Philosophy & Reflections

Film Photography – A Realisation That Cheap Thrills Can Still Be Had!

August 24, 2020

As with a lot of my articles, the reason I’m writing this is to solidify an idea in my head. That idea is that I have become a bit of a snob, that I’ve lost touch with something of the roots of this website, and I want to seek out more of the ways that cheap thrills can still be had shooting film.

The issue I’ve suffered, in short, comes down to the fact that it feels like everything within film photography has gone up in price. The point & shoot cameras I used to buy cheap aren’t nearly as easy to find cheap any more. Film has gone up in price, and so now I spend more money on it, I am more keen to spend more on processing it too. All this has changed my attitudes slowly, but quite profoundly over the last few years.

The cost of cameras

The inflated price of film cameras is something that I’ve discussed on this website before. I’ve previously talked about it in the context of making sure you know what you’re looking for – and the risks you’re taking – before throwing a pile of cash at film camera. More recently, I’ve also talked of the cheap thrills I had shooting a Pentax MZ-5. In fact, that article was possibly the root cause of this one.

It’s probably fair to say that this website hasn’t helped in the price inflation of certain film cameras. Everyone who’s ever evangelised about a point & shoot on 35mmc, one of the many other blogs, or probably to a greater degree YouTube, has likely helped encourage the purchasing of these things by a bigger and wider audience. In most ways this is of course a good thing. It demonstrates the health of the film industry, and I can’t help but be pleased that more and more people are dipping a toe into this little world of ours.

Unfortunately for me, it’s meant that the point & shoot cameras that I used to love to seek out as bargains aren’t as much of a bargain any more. In fact, in many, if not most cases now the cost of point & shoot cameras outstretches what I see as their real terms value – especially given their age.

All this has taken a bit of shine off them for me. There was something about hunting down a long forgotten gem for a fiver off ebay (often including postage), shooting it, and discovering its advantages, quirks and limitations as a camera. When it comes to point & shoot cameras at least, that’s just not as easy any more!

Olympus AF-10 Super

I’m not sure why – but the above image always comes to mind when I think of the fun I had with very basic point & shoot cameras. It was a taken with an Olympus AF-10 Super, a camera that I pushed to the limits of it’s capability. You could buy these cameras for a couple of quid not long ago, now they go for as much as £50 on ebay.

The cost of film

Of course, a cheap camera is only a part of the battle. Back when I kicked off this blog, you could still buy a roll of 36 exposure Agfa Vista colour film for a quid. Poundland then stopped selling the 36 exposure stuff in favour of the 24. Then they stopped selling it altogether and eventually started selling some other 10 exposure stuff which just felt like a rip off – read Alan Duncan’s thoughts on the stuff here.

I didn’t always shoot the really cheap stuff, but generally speaking the price of most film back then was lower. That was until I started shooting Portra 400 more, which eventually went up in price too to the lofty levels it’s at now. As such, my film cost rocketed from me regularly shooting film that cost £1-4 a roll to film that cost at least £10 a roll – sometimes as much as £15.

Development costs

And then there was the fun of getting a roll of cheap film back from a high street minilab. When I was shooting cheap film I was happy developing it cheaply too! As soon as I started spending out on decent film, I felt I owed it to myself to spend more on processing too. If the colours came out a bit funny from cheap film, it didn’t matter so much to me, but if I’m spending £10 on film, I want my results to be as good as possible. So I started using more expensive and higher quality labs – AG to begin with,then I got even more fussy and switched to the even more high end (though actually not more expensive) Silverpan Film Lab.

The knock-on effect

The knock-on effect of this was that I wanted to shoot more high quality gear. If I’m going to spend all that money on expensive film and expensive processing, then using a crappy camera just felt like it made less sense. As such, all this increase in cost and expenditure has resulted in me being a lot more snobby about how and in what I shoot film. The result being, I’ve pretty much stopped looking for bargain cameras, as I end up not shooting them for fear of a sense that I’m wasting my money on them.

