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Learn More About 35mm Film

So you're going to get into 35mm film? Congratulations on your achievement! You won't be sorry; an incredible analog adventure awaits (YAY!)

However, due to a large amount of film available and the wide range of prices available, determining which film will fit best for you and the type of shooting you will use can seem like a daunting task. Over the course of this post, I'll show you how to figure out which film stock is best for you as a novice film photographer, as well as give you tips on how to get great results any time you shoot film.

Since there are so many different styles and stocks of film available, we'll stick to the "basics": color and black-and-white negatives. They're simple to obtain, and designing them is even easier. We'll also assume you're shooting 35mm film, which is the most popular 'entry' format for film photographers.

Here is an important and significant first thought: to remember the photographic circumstances and the aesthetic or "look" that you are following. Each film stock has a distinct look and feels to it. Some, for example, use a muted tone throughout an image, while others emphasize certain colors more, resulting in a color-popping effect. Others will maintain quality when using the flash; others will perform best in bright sunlight, and still, others will perform best in the dark shadows!

Although there is no right or wrong way to use film in photography, there are some film stocks that are specifically designed to look a certain way and create a certain aesthetic. Consider the subject matter you're shooting, as choosing the right film for the look you want to achieve is critical.

However, there are some good all-arounder films that can achieve a very desirable look on a shoestring budget and with very little filmmaking experience.

Why 35mm film?

The main reason people shoot 120 film is that it produces a larger negative, which has a few significant benefits.

  1. Detail. A larger negative means more data captured by the camera and the film. This will also translate to larger files if you choose to scan your negatives: personally, our team has a few 100MB files from high-quality scans. Also because you have a larger picture you can crop the image more aggressively without losing detail versus a 35mm picture at the same ratio - or produce larger prints without compromising detail or resolution
  2. Grain. Technically you tend to get the same amount of grain per square inch as in other formats - but because the total image data captured is much greater, this grain is less noticeable than in 35mm or similar. In other words, the image: grain ratio is much higher in medium format - with the practical implication that you can use higher ISO films without the image being as visibly affected by grain

An interesting - and often perplexing - a side effect of the larger film area is that lens focal lengths aren't the same. You have to remember that a 50mm lens on 35mm film camera and 50mm lens on a medium format is not the same! To get the same sort of shot on a 6x4.5 camera you would need a focal length of approx 80mm. The medium format would also have a shallower depth of field, which may be useful for portraiture but not great for landscapes and other genres. If you were shooting on a 6x6 camera, your equivalent lens would be nearer 90mm.

Let’s Talk Creative Shots!

Need 35mm film recommendations? See a few of our best sellers.

Rec 1

Kodak Professional Portra 160, you know that it’s a color negative film; meaning, it should have a decent amount of versatility within various lighting conditions. You’ll have lots of detail shine through highlights and even a fair amount from the shadows since it’s not quite in contrast to others on this list. It does spectacular with skin undertones. Those with green undertones are bound to look neutral, while folks with a more red undertone will look more natural.

Best For: Photographers needing a colorful alternative to brighter lighting conditions than the Portra 400 or 800.

Rec 2

It has extraordinarily warm tones, very good exposure balance, and while its grain is more noticeable it’s still very pleasant looking and adds an extra taste of texture. The high ISO makes photography ideal for lower light shooting, perfect for reception dinners, moody portraits, and blue hour landscapes.

Best For: This film stock is the best for those looking to create photos with Portra 400’s color profile, but with a higher ISO for low light compatibility.

Rec 3

Kodak Professional Ektar 100 is a fantastically vibrant film stock that overdramatized colors and hues to seem larger than life, yet still keeps the integrity of the photo. With colorful blues in the skies and crisp detail due to the stocks’ low ISO — Ektar provides a colorway and contrast line that distinguishes itself from the other stocks.

Best For: Photographers looking for a way to set their images apart with a more unique, vibrant colorway.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The Difference Between 35mm and 120 Film Formats

There are two types of cameras that take different film stocks: 35mm and 120 films (medium or large format) film. 35mm is much smaller and typically less expensive than 120 film, meaning they are more portable but hold less space for details and resolution. Because 120 is a larger format, this means that each roll only holds 16 shots or less instead of the usual 36 on the 35mm film canisters. It’s definitely a bit more cumbersome to add 120 film to your camera bag, but the output can be very worthwhile.

How much does medium format film cost?

The price starts at $7.89 for a single roll and usually around $30-40 for a 5-pack. We are committed to going beyond a price tag and offering the best service around for film photographers.

Need recommendations to get started?

If you are intrigued about this beautiful format and need help finding out which would be the best film format or type of film for your needs, reach out to one of our expert Gear Guides to help you choose the best film to find the best film for your photos.