What is bulk film and why should you use it: A guide to saving money while shooting more film!
If there’s one thing film shooters know, it’s that film is expensive. It’s not as much as buying a Phase One medium format DSLR, but it’s still far more expensive than it used to be in the days or yore. Of course developing your own film at home can save you heaps on lab processing fees, but what about saving on actual film?
One of the easiest ways to save money when shooting 35mm film is to invest in bulk loading equipment. While it may technically be possible, bulk loading 120 film would not be practical for multiple reasons, particularly spooling and backing paper. However for 35mm, the process is quite simple and helps you get a lot more bang for your buck.
What is bulk film?
Bulk film is a massive roll of 35mm film that you load into empty cassettes and cut on on your own. It usually comes in 100 ft rolls, allowing you to spool between 18-20 rolls of 36 exposure film. The actual number of rolls you get from a bulk roll will depend on the type of loader you have.
So just as an example, as of February 2016 a 100ft roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 runs around $69. If we go on the lower end and divide by 18 rolls, that means you pay $3.83 per roll of 36 exposure. Currently, Ilford offers a 5-pack for $29.99 or $5.99 per roll, and single rolls at $8.99. Now let’s look at a100ft roll of Ultrafine 400 black and white film, which currently sells at $35.95; again on the low end of 18 rolls you’d now be paying $1.99 per roll of 36 exposure. That’s literally cheaper than film was in the 80s and 90s - no joke.
As you can see the savings add up quickly with bulk film, even after taking into account the supplies needed to to it. A home darkroom or complex equipment isn’t necessary to load your own bulk film. The process is surprisingly easy and economic, which is why it’s such a great option for saving money if you shoot a lot.
To take the above price comparisons further, let’s say you buy a set of empty cassettes for $19.95 and a bulk film daylight loader for $59, plus two 100 ft rolls of the aforementioned Ilford HP5 Plus 400, you’re still only paying $6 per roll and that will continue to go down the more you shoot since you already have the loading equipment. (Side note: you can also use a regular bulk film loader with a dark bag or a light-proof room if you happen to have one.)
Canister vs. Cassette
There can be some confusion for new film shooters between canisters and cassettes, particularly because both are available in bulk. Cassettes, pictured above, are the metal containers that hold the film. You’ll absolutely need these to roll your bulk film and put it in your camera. Canisters, however, are the plastic containers that hold your film cassettes. They can be practical for storing your film, protecting from moisture and organizing. While they are recommended, they are not essential for rolling or shooting bulk film.
Black and White Vs. Color
While it used to be possible to find some types of color film available in bulk, most have been discontinued. Black and white is far more common - making it both easier to find and easier to deal with. If you get your black and white film developed in a lab, they can keep your cassettes and return them to you with your negatives and contact sheets (or scans.) If you do manage to find some bulk color film, more power to you!
Have a look at this awesome video from Matt Day on How To Load Bulk Film:
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hi colin! ive just started taking photography classes in school and the camera im using is a canon rebel g. (we use ilford hp5 plus 400 black&white film) whats the best way to utilize it to its full potential for a beginner?
Ooh, great question! Here are some (hopefully) helpful thoughts, with examples the ol’ photo blog.
1. If you’re doing street photography and see a dog, take a photo with the dog. It’s basically impossible to take a bad picture that involves a dog.
(Goggie = good. Everyone loves a dog photo. Everyone.)
2. For just about any photo-related uncertainty, there’s almost always an online guide, video, or forum discussion on it. There’s an absurd amount of material available, and it makes it all very nicely figure-out-able.
3. Moments trumps technical details any day. As great as it is to work on having camera settings are precise as possible, they matter a fraction as much as what you shoot, especially while learning.
(A dog, PLUS an unusual and engaging moment? Automatic intrigue!)
4. Experiment to a fault. It’s better to attempt a lot of unusual things you have no idea what they’ll do than to be simple and safe. Especially on film, don’t waste shots, but don’t live in fear of things not working out.
(Sometimes, when looking through the chair storage unit, you’ve gotta trust your gut and do somethin’ with those reflections)
5. Be deliberate. Go somewhere new, and really explore the space. Look at it like an extraterrestrial that’s never seen anything remotely like it. See where you could go to get an usual perspective, notice the way objects and shadows line up, figure out how you can twist them into new scenes.
(It’s a chance to present the world in a previously-unseen way… as they say, photography is a creative interpretation of reality)
6. Kneel down. It’s so simple, but little changes like getting low or holding the camera above you gives the world a radically-different feel.
(Especially crucial with shots involving kids)
7. When in doubt, just shoot something where a person is mid-stride. It always works.
(No matter what you’re shooting, if it’s in monochrome and a human is in the middle of a step, it’ll look super deliberate and cool.)
…oh yeah, and the same goes for mid-stride dogs, if you combine it with point #1.
Boom. Easy interesting photos. Nothin’ to it.
TL;DR, dogs are good, try to see the world in interesting ways, and don’t take things too seriously. Now, go shoot stuff!