My Cart

Close

The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

Hola! I'm Marina from IFWEFILM! How nice to meet you here!

If you are reading this, you've probably been curious about how to start taking analogue photos and enjoying all that film photography has to offer. I can definitely understand that - the magic of taking pictures on film can make anyone fall in love!

So first of all, I want to give you a very warm welcome to the wonderful world of film and secondly, tell you that you've landed in just the right place. Let's get started!


It's possible that film photography might seem a little bit intimidating at first since there are a few new concepts to learn, but honestly once you have the basics crystal clear, the rest is pure experimentation and joy.

That’s why I created this guide for you!

The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

This guide has been built to make your entry into the world of analogue photography as easy and clear as possible. That means that I’ve put aside complicated technicalities and simplified as much as possible to give you the essential information in a really easy way.

To help make it a fun and accessible journey into film I have divided the guide into these 5 simple questions:

  1. What are the basics I need to know about analogue cameras?
  2. What analogue cameras could I start with?
  3. What are the basics I need to know about films?
  4. Which films are ideal to start with?
  5. What options do I have after shooting my film?

You can jump directly to the answers you need by clicking on the relevant question!


Video Guide for Film Beginners

I have also created three videos - just in case you prefer watching YouTube to reading text - that covers the exact same information!

Part 1 covers the first two questions and is all about film cameras - what are the basics and where should I begin; Part 2 covers the two questions about different films and where's the best place to start; and Part 3 answers the final question 'What happens when I've finished taking photos and want to see the results?!' All three videos can be watched below - but if you do prefer to read then skip down a section and we'll get straight into the answers!

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3

1. What are the basics I need to know about analogue cameras?

When we talk about analogue cameras we can classify them according to two criteria.

Firstly, they can be divided by (i) the photographic film format used (which covers the size of the film and whether it comes in a canister or on a roll), and (ii) the type of mechanism that the camera uses. If you come from digital photography, concepts like compact camera, DSLR or mirrorless will ring a bell…. it's exactly the same idea.

And why is it so important to know about this? Well, very easy.

After reading this first part you will get a better picture of what types of camera you can find as well as their advantages and disadvantages. And if you are already lucky enough to have a camera in your possession this will help you identify what type it is, and therefore the film format you will need to buy to start shooting!

So the first criteria: film format, and we can divide the cameras into 3 large groups: 35mm cameras, medium format cameras and large format cameras. There are a few other formats in circulation (things like APS, 126, 620 etc) but they are rarer and we won't worry about them in this beginner's guide. We will also look at Instant cameras at the end of the section, as they don't fall into the classifications quite so neatly.


(i) Camera Format

  • 35mm Film Cameras
  • Medium Format Cameras
  • Large Format Cameras
35mm Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

35mm cameras are, as the name suggests, those cameras that use 35mm films. We also have a video walk-through of loading 35mm film cameras you can watch here.

🙂PROS

-As they are the most common camera format, it's easy to find fairly affordable cameras.

-There's a wide variety of film types: from traditional black and white or colour to experimental films.

- You can find different types of cameras from the simplest to the most complex mechanism.

- These cameras are usually smaller and less heavy than bigger formats which made them quite easy to carry around.

😐CONS

- Since the size of a 35mm film is smaller than larger formats, there is a smaller amount of detail versus the next formats we'll consider. (But honestly, if you are not planning an exhibition with A0-size prints right now, then 35mm cameras are absolutely fine)

120 Medium Format Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

The medium format cameras, also called 120 cameras, are cameras that use 120 film. (There are other types of film also considered medium format such as 127, 126 or 620 film but 120 film is the most common format)

🙂PROS

- Since the film used is 3 times bigger than 35mm, the amount of detail obtained in the images is much higher.

- They are ideal for professional purposes as these cameras' build is designed for pros - getting the best quality image from each shot

😐CONS

- They tend to be bigger and heavier than the 35mm cameras.