The Pentax MZ-5 effect

That was until I bought, shot and really enjoyed the aforementioned Pentax MZ-5 a month or so ago. Now, I admit, I did shoot it with an expensive lens stuck to the front. But the process at least reminded me that there is a lot of fun to be had with cheap gear. This idea was cemented on a recent holiday when I shunned all the rest of my gear in favour of only shooting a Pentax SFX for the whole week – a camera that can be bought for £20, but that I’ve totally fallen for. Of course, this is only part of the game. As I’ve said, I’m still using the highest end Pentax lenses I can justify and was stuffing the camera with Portra 400.

But the act of shooting these cameras gave me a bit of an itch. I wanted to shoot film cheaply again. I never used to take shooting film so seriously, or put so much weight on the quality of output that I do now. Of course, it’s not that I can’t see why and how I’ve gone down this road. Just look at these two photos. This first shot was taken with Agfa Vista 200 shot in a Pentax PC35AF and developed/scanned by Max Speilman…

Scooting

…and the second is from a roll of Portra 800 shot with a £1600 Zeiss lens, developed by an “proper” lab and scanned on a Noritsu LS1100.

Hereford & Wales day out

The difference in image quality is clear. But in seeking this image quality, I realised that I’ve created an infinite loop of higher expense for myself. Spending more money on cameras, film and development has made me seek higher quality output which in turn has made me spend more money on cameras, film and development. I’ve got to the stage that I can get really nice high quality results, but to a degree, this has been at the expense of some of the throwaway fun that I used to have when ultimate image quality wasn’t such a priority of mine.

I think I had a bit of a glimpse into this thought process when I shot some Metropolis in my Riva Pano earlier this year – but it never went any further. What I think I’ve now realised is that I need to put a bit of a conscious effort into a bit more of a reset. I want to have more fun taking photos again!

The pieces of the puzzle coming together

What I often find interesting about having these thought processes how the other parts of the puzzle seem to come together for me. I’d started mulling over this stuff toward the end of my holiday. Then the first day I was back at work, Josh was telling me how his Cinestill TSC-1000 has died, and how he’d voided the warranty by trying to fix it himself. A sorry tale for sure, but this had resulted in him taking some film to Jinny at Max Speilman in Worcester. He told me how just a little while ago she had started only charging him a couple of quid for development. This was actually a price me and her had come to way back years ago for me and that she’d decided to roll out for others who didn’t want prints. I didn’t know she was still offering this service these few years later…

That was Monday. On Wednesday, Paul from Analogue Wonderland came up to see me for a meeting about a few things we are working on together. Whilst we were chatting, he spotted that he’d had a large order for Kodak Color Plus which he is currently selling for only £3.50 for the 24 exposure rolls. I genuinely didn’t know that colour film could be bought so cheap still – I bought 10 rolls!

Cheap Cameras

So I’ve got some cheap film on the way, and I can still get it developed cheaply too. What about the cameras? Well, I still have a few point & shoot cameras I haven’t shot – one of which is pictured at the top of this post – so I was thinking I’d shoot them. After all, bargains are really hard to find these days, right? Well, then I spotted this instagram post from Neil Piper. He managed to pick this lot up for £9. £9!

Ok, he was probably lucky there – the MC is worth a good few times that alone! But, having had that conversation with Josh that had put Max Speiman back in my head, then finding that Color Plus can be had for £3.50, seeing Neil’s IG post just felt like a sign. It seems I’ve been fooling myself. Film photography has got more expensive, but it really doesn’t need to be as expensive as I’ve convinced myself it is. All this has got me thinking. If I can let go of some of these ideas that I seem to fall back into so easily that I want high quality results all the time, can I rediscover some of the fun I used to have?

