The cost of shooting film

This is the kind of thing that comes out when you decide to prowl around the Japan Camera Hunter website at 3:30 in the morning.  I thought it had some merit, so I’m posting it here. 

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Anyone who doesn’t shoot film because it’s “too expensive” isn’t going to be enticed by having cheaper film to shoot.  Even if it were $1.00 a roll they wouldn’t do it, not only because of the price of developing/scanning, but also because they’re constantly being reminded of the cost every time they want new pictures.  Never mind that there are people out there GIVING away film cameras (I know because I’ve had several given to me) and that the entry cost for film photography is so incredibly low, compared to spending thousands of dollars for a DSLR.  

These people forget how much they spent on digital equipment because they pay it all up front, so paying $10.00 to take 36 pictures doesn’t seem like a deal to them.  Never mind that they’d have to shoot maybe 200-300 rolls before it equals the cost of that digital camera they bought.  

By comparison, since I took up photography in 2009, I’ve shot around 60 rolls of film.  For about $12.00 per roll (say $4.00 for film and $8.00 for processing and scanning) that comes out to $720.00 in 5 years.  That’s an average of $144.00 per year, at the equivalent of a roll of film per month.  Now compare that to the cost of going to Starbucks…  Let’s say $5.00 per visit once per week (quite a conservative estimate, really; some people do that shit daily) for a year would be $260.00.

For the first 3 years I shot Fuji Superia (which I really love) or expired film wherever I could find it, to keep my costs as low as possible.  I bought a 4-pack of Superia 800 from Wal-Mart early this year for $12.00 and one could easily keep the costs as cheap on the b&w side with Kentmere and Arista.  

So shooting film is expensive?  Hardly.

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9 thoughts on “The cost of shooting film

  1. I agree with you about shooting film, but not with your calculations! Since I started shooting film more than 20 years ago, (and the first 10 without the digital alternative) I have come to shoot more than 2000 films.I am still shooting, mostly b&w which I cut from a 30m roll, develop and scan by myself. The cost for doing this is really small, about 3 Euros for each developed film, but of course you spend much time, the time you usually pay others to develop and scan your films. Believe me if developing color films was as easy as b&w I would do them myself, because I don’t trust others with my films. Most of them simply don’t care enough. But if I wasn’t doing them on my own, let alone shooting mostly with digital, the cost would have brought me to my knees and I would probably have stopped shooting altogether. When you do portraits or nude or street, you shouldn’t think of the cost, otherwise you might restrain yourself a bit too much and lose the decisive moment. If you see the contacts of great photographers you might be surprised to find that in a roll of film there is only 1-2 wonderful photos, and again not always! They had to shoot thousands of films to create the magnificent body of work we love and admire. Of course the Digital revolution created a flood of photographers that were betting on the countless clicks they had, the luck and ultimately the easier post processing to create solid photos. But is this it? There is a way of life, a philosophy behind the slower pace (and lately the cost) the film photography was forcing upon its followers. A road where photographs were only the end result of an experience that would lose little even if the results were poor. And that is why I still have a second film camera with me when I shoot for me.

    • Thanks for the depth of your insight! If I understand you correctly, you’re shooting on average 100 rolls of film per year at a cost of 3 Euros a roll? That comes out to just over $400.00 a year if my calculations are correct. I think that’s fantastic, considering you’re shooting nearly 9 times as much film as I am. I think that makes you the Winner, honestly.

      I’m not a professional photographer by any means, and I don’t really care as much that other people are handling my film, because they’re people I trust. Someday I’d like to be able to shoot black & white and do my own developing and scanning because you’re right, it would bring my costs down significantly. And then I’d shoot a lot more, I’m sure…

      I think it was a valuable learning tool for me only being able to afford about one roll per month, because I only took the shots that were the best. For me, the cost is kind of like a goldfish living in a bowl, in that goldfish only stop growing when they’ve reached the comfortable limits of what the bowl can contain. Make film cheaper, I’ll shoot more, make it expensive, I’ll shoot less. I wonder if you started doing things a bit more expensively, if you actually would continue to shoot the same amount of film per year, or if you’d scale back to accommodate your budget; it might be an interesting experiment.

      Quick story: I remember photographing a friend’s show back in Summer 2011, I used his digital camera and my film camera, alternating between the 2 (mostly digital). At the end of the night, I don’t remember exactly how many digital images I took (a hundred?) except that it took 2 CDs to hold them all, and out of that there were 3-4 good shots, only 1 of which I think is really good and sticks in my mind. I took 6-7 pictures with my film camera and came out with 2 that I absolutely love and another that my friend loved. Not a bad ratio, I’d say, and for me, less really is more.

