For those thinking of shooting film, here is a helpful guide to basic equipment to get you started. When shooting with film and digital cameras there are only three main differences. With a film camera, you lose the ability to shoot Raw, adjust ISO and adjust white balance. This is why learning film stocks and your camera are important. There are a variety of film cameras (35mm, medium format, and large format) as well as film stocks available to choose from. Many of the cameras reasonably priced.
35mm cameras are the most widely used film cameras around. This film comes in either 24 or 36 exposures with a variety of stocks to choose from.
Medium format cameras will take 120 and 220 film. 120/220 film is loaded on a spool, depending on the type of film purchased will either have 8 or 16 exposures. There are a few cameras that include 35 mm inserts. This is great for those of you looking to shoot more film on a good body.
- Contax 645
- Pentax 645
- Pentax 67
- Bronica SQ-A
- Hasselblad 500C/M
- Mamiya 645 Pro
- Mamiya 7
There is a variety of color negative and black and white film to choose from. Most are forgiving of overexposure, Fuji and Ektar are best at handling underexposure. Portra is definitely not one of those film stocks, but still a favorite among many photographers. Myself included.
Kodak Portra 160 & 400 & 800 – Very natural color reproduction with fine grain and massive exposure latitude.
Kodak Ektar 100 – Ultra saturated colors. Very sharp. Not very forgiving of under/overexposure.
Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 (35mm) – a cheap film with saturated colors good exposure latitude.
black + white
Kodak Tri-X 400 – Contrasty coarse grain for a classic B&W look
Ilford HP5, 3200, Delta 400- Contrasty.
Using a lower speed film (50, 100, 160) will give you better sharpness and resolution vs. some of the higher speed films. (The higher the ISO the grainier the film. Same premise as digital–the higher the ISO the more noise in your photo.)
How to meter
When metering there is only one thing you need to remember:
Expose for shadows.
That’s it. Seriously–that’s it. While it’s always handy to have a light meter with you if you are using your in-camera meter, you should be fine but I would over expose 1-2 steps just to be on the safe side. Always remember you will need to set the ISO on your camera to match your film. For instance: if you are shooting Portra 400 you will need to set your camera’s ISO to 400. You are always welcome to change it, but we will be going over that in a different blog.
If you do not own a handheld light meter and aren’t sure how to read your in camera meter properly, there are other ways to meter your film. One such way would be using a smartphone app. There are a few on the market that can help, while I have no specific recommendations, I’m sure you can use google to find them and read up. There’s also the SUNNY 16 rule.
The rule is to set your aperture to f/16, and then take the ISO value of your film and set your shutter speed to the same or nearest available number.
Once again sounds pretty simple, correct?
f/16 – for direct sunlight
f/11 – for slightly overcast
f/8 – for overcast
f/5.6 – for heavy overcast
f/4 – for sunset
I recommend purchasing a light meter should you become serious about your film photography. There are a number of brands to choose from, I use Sekonic. If you are thinking of purchasing a light meter, this handy guide from B&H will help.
When shooting film there is only one thing to remember, the only way you’re going to learn and improve is by constantly shooting. Shoot manual as much as possible and learn your camera settings (in the dark). This will help you improve your skills and in no time you will start achieving your desired results.