One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.
They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.
This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.
First, the camera.
Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.
No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.
But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else.
Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens.
I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.
There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.
And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.
In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.
I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.
A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.
In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.
Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.
The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.
Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.
If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.
If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.
So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.
At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.
This takes your total to £27.
If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.
If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.
The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.
This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.
I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.
Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.
I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.
It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.
After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.
Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.