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).
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