How to Buy Film for Your 35mm Camera

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How to Buy Film for Your 35mm Camera

Since the birth of film photography, many types and formats of film have emerged. Some have been more successful than others, but none has been more successful than 35mm film. Its combination of size and quality has enabled it to dominate the film photography market. It has also, at the same time, influenced the entire film camera manufacturing industry to produce an enormous range of 35mm film cameras, from cheap disposable cameras of limited quality to professional cameras of superb quality. As the most commonly bought film, it is available from a large range of outlets, including supermarkets, camera shops, department stores, convenience stores, online shops, and countless other places.

Types of 35mm Film

Several types of 35mm film are available. Each has different uses for very different types of photography. Generally, the more popular the type of film, the easier and cheaper it is to obtain. Various types of 35mm film include the following:

Colour Print Film

Colour print film is by far the most popular 35mm film type in the domestic film market. It's the default type for the vast majority of film camera owners. Colour print film made by different manufacturers can produce images that vary in some respects. The quality may be equally high in both cases but one may have warmer hues, for example, while the other may have sharper colour contrast. Photographers generally find they prefer one brand over others for specific types of photography. These differences tend to be very subtle, however, and the average casual photographer may not notice any difference between various brands. In any case, variations in printing quality may obscure any differences in film quality.

Black and White Print Film

Black and white print film was for a long time the only print film that was commercially available. When film manufacturing companies began producing affordable colour print film, black and white film became something that was mostly used by professional photographers and hobbyists, especially those who had learned the techniques of processing and developing the film by themselves in darkrooms either at home or in a studio. Black and white photos have stark qualities that are very atmospheric, and this has ensured their continued popularity among those who take the art of photography seriously.

Slide Film

Slide film, also known as colour transparency or reversal film, is generally the best quality 35mm film that is available. Unlike print film, which captures a negative image that must be reversed to a positive image in the printing stage, reversal film captures a positive image. The final slide or transparency is part of the actual film that was in the camera. Slides, apart from their obvious use in slide-shows with a projector, are the preferred film type for many commercial applications. Their image quality, resolution, colour and contrast range are generally superior, and for commercial use, 35mm slide film is usually the only type of 35mm film that is acceptable for use in print media such as glossy magazines.

Infrared Film

Infrared film is used for highly-specialised work, such as aerial photography, night-time nature or wildlife photography, and surveillance work. It is sensitive to invisible infrared radiation coming from any heat sources including humans and animals. Infrared film is available in black and white as well as colour versions. With infrared colour film, the colours produced in the printed image are false colours caused by the particular way the film's chemicals respond visibly to infrared light. This varies between manufacturers. As a very specialised type of film, infrared film is not so easily obtained in typical High Street outlets apart from the better-stocked photography shops. There are many online sources, however, that supply infrared 35mm film.

Film Characteristics

Apart from the different types available, 35mm film is also manufactured with various characteristics. These affect the price or quality of the final photographs. The two most important are:

35mm Film Length

Typically, film rolls are sold in lengths of 24 and 36 exposures, although shorter rolls of 12 exposures are also available, especially in disposable cameras. The number of exposures simply refers to the maximum number of pictures that can be taken before the camera runs out of film. Film rolls containing 24 exposures are cheaper, but those with 36 are more economical. There's no quality difference between the various lengths.

Film Sensitivity

A film's ISO rating or speed is a measure of its sensitivity to light. Typical values range from ISO 50 at the lower end of the scale to ISO 800 at the higher end. Generally speaking, the higher the sensitivity to light, the poorer the quality of the final image. Photos taken with high-sensitivity 35mm film look grainy. Among photographers, this is a well-known trade-off. In situations where it's necessary to take a photo in low-light conditions, and where flash or other lighting can't be used, high sensitivity film can produce usable images. At the other end of the scale, low sensitivity films with an ISO of 50 or less can produce very sharp and vibrant images of the highest quality, but only if there's enough light available. The most popular value is ISO 100. This produces a good compromise between the two extremes. Properly exposed shots with 100 ISO film are possible under a fairly wide range of daylight brightness, from fairly cloudy and dull to bright and sunny. 100 ISO film is sensitive enough to capture a wide range scenes without being under-exposed, yet not so sensitive that the image quality suffers from grain.

35mm Film Money-saving Tips

There are several ways that 35mm film can be obtained at more economical prices.

Film Length and Quantity

Unless there's a special need for a limited number of pictures to be taken, always buy 36-exposure films. These represent the most value for money when assessing the cost per photo. Significant savings can also be made by buying rolls of 35mm film in larger quantities too. This is especially true of many online sources, where bulk selling cuts down on their packaging and delivery costs. Many online sources offer attractive discounts in order to entice customers to buy larger quantities.

Old Stock

Film has a sell-by date, and when that date is approaching, many retailers will try to sell it off cheaply before it expires. The good news for all but the most discerning photographers is that the film, in most cases, will be just as good as when it was made. However, there's no guarantee, which is why it has a sell-by date in the first place. Film does deteriorate over time. The fact remains, however, that standard quality 35mm film produced by well-known film manufacturers can outlast its sell-by date by many months with virtually no visible loss of quality. Film that has already passed its sell-by date can't be sold in the normal way, and won't be sold at all by large retail chains and supermarkets, but may be sold by smaller independent shops as well as online outlets. It's usually sold very cheaply and also very clearly marked as expired film.

Online Buying

While individual High Street shops and supermarkets may have attractive discounts from time to time, the sheer choice of 35mm film available online at a wide variety of prices is unmatched. Not only is it possible to buy from many sources, it's also possible to find information on any specific film via film photography forums. These can be great sources of unbiased information from helpful and knowledgeable people who can pass on tips about various film types and makes as well as recommend cheap but genuine sources of 35mm film for sale.


35mm film has enjoyed great success since first gaining popularity around the middle of the 20th century. Digital photography has reduced the demand somewhat, but there are still many 35mm film cameras being produced, from cheap disposable cameras to professional SLR cameras that, with good quality film, can produce images of impressively high quality. Fortunately, good quality 35mm film is readily available and affordable.

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