takumar 135mm

You want film grain, try shooting film… by hjl on Flickr.

1/250, f/4, Tri-X, Pentax Super-Takumar 135mm f/2.5 on Spotmatic F. HC-110, 1:160, 44 min @ 19C semi stand.

I want to shoot film, what should I get?

From time to time, I get questions like: “What kind of Instagram filter is that?” (from cameraphone enthusiasts), or “I have Lightroom and Photoshop, is there a preset for that look”, (from photographers starting to explore postprocessing) or “I want to try shooting film, what should I get? My friend has a Holga, it’s pretty inexpensive” (anyone who hasn’t used a film camera).

What many people associate with a “film look” is a combination of wide aperture (shallow depth of field, bokeh, vignetting), older optics (more lens flare, no autofocus, no aspherical elements, no CAD/CAM manufacturing, softer corner focus), plus the characteristics of the film and processing itself (film grain, tonality, color response, processing artifacts). You can (and I do) model many of these behaviors in a digital processing workflow to achieve a similar visual result. However, it’s often easier and less expensive to do this with actual film workflows, and the experience of making images with film has very different dynamics, which contribute to the aesthetics of the “film look”.

A major obstacle for many people interested in trying this out is simply figuring out what to get (and where to get it, since none of it is sold and marketed in retailers now).

Here’s a short list for a film photography starter kit:

1. Canon AE-1 body ($20)

2. Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens ($15)

3. ND8 filter ($5)

4. (optional) Extension tube for Canon FD ($15)

These are recent prices from eBay, including shipping. So you can get your basic camera + fast lens for $40, and add an extension tube for closeups and macro for another $15.

5. Film: Tri-X ($5) for black and white, Ultramax 400 for color ($5) or Portra 400 for color ($10)

6. Mail-order processing ($15 / roll, negatives + scan)

Canon shipped over a million units of the AE-1 and AE-1P in the 70’s and 80’s, so the vast inventory of used-but-working equipment tends to hold used prices down. The FD lenses can also be used with an adapter to fit virtually all modern digital cameras *except* for Canon’s own EOS-mount cameras (which is all of them).

This setup is *not* a good vehicle for creating “Holga-looking” images. You should get a Holga for that. It’s a similar cost to get started ($25-$50, new).

Roberts Camera or KEH will provide a warranty for used equipment (but cost more) if you don’t use eBay

Here are a few sample photos made with the 50mm f/1.8 on an FD-mount body. There isn’t a good way to simulate the wide-aperture look on a phone or P&S, but it’s very easy to do with inexpensive vintage equipment:

Made with Flickr