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Beginner's Guide to Film

Welcome to the Beginner's Guide section of Analogue Wonderland!

Here you will find all the basic information you need to start making wonderful and unique images - but if you still have questions after reading through then please contact us.

This two-part guide will cover:

  • Part 1: Which film is right for you to buy for your camera? A summary of the sizes and formats available
  • Part 2: What does all the jargon mean? A simple explanation outlining film photography's technical terms

You can then search for inspiration and understand which films match the results you want on our page for choosing your next film.

We have also created a range of Analogue Photography Starter Packs in case you don't yet have a working film camera!

And finally - if you want to learn how to develop and print your own photographs we can recommend The Darkroom School.

Part 1: Different Film Formats. Which Film Is Right For Your Camera?

The first thing to establish before buying film is to understand which films fit into your camera. Each analogue camera can only take one format of film - although there is usually a wide choice of products available within each format.

The different formats are:

1) 35mm

This is the most common format worldwide and has been in use since the standard size was established in 1909. It is also known as 135. Note that the size of the image produced by these cameras is actually 36x24mm - not 35 or 135 at all! The film comes with sprockets (little square holes) all along the edge of the film strip which help the camera to wind the film along between photos.

This is the perfect "beginner's" format. The small size of the film allows for cameras that are portable and light, and the length of contained film (allowing for 36 exposures unless otherwise stated) makes the format very cost-effective.



2) Medium format, also known as 120

First conceived by Kodak Eastman in 1901 medium format was the first popular "amateur" format. Unlike 35mm film it doesn't have sprockets to help it wind, so the camera uses "take-up spools" to wind the exposed part of the film. This also means that you need a spare spool in your camera the first time you use it with 120 film. New cameras will come with this included. This take-up spool becomes the holder for exposed film you send to the lab, and the spool that held the film originally is then moved to be the "take up spool" for your next roll!

Image sizes are usually 56x56mm which fits 12 photos on the roll. However medium format cameras often have settings that allow for different sizes e.g. 56x41mm to allow more photos on the same roll, or 56x84 to create panoramic shots. Because you get fewer images medium format is more costly per photo - but the larger image size delivers better detail and depth of images as compensation. This is an excellent format to take your photography to the next level.

There is a great range of films available in medium format - and Analogue Wonderland also sells 35mm film adapters to allow you to use use any 35mm film in your 120 camera.

Image size of foma retropan 120 film

3) Large Format

This is a catch-all term for sizes larger than medium format. The most common is 4x5 inches and Analogue Wonderland stocks film sizes all the way up to 8 x 10 inches.

Because of the greater size, large format cameras tend to be heavier and bulkier than 35mm or 120 cameras. However the detail that can be captured by the surface area of these films means that for experienced photographers the trade-off is worth it. Many of the most famous landscape images - especially those from the first half of the 20th century - were captured on large format. 

Below is a photo of Ansel Adams adjusting his large format camera in 1969. Or maybe taking a selfie? No, probably just adjusting the camera...

Ansel adams adjusting his large format camera



4) 127

127 film is an "in-between" size, with a typical image size of 40x40mm placing it between 35mm and 120 formats. It was introduced in 1912 by Kodak to fit certain ranges of camera. It is a good compromise between the convenience of 35mm and the increased image quality of medium format. There are only a few cameras in existence that can take this format, but they are still common enough for ReraPan to make new film.

Below is an image of 127 film between 35mm (left) and 120 (right).

Image of 127 film between 35mm and 120 medium format films

By smial - File:Film 127 135 120 IMGP1797 WP.jpg by Smial, FAL,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26598198



5) 110

You may recognise 110 cameras from early spy movies where they typically feature within a toolbox of gadgets! This is down to their diminutive size, each image is only 13x17mm, meaning the cameras could be shrunk to fit in pockets. While the convenience this afforded was a big selling point, some camera manufacturers still made expensive and highly-technical cameras to make the most of the small surface area of the images.

The film comes in self-contained cassettes that wind from one side to the other, and each roll will typically fit 24 images. After the last of the big manufacturers stopped producing fresh films in 2009, Lomography resurrected the format in 2011 to ensure a new generation of photographers could enjoy the fun of analogue-in-miniature!

Photos of 110 film

By Anonymus60, CC BY-SA 3.0
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5621421



6) Advanced Photography System - APS

Mistakenly heralded as "the future of photography" in 1996, APS was produced and marketed by all the major film manufacturers as a premium upgrade to the ubiquitous 35mm format. It attempted to modernise film photography with the latest technological advances, incorporating the ability to magnetically imprint extra data (shutter speed, aperture setting, date and time) onto the film for later reference. Supplanted by the boom of digital cameras just a few years later, APS was finally discontinued in 2011 although there continues to be a good supply of expired film available that yield beautiful (if unpredictable) results.

Image size is typically 30x17mm but many APS cameras have the ability to change aspect ratios to fit the situation e.g. panoramic at 30x9.5mm.

Example image of an APS film

By Aaronyeo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31191848



7) 16mm Movie

16mm film reels have been used in the movie industry since the 1920s, and have been responsible for both blockbusters and home videos ever since! Wider and with bigger images than the common 8mm film format, 16mm is a fantastic film to explore analogue movie-making.

Example images taken on 16mm movie film



8) Instant

Instant photography today is split into a myriad of different sizes - each only compatible with one camera type - so it's important to ensure that you match your camera to the right film. To keep it simple we will break down this section into smaller chunks: Polaroid and Instax.


8a) Polaroid Instant

Polaroid film was a revolution in the 1970s, bringing the "all-in-one" film to an affordable level so that families around the world could take and see photographs without needing to involve a laboratory or wait longer than a few minutes for results. Today the films are made by Polaroid Originals and there are four different formats so please make sure you get the right one for your camera! If you have any questions or are unsure, check out the Polaroid website page.

Summary table of different polaroid film types for instant cameras

 

8b) Fuji Instax

Instax is a recent and new instant formulation which comes in three different sizes but with identical chemicals for the same colours and tone across formats. See diagram below for the different sizes although remember it won't necessarily be to scale on your screen!

Those three sizes are:

  • Mini (image size 46x62mm)
  • Square (image size 62x62mm)
  • Wide (image size 99x62mm)

The Mini and Wide sizes are available in both colour and black & white. At the moment Square is only available in colour.

Diagram showing different Fuji Instax instant film sizes 

Continue with Part 2.