ISO 400 is a nice middle-ground for indoor and outdoor shooting, as is 800. Anything above that would generally only be used indoors or in other poorly lit situations.
Another difference that could influence the film you shoot with is its color profile. Some films like the Fujifilm Superia have a sort of green tint to them and are a little faded; others like Kodak Ektachrome produce bright, vivid photos. If you’re curious about a profile, you can do a quick Google search of example images taken with that film.
How to Clean your Film Camera
Tools You’ll Need
1) Pincer with fine ends. Sharpened or dull doesn’t matter
3) Dust blower
4) Cotton pads or balls
5) Lighter fluid or Isopropyl cleaning alcohol. Both commonly available in hardware stores and pharmacies, respectively
7) Screwdriver (optional)
8) Magnifying glass (optional)
Clean the surface you are going to work on. We wipe it with a damp cloth, allow the surface to dry, then use a handheld vacuum to suck up any remaining particles. Make sure that you have ample lighting for the workstation.
Assess the condition of your camera for any loose parts. Take caution of these parts. Detach any lens attached to the camera, obviously, for interchangeable lens cameras only.
Open up the film chamber, and while holding the camera upside down (with film chamber facing downward), use the dust blower and blow as many areas as possible. This is to flush out any dust particles in the chamber.
If the light seal has dried up, be careful not to touch it and create more mess. If you need to replace the light seal, make sure you do that after the whole camera is cleaned. Proceed to use the dust blower on the surface of the camera to remove any other dirt.
Tear or shred up the cotton pad/ball, then roll the loose cotton onto one end of the toothpick. Don’t make a big ball at the end. Just thick enough like the illustration at the bottom would do. Soak the cotton end of the toothpick in lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol.
Proceed to use the soaked cotton end of the toothpick to clean away any visible tarnishes on the camera. Take caution not to oversoak the cotton.
The fluid should dry up without leaving any residue or marks. If it does, discard the cotton and try again.
For stubborn stains and/or tarnish, use an eraser and rub them on the surface gently. We like the Faber Castell Eraser Pen with Brush as the fine tips (after sharpening) allows you to clean the grooves on dials that may be hard to reach. But at the same time, remember that using an eraser will leave crumbs. Use a brush to clean them away.
Now that we are done with the external of the camera, let’s go into the camera. Most SLRs of the past have a ground glass, and dust might have settled on it. Use a pincer and gently lift the latch, usually located just behind the lens mount. It should drop down easily.
To clean the ground glass, use a damp cotton pad and wipe it in one direction. Some lint may be left on it, so use a microfibre cloth or a dust blower to remove them.
If your camera’s prism can be removed (usually requiring a screwdriver), take it out and clean the surfaces.
Now that is left is to clean the mirror (for SLRs) and the viewfinder. Use a toothpick with shredded cotton on one end and damp it with cleaning alcohol or lighter fluid. Gently brush it across the mirror and/or viewfinder. Remove any lint with a dust blower.
If your camera has a battery compartment, open it to make sure that no previous battery leaks have corroded the contacts. Use a dust blower to remove any dust, and if you want, use lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol to clean the contacts. Remember to let it dry fully before putting the battery back in.
Choosing the Best Film Cameras
If you need help deciding which film camera would leverage your creative eye, contact one of our Gear Guides. We’ll match you to the right guide based on your experience and style, and help to find the right film camera for you.