- They are not as cheap as the 35mm cameras (although you can still find real bargains in charity shops or online)

- I consider they require a bit more advanced technical knowledge or understanding since many of them required the use of a hand held lightmeter.

Large Format Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

They are those typical cameras that generally have a flexible bellow and use film sold in sheets or plates. The most common film sizes are 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 inches. Image (c) Tom Hart

🙂PROS

- The image quality you get is superb

- The experience of taking photos in large format is unique and magical.

- You can easily correct perspective errors by using the flexible bellows of the camera. (That's why these cameras were popular back in the days in architectural photography.)

😐CONS

-Large format film packs are unfortunately not cheap at all (range from £50 to £60 for a pack of 10 sheets in colour and £30 - £40 for a pack of 25 in BW)

-With most large format cameras, the use of a tripod is essential.

- The pace when shooting with large format cameras is much slower since certain mechanisms have to be checked before pulling the trigger so if you want speed, this may not be the best option.

So far so good? You now know the difference between the main film camera formats, and have hopefully identified any cameras you already own by their format! Well, let's continue to the second criteria to understand film cameras: the mechanism they use.


(ii) Camera Mechanism

  • SLR - Single Lens Reflex Cameras
  • TLR - Twin Lens Reflex Cameras
  • Rangefinder Cameras
  • Point and Shoot Cameras
  • Pinhole Cameras
  • Instant Cameras
SLR Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

These cameras are without a doubt one of the most popular types of cameras among photographers, both amateurs and professionals. SLR cameras have two main characteristics: they have a mirror inside that reflects the light as it passes through the lens and the lenses are interchangeable.

🙂PROS

- Most SLRs are usually completely manual (except for the most modern models) so they are ideal for practising basic concepts to expose our photographs.

-They are very friendly with your budget, so you can buy a decent camera for less than £100.

- There is a wide variety of SLR camera models available at a good price and in good condition. Many will also come with semi-automatic exposure to help guide

- Thanks to the SLR cameras system, you can compose your photographs without having to worry about the parallax error (a displacement in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight)

😐CONS

- The shutter sound is much louder and they are less compact compared to rangefinder cameras.

- They are a bit inconvenient when taking long exposures - or panning while shooting - as the mirror blacks out the viewfinder during the moment of capturing an image.

TLR Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

The twin lens reflex cameras are those cameras that have two ("twin") lenses with the same focal length. The upper lens is the one that offers the image to the viewfinder (located at the top of the camera) and the lower one is the one that takes the photo since it has the aperture and shutter. With a few exceptions, these cameras use 120 film and take a square format images.

🙂PROS

- Thanks to having two independent lenses, TLRs provide a continuous image on the viewfinder screen, making it a convenient camera for long exposures.

- Since the shutter is built within on one of the lenses, they are much quieter and less likely to be affected by the internal camera shake

- People being photographed with TLRs often report it being less 'intimidating' since camera is not placed at eye level - often useful with subjects met on the street or while travelling

😐CONS

-The image seen through the viewfinder is reversed (left and right are reversed) so it usually takes a little time to get used to framing.

- You have to compensate your framing, especially when photographing subjects close to you (nearby objects show a larger parallax error)

- Only a few TLR cameras offer the option to swap lenses.

- They are a little inconvenient to take pictures without a tripod where the subject is positioned above the photographer's chest.

- Shutter speeds do not usually exceed 1/500 seconds.

Rangefinder cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

A rangefinder camera, unlike an SLR camera, combines an optical viewfinder with a rangefinder independent of the lens, allowing focus on the subject by superimposing two images.

When we look through the viewfinder of these cameras, we can identify 3 elements: a completely sharp scene, a small rectangle in the centre of the image where we will see a portion of the same scene (this is the one that will help us focus our photograph by matching the two images) and some framing lines that remind us which part will be the one recorded in the photo. This may sound complex but it is very easy in practice!

🙂PROS

- They are much more compact and lighter than SLR cameras.

- They have a much more precise focus.

