Three years ago, I was intrigued to learn that there are people who still shoot on film.  I honestly thought that film died in the late 2000s. I was wrong, film photography is alive and I’m basking in all its glory.

My first attempt at shooting film was late 2018/early 2019 on a Ricoh KR-5, I then transitioned to a Minolta X-7, #MinoltaGang🤟. I’ve been collecting film cameras ever since and it has become an obsession.

If you’re thinking of giving film photography a shot or if you’ve just started, then this post is dedicated to you. I’ll be giving you some tips to guide you in your film journey that will hopefully encourage you to stay committed to this art form.

This guide will be informative and concise, we won’t be getting into any technicalities – to avoid any cognitive overload. Get your notebook and search bar ready and let’s get rolling!

P.S. We’ll be focusing primarily on 35mm film photography.

Kodak ColorPlus 200

Before we get started, I’ve had a few people ask me “why film?” – you have a limited number of shots, you can’t preview your shots once you’ve pressed the shutter and it costs money to buy film and to get it developed, so, why film?!

I obviously can’t speak for everybody, but my answer to this question is quite simple – film photography is an experience. The limited number of shots per roll encourages you to make every shot worth it. Instant gratification is great, but film eliminates this element and instead, makes you wary of every adjustment. It can be demanding on your wallet, but by including film photography in your monthly expenses, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden. You will be broke though lol. 

Lastly, I feel that there is no need for perfectionism. There will be blurry, out-of-focus, underexposed shots t and without a screen to preview your photos, you rely mostly on your judgement. That’s the beauty of it all. 

1. Where can I get a film camera?

The best place to start is Facebook’s Marketplace, Gumtree, OLX or Bid or Buy. I picked up most of my film cameras from these channels – there’s always a wide variety of options. If you’re not comfortable transacting online then you could check out some second-hand shops, thrift shops, antique shops,  and camera stores like Kameraz.

Once you’ve found one that you like, the next step is to search online for that specific model to see if there are any manuals, video tutorials, sample photos, known issues, etc. Doing this will help you decide if the camera is worth it, but sometimes I just get a camera and do the research afterwards – it’s up to you.

Basic things to check when buying a 2nd hand film camera:

  • Check the lens for scratches and fungi.
  • Ensure that the light meter is working correctly, if possible.
  • Test the shutter button at all the different shutter speeds.
  • Open the back of the camera to check that the film winding spool is intact.
  • Examine the light seals (broken light seals aren’t an issue though, all you need is some DIY.)

Recommended beginner cameras:

  • Any Minolta SR-T or X series
  • Ricoh KR-5 Super
  • Canon AE1 or AE1 program

When it comes to point-and-shoot cameras,  any one of them is a good starter. They’re mostly automatic, so you don’t have to do much tweaking. Remember that Google and YouTube are your best friends when it comes to finding a good camera, so don’t hesitate to consult your search bar.

Sidenote: Most SLR cameras require a battery to operate the light meter, while most point-and-shoots will not work at all without a battery, so check where you can get batteries for your specific camera model.

2. Ok now I need film, right?

There are so many different types of film stocks out there that you should try at every opportunity that you get, but we’re focusing on film best suited for beginners, for now.

Colour film:

Fujifilm’s Fujicolor C200 and Kodak’s ColorPlus 200 are my 2 personal favourites and 2 of the most affordable colour negative films. You can get a roll of each for about R60-R80.

 

Black and white film:

I’m not a fan of Black and White film, but from my research – Kodak’s T-Max 400 and Ilford’s HP5 are good options for beginners. These 2 film stocks range from R160-R200 per roll.

Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive.” – Elliott Erwitt

3. I've shot my first roll, now how do I get my photos?

Now for the most exciting part – getting your film developed! Once your film has been processed and scanned, you can get your images back via USB flash drive or online transfer. Remember to collect & store your negatives safely in case you want to scan them again in the future.

Below are several options that you can contact for your film processing. Alternatively, a quick Google search for any photo labs in your area can also help you.

RGB Pixel Lab (JHB)

Cape Film Supply (CPT & National via postage)

Sky Photo Lab (PTA)

Fotomax (DBN)

Foto First (Cresta)

4. Finding inspiration

One of the best methods of finding inspiration when it comes to most, if not all, creative art forms, is being conscious of what others are doing. The aim is not to compete, but rather to appreciate and to spark a light of imagination within yourself.

 

Here’s a list of Instagram accounts that you should follow to fuel your appreciation of film photography:

Londeka Thabethe: londeka

Stellenbosch on Film: stellenboschonfilm

Yen Andrés Choo: anti_symmetry

S⋆。: iownthesphinx

Celeste: _celestejacobs

tśele: melanateyourmood

Cathy Xiao: _cxvisuals

Kgabo Legora: kgabo_film

Vuyo Majebe: jacuzzifotobar

Sebonelo Sibanyoni: sebonelo 

Marizahn van Vuuren: youcancallme_mari

Gale Maimane: galerekwemaimane

As mentioned previously, Google and YouTube are the best sources of information. When you’re starting, it can be quite overwhelming trying to process everything from different sources, so I’ve linked 4 YouTube videos below that cover some basics. These are only 4 of many more, but should be enough to get you started.

5. The last roll

The last thing that I would like to preach about is my favourite aspect of photography: Printing your photos

We live in a digital era where most of our photographs end up on Instagram and other online platforms, but there is nothing like having a tangible copy of your artwork. Print is not dead, it’s still alive in much the same way that film photography is. Buy some photo albums and frames and give life to your photographs in a physical form.

Now, get out there and start shooting! 📸

And always remember these words by J. Cole:

If you were inspired by the world, allow the world to be inspired by you.

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