      • You wrong…

        “Never mind that there are people out there GIVING away film cameras (I know because I’ve had several given to me) and that the entry cost for film photography is so incredibly low, compared to spending thousands of dollars for a DSLR. ”
        “These people forget how much they spent on digital equipment because they pay it all up front, so paying $10.00 to take 36 pictures doesn’t seem like a deal to them. Never mind that they’d have to shoot maybe 200-300 rolls before it equals the cost of that digital camera they bought.”
        Are you stuck in the year 2000? You can buy a DSLR with two lenses as low as $500-600, not $2400-3600 as you claim. http://www.adorama.com/l/Cameras/Digital-SLR-Cameras?sel=PriceRange_250to500|Configuration_Body-and-Lens-and-Kit&sf=Price

        “By comparison, since I took up photography in 2009, I’ve shot around 60 rolls of film. For about $12.00 per roll (say $4.00 for film and $8.00 for processing and scanning) that comes out to $720.00 in 5 years. That’s an average of $144.00 per year, at the equivalent of a roll of film per month.”
        Are you kidding me? You really think that most people would limit themselves to just one roll per month like you do? If you shoot one roll per WEEK for five years, it goes up to $3120. Think that’s bad? At one roll per DAY in the same time period, the cost skyrockets to $21900!

        So let’s face it: You hate digital(You said yourself that you militantly support film), you can’t accept change and you go by a very restrictive regimen to prove yourself right, rather than to go by real-world average usage which is more just a measly one roll a month. The cold hard facts is that film photography is, on average, more expensive than digital photography.

      • https://resurrectedcamera.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/an-old-fashioned-man/

        “…digital does have the lion’s share of the market so I do militantly support film any way I can, because the film manufacturing industry needs to meet a certain bottom line to survive, because it’s my medium of choice and I want to be able to use it, because it should be an available creative choice for photographers and filmmakers not just today, but in the future as well.”

        I don’t really feel the need to defend myself more than that, but I’ll say this: I shoot what I can afford. If film was cheaper or I had more money I’d shoot more. For the price of one of Adorama’s budget DSLRs, I could shoot at my current rate for 4 years. Or if I were actually serious about digital photography, for the price of this: http://www.adorama.com/ICA5DM3KZ.html I could be shooting one roll of film a week for 5 years. I wonder whether I would still be using those exact digital cameras after the same amount of time or whether I would have sunk another $500-$3000+ into the next big thing. Also, I don’t think many people are out there shooting a roll of film a day, but all the same congratulations on learning how to use a calculator, all your arithmetic is correct.

        Let’s face it: you hate film. In fact, you fear film. Maybe you fear what you don’t understand.

  2. I once compared the cost of shooting film in the 70s, when I got my first camera, to today — and today is cheaper, hands down. Adjusted for inflation, both film and processing cost way less now.

  3. So true! So clear when you break it down like that. I don’t buy Starbucks – but I do ‘waste’ money on other things – so to set aside $10-$15 bucks a month for film & developing, ain’t such a hardship 🙂 So I need to go buy some more film and start shooting more 🙂

  4. For about ten years I was sucked into the digital rat race that you allude to in your excellent post. Canon Rebel XT, 30D, 40D, 7D, 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III – yes, these were all fine cameras and still in use (some of them), but if you add up the cost, well, that’s an awful lot of film & developing. I’m still shooting digital, and nor will I give it up, but my recent return to film has been a revelation. It has reawakened me to so many pleasures, anticipatory, tactile, and artistic that I had forsaken. I shoot primarily black & white and develop my own film, in itself a true pleasure. It keeps costs down and also encourages all sorts of experimentation in terms of developers and developing technique (for example, I sometimes use pyrogallol-based developers as were used in the 19th and early 20th century for a very different look from modern hydroquinone-based developers) that adds a whole new layer of creativity to the art. I have tried films from the cheapest (Formapan, Kentmere) to the most expensive (Agfa) and each have their quirks and strengths. It is so much fun to shoot film. No photographer should deny him or herself. It also brings unexpected dividends – seeing my burgeoning interest in film, my dad gave me his old Rolleiflex 3.5F. Enough said.

  5. Great article! I am wanting to start using my old Nikon again- life got in the way, not that I have totally switched to digital. (I very reluctantly bought a cheap digital camera just for posting some photos on FB, etc.) Anyways, because I haven’t been shooting film in a while and because we moved to a new community, I searched for, and found, a new, professional, place to develop it. I was a bit concerned, though, about the cost… until I did my own math on my potential max costs per year. My results were very encouraging! Thanks again!

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