The Cost of Film

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I’ve been hybrid shooting for a year, and shooting only film for about seven months.  I love film, and I love film cameras, but I am starting to question the cost of shooting film.

First there is the cost of the film.  I shoot 35mm, and my favourite films include Portra, Superia, TMax, and Ilford Delta.  Averaging the cost of those films, the price per roll is $14.55 (including sales tax).  Then, of course, there is the lab fees for developing and scanning (quality high resolution), which is another $31.51 per roll (which includes sales tax but not shipping to the lab).  That brings the total to $46.06 per roll, or $1.66 per frame (taking into calculation some of the above film stocks are 24 frames per roll).

This past trip to Montreal I shot over 14 rolls of film. Not including the part rolls still in the cameras, I shot $644.84 worth of film. (That doesn’t include the Instax either, which was around another $200.). Of course, you (the reader) may not be a fellow Canadian resident, so you might not be able to appreciate how much $644.84 is.  Here is what that money could buy me: two of my mortgage payments and a 24 case of craft beer, or five months of electricity, or four and half months of my water/sewage bill, or two car payments and a full tank of gas.

I admit, the volume of shooting I did in Montreal is a bit of an exception.  I also admit there are ways for me to cut costs.  I could shoot with cheaper film stocks, and/or I could do home processing and scanning.  I used to do all my black and white developing (and wet printing) at home and would consider doing it again, but I don’t shoot much black and white.  I have done C-41 processing, but it is a pain in the ass with out a properly outfitted lab and I am not keen to do C-41 processing in my bathroom, with towels jammed under the door and cats trying to break in.  I am much more amenable to the idea of buying a scanner, and I would expect it to pay for itself in time, but I am not sure how much of a quality hit the scans would take compared it the high end scanners used by the best labs.

Why I prefer film to digital. First, film does not slow me down, and I don’t know how much I care about the arguments for negatives outlasting digital files.  I assume when I die my photos will die with me.  However, as long as I print lots of photos, something will survive to those who choose to care after I’m dead.  As for file formats, I am not worried.  After all, we’re playing NES games on modern laptops thanks to the wonderful world of open source emulators.  If Windows 10 can run the original Super Mario Bros, I am pretty sure we’ll be able to open a RAW file twenty years from now.  The biggest reason I shoot film is for the colour tones, and the grain.

Regarding grain, no film simulation has ever been able to create realistic looking grain (in my opinion), though black and white comes close.  Silver halite, no matter how small, is still three dimensional, while pixels are two dimensional bits.  As far as the tones and colours goes, one should be able to recreate the look of film.  Many people love VSCO, and I have used it in the past, but I still feel it misses the mark – especially with its colour slide film packs.  I shot almost exclusively with Provia back in the 00’s, and I have a lot of Provia slides and scans, and they look nothing like what VSCO does to my RAW files.  VSCO adds too much orange, and look too warm.  I have recently been looking at Mastin Labs’ presets, and they appear much more true to film – though I am dubious to trust their examples.  Much like VSCO, these labs tend to cherry pick the images most suited to a specific simulation to hide imperfections in the preset.

Ultimately, I am not sure what I am going to do.  I love film and I will always use film to a certain extent, however, I may go back to hybrid shooting.

Below are a few “behind the scenes” style Instax scans of Lyndsie Alguire and the above image is of Marianne_Boyer.

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I am a film photographer based in Prince Edward County. I make images of people, places, and things - you know, nouns.

2 thoughts on “The Cost of Film”

  1. There are always people asking me why I shot on film. Mostly I just answer cause I like to do it this way.

    You´re absolutley right it´s expensive when you need a lab for scans and developing. My C41 are also developed in my favorite lab here in vienna, for the same reasons you mentioned… time, but I still do the black and white ones at home.
    I think the costs of film and lab are my cigarettes ;-) …so I´m glad that I dont smoke .
    Greets Peter

    • Yes, I say it is my “golf”, but I always get a little verklempt whenever I get a big bill back from the lab.

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