Film Basics (A True Beginners Guide to Film Photography)

Some random bits of information for people new to film or toy camera photography based on questions seen in various Flickr groups as well as other thoughts that float into my mind as I write this.

  • You cannot get the photographs onto your computer without developing the film first. Only then can you print & scan the photograph or scan the negative/slide directly.
  • There is  no “best” film to use in “camera x”. Like ice cream flavors, everyone has their own personal favorites. Try what you can get your hands on and see what you like.
  • That medium format film is not called “120mm“. It is called “120”. There used to also be 119 and 121 and a host of other formats. Also there is no “135mm“. 35mm film is designated “135”.
  • You can get the “lomo look” with it’s “saturated wild colors” in a Canon, Nikon or any film camera. Just cross process the slide film as a negative.
  • But for your first roll, process it normally so you can see how your camera performs.
  • Visit your local library and find a book that explains exposure, f-stops & shutter speeds. In the long term it will be worth it to know what you are doing.
  • Processing black and white film is pretty easy and you don’t even need a dark room.
  • Printing (using chemicals) does need a dark room however. But you can always scan your negatives directly on a scanner and print digitally.
  • It is OK to “post process” your photos. What do you think those people who spent hours in the dark room in ye olden times were doing?
  • Unlike a digital camera, it is normally not a good idea to change the “iso” from shot to shot on a single roll.
  • You have a limited number of images per roll – it is worth slowing down and thinking about you are doing. Don’t buy into the don’t think mentality or you will probably be disappointed.
  • A basic Holga plastic camera shouldn’t cost more than $30.
  • Don’t buy every new film camera that comes along. You won’t use them all. Stick with one decent manual or semi-manual camera for now and learn how to use it well.
  • You are allowed to also use a digital camera if you want. Don’t listen to anyone who says you have to pick a side.
  • If your camera doesn’t have a light meter built in it might be a good idea to invest in a hand held one. (Or google “Sunny 16 rule”)
  • LOMO don’t make Holga’s, Diana’s, or Action Sampler cameras. You are confusing them with The Lomographic Society. LOMO used to make the LC-A, the Smena range and Lubitel range of cameras but are out of the camera business now. (update: I should mention that LSI do not make the Holga – this camera is made by Tokina Company Limited which is part of the Universal Electronics Groups of Hong Kong.)
  • Using the same camera as someone else it not going to automatically allow you replicate the images they have. There is a lot more variables involved including light, film type, processing, post processing, exposure and of course the person standing behind the camera.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Film Basics (A True Beginners Guide to Film Photography)

  1. S

    It is interesting that the list takes into acount individuals who have knowledge of one means of production (digital) and lack of the other (Lomo, etc – analog); how the abilities of one are often assumed in the other. It is, as you have done, important to start with the very basic(s).

    Also, I have been following your posts on ‘poladroid’ with great interest, indeed, have commented on them also on my own site.

    Best, Sean.

  2. Dave Post author

    I grew up with film cameras 20 years ago but from reading questions on Flickr and other forums it is apparent that there is a whole generation of people for whom film photography is actually something new. With digital auto-everything cameras, a lot of people skipped the basics so it’s worth mentioning.

    I read your post about fake polaroids and I too am interested in the “why”.

  3. Sean

    It is far easier to explain the ‘why’ in regard to those who have used Polaroid: notions nostalgia and/or remediation spring to mind.

    I think this ‘why’is all the more interesting with those who are unfamiliar with actual Polaroids, as you indicate in your posts.

  4. Diesel

    its good to see that someone else is just as irked by all the, for lack of a better word, idiotic questions on flickr. i personally blame LSI for most of it since a lot of the really stupid questions get asked by people who just bought a D+ and LSI offers no sort of education beyond their useless 10 rules. i hope you don’t mind but i am going to refer people to this post when i see they need a bit of really annoying and repetitive advice.

  5. Dave Post author

    Diesel. I don’t mind at all.

    I never thought about a potential reason being the “ten rules” without the background education. That is probably one of the reasons alright.

    Also if there are things I’ve missed, please let me know.

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