- As they don’t have a reflex mirror, they are much quieter and more convenient when photographing at slow speeds since the risk of getting your shot blurred by camera shake is significantly low.

- They are suitable for long exposures since they offer a constant vision of the image.

😐CONS

- With these cameras you can’t preview the depth of field.

- They don't usually have very fast shutter speeds so working with open apertures on a sunny day can be a bit difficult.

- They can only focus on one point in the center of the image, so you will need to first focus and then compose.

- Focusing in low light conditions can be a bit tricky.

Point and Shoot Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

These types of cameras are perhaps the easiest cameras there are to get started in 35mm photography. They are quite compact and most of them have automatic functions that will choose the exposure parameters for you.

🙂PROS

- They are compact and light so they are super easy to take anywhere without any problems.

- You can find ultra cheap point and shoot cameras in second hand shops.

- They are quite easy to load the film (many of them have an automatic feed).

-They can become an ideal camera for quick snaps.

- Many of them have a built-in flash so it can be an ideal camera to take you to nighttime occasions.

- They are without a doubt the best substitute for disposable cameras.

😐CONS

- Except for some models, most point and shoot cameras don’t have full manual exposure control. So if your intention right now is to learn how to manually control exposure, perhaps it's not the type of camera that I would recommend.

- Most of these cameras don’t have a manual focus system and are usually not very good at focusing on subjects at close distance.

- Point and shoot cameras that don’t have a built-in flash won’t be very good friends at night or indoors with low lighting.

Pinhole Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

Pinhole cameras are the easiest cameras in the world.

They consist of a light-tight box with a tiny hole (around 0,5 mm) through which light rays enter and falls on photographic paper or film.

🙂PROS

- Very easy to use

- Replicates the original 'lensless' method of taking photographs - and the only way we could capture images before glass lens were developed

- There are many modern manufacturers of pinhole cameras (like the ONDU pictured) covering a range of looks, budgets and materials for the exact camera you want

😐CONS

- Since there is no focusing lens, images can be blurred and indistinct vs what you may be used to

- You will need to calculate the shutter time needed - often with a separate lightmeter and a calculator! - so this is not for quick snapshots

- Shutter speeds are limited by howquickly you can manually open

Instant Cameras - The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

Traditional instant cameras are those cameras that capture images onto individual copies of photo paper “instantly”. These images are obtained in direct positive, which means that they can be viewed without having to use a tool to invert the colours of the image. They are also viewable without needing to use any traditional developing method after shooting them, as the photograph 'self-develops' after ejecting from the c.

This means they don't fit neatly into our [format X mechanism] filing system above, but they are still a critical part of the analogue photography landscape and a key feature in many film shooters' camera bags!

🙂PROS

- You get an image in a photographic paper developed in just a few minutes without having to use additional chemicals.

- They are extremely easy to use.

- You can get a decent instant camera for a very reasonable price.

- The photographs you get have a very characteristic retro look.

😐CONS

- Instant film cartridges are not cheap at all and contain very few photographic sheets (10/8 sheets).

- Often the only way to check if a traditional (Polaroid) instant camera works or not is by loading a pack of film, since the battery is in them. If the camera doesn't work, you may have lost the film.


2. What analogue cameras could I start with?

So you’re thinking which camera could be the ideal one for you huh? No problem, let me help you! There are tons of cool cameras you could start with :)

The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners

If you want to learn how to take your photos by controlling the parameters manually, I would definitely recommend you to start with a 35mm SLR camera. And since I know that as you start looking on eBay or another second-hand camera store you may end up lost in the ocean, here is a list of the cameras that I consider to be ideal for beginners for being simple but complete and of course, for its friendly price.

  • Pentax ME Super
  • Pentax K1000
  • Canon AE-1
  • Minolta X-700
  • Nikon FM
  • Yashica FR
  • Olympus OM-2
  • Vivitar V3000

 

Sadly Analogue Wonderland doesn't sell second hand cameras but they have some excellent recommendations for great quality, service and range! Check out their recommendations for second hand camera retailers here.


