Before the days when you could take a picture with your smartphone, people used film cameras to capture the memorable moments.  Film cameras were developed in the late 1800’s and use a light-sensitive film to create an image.  The technology of film cameras has advanced since the 1800’s and they are still popular today depending on the shooting conditions and desired photographic effect.


Unique Benefits of Film Photography

Film cameras have come a long way since the 1800’s and are still popular despite their competition with digital cameras.  One of the biggest advantages of film cameras is that most don’t require batteries.  If you are heading out for a long day of shooting with a digital camera or using the camera in your phone, you may need to recharge after just a few hours.  If you’re using a film camera, even one that uses batteries, you can shoot for an indefinite amount of time without worrying about losing power.

Another benefit to film photography is the high quality and resolution of your images.  Resolution for a film camera is determined in part by the speed of the film used, so the resolution can be changed easily and relatively inexpensively.  With a digital camera, the resolution is determined by the technology, with a higher price tag for higher resolution.

How Film Cameras Work

A camera body is a lightproof box, designed to protect the film.  The shutter is a spring-loaded button you press that allows light to enter through a small circular hole called the aperture. The light hits the film, causing a chemical reaction to recreate the image onto the film which is later developed to produce the image.



Camera lenses are pieces of glass made to direct light to the back of the camera.  Depending on how the lens is shaped, the distance the light needs to travel varies.  The millimeter specification of a lens indicates this distance and is often referred to as focal length.


Selecting Your Film

The first thing you need to decide when selecting film is if you want to shoot in black and white or color.  The advantage to black and white is that it is more forgiving if you overexpose your shot.

Other easy decisions when selecting film are the number of shots and whether you want prints or slides.

Next, you need to decide on the ISO, which is sensitivity to light.  The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to light. If you are shooting in low light environments, you may choose a higher ISO.  A faster film will allow you to capture a subject in worse light, however, the trade-off is that your picture will have a grainy appearance.  In general, 400 is a versatile ISO to start with because it works well with a wide range of lighting conditions.

When selecting a film, it is important to keep in mind that your print results will vary depending on film brand, your camera, settings, light, developing chemicals, and processing time.  You may have to experiment to find out what works best for you.


Using Settings


Aperture, also called f-stop, controls the diameter of the lens opening and can be adjusted to allow more or less light.  A larger aperture will allow more light and is best used for portraits.  By increasing the amount of light, you will create a sharper subject and softer background.  A small aperture is best used for landscapes and will create a sharpness throughout the entire image.

Shutter speed is a setting that determines how fast the shutter opens and closes and is another method to control the amount of light.  While aperture controls the amount of light, shutter speed controls the length of time the film is exposed to the light. A fast shutter speed is helpful to catch a crisp action shot.  A slower shutter speed can create “motion blur” which is a blurring effect that creates a sense of motion.  Slow shutter speed can also help light up a dim environment by capturing more of the natural light.  If using shutter speed to light up a stationary picture such as a landscape it is recommended that you also use a tripod as the extended length of exposure is susceptible to also capturing slight movement and without a tripod, you will likely end up with an unintended blurred shot.


Taking a Picture

Now that you have selected your film and understand the basic settings of a film camera, it’s time to take a picture.  Make sure you have film loaded in your camera. Select a subject and focus your shot.  Some cameras will autofocus when you press the shutter button halfway.  To manually focus, turn your focus ring until you can see the image clearly through the viewfinder.  Next, you need to set your exposure by adjusting the aperture and the shutter speed according to the light and effect desired. For a professional looking photograph, you will want to frame your shot.  This means taking the time to compose your shot so that it tells a story. Once you have everything set the way you want, press the shutter to capture your image.


Developing Film

The biggest disadvantage of film photography is having to wait to have your pictures developed.  Developing your own film is an option and is one way to get your prints faster.  If you choose not to develop it yourself, make sure you find a reputable developer who has the time and experience to produce quality prints.


Film Camera Skills

Because using a film camera is such an involved and almost scientific process, you will find that you get a higher percentage of good quality shots than you would with a digital camera.  Using a film camera requires you to know your camera and understand the settings.  In order to not waste film, you need to carefully set up each shot, and in doing this, you may find that using a film camera can actually improve your photography skills.


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