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!
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 across a three part series:
Part One: What are the basics I need to know about analogue cameras?
Part One: What analogue cameras could I start with?
Part Two: What are the basics I need to know about films?
Part Two: Which films are ideal to start with?
Part Three: What options do I have after shooting my film?
If you learn better watching a video rather than reading, here is the video version where I talk about different analogue cameras.
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.
In this section I will take you through different Camera formats:
- Medium Format
- Large Format
35mm Film Cameras
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 of 35mm Film Cameras
- 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
Check out our range of 35mm cameras here.
Cons of 35mm Film Cameras
- 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)
Medium Format Cameras
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 of Medium Format Cameras
- 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 of Medium Format Cameras
- 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
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.
Pros of Large Format Cameras
- 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 of Large Format Cameras
- 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.
In this section I will take you through different Cameras:
- Point and Shoot
SLR - Single Lens Reflex Cameras
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 of SLR Cameras
- 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 of SLR Cameras
- 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 - Twin Lens Reflex Cameras
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 square format images.
Pros of TLR Cameras
- 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 of TLR Cameras
- 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
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 of Rangefinder Cameras
- 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 of Rangefinder Cameras
- 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
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 of Point and Shoot Cameras
- 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 of Point and Shoot Cameras
- 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 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 of Pinhole Cameras
- 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 of Pinhole Cameras
- 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 how quickly you can manually open
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 :)
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
I hope that part one of The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners has helped you understand your camera options. If you are ready for Part Two - the part that I like the most, the juiciest part of analogue photography: 🎞️Films! 🎞️ Then follow me here.