So you want to get into manual film shooting and processing? Here’s how to start and what you need.

Some things come at you absolutely left of field and are unexpected. This was one of them.

The other day I wrote a piece about the resurgence of film photography, and I have to say, the response has been phenomenal! So many people wanted to know how to get into it, what you need and what it might cost, as well as the techniques to actually process and print film.

So I decided to write about it. The hard bits first.

The Camera

To actually shoot on film, you need a film camera, right? That goes without saying, however as the starting point for your film journey, it’s not quite as easy is waltzing into your nearest camera shop and plonking down the readies on a new Fujifilm, Canon or Nikon film based SLR say.

Why? Simply because they don’t make ‘em anymore. What they do make are disposal film cameras that are designed to be taken back to them where they rip them apart, process the negatives and then digitally print off the resultant photographs, charging a price for the privilege. And its quite profitable too just quietly.

No, the way to do it says Lachlan from Leederviile Cameras, is to go to a reputable camera dealer, tell them your needs, level of expertise and a price range, and they will be usually be able to suggest a second model they have in stock that has been checked over and / or refurbished.

I would not recommend buying online through eBay or Gumtree in this instance as a film camera is an even more precision piece of equipment than a digital one due to the moving parts necessary for film transport etc.

Reputable brands from my experience include Minolta, Pentax, Olympus and of course the aforementioned Fujifilm, Canon and Nikon.

The model I started with was a Minolta SRT101 (pictured). I have seen a few around the traps in great condition for under AUD$250.

The other thing to be aware of is that not all film cameras are equal. Unlike a digital camera that stores images on an SD card (usually), film cameras of course use film, and the best to get is a camera that is 35mm compatible. But you see, if you didn’t know this, you have ended up with another film size based camera that would make the processing of the film and the printing much harder. These include 110, 120 and even 2 1/4 square.

The next thing to consider is what lens to use on the camera, and you are best guided here again by the dealer says Lachlan. You don’t want to buy a camera that has a lens totally unsuitable for the type of photography you want to do – and this applies equally to dSLR and mirrorless digital cameras too of course.

Film (or Fillum if you like)


A selection of Ilford monochrome film and printing paper

Now that you have the camera sorted, you next need some film. Unlike a digital camera where you set the ISO in the camera, with film, you buy the film that has the ASA rating you need for the job at hand. In case you are wondering, ISO replaced ASA but they are effectively the same thing, the name was changed to represent an international rating.

For everyday outdoors photography ISO/ASA 100 or 200 film will be fine. For sports photography I’d jump to ASA 400. Again, check with your camera dealer as to the best advice for which film based on your shooting circumstances.

There is also the brand of film to choose to consider. At this time, I am concentrating on monochrome (black and white), and to me, over many, many years of usage, I’d recommend Ilford film. Ilford has been around forever and so, despite the downturn in film usage over the “digital era” they survived so they must have something right, yes? Unlike say Kodak, who initially went bust. If you are thinking of colour, I like Fujifilm followed by Agfa by the way.

Again, unlike digital, film can also be bought in different emulsion, colour saturation and gran types. For example, Fujifilm has Provia, Velvia, Astia and Classic Chrome.

In the early days of your film experiences, I would basically ignore these side tracks and get used to shooting and processing film before getting into these finer points.

I’ll skip the nuances of shooting film over digital in this article – that’s for maybe another time. Suffice to say best start learning about aperture, shutter speed, using a light meter, depth of field etc. There ain’t no “A” for Automatic here folks. This is REAL photography!


The next thing then is to get the film processed; in other words, get the exposed film from the inside of the camera into a negative form you can use to make actual pictures.

This process involves chemicals, developing tanks, trays, water baths and a distinct absence of light! The last thing you want is to expose the raw exposed film to ANY light as this will destroy whatever is on the negative post shooting.

Developing Kit

An Ilford/Paterson film developing kit

I was lucky when I started as an 11 year old, as my dad owned a photographic studio and therefore had all the gear necessary. I asked Lachlan at Leederville Cameras what the best way was to get all the bits and bobs you need, and it turns out there are starter kits you can buy put out by companies such as Ilford and Paterson containing all the goodies you need, including comprehensive “How To” instructions for about $180.

In short, you process the film inside a light proof tank using set of chemicals. Once this is done, the film is washed and allowed to dry before the next process.

