Film is Expensive, but Who’s Counting?

The cost of film has gone up a lot in the past year. The first time I bought Lomography 400 film, it cost about 17 dollars; it’s now 27.00 plus shipping. Ilford raised prices, and Kodak did the same. My five-pack of Portra 160 that I bought for 35.00 at a camera store in May 2019 costs 45.00 today. Film is getting expensive to the point where shooting with it is close to becoming a lifestyle statement. 

I started shooting film because, when I decided to capture my flowers, the cheapest digital camera I could find cost over two hundred dollars (Sony a100) for just the camera. My Maxxum 7000i cost 42.00 plus another 10.00 for shipping and came with two lenses, a bag, and a flash. When it arrived, I walked down the street and bought three rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for 15.00 at CVS.  

At the time, I expected I might buy, at most, 5-6 rolls of film per year. And since I have a small garden, I never thought I would be shooting much past the first two years. Well, that proved to be wrong within a few weeks. And now I find myself thoroughly immersed in cameras and eager to shoot. 

Lomography 400; lab developed and scanned

Film was the least expensive way to get into photography. Since I got the 7000i, thanks to ShopGoodwill, I have two digital cameras that render beautiful images that cost no more than their film cousins. My Maxxum 7D and Olympus e300 have CCD sensors and render breathtakingly rich colors. So—why am I still shooting film? The simple and uneconomical answer is I like the way film looks and how it can be massaged to give different results. Emulsions have an aesthetic; they change according to the light. They can be pushed, pulled, and tinkered with. And, of course, there is the element of surprise–things can happen during development or printing. Yes, one could do the same thing, sort of, in Photoshop. But, for me, a guy who got a chemistry set for Christmas at age 9, playing with chemistry is way more fun. 

Kodak UltraMax; lab developed and scanned

Like most people new to photography, it never occurred to me that each emulsion would have a distinct character. But each has subtle biases that manifest in peculiar, desirable ways. Each has a quality and a way of rendering that conveys, at times, as much as the objects within the frame. Kodak Ektar favors reds; Fuji Superia Xtra favors blues and greens. Lomography 400 color tends to be warm, as does Kodak Portra, which also adds soft pastel tones. Kodak UltraMax tends to be neutral. Purples vary greatly among all of them.

Kodak Portra 160; lab developed and scanned


Oddly, with black and white films, I don’t notice as much variation. My favorites are now HP5+ and Ultrafine Xtreme 100. HP5+ is excellent in 120 and 35mm format. I have Ultrafine in 120 but have not shot with it yet. Both emulsions produce clear, sharp images with good tonal range and the right amount of contrast. Tri-X produces beautiful photos as well, but it is a pain to scan–too curly. I have a few others to try: Ilford FP4, Delta 100, and Delta 400 and ADU Arista 200, but unless they blow me away, I have found my go-to’s.  

 Film is expensive, and I readily admit that it is a self-indulgent exploration for no purpose other than the sheer existential joy it brings.  

6 Comments

  1. Like you, I started down the road to film photography as a “lark” last year. I thought I might shoot one to two rolls a month. That didnt’ happen. On average I shoot two rolls a week, maybe three. I try to keep it as “budget” as possible: I tend to stick to consumer-grade stocks and my local lab (Citizens Photo) is pretty inexpensive in comparison to other places. But yeah, I spend a bit on film and processing! But I try not to worry about it too much.

    As for Arista/Fomapan 200, I’m hot and cold with it. I’ve gotten great results with it (comparison: a poor man’s TMAX), but the last two rolls I shot were sub-par. Same goes for Arista/Fomapan 400. Kentmere 400 has become my go-to budget black-and-white: I can get it for around $5 for a 36 exp roll, and it’s like HP5 if a little more boring.

    1. Author

      It’s an easy habit to fall into shooting away, isn’t it?

      I’m beginning to fear for the future of Ultrafine Xtreme. I love the 100, but it hasn’t been available for a while. I have tried Kentmere. But if pressed, I will use HP5. I’m still surprised by how clean HP5 looks, especially the 120.

      1. HP5 is great, as is Tri-X.

        My new problem is that I shot a roll of TMAX 400 and liked it a lot. And it’s usually a buck or two more than Tri-X…

        1. Author

          I have a couple of rolls of TMax, but have never shot it. Maybe that should be next.

  2. I’ve finally decided that for me, it’s not about the relative cost of film vs. digital. I have a hobby of shooting film in old cameras and there are just costs associated with that, which I can afford. I also have a very nice DSLR that I use and enjoy, and the full cost of that is already sunk.

    1. Author

      I agree. At first, I set a budget, and stuck to it successfully for at least a year. But the pandemic killed that budget because I wasn’t spending money on other things. I have all the camera gear I want, so that’s no longer an issue. However, darkroom time is becoming a possibility, and then—well, who knows…

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