The other day I read this great post about how to save money on your film photography. There’s no denying that the more film you shoot, the more your costs go up. It makes a person want to economize.
Digital photography is a better deal after you get past the sunk costs for gear. You just have to stick with a camera for the long haul. My everyday camera is a wonderful Canon PowerShot S95, arguably the best point-and-shoot digital camera you could buy when I got it in 2010. I’ve taken about 10,000 photos with it and it still delivers great results after all these years. It cost $400 new, and I’ve added spare batteries and an SD card for, generously, another $100. That works out to about 5 cents a photograph. I shoot more freely with digital so let’s say that half of those images are throwaways. That’s still only a dime a photograph.
The cost of entry can be far lower with film. You can pick up great used bodies for pennies on the original dollar. For example, my semi-pro Nikon N90s SLR body cost just $27 and I picked up a solid 50/1.8 lens for it for $50. It’s a fabulous kit. But because of ongoing costs for film and processing, no matter how many photos I shoot with it I’ll never get down to 10 cents each. Actually, I calculated it using my least expensive film and processing options. 10,000 shots cost 33 cents each, for a total cost of $3,300!
Still, film is a bargain today compared to when film was the only game in town.
I shot film as often as I could afford it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I paid $3 to $6 per roll depending on format. I remember 126 film being the least expensive and 120/620 being the most expensive. Processing and prints at my friendly neighborhood Hook’s Dependable Drugs ran about $7. To cut costs I usually mailed my film to Clark Color Labs, which did the work for about $4.
Total cost was $7 to $13 per roll. Adjusting for inflation from 1980, that’s $21 to $33.
Today I buy 35mm Fujicolor 200 for $2.75 per roll. The camera store downtown will process and scan it for about $8.50. My least expensive option costs just $11.25.
I often shoot black-and-white film in 35mm, and sometimes 120 negative film. I typically pay $5-7 per roll. I mail this film to Old School Photo Lab for processing and scanning, which costs me $17. That’s $22-24 per roll at the high end.
This is still real money, though. I’ve shot 34 rolls of film in the last 12 months. If I use $16 as a rough mean cost per roll, I’ve spent $544. You can buy an entry-level DSLR or a very good point-and-shoot for that kind of money!
By all means, then, trim your costs as much as you can. But if film and processing had been as inexpensive when I was a lad as it is now, I would have taken a lot more pictures!