The Stories We Tell Ourselves (II) – You Can Never Have Too Much Film

It fascinates me how a convincing and impassioned story can sway our beliefs, opinions and decisions.

Not least of all when it’s us telling the story to ourselves.

This is an occasional series about some of the stories I’ve woven to myself, to justify a certain decision or purchase.

See all posts in the series here.

Today’s story –

You Can Never Have Too Much Film

My first film camera was a Holga 120N, a present from my father-in-law in 2012 after it had been on my wish list for a few years.

A few months into using the Holga, all of its considerable charms aside, I was feeling the expense of buying 120 film and having it developed.

As much as I loved the experience, I was struggling to justify the expense, especially compared with the “free” digital photography I could do with my then main camera, a very capable Nikon Coolpix P300.

Yes I know digital isn’t truly free, but by now I’ve shot over 15000 images with the same Coolpix, which means the cost has been less than 2p per photo.

Yes I know you need a digital infrastructure too, ie a computer, storage etc, but I used the same for the Holga photos once scanned anyway so it’s a base cost common to all of my photography – and hardware I would have anyway for other purposes.

Anyway, I wanted to continue enjoying the unique charms of the Holga, so I started looking at other options.

By this point I’d already started to explore 35mm photograph via a Minox 35 my father-in-law had also given me, after his boss no longer wanted it.

Using the Minox was a very different experience to the Holga.

It took me a few years and numerous persistent returns to the camera, each time with increased knowledge, to realise the meter was significantly underexposing, hence all the images were pretty washed out. Whilst consumer colour negative film responds well to a stop or two overexposure, it doesn’t perform well with underexposure.

That aside, the Minox showed me a far more affordable way to shoot and process film.

I stumbled across a few Holga hacks online, which showed you how to run 35mm film through it with nothing more than some folded cardboard and Duck Tape, so I tried it out myself.

This 35mm Holga experiment, plus the addition of another couple of native 35mm cameras soon after, meant I all but retired my use of 120 film.

Next, I looked at how I could reduce costs further, so I could shoot even more, for even less.

On the processing side, whilst I started out using a dedicated lab, I found that some large supermarkets still processed 35mm film. An Asda superstore around 10 miles away processed and developed three rolls of film on one CD for a total of £10 (£3 per film + £1 for the CD).

To save further I’d wait until I had six rolls to mean fewer trips too.

On the film purchasing side, I managed to find a fair bit online in bulk packs for less than the £4 or £5 a roll charged on the high street.

But a real bargain breakthrough came not too long after this.

I discovered in a trip to discount store Poundland that they still sold 35mm film, in two varieties – AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 and Ferrania Solaris 200.

The AfgaPhoto was fresh, and £1 per roll. The Ferrania had the expiry date blacked out, so I assumed it was expired, but at £1 for a two pack of 24 exposure rolls it was worth a try.

Both films consistently gave me results I was more than happy with, so whenever I went to a town with a Poundland (there are four within about a 12 miles radius of me) I’d pick up ten rolls or so.

Even better, a couple of times the AfgaPhoto film was on the shelf in shrink wrapped packs of 10. I took a sealed pack to the checkout and the indifferent cashier scanned it through, hitting just one barcode and charging me just £1 for a block of 10 rolls.

10p a roll – cheapest film ever!

So with the processing costs of £3.33 a roll, and purchase cost of between 10p and £1 per roll, shooting film became very affordable, especially compared with 120 film costing about £5 a roll to buy and £6 or £7 to develop and scan.

This new found affordability was a major factor in me continuing to explore different 35mm cameras.

So, at this time, there were a few apparently irrefutable facts in place –

1. Cheap 35mm film generally was sparse, and others were starting to catch on to Poundland’s bargains. At this point the AfgaPhoto was still available, but the Ferrania stocks in the stores had disappeared. The AgfaPhoto likely wouldn’t be around much longer either.

2. I was loving shooting 35mm film cameras, and couldn’t see how or when that would come to an end.

3. My experiences with expired film were very favourable, which meant I could buy film that was fresh now and use it up to five years in the future, maybe more.

These three combined to weave a story in my head that I couldn’t have too much film.

So I’d continue to buy five or 10 rolls when I was in Poundland, plus seek out expired stock online.

Indeed what turned out be my favourite ever emulsion, Fuji Superia 100, I was buying in bulk years after it had stopped being made, and cost not much more than the Poundland stock.

In time our freezer’s bottom drawer was bulging with film, as well as a couple of shoe boxes full.

I recall taking stock at one point and counting over 150 rolls.

Which at my then current shooting rate of about four rolls a month meant I was set up for over three years without needing to buy a single additional roll.

And again this shows the power of stories and how they fuse our beliefs into new shapes, ones that we rarely stop to look at with a logical, objective frame of mind.