3. What are the basics I need to know about films?

Finally! We’ve just arrived at the part that I like the most, the juiciest part of analogue photography: 🎞️Films! 🎞️

As I mentioned before, in this guide we’re only going to focus on the basics, therefore I omitted some film formats and types of films (otherwise this guide could be suuuuper long). So if you have your cup of coffee or tea ready and you still want to know more, shall we dive in?

Films can be classified according to three simple criteria: by its size (also called format), the resulting image and its sensitivity to light (denoted by its ISO). Incidentally if you've ever heard of the 'Exposure Triangle' and how that impacts ISO , then you can read this article.

(a) Film Size (Format)

Different resulting images for beginners

(b) Resulting Image (Film 'Type')

Different light sensitivity (ISO)

(c) Light Sensitivity (ISO)


(a) Film Size (Format)

We've covered film format quite extensively in the camera section - and it's the first choice you have to make when selecting your film as you must have one that is compatible with your camera.

  • 35mm is the most common and comes in a canister with sprocket holes along each side so the camera can easily wind/unwind the film. Because it is the top-selling film format today, it enjoys the greatest choice of different brands and films. You can get 35mm in either 36 exposures or 24 exposures rolls (12 exposures is also possible but very rare). When you have finished a roll of 35mm film you will wind the exposed film back into the canister to send to the lab (or develop yourself!)
  • 120 is the most common 'medium format' size. It is a standard length, comes wrapped round a spool. You will need a 'take-up' spool in your camera as this film is not wound back when completed. The number of images you get from a roll of 120 film depends on your camera (and how much of the film that camera exposes during one photograph) but typically ranges between 8-16.
  • Large format is a catch-all term for sizes larger than medium format. These large format films are unlike 35mm films and medium format films, individual films sheets packed in boxes. The most popular format size is 4x5 but you can find 5x7 and 8x10 size format. Large format films are known for being used by professional landscape photographers or for studio portraits since the image quality is superb.
Different film formats - Beginners Guide to analogue photography

120 film; 620 film, 127 film, 35mm film and 110 film in a row!

Other rarer films that you might see are:

  • 110 - a format even smaller than 35mm and also comes in a (different shaped) canister. Fresh film is being produced and is available to buy!
  • APS - a format popular in the 90s, but was discontinued in 2010 and remaining stock is therefore expired with doubtful quality
  • 127 and 620 - alternative roll films similar to medium format - available fresh

(b) Resulting Image (Film 'Type')

There are three film types to know about:

  • Black and White
  • Colour Negative
  • Colour Positive

Black and white films are the most traditional films of analogue photography.

As its name suggests, the images obtained are monochrome and in order to develop them, we need to use specific chemicals for black and white films. After developing them, we can see that their colours (in this case monochromatic) are inverted, which is why are called black and white negatives.

Colour negative films are once developed, orange-tinted and their colours are inverted.

For this reason like the black and white negative films, so to see your shots with the correct colours, you’ll need either an enlarger or a scanner. The process used to develop colour negative films is called C-41, that’s why these films are also called C-41 films.

Positive colour films, also called “reverse”, “slide” or “transparency” film, creates positive colour images (which means that once it’s developed, there’s no need to use anything else to see correctly the colours). This type of film produces very vivid colours and uses a different developing process called E-6, reason why they're also called E-6 films. Really gorgeous films, although typically more expensive and less forgiving of missed exposure than black and white or colour negative films.


(c) Light Sensitivity (ISO)

I’m sure you may have seen numbers on film packages like 100 or 200 or 400.

Well, those numbers are what it’s called ISO or film speed. The ISO indicates us basically how sensitive the film is to the light. They are usually in the range of 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200.

A low ISO number makes it less sensitive to light, whereas a high ISO is more sensitive to light. We can classify films by its film speed into two groups to help understand the implications in practice.