These kits contain a special light proof bag with hand holes that allow you to remove the film safely from its cannister and get it into the developing tank on a special spiral mechanism.


An EnlargerNow this is normally the real fun part; watching an image slowly appear as you hold your breath and see the results of your work for the very first time. Did I get the framing rate? Is it in focus? Is it light enough. Dark enough? Contrasty enough?

In terms of correct exposure, there are some tricks of the trade you can use that, in name anyway, have moved over to the digital Photoshop world such as Dodge and Burn.

But there is a small catch. In order to do these things in this way, you need to print the photo manually using a piece of equipment called an enlarger. This allows you to expose light through the negative and a lens onto photo sensitive paper. This paper (and it comes in various sizes depending on the size photo you want) is then subjected to a developing fixing and washing and drying process to get the final result.

And the catch? Black and White and Colour enlargers are almost impossible to buy new these days. My research shows they do exist but are usually a special order that can take months to arrive and for an unknown cost at time of purchase, being subject to variances in exchange rates, freight costs and so on.

So, we are back to the second-hand market again, and hopefully, also again, your friendly local dealer will be able to assist and advise accordingly. Brands to look for include Paterson, Durst and Leica units. A quick look at eBay found a few there and they range in price from $150 to just under $1000.

To do darkroom enlarging (yes, we are back to a dark room, but this time you can use a special red light so you can see what you are doing), you’ll also need an area in the dark room for some developing and washing trays and access to running water, plus the ability to string up a line so you can peg your prints to it to dry.

PlustekAnother easier, but nowhere near as fun, option is to get a negative scanner. This is an electronic device that reads your developed negatives and creates a JPG or TIFF file from each image which can later be printed on a good inkjet printer.

I have little experience of these so asked Lachlan at Leederville Cameras and he suggested either Plustek 8100 ($599) or Plustek 8200i ($899) models are the go here.

At least, they are a good starting point, and if you do get the whole manual film processing bug, you can get into the enlarger / printing thing later.


There is a huge satisfaction doing a shoot on film, processing the negatives, and then manually printing the shots. When you get to see that perfect photo gradually at the end of the process, there is no way rummaging a computer folder of hundred of images can compare.

I guarantee it!

Quick and easy just using your smartphone may be, but just as there is no comparison between a microwaved ready meal and a dish you prepared lovingly from scratch, so I don’t think you can beat this basic form of photography to its digital counterpart.

And seriously, it’s not that hard.




Are You A Photographer and Artist Or Simply a User of a Camera? Has Digital Taken Away the Skill?

I read a story on the Australian ABC News website yesterday that had me cheering!

It seems there is a small band (and growing) of professional photographers swapping their state-of-the-art digital cameras for old time film cameras.

And this is the statement made by one of them, that will either have you howling in anger or like me, cheering.

It felt like I wasn’t a photographer. I was just using a camera and it was doing all the work for me.” (Calin Jones – Gold Coast Pro Surfing Photographer).

I imagine this is going to stir a LOT of people. And for those scratching their heads and wondering what the hell he is talking about – let’s face it, at least one generation has never heard of “film camera” let alone used one – here is a quick primer. It’s rough but you’ll get the idea.

In the “old days”, instead of an image being “seen” by a digital sensor and then recorded onto an SD card as a string of 0s and 1s, cameras used to use “film”. A single “roll” of film would usually be able to store up to 36 images.

A film is a sort of plastic medium that has certain chemicals embedded in it that react to light. When the light passes through the lens of the camera and hits the film, a negative image is created, and later, a bunch of chemical processes turns those images stored on the film into proper pictures that have been printed on paper by using yet another chemical process.

As you can imagine, this means the time from taking the image to when you actually see the finished product, unlike now which is almost instantaneous, used to take from hours to weeks depending on different factors.

There were actually shops that specialised in this process called D&P (develop and process), and you’d drop your roll of film there in the morning and collect the printed images that afternoon or the next day. Chemist shops used to act as agencies too, and a runner from the main D&P centre would drop by twice a day to pick up and deliver finished packets of prints. And in most cases, it cost.

Some people even did this at home as a hobby, and while monochrome (black and white photography) was relatively cheap and easy, colour was quite a complex process and expensive to set up.

Professionally, it could be a nightmare of logistics.

