In this article I will tackle the wonderful topic of film - and arm you with all the essential information to make a brilliant choice of the right film for your photography right now! 

If you learn better from watching a video rather than reading, here I am discussing different film types, formats, and brands. 

What are the basics I need to know about films?

We’ve 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 - you can always read our longer Guide to Film Formats if you wish!) 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 never heard of how these interact, then you can read this article on the Film Photographer's Exposure Triangle.

film formatsFilm Size (Format) | Resulting Image (Film 'Type') | Light Sensitivity (ISO)



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 film 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!) We have an article that explains many 35mm film FAQs here!

120 film 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 film 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.


film formats120 film; 620 film, 127 film, 35mm film and 110 film in a row!

Other rarer films that you might see are:

110 film - 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 film and 620 film - alternative roll films similar to medium format - available fresh


Resulting Image (Film ‘Type’) 

There are three film types to know about: black and white (B&W), colour negative (C-41 or ECN-2), and colour positive (E6). These are all available in different formats, and able to be processed in labs around the world.

Black and White Films

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 (C-41)

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.

Colour Positive (E-6)

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 the colours correctly).

This type of film produces very vivid colours and uses a different developing process called E-6, the 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.




Light Sensitivity (ISO)

I’m sure you may have seen numbers on film packages like 100 or 200 or 400. Those numbers are what it’s called ISO or film speed. The ISO indicates to us 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 their film speed into two groups to help understand the implications in practice.

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

Slow speed 35mm Films

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

Fast Speed Films generally refer to films faster than 400 ISO - they're also referred to as 'low light' films.

fast speed 35mm films

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

So, let's now take a look at what films you could start with.



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 been 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.



I hope that part two of The Best Film Photography Guide for Beginners has helped you understand your film options. If you are ready for Part Three - Film Developing then follow me here or head back to the Film Photography Beginner's Hub