Slow Speed Films

Slow Speed Films. -35mm for Beginners

Slow speed films generally refer to films with 200, 100 or below ISO ratings.

They are best outdoors on sunny days and have less grain. Perfect for landscapes, studio work and portraits in the sun!

Fast Speed Films

Fast Speed Films - 35mm

Fast speed films generally refer to films faster than 400 ISO.

They are best for overcast days or indoors or shooting fast subjects (sports or children or pets!) They tend to have more grain (which is still far less ugly than the digital noise).

 

How about now after reading the part above, is everything a little bit more clearer with regard to films?

Now that you know what you have to keep in mind, take a look at the next section if you want to know what films you could start with 👇


4. Which films are ideal to start with?

The world of analogue films is a great ocean where you can find a wide variety of different films to shoot and experiment with. In fact, thanks to the increasing popularity of film photography, new types of films have been created and old discontinued films have raised from their graves. I also hope that after reading the above sections you will have a clearer idea about the films that will best match your creative style. If so then enjoy browsing more than 200 films available to find the right one! If you head to our main section via the button below you will see that you can filter films by format, type, and ISO - along with brand.

However, my most sincere advice to anyone who wants to get started in analogue photography is to start using films commonly called: Budget films. To learn you will have to make mistakes, so inevitably many films will be ruined along the way. You can find the most affordable films (that still deliver amazing results) in this collection here, with some of the most popular 35mm below:

Sold out
Sold out
Sold out

You can also browse the 'Wall of Inspiration' to see what films other people have used to get amazing images.


5. What options do I have after shooting my film?

Wooho! 🙌 Congratulations if you’re here and you have finished your roll of film! I hope you have had a pleasant experience :)

Well then, once the shooting adventure is over, there’s an indispensable part that we have to do if we want to see our photographs: Film developing! It’s recommended to develop our films as soon as possible after shooting them so for this, we have two options: either send our films to a photo lab or develop them ourselves.

  • (i) Send Your Films to a Lab
  • (ii) Develop Your Films at Home
Send Your Films to a Lab

Without a doubt, sending your films to a lab it’s the easiest option especially when you are just starting out. In addition, you can get from many labs a personalised service and a professional finish.

The type of services and options offered in terms of developing films will always depend on the lab. However, as a general rule there are usually have these basic options:

- Developing Only: is the option where you ONLY get your film processed and receive the negatives back.

- Developing + Scans: is the option where you get your film processed and, along with your negatives, you receive digital files of your photographs. Depending on the lab you can choose the quality (file size and type) of your images.

- Developing + Prints: is the option where you get your film processed and along with your negatives, you receive your images printed on photographic paper. Depending on the laboratory, you can choose the print size and the photo paper finish

- Developing + Prints + Scans: it’s a combo of the previous two options.

Analogue Wonderland doesn't develop films themselves - but they have a page with recommendations so you can choose the right lab for your needs here:

Develop Your Films at Home

Developing at home is much easier than many beginners fear! In fact, in addition to being a great way to save on film developing costs, it's another great world worth exploring.

There are three main types of developing process depending on the film used: Colour negative film developing (C-41 process), Black and White negative film developing (BW process) and colour positive film developing (E-6 process).

If you finally want to make the jump and you have decided that it’s time to develop your own films, I always recommend you start developing black and white 35mm since it’s the easiest process.

I'd recommend you starting with the following kit - although note you'll also need a changing bag!


Well, we have reached the end of the guide! I hope the explanation of these five simple questions has given you a better overall picture of what you need to know to start in film photography.

If you really want to delve into the world of analogue photography, get the best out of your camera and your creative soul:

👉 Sign up for my film photography experiences: www.ifwefilm.com/filmexperiences

👉Follow me on my social media (I post regularly tips and reviews of films and cameras):

Don’t forget that if you have any questions or if there is anything I can help you with, do not hesitate to contact me.

If you liked this content and want to support me to keep spreading my love for analogue photography, you can help me on Ko-Fi here.