Cutting Corners: How to Save Money on Film

Hi all! Charlie here.

Film photography can be an expensive hobby. Whether it's getting cameras, upgrading lenses or tripods or scanners, or buying and developing film - it definitely racks up. I've found some ways to save a bit of dosh when you're searching for your next bit of gear and thought I'd share my experiences.


While there's a very wide area of equipment to buy, this should apply to bodies, lenses and peripherals like tripods/meters/cable releases etc. If it's a camera or attaches to it - this should help. 

eBay is generally the first place people search. It can be a goldmine sometimes, but more often than not a broken camera or fungus-filled lens will rock up at your doorstep, and the returns can be a pain in the ass. If the description says 'untested', 'no returns' or 'not sure if it works' it will almost definitely be broken. If you shop on eBay, make sure you're buying from a reputable *camera* dealer, or someone who sells a lot of vintage optical equipment. 

Make sure their feedback is good. I would say 98% or higher, but use your judgement. Check the negative reviews to see what they say.

While I've never bought any equipment from a Japanese seller, from what I've heard they are generally very reputable sellers, and you can get a good deal if you keep a keen eye. Remember import charges may apply, depending on what country you live in.

You should also have a peek in local photographica shops or antique shops. I would stay away from charity shops unless it's not really a risky camera. Check the camera thoroughly and all the functions fully. Ask the person at the storefront about the camera, and who brought it in. You can generally get a good picture of the previous owner, and if they've looked after it based off their description - though I wouldn't really rely on this fully. My local photographica is a diamond. Managed to pick up a Nikon FM2 with a 50/1.8, all in beautiful shape for £60 (!) I know the shop owner and we have a good chat every time I come in. If you're friendly and chat, and you're a frequent customer, you're going to be more likely to get money off or come to a compromise.

Film can get expensive. Professional stocks like Portra can get pricey. Once you've shot a wide variety of films and you know what colour stocks you like, buy them in a multipack - 5 or 10 to start with. You'll save a lot of money on colour films if you buy it all in one go in a multipack. Look online on many different sites and compare until you find the cheapest deal. If you're patient, you can save a lot of dosh.

Expired colour stocks also work great, if you enjoy the look. Colour films that are 10-15 years expired will (probably!) be fine, depending on storage. Anything older can give you nice vintage results or washed out, trippy results with colour shifts and all sorts of funky effects. Just be wary. I get my expired film from my local photographica and eBay. Don't pay more for expired film than you would a fresh roll. Pay half that amount or less - it's expired film, not a rare historical artefact! It was made to be shot, so go shoot some before it's unusable.

Black and white films can be bought in bulk lengths and loaded into hand-rolled cassettes. You can halve the cost of your black and white film stocks if you take up bulk loading! It's not as complicated as you would think, and there are many tutorials online to help you out if you're stuck. You can obtain a bulk loader at the same places I've mentioned for gear. Just make sure it works - ruining £25-60 worth of film will spoil your day.


If you're getting colour film developed, check the labs local to you (if there are any). More often than not you can save a lot of money on shipping if you just drive to the lab and drop off/collect your film! I would avoid supermarkets/chain stores if you can, unless you're sure you will get good results from them. I have found the staff at mini-labs in those stores will more often than not trash your film, and not have a particularly good idea on how to handle film. Go to a pro lab if you can.

If not, browse online again and shop around until you find the best deal. Remember to factor in return shipping!

Black and white film can vary. The only "good" way to develop black and white film is to do it yourself. You'll have the say in technical factors such as contrast and speed rating. Since you shot the film yourself, you'll have a better idea on how you want to develop it.

If you want a super cheap, versatile developer - Rodinal/R09/Adonal all the way. Your negatives might be grainier than with other developers from what I've read online, but the results have a classic look and a pleasant grain with most films, especially Tri-X, in my opinion. It is a lot cheaper per roll than other developers, hands down. It's a one-shot developer so you don't need to worry about keeping track of exhaustion or replenishment. It also has an incredibly long shelf life, and can be used for stand dev. I'd recommend it as a starting developer if you're new to home developing!

You can also cut out stop-bath and wetting agent if you'd like. It's personal preference - some people will say your negatives will be terrible from streaking or it'll ruin your fixer, but I've found it generally works okay. I have really hard tap water where I live on the south coast of England, but it doesn't bother me. I rinse twice thoroughly after developing, then rinse 3 or 4 times thoroughly after fixing. I wipe my negatives with a microfibre cloth and hang to dry in the shower.

Most importantly, do whatever works best for you! These are just my experiences but I hope they're of some use to you.

Have a fab day. Keep shooting!