Not long ago I gave one of my old cameras to a teenager I know who has a budding interest in photography. I had three Pentax K1000s and three delightful SMC Pentax M f/2 50mm lenses; he now has one of each. I hope he enjoys his new old camera! But I doubt he can appreciate that film photography has never been less expensive.
Not that it’s less expensive than digital photography. My everyday camera is digital – a wonderful Canon PowerShot S95. I take it on every road trip, get it out for family events, and sometimes shoot it just for fun. My S95 cost $400 and I bought a spare battery for $40. I bought a $5 SD card to store images, which I reuse after transferring images to my computer. For that initial outlay of $445, I can take great quantities of photos indefinitely.
Of course, film photography has ongoing costs for film and processing. I buy 35mm Fujicolor 200 for about $2.50 a roll. The camera store downtown will process and scan it for about $8.50. If I shoot 35mm black and white film, or if I go for good old medium-format 120 film, either is available for as little as $4 per roll. But the camera store can’t process those films, so I mail them to Old School Photo Lab, which charges $16, including shipping both ways. So my total cost per roll falls between $11 and $18.50. In 2015 I shot 45 rolls of film. If I use $15 as a rough mean cost, I spent $675 last year. You can buy a nice DSLR for that money!
Still, film is a better value now than it was when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. I remember film costing $3 to $6 per roll, depending on what format I was shooting. I shot a lot of 126 cartridge film, which I remember being the least expensive. Processing at my friendly neighborhood Hook’s Dependable Drugs ran maybe $7, which was a giant amount of money to me then. I often mailed my film to Clark Color Labs, which processed it and sent me prints for maybe $4. (You get what you pay for: the Clark prints faded within a few years, while the Hook’s prints still look fresh today.)
When I take inflation into account, the differences become stark. I used the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for these calculations. In 1980, shooting a $3 126 cartridge and getting $4 Clark Color Labs processing is equivalent to spending almost $20 today. If I splurged on medium-format 620 film at $5 and Hook’s processing for $7, I spent the equivalent of an astonishing $34.50 today!
In reverse, my $11 Fujicolor 200/camera-store processing combo is only about $4 in 1980 dollars! And a $20 film/processing order through Old School Photo Lab is only about $7 in 1980 dollars.
If film and processing had been as inexpensive when I was a boy as it is now, I would have taken a lot more pictures!
The Pentax K1000 is a fine starter camera. Read about it!
Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.
Last updated on 20 March 2020 by Jim Grey