I started out my journalism life as a photojournalist specialising in motor sport and had to get my photos to Sydney ready for the weekly editing of a publication called Motoring Reporter (I also worked freelance for Auto Action). Thankfully this was all black and white stuff, and after a race meeting at Wanneroo Park Raceway here in WA, or a major event like Rally Australia we’d race home, process the rolls ourselves, print off the best shots, write captions and write a 1000 word story of the race meeting of the day, put it in an airbag, take it to cargo at Perth Airport (this was the days of TAA and Ansett) and get it on the midnight flight to Sydney.

Later things became a bit easier as we became friends with the Sport Editor at WA Newspapers who let us use their D&P machine in house where you’d put the roll of film in one end, and it would come out the other an hour or so later as a roll of photos.

Today of course, the process is much simpler and professional motorsport photographers can check their photos as they take them and at the end of the day, typically email the best to their editor and job done.

But there is another difference too.

With a film camera, as we were stuck with film made up of 36 shots, you had to be very selective in the way you got your shot, unlike today, where a modern camera can literally take hundreds of shots in seconds. This means you can say, “bracket” an incident and pull out the best one later.

There is no such luxury with film shooting. There is much more reliance on the experience of the photographer knowing exactly when to take the shot, and the best settings to get that shot perfect. Other factors also come into play. Today you can dial in the ISO setting, or let the camera choose it, depending on the light conditions. With film, there are different types of film with different ISOs (called ASA in the old days). Film also has different grains and colour characteristics you can choose from, and it takes experience to get all the right combinations in place in order to again, get exactly the shot you want.

Hence the quote from Calin Jones at the start of this story.

Even the average person these days can get a half decent shot by setting the camera on all Automatic and just holding down the shutter release.

So, this is the big question; are they then a photographer, or just a camera operator?

Has all the need for skill been removed and we are just churning out millions on million of cookie cutter shots with little or no “art of the photographer” involved? And does that matter?

It reminds me strangely of the guitar shop that has signs up saying “NO playing Smoke on the Water” (or a cartoon I saw yesterday that made laugh, of a piano shop with a sign that said, “NO Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”.

Lots of people can do these things, but very, very few of course are musicians. They are guitar or piano players.

What are your thoughts? Comments are most welcome below, but please, keep it civil! And don;t shoot the messenger 🙂

Everything old is new again. My Kodak moment.

A couple of weeks ago I got a huge surprise. Something I thought was almost dead and buried turned out not to be at all.

Let me explain; a friend owns a local camera shop and his second-in-charge was out of action due to an accident. Having some time up my sleeve, I helped out in the shop, fully expecting it to be full of people buying GoPros, DJI drones, mirrorless cameras, dSLRs and so on.

But no.

Sure, over the few days a couple of GoPro 10s were sold and I spoke to a small number of people about DJI Air2S and Mini 2s – and there was a lot of interest but no buyers of the Mavic 3. I am guessing they then trundled off to JB or somewhere to get a discounted price after picking the brains to get the knowledge.

But by far the biggest activity was around…

Film processing.

I kid you not!

People – teenagers mostly – were buying disposable film cameras by the bucketload and bringing back the film for processing and converting to digital prints to be emailed to them via Dropbox.

Yet others, wanted to buy multiple rolls of film for use with older SLR cameras. Talk about a blast from the past; I saw Pentax KXs, Olympus OM-1s a Minolta SRT101 and other vintage celluloid royalty, as I say, mostly in the hands of teenagers and Millenials.

It turns out the global supplies of film at the moment are thin to say the least. In my time in the shop a few rolls of black and white were about o become available, but access to colour film was non-existent and not expected to improve for weeks.

I can only surmise this is caused by a combination of the unexpected (to me anyway) demand and the all-encompassing manufacturing pressures felt in so many areas at the moment.

The big mystery of course is why, when these people have access to the latest photography and video technology on their $1000 – and more – smartphones, were they resorting to using $40 disposal film cameras and then spending another $20 on processing?

I don’t know either.

I am guessing as it’s now “cool” in the same way vinyl and increasingly using CDs is. Or perhaps as Mum and Dad now use smartphones for their image taking, using a phone is now not cool.

The sad thing is, the majority of negatives I saw still had crap photos on them, and probably, in the real world, no more than 20% of images were remotely usable.

But hey, who am I to judge? It just means that there is a need for education in just how to compose and take decent images, so there is hope for us older ones that have the experience yet!

Whether they want it of course is a different matter.

Have you any thoughts on this? I’d love to know. Add your comments below (all are anonymous).