Whilst waiting for the 10 rolls of film to turn up from Analogue Wonderland, I have loaded the roll of colour plus I had kicking about in my film stash into the Canon Sureshot EX pictured at the top. Funnily enough, it was a camera that was thrown in with something else I bought not even that long ago so cost me nothing. And the Color plus was free as part of some offer from AW a while back. I’ll have it processed for £2 at Max Speilman, so my total outlay will be just £2 – let’s see how much fun I have…

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Octavia Vans
    August 24, 2020 at 10:45 am

    Really enjoyed reading this post, and I hope you rediscover those cheap thrills. I can definitely understand the upwards spiral staircase effect of more expensive gear, film and processing, it’s something that’s mirrored across lots of art forms I think.
    Facebook marketplace is a good place to find deals on old cameras, and occasionally Preloved, but as people often just put a photo with no detailed description, you have to do a fair bit of scrolling so more of a time investment.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 24, 2020 at 8:48 pm

      Thanks Octavia! There’s actually a couple of cheap point & shoots in my local camera shop. I resisted today, as I’ve decided not to get too quickly carried away, but I think I might use them as my source for the time being. There might be a small premium, but they are there, and it saves me wasting hours looking for nothing on eBay etc

  • Reply
    Alan
    August 24, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    Great article Hamish! Totally agree. Enjoyment is the point in P&S film cameras.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    August 24, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Great article Hamish. Rising expectations can sure be the enemy of our wallets! And your recent dalliances with plastic Pentax SLRs sure reminds us all that bargain cameras remain out there.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 24, 2020 at 8:46 pm

      Cheers, Jim, pleased you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    Alexander Seidler
    August 24, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    I think you will not find that same easy feeling of younger days.
    But trying it is very beautiful.
    Thanks for that !

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    August 24, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    Film photography is certainly not new to me, as I was given my first camera some 63 years ago (a Kodak Brownie 127.) But I admit that until recently my cameras were all digital with the exception of a Bronica ETRSi system.

    Then somehow I felt it was all getting a bit boring so I started to search out old, cheap, film cameras at car boot sales, charity shops, even photographic fairs (although these seem to have died away) and anywhere else they cropped up. Less than 5 years ago I got my Oly 35SP, 35RD, Fed 2 and Zorki 4K for next to nothing. I also picked up a Mavica (the ones that store on floppy discs) plus a Canon D30 dslr for about £10 at a radio show! But that’s another story.

    Since then I find that it is still possible to pick up bargains if you are not in a hurry. The local camera auction house near me has trays of SLRs which often go for about £2 to £4 per camera, but you have to buy the whole tray of, say, 10 units. Compacts and rangefinders sometimes go for more but last month I picked up a mixed tray for about £25 with 10 cameras including a Minox 35EL, Minolta Hi-Matic AF2, Konica C35AF and an Agfa Silette.

    I am still going through some expired film that I picked up cheap and that’s been in my fridge about 5 years (and has given good results) and ever on the look-out for more.

    Yes, some cameras are now attracting crazy prices but there are still many bargains to be had out there. The only thing that I do find expensive is getting a few of these CLA/repaired. So I intend to do most of them myself in future. With over 40 currently and rising I have plenty to practices on. But at the end of the day it’s still fun.

    Sorry it’s so long.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 24, 2020 at 8:44 pm

      No worries, Dave, what sort of hit rate on functionality do you find then?

      • Reply
        davesurry
        August 24, 2020 at 9:37 pm

        Other than auctions perhaps about 90% functionality, as I check them out before I buy. Auctions are more hit and miss but because one local auction house is 15 minutes way from me I also do a pre-auction check and perhaps get around 75% success. I just walk if they don’t seem to be functional. I had a faulty one on ebay and complained. The chap was decent and refunded the money and said just keep it. So far, so good.

  • Reply
    Sacha Cloutier
    August 24, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Hi Hamish! I’m glad to hear that you are trying to rekindle that passion. I have been obsessed with creating my perfect kit that I lost sight of taking the pics. With many people who used to be staples in try out cheap cameras have moved on, my fear was that this would happen here too. I love your articles and am always waiting for more.

  • Reply
    Scott Gitlin
    August 24, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    Camera bodies can have extensive features with a higher cost. Putting good glass on any camera body along with user knowledge of workarounds will go a long way in resolving any body limitations. Sometimes, depending on the scene, using inexpensive film along with a pinhole camera, or toy camera will deliver more atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other way. Dividing 36 exposures by the total cost of material and processing – still reasonable, I think.

