Film Photography for beginners

Film cameras

What kind of a film camera should you get? I recommend starting with a camera that uses 35mm film, as it’s the most common format and offers the broadest variety of equipment. If you’re eager to get that ‘film look’ with the least amount of fuss, I recommend a compact point-and-shoot camera, which is easy to load and makes most of the exposure decisions for you (and usually makes them correctly) Below is an example of a Point & Shoot 35mm Camera.

(35mm point & Shoot Camera)

If you’re a more experienced photographer, you’ll perhaps want an SLR or rangefinder that allows you to take more creative control. Auto-focus SLRs offer an experience similar to DSLRs, while manual-focus, manual-wind cameras require more involvement and present an enjoyable challenge. We’ll talk more about types of cameras in future articles.

(Manual 35mm Film Camera)

What about lenses? For cameras made after 1990, a couple of general-purpose zooms in the range of 28-85mm and 70-200mm should get you started. For older cameras, prime (fixed focal length) lenses offer better optical quality. Most SLR cameras came with a 50mm lens in the F1.7 – F2 range, which is a good place to start, and a 28mm wide-angle is a common second purchase.

(35mm Lenses can be used on Digital as well as Film Cameras.) Must be same fittings…

Where to Buy Film Cameras

First, ask around! Chances are you have relatives or friends who have old film cameras sitting in a closet that they are happy to give away or sell cheap.
If you’re going to buy gear (in the UK), Harrison Cameras is a place to start. They grade their gear so you’ll know what kind of condition it’s in, and they usually offer a guarantee and carry a healthy inventory of compatible lenses. Prices will be a little higher than buying from an individual seller; you’re paying for peace-of-mind. Your local camera store may have used gear as well.


Basic film types include print and slide film, both of which come in colour and black-white varieties. I’ll be adding a guide in the future, diving into their differences.

For most people, I recommend starting with colour print (a.k.a. colour negative) film, as it’s the very forgiving of mistakes, such as under/over exposure and easy to get processed. Kodak ColorPlus 200 is cheap and has a nice vintage look. And while shooting film isn’t much more difficult than shooting digital, beginner mistakes are always a possibility, so it’s best to start with something forgiving.

A lot of film photography classes use B&W film, primarily because it’s much easier to process by hand than colour film. (Also, it looks really cool.) B&W film is often a bit cheaper than colour print film, but processing may be more expensive. I don’t recommend starting with colour slide film as it requires perfect exposure to get good results.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some cameras set film speed automatically, but others require you to set it manually. Be sure to set the ISO/ASA dial/switch to match the film speed, and don’t change it mid-roll!

Where to buy Film

Most local camera stores still stock film, and you can mail-order it from online retailers like Amazon, Analogue Wonderland. Film does have an expiration date, and I advise people at the beginning of their film journey to avoid expired film as it produces unpredictable results, as you get more experienced you may wish to try expired film