Since the first digital cameras appeared on the market in the beginning of the 1990s, they have continued to increase in popularity among consumers and those who are interested in photography. However, although both digital and film cameras have their own advantages, the appeal of film cameras is undeniable. These cameras offer more control over the settings and therefore allow users to be more creative when taking pictures. Another advantage that film cameras have over their digital counterparts is that they are more affordable, especially if they are bought second hand from sites like eBay. There are some great manual film cameras available on the market from reputable brands like Leica, Canon, Vivitar, Nikon, Olympus, or Pentax, which can be bought at extremely low prices.
Of course, using a film camera requires some knowledge of photography. More importantly, choosing the right kind of film for a camera can make the difference between an excellent shot and an ordinary one. However, since there are literally hundreds of films available on the market, making the right choice can be daunting. This guide will point at some useful considerations that can help buyers select the most adequate film for their cameras.
About Photographic Film
Rather paradoxically, film has not always been used by photographers when taking pictures. Film was made commercially available towards the end of the 19th century. American company Kodak was among the first to be involved in producing photographic film. The company was also the first to make photographic colour film commercially available in 1935.
Types of Photographic Film You Can Find on the Market
Photographic film can be classified according to its size, its intended use, and whether it is coloured or not.
In terms of size, the most common modern photographic film is 35mm film, a measurement that refers to its width. This type of film is also known as full-frame film, and it is so widely available that, in fact, some people refer to manual cameras as 35mm cameras. This film is mainly aimed at the amateur market and is no longer used in professional photography, although it still suits perfectly anyone who has an interest in photography.
Just before digital cameras became mainstream, some photography companies launched 24mm film. The applications of this type of film are very similar to 35mm film, and the main difference between them is that some cameras were especially designed to be used with 24mm film. This is the case of the so-called Advanced Photo System (or APS) cameras. Although production of 24mm film was discontinued in 2011, buyers can still find it online. This type of film is particularly suitable to be used with cameras like the Canon EOS IX, the Nikon Pronea, or the Minolta Vectis. It must be noted that 24mm film is available in colour negative only.
There is also 120mm film, which is sometimes called medium format. Usually, this type of film consists of a paper roll mounted on a plastic spool, and although it is mostly used by professional photographers, 120mm film will give excellent results on most manual SLR, motordrive, autofocus, or rangefinder cameras whose format is 6×4.5cm, 6x6cm, or 6x7cm.
Photographic film can also be classified into three types: negative film, positive film, and black and white film. Colour negative film (which is also known as print film or C-41 film) is the most common type of photographic film. Usually, this kind of film can be identified because it has the word “colour” incorporated to its name. Almost every camera on the market will accept negative film.
Positive film is also called slide film, colour reversal, or transparency film. As its name suggests, this type of film is used to create slides instead of printed pictures. Slide film is commonly used in photo journalism and in artistic photography. This kind of film shoud not be used in cameras that do not have an adjustable focus or in 35mm point and shoot cameras, as image quality will be poor. Usually, positive film has the word “chrome” in its name.
Black and white photographic film is mostly used with 35mm manual cameras.
There are other types of special film, such as instant film, which is used with Polaroid and Fujifilm instant cameras as well as with some professional devices. Nowadays, the most common cameras that require instant film are Fuji's Instax Mini and Polaroid's 300.
Sheet film is a different type of special film which is usually presented in packs of 10 to 50 sheets. The main advantage of this kind of film is its excellent image resolution, which makes it suitable for shooting pictures that have to be enlarged, such as posters, billboards, mapping, and in some scientific applications. Sheet film is used with large format cameras, such as the Polaroid 20/24.
It is also possible to find film classified into professional and non-professional (or amateur). Both types produce high-quality images, but they are used in different contexts. Also, since professional film has been left to “age”, its overall colour balance is more accurate. However, when it comes to choosing between amateur and professional film, the camera model is not as important as the occasion.
What to Consider When Selecting Photographic Film for Your Camera
One of the main points that have to be considered when choosing film for a camera is the film's speed, as choosing the wrong speed can result in blurry or dark photographs.
The speed of a photographic film can be determined by looking at its ISO (sometimes called ASA) values. Normally, the lowest ISO values begin at 100, while the highest can reach 1,000 or more. The most common film speeds available nowadays are 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1,000. The maximum ISO value on the market is currently 10,000, which is used in professional photography. Generally speaking, the lower the ISO value, the slower the film speed will be.
The speed of film affects the overall grittines and smoothness of a picture, so choosing the right film involves considering factors like the amount of lighting available (whether natural or artificial) and whether the subjects to be photographed will be still or in movement. Higher film speeds are a good option for moving subjects, action shots, or wherever the lighting conditions are low, so fast film is commonly used in sports photography or when taking indoor or night shots. Films that have ISO values of 400 are considered fast film and produce photos with noticeable grittiness, which may be good for those who are looking for special effects or artistic photography. On the other hand, low speed film (up to 200 ISO) is considered an all-purpose choice for most compact cameras and whenever zoom lenses are used.
Choosing Photographic Film According to its Brand
Choosing camera film according to its brand is entirely a matter of personal preference. Although some camera manufacturers recommend that only their film be used for certain types of cameras, it is advised to experiment with several brands and stay with the one that produces best results. The only exception to this involves some Polaroid cameras, which used to require only Polaroid film. Since Polaroid stopped manufacturing its own film, owners of Polaroid cameras are left with the choice of buying certain films from the Fuji brand or to sourcing Polaroid film on the Internet.
In all cases, it is important to buy photographic film from reputable brands as they enforce a strict quality control on their products. Some recommended film brands include Ilford, Kentmere (both of which are particularly good when it comes to black and white 35mm film), Fuji, Kodak, Velvia (good for night photography), and Agfa, which, despite having discontinued its film production, is still a favourite brand due to its high definition and saturation results. Agfa film can be bought online.
Photography is a highly entertaining and creative hobby that, fortunately, has not lost its appeal in the digital era. Photography enthusiasts who enjoy experimenting with their pictures can choose among a wide range of film types on sites like eBay. For best results, always select film that is adequate to a camera and to the occasion, and buy from reputable eBay sellers.