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    August 24, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    That’s always the thing, isn’t it. You like cheap thrills so you start shooting with cheap cameras, it’s great fun, you try a slightly more expensive camera or film, the results look better, you upgrade, you try something else again… and before you know it, photography is suddenly a lot more expensive and a lot less fun. It’s not just price either. Say you like light, portable gear. You start with a one camera/one lens setup, you try another lens, it gives you more options, you get a second body, maybe a medium-format… and before you know it, you have a more versatile but less enjoyable kit. Unchecked, these tendencies always seem to tend towards outcome over process – and of course towards £££.

    There was a recent post on The Online Photographer asking “Which camera do you miss the most?” and someone commented that what we really miss is not the cameras, but how the cameras made us feel, or what we were doing with them at the time.

    Good luck with the ColorPlus, I look forward to seeing pictures and reading about your experience!

  • Reply
    Peter
    August 24, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    I do really like these sorts posts. They get me thinking about my photography and help me know that I’m not alone in my own rants, musings and periods of ennui. Recently, I’ve gone back to shooting my Oly Trip exclusively but still bemoan the price of film and development so I’ve started to buy in bulk and make my own rolls. It is really helps me focus on image making and it’s fun to get down to the basics and, short of self-development (I don’t access to a darkroom in my unit), do what I used to do 30 years ago.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 24, 2020 at 8:42 pm

      Ennui is a great word for it – it’s a sneaky bugger that ennui!
      The trip is a great little camera! I keep meaning to buy one again.

  • Reply
    Pierre-Alix Favillier
    August 24, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    Great article Hamish…

    I decided to scale the 35mm collection down over the summer. I had the choice of keeping an FM3a or a Nikonos V, and kept the Nikonos.

    It’s not very very cheap but actually highly capable, makes great photos, can be used pretty much anywhere in the world and is by far the most fun camera/lens combo I’ve ever had and it’s a quarter of the price of the lensless FM3a…

    I really think there is a high correlation between fun and cheap gear in photography!

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Joe Van Cleave
    August 25, 2020 at 3:44 pm

    This was a fun article to read. Have you considered bulk loading black & white film, developing in caffenol at home and DSLR scanning? That could be quite inexpensive – assuming you already have the DSLR.

  • Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    August 25, 2020 at 8:04 pm

    Hamish, this is a sincere post which has me thinking about my dip back into film photography.

    Up until I discovered 35mmc, I had no interest 35mm film photography. I gave it up in 1999 for digital.

    I had my dad’s Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II, but it had fungus in the lens and prism. Then my father died last Spring, and in a fit of nostalgia, I bought a working Spotmatic II on eBay and had it cleaned, lubed and adjusted. Then I bought five rolls of film. Then I bought an ES II and had it CLA and bought rolls of Ektachrome, Ilford HP5 Plus, and Velvia. And then I found my college camera, a Pentax P3. Then I found my dad’s Canon Rebel 2000. Then I discovered Facebook Market Place and today bought a Minolta X-700 with a Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7.

    I am not having fun anymore, and things have become expensive.

    I think I’m ready to dump all the Pentax and Canon 35mm film gear and keep just the X-700. But maybe I want a 45mm lens.

  • Reply
    Huss
    August 27, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    There are lots of cheap P&S cameras out there that take sweet pics. Millions actually, just stay away from anything that has become trendy.
    I just used a Pentax WR90 that I got for free (ok I had to pay postage), but they are going for about $15-$20 otherwise.
    I took it with me mountain biking as I didn’t want to risk something expensive AND I already knew it has a cracker of a lens.
    I used Fuji C200 in it, which currently is available for $12/3 rolls of 36exp. So $4 a roll of 36 – which is great as I love this film.

    The camera:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/[email protected]/RjG5HB

    A pic I just took with it. FYI I self scanned with my digicam and converted it using negativelabpro.com:

    https://www.flickr.com/gp/[email protected]/G2ehB1

    Thing is, I often use a cheap P&S because there is just that carefree joy to using these things.

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