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Everything to get you started with film photography

Each film type has their own unique characteristics: performance, response to light, qualities and effects. It is very useful to experiment with each film for a while so you become familiar with its characteristics and later be able to make an informed decision as to what type of film suits you and your taste best. There are also less popular films out there that are definitely worth getting into and becoming familiar with for their special results.

Film emulsions had to go through a process of consecutive evolutions (and still are, so to speak) till various versions that we know today were born.


What is film emulsion?

Emulsion is a light-sensitive coating on paper or film consists of fine grains of silver halide salts (suspended in gelatin) with variable crystal sizes that determine the sensitivity, contrast and resolution of the film. When film emulsion is exposed to light it forms an invisible image, from which a visible one can later be extracted through a series of chemical processes during development.

The size, shape and closeness in position these silver halide salts have directly affects the size of grain and film sensitivity to light, from fine grain (less sensitive to light) to coarse grain (more sensitive to light).


Why film?

Though digital photography seems to be gaining more and more ground over film photography, film remains alive. It is still being used by consumers, professional photographers and artists.

One of the main reasons some people (including myself) still prefer film photography is the higher dynamic range it provides. Dynamic range is the difference in light between the brightest value and the darkest value that the digital sensor or photographic film can capture. The human eye can see 24 different stops of light difference, taking into account the pupil dilation and contraction as a result of variation in light levels from highlights to shadows.

Cameras, however, only make instantaneous exposures, with film and expensive medium format digital cameras being able to capture 12 different stops of light variations, while most other digital cameras can only capture about 5 stops of light variations or even less.

Everything to get you started with film photography

This means that what digital photographers usually strive to achieve (especially HDR photography enthusiasts) is offered with film with no extra effort.


Types of film

  • Color Negative film

    Color negative film is the most popular type of film, especially in the 35mm format. Almost everyone, photography enthusiast or not, has tried their hands at those rolls we used to buy before digital photography came along taking the world by a storm.

    Color negative film, particularly the 35mm format, is widely manufactured in all types and speeds. From these, you develop color prints and even black and whites at some labs, at generally low costs. You can also make full size prints for hanging your photos. I also ask my lab to scan them straight onto a CD to be easily downloaded on a computer or shared online with friends and on online portfolios.

    Everything to get you started with film photography
  • Black and White film

    Black and white film directly yields monochrome prints of your shots without the distraction of color. Problem with these film though is that a few labs now can process them as the chemicals needed in the development process is different from those used in color negative processing.

    If you don’t know of a lab nearby that can process black and white film for you, you can still get specific types of monochrome negative films like Kodak TMAX-TCN and Ilford XP2, which can be processed with the same chemicals used for developing color negative films giving black and white results.

    Everything to get you started with film photography
  • Color Slide film

    Color slide film is reversal in that the positive image (as opposed to the negative) is formed on the film. This allows you to see your images as slides using a projector.

    Of course you can still get regular colors prints from those but the cost will be higher, so you’re better off getting regular color negative film.


    Film information

    When out shopping for film rolls it’s important to pay attention to what the film box says. On the film box you will find all important information you need to choose your roll, such as film speed, color temperature, expiration date, number of frames, film type and brand, and film size.

    Generally speaking, 100 ASA films (ASA is the film synonym for what we now know as ISO) offers the best color saturation and tonal gradation as well as finer grain and least noise. Of course the lower the ASA, the less the film is sensitive to light and the more light needed to register a correct exposure.

    Higher ASA film is more sensitive to light which can be useful in low lighting conditions especially if your camera offers a limited variety of shutter speeds to be used. High ASA films are also more expensive. For general shooting, medium-speed film might be most convenient.


    Film expiration

    Film expiration is the date by which you should have used your film. The film expiration date, which can be found on your film box, assumes average storing conditions away from direct sunlight, heat and humidity. To extend their film life, I’ve heard of some people storing their film (sealed) in the fridge to keep it fresh (same as some people do with perfume or smokes).

    With time, film sensitivity to light tends to lessen and colors suffer. I personally don’t really put my rolls in the fridge, but I do keep them in a dry place away from direct heat. Plus, expired film can still be used and often gives interesting and unique results!

    Everything to get you started with film photography
    Everything to get you started with film photography
    Everything to get you started with film photography
    Everything to get you started with film photography


    Number of frames

    Most widely spread 35mm film format has a dimension of 24mm X 36mm and usually offers 24 or 36 frames, though there are few that come in 12 frame lengths.


    Film cameras

    A camera is basically a box with a lens at the front through which light travels, and some sort of light sensitive material at the back that light hits and in turn registering an exposure. In digital cameras, that light sensitive material is a digital sensor, whereas in film cameras that is called photographic film.

    Film cameras nowadays can be one of four basic types: compact cameras, single lens reflex cameras (SLRs), twin lens reflex cameras (TLRs), and view cameras. Film also can be one of three basic types according to picture size: regular 35mm film, medium format, and large format.

    Shooting with film cameras is generally straight-forward, and very much like shooting with a digital one. There might be a few minor differences depending on the specific brand of camera you’re using but the most obvious one might be that of setting the ASA value of your film (which is the film speed and can be found on the box as discussed earlier).

    Although some film cameras would automatically detect the speed of the film loaded into it by reading a bar code on the cassette via electrical contacts in the film feed compartment, most older film cameras have a knob which you can turn in order to set the speed of the film currently loaded in the back. This of course comes in handy with cameras with built-in electronic light meters, so that once you set the aperture and shutter speed values it would give you some sort of signal notifying you whether or not you need to over-expose or under-expose your current settings for an accurate exposure. This pretty much works the same way as those through the lens (TTL) light metering devices found on current digital cameras these days.



    Getting into film photography might be a bit overwhelming at first, especially when you hold the camera in your hands for the first time and realize that most of the luxury we’re used to these days, especially in more professional digital cameras, might not be there. Trust me though, if you’re a photographer (digital or not), it won’t take you more than 20 minutes to figure that film SLR all out. In the end, all cameras serve the same purpose and DSLR vs. SLR more or less can be functioned in the same way.

    I, for one, have been shooting digital ever since I got into this medium but once I got my first old, dusty, super cheap film SLR I honestly never looked back. You will need to get used to the whole notion of actually paying for film rolls and development costs, but the quality and the mood of these photos you’ll be getting is absolutely invaluable!

    You can get a good old SLR camera for less than 20 bucks. Throw in a roll of film and voila! You’re all set to go! Happy clicking =)

from The D-Photo http://www.thedphoto.com

via Николай Русанов, Twitter Nikolay Rusanov, Tumblr Nikolay Rusanov


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