What do you recommend for someone looking to get away from digital and start dipping their toes into film?
So this is a question that I see a lot on tumblr and I’d like to try my best to answer it properly. First of all, I think that whatever kind of photography you’re doing, you have to develop your own style. If you haven’t taken the time to find what it is that you like to take pictures of, and can take good pictures of that subject matter, then it doesn’t matter what kind of camera/medium you’re using. There are so many different styles and subject matters to choose from and unless you are comfortable and happy with what you’re shooting, it’ll always come out disappointing to you personally. I think a lot of people look to film as being something that will immediately make them happy, but at the end of the day it’s much more time consuming and frustrating than digital will ever be. That being said, I found my style and subject matter in film and the things around me when I travel and I’m still continuing to develop what I do. Starting with film though, I use to absolutely hate the pictures that I took. Looking back, I realize that it was because I was too worried about using my camera properly than actually taking a picture with it. I shot roll after roll after roll and hated all of it. Then after a while, I started to take pictures of what came naturally to me and in a way that best fit me, and I’ve never looked back. I still don’t think my work is where it should be, but I can say that I’ve grown with it and figured things out along the way.
So here’s the deal, if you want to start shooting film you need 2 things, film and a film camera. I will forever suggest starting with 35mm over medium format/other formats because it’s easy and there are some great and fairly inexpensive cameras out there. I started using a Canon AE-1 Program and can only say wonderful things about it. Here’s the thing though, that camera is an SLR, and a lot of people have trouble using them because there are so many different things to learn at once if you’re going to shoot manually (which you always should forever and ever). If learning ISO, shutter speed, and aperture combos all at once seem like too much, then go with a point and shoot (Rangefinder cameras also have the same amount of things to learn, you just look through a side lens instead of having the lens reflected off the mirror and into the viewfinder). There are nice ones like the Contax T2 or the just as good and less expensive Olympus Stylus. Another point and shoot option is a disposable camera because of how accessible and easy to use they are. You don’t have to worry about settings or lighting and you can used to shooting in general. As for what film to get, I personally stay away from Fuji stuff because I personally don’t like it and I don’t think it captures light very well regardless of the film speed. I always go with Kodak Gold Max 400 (400 iso) because it is so fantastic and captures light beautifully. They sell both Fuji and Kodak stuff at most pharmacies (Walgreens, CVS, etc) and it’s not too expensive. Where to get film developed though? Some pharmacies will still do it and I used to take mine to a CVS, but I’ve since started going to a local film lab in my city who does a fantastic job and can develop anything and everything I bring to them including my medium format stuff.
Basically, just think about what kind of pictures you want to take (meaning your style and subject matter) and let that guide what sort of camera/film combo to go with. Word of advice though, stay away from most all antique store/thrift store/flea market/garage sale cameras because most of the time the owners don’t even know if they work or not, and they almost always charge too much because they can. That’s a lot of information and sorry for the length but I just wanted to try and answer this as thoroughly as possible. Just try to experiment with what you take pictures of and how that works with your film/camera set up, because digital and film shots of the same thing can look and feel completely different. Don’t be scared though is the main thing, you just have to start shooting and not stop until you feel comfortable. Once you can do that, your film skills will translate to any other film camera/system. Here are some lists of good stuff I’ve used/know of to be good. Thanks for the ask, I hope it helps.
35mm SLR Cameras: Canon AE-1, Canon AE-1 Program, Nikon F3, Contax G2, Yashica FX-3
Point and Shoots: Contax T2, Olympus Stylus, Kodak Disposables
Film: Kodak Gold Max 400 (Color), Kodak Portra 400 (Color, more professional), Kodax TMax 400 (B/W)