Does even a prolific professional film photographer need 150 unused rolls of film ready and waiting, let alone an amateur with a far more modest rate of consumption?

Previously I talked about my fallout from shooting film, and for a while my shooting rate was slowing more rapidly than my film stock accumulating was rising.

By the end, because I was shooting perhaps a roll a month, I had more like 12 year’s worth of film stashed away!

Once I’d realised my film shooting days were done – at least in any great volume – I steadily sold off the bulk of the 35mm film over the following months, keeping just a handful in the bottom of the freezer for a special occasion.

This was late 2017 and four years on, that special occasion hasn’t arrived.

I’m not generally inclined towards hoarding, but this was an example where the story that I would shoot 35mm film forever and had to make sure I had plenty of film to do so, overtook my sense of reason and reality.

How about you? How much film do you have stored up? What else do you have a large amount of that, being realistic, you know deep down you’ll never use?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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13 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves (II) – You Can Never Have Too Much Film”

  1. Ah yes….I have inherited a couple of film stashes from old pro photographers. One lot has been refrigerated and is great, I am working my way through that. The other lot I haven’t tried yet, it is mostly slide film stored in a cool place, so my hopes are not high. Film photography has grown so much in the past two or three years that there are issues around supply at times, so I try to stay a few months ahead of what I need. Soon I am going to try developing my own which if successful will allow more bang for my buck!!!

    1. Not having been in the loop and bought any film for about five years, I had no idea there were supply issues. Wow, it really must have exploded, I thought there was a big growth around 2012-2017 or so then it had started to dwindle again.

      1. Yeh, when I was coming out of buying film cameras, probably around 2016, they were getting silly. Especially for overly hyped little point and shoots like the Olympus Mju/Stylus series!

  2. Sounds like the good old days when I’d buy two rolls of Ansco B&W 127 for 29 cents.
    Film is unobtainium around here now, likewise developing.
    In future we may be shooting wet plate emulsions made at home.

    1. Why is film unobtainable, just too expensive to order online? I remember my nan taking her film in to a local high street place called SupaSnaps and getting it processed in an hour with a free film to boot, for probably a couple of pounds (this was the late 70s, early 80s).

      1. Ah, the good old days when every chemist’s processed film! These days a single mail-order roll is $20 +/- and to get it developed … well I’d have to make the 2+ hour drive to Kamloops. I think. Or invest in a couple hundred dollars worth of darkroom equipment. Which isn’t fair since I gave away a couple thousand dollars worth of it not long ago. C’est la vie photographique!

  3. My only remaining factory loaded film is two 35mm rolls of Ferania P30, three 35mm rolls of T-Max 100, two 120 rolls of HP5 Plus and five 120 rolls of Tri-X.

    All of my remaining film is in 100′ bulk 35mm rolls. I like to bulk load short 12-exposure rolls. Each roll uses about 30″ of film, which works out to about 40 loads per bulk roll. I have four bulk loaders with partially used rolls of Silvermax 100, Ilford FP4 Plus, Foma Action 400, and Tri-X. On average they are about half used which works out to about 80 12-exposure rolls remaining. I also have an unopened 100′ bulk roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, which brings the total up to about 120 12-exposure rolls.

    On average I develop about one roll a week which, if my math is right, means I have enough film for about two and a half years. I also have a stock of Rodinal developer and generic rapid fixer good for at least as long. And I scan my own negatives so my anticipated additional cost for developed negatives and scans is zero for quite some time to come. My anticipated cost for making my own inkjet prints is another matter altogether 🙂

    1. Thanks Doug. I toyed with bulk rolls a number of times when I was shooting 10 or more rolls a month, but never quite got to it. I’d done experiments like making my own redscale film (rolling 35mm colour negative film on to a donor canister upside down so the camera exposed the back side of the film first) so I knew that although it was fiddly, I could roll my own canisters from a bulk roll. Your film costs must be about as cheap as they get these days, well done on optimising such an affordable solution!

    1. I found if it took me longer than a couple of outings to finish a roll of film, I’d lose interest, and forget what was on it. I think this was largely because I was always testing some new camera/lens//film and keen to see the results though.

      Bizarrely enough, lately with the Ricoh GRD III I’ve been using exclusively (well, except my phone) I’ve been quite happy taking a few photos here and there and downloading the images periodically, rather than shooting tons in one go, then immediately downloading when I got home. My approach has definitely relaxed!

      1. Maybe it’s my return to using 35mm film but I’ve also become less inclined to immediately downloading the memory card. It’s more of a once a week dump and I’m shooting about 24-36 frames per week (keeping maybe 12). Hmm ….

      2. Yeh, I’ve deliberately bought and used small capacity memory cards to help me cut down on how many frames I shoot in one session with a digital camera…

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