Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £12 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

24 thoughts on “Film Photography On A Shoestring”

  1. Good post, shows just how you can get good results with very little outlay. As I already have many film cameras most of which cost me well below $50 the ongoing cost for developing etc is the main focus for me. I don’t generally get prints when I take my films to the shop for developing and that makes a difference. I’ve invested in a scanner to take the negs into the digital domain which I can then print from. I was close to building my own ‘scanner’ by use of a camera rig but in the end paid the money. I am ready to start developing at home too using a monobath and canisters which I already had and that should reduce costs even further and make me fairly self sufficient.

    1. Thanks SilverFox, I just don’t want anyone who’s seen film photographs and likes the look of them and/or is curious about shooting film with old cameras to be put off my the outlay, as it really can be just a few pounds. It’s crazy how little vintage stuff costs, and how widely available it is.

      I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t really think twice about spending £300, say, on a compact or entry level DSLR, but baulk at the processing costs of film. Locally I can buy three films and have them developed and scanned to CD for a shade under £20. So, subtracting say £20 initial camera and lens outlay, for that £300 you can still shoot and process over 40 films (or around three per month), which is a fair amount, and probably more than many amateur film photographers shoot in a year. That’s still a pretty cheap hobby in my book.

      Plus with a versatile film like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, you can pretty easily shoot colour, black and white and redscale, all with the same emulsion.

      If you really get into the developing and scanning side of things, over time the savings can make it even cheaper, as you’re finding yourself, aside from the other rewards.

      1. Absolutely! 🙂 you just can’t go wrong, for $30 outlay you can have a pretty go try out of film from scratch to actual physical results. if you don’t like it then you’ve probably spent less than the cost of a case for your digital. …and you can recoup some of your costs by selling the camera 🙂

      2. Yes good point about recouping your initial outlay. The vast majority of usable working film cameras can be sold on for at least what you pay for them, especially when they’ve been tested with film!

    1. It’s funny how some see film photography as expensive, but there are many of us that are real cheapskates that like it for that reason!

  2. I recently bought a Praktica MTL 50 and a Helios 44-2 for a tenner and it all works perfectly, fun to use as well. Can’t find any £1 film though, my local shops don’t seem to have it!

    But the other thing is that family members have old cameras that they never use now. My dad and my grandad both gave me their old Pentax SLRs and they are in beautiful condition – so it’s definitely worth asking around to see if people will let you borrow their old kit, or better yet just give it to you!

    1. That’s an excellent tip Sam, I’m sure there are hundreds of old film cameras laying dormant in attics and cupboards across the land.

      I’ve had two or three of the M series Prakticas, they’re the epitome of pure no frills mechanical function. You can’t go far wrong with them and a decent Helios, Takumar or Pentacon lens…

  3. Come and have a drag on my analogue joint, it’ll be fine.

    5 years later, you’ll be in rehab trying to get over your Leica addiction.

    It’s a slippery slope…

  4. A year ago I managed to pick up a Canon EOS 300 complete with 28-90mm lens for the princely sum of £5! Until reading your post I hadn’t considered using a lens adapter and had been trying to find a cheap Canon EF 50mm f1.8… Thanks for the tip!

    1. Andy, thanks for your comment. I’ve had a couple of EOS bodies, and neither have ever had an EOS lens touch them! I would recommend picking up an M42 > EOS adapter (they’re virtually giving them away on eBay) and a Super Takumar or two. The 55/1.8 or 55/2 won’t disappoint, and you should be able to get for around £20-£30 max. The 135/3.5 is lovely too, and shouldn’t be too much more. If I could only use one lens mount, it’d M42, and if I could only use one make of M42 lenses, it’d be Takumars, no question.

  5. Great article Dan – it’s so true just how cheaply you can get into shooting film. My main shooter is a Chinon CM-3 which I picked up with an M42 mount 55mm f1.7 Auto Chinon lens for a fiver on the auction site. OK plus postage but that’s hardly breaking the bank! It needed a little clean up and some TLC but I enjoyed doing that and now it takes really good pictures. Your blog has now got me thinking (and window shopping) about the world of pretty cheap M42 lenses out there to play with. Great stuff sir, well done!

    1. Hi Richard, thanks for your comments.

      I had one of those Chinon 55/1.7 lenses, they’re certainly capable of beautiful images. Proper glass and metal feel to them too.

      Regarding M42, there’s a whole world of joy out there!

      I’m finding for myself increasingly that I don’t really look far beyond Asahi Takumars. I have a post in draft about my small collection and why I love them so much, so watch out for that one!

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