4 Ways to Save Money Shooting Film

With all the ways we have to take photos now, shooting film is definitely not one of the cheapest. You constantly have to buy film, develop it and find a way to scan it. I still love it for the surprise factor and that it forces you to pay a little more attention. But what about the costs? For about 15$ a roll with scans things can add up fast. For me, one roll a week would add up to 676$ a year! That hurts even doing he calculation.

Even though it cost more, doesn't mean there aren't ways we can make shooting film cheaper. Here are my top 4 ways to cut costs.

1. Developing Film

The biggest way to save money on film cost is learning to develop film yourself. Black and white film development, which is a bit simpler than C-41, cuts cost down to about $7 for each roll and even less if you develop in bulk. You'll learn a lot more about the development process and have total control over how the image comes out.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

The reason I don’t develop my own film is time. The development part isn’t too bad but the scanning part can be very tedious. You’ll need to get a flatbed scanner and spend time getting your images into a digital format. A lot of people enjoy scanning and having absolute control over the entire process. If you do everything in house you'll save a lot of dollars too.

2. Choose your chemistry wisely

Different types of films are gong to cost different prices to develop. If you’re developing yourself or going through a third party the cost of processing from highest to lowest is typically going to be slide (E6)/Black & white/color negative (C41). C41 at third parties developers is going to be the cheapest because the process was pretty well automated since the early 2000s, or peak film use. We used to have one hour film development in every drug store and camera shop and those same old machines are still in use today.

Back in the early 2000's C41 was the most widely available and accessible film. E6 slide film was more niche and professional and typically sent out for development from specialized labs. The same is true now, there are three film developers in Austin and none of them develop E6 on the premises anymore, it’s all sent out of state for development.

Lastly E6 film is typically more expensive than C41 films. You can get three rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for the cost of one roll of Fuji Velvia 100. The additional developing costs due to having to send the film out compounds the cost of shooting E6 over C41.

3. Shoot more films per roll

My local camera store sells expired film at $2 bargain basement prices. I’ve been a huge sucker for it and purchase whatever seems interesting at the time: Superia 200/800, York film, even garbage Walgreens film. It let's you get a taste of what the film is like at a ow cost. But I realized it was also eating my paycheck and making me shoot less.

You really don’t lose out on shooting a roll of 24 but you pay for it in development costs, which is typically the same for a roll of 24 vs 36. So let’s just say a scan and dev cost you 13$ a roll. That’ll be $0.54 an image for the roll of 24 exposures and $0.36 for a roll of 36 exposures. The number of images adds up too. Shooting 10 rolls of 24 exposure rolls is going to be 240 images vs 360 on 36 exposure rolls. There aren’t many 36 exposure roll color films out there but seeking them out is going to save you a pretty penny.

4. Making Sure Your Gear is Solid

You can lose a lot of frames due to light leaks, underexposure and flare. Sometimes the effects are very cool and for some, a big reason why they shoot film, the random organic chaos you can have in an image. When I'm not experimenting I like to have consistent images and repeatability. Here are some simple tips to keeping your camera in check.

That’s a leak.

That’s a leak.

When light seals go bad you get light leaks, usually really small ones add a little flavor to your images but big ones destroy images. Changing your seals is pretty simple and something worth learning. It'll save you a lot of time and money down the line.

Second, use a lens hood. It's one the best ways to cut down on flare, haze and increase contrast in an image. My camera feels a bit naked without it so I have a few metal ones I use on different lenses with step-up and step-down adapters. It's one of the best $10 investments you can make for a lens regardless of film or digital.

Even after shooting as many rolls as I have, I'm not comfortable in guessing my exposures with film. I always carry around a simple light meter to start any shoot. This has saved my butt in difficult metering circumstances like cloudy days and shooting indoors. I recommend the classic Sekonic L-308 which is a workhorse and just dead simple to use. I get more usable shots using a light meter and that saves me money and time.

Shooting with film should be fun, and it shouldn't bankrupt you either. With a couple of tweaks to your practice you can save a few dollars that will hopefully allow you to tackle bigger projects. Do you have other ways to save money shooting film?