Film Photography

Five (relatively) inexpensive films you should try

Inexpensive films aren’t as inexpensive as they used to be. Not that long ago, several films could be had for under $3 a roll. Sadly, those days are over. But plenty of films cost less than $10 per roll, several cost less than $5 per roll, and one or two get close to that magic $3 per roll.

I use these five relatively inexpensive films all the time and recommend them!

Kosmo Foto Mono

This classic ISO 100 film offers rich blacks with managed contrast and fine grain. It’s similar to Foma’s Fomapan 100, which is also sold as Arista EDU 100 and Lomography Earl Grey 100. When you buy Mono you support a small business run by a pillar of the film community. Available from most online film retailers (and at the Kosmo Foto site itself) in 35mm and 120.

Flowers
Yashica-12
The old barn in the city
Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Macy's Chicago at Christmas
Olympus XA

Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

This might be the ultimate cheap and cheerful film. I’ve shot way more Fujicolor 200 than any other film — when you test as many old cameras as I have, you need an inexpensive film that performs well and consistently. It has a classic look with well-saturated color and fine grain. This film has great exposure latitude; it’s hard to over- or under-expose it. I often shoot it at ISO 100 on purpose because it brings out extra color richness. Available from online film retailers as well as many drug and big-box stores, in 35mm only.

Kirklin
Olympus XA
In the War Memorial
Sears KS Super II, 50mm f/2 Auto Sears
Ford F-500 fire truck
Konica Autoreflex T3, 50mm f/1.7 Hexanon AR
Happy student
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80

Foma Fomapan 200

Fomapan 200 is my go-to inexpensive black-and-white film. (I like shooting at ISO 200!) It’s also sold as Arista EDU 200. It offers managed grain, good tonal range, and moderate contrast. Some say that this is best shot at about ISO 125. I’ve found that to be true when I develop it myself, but when I send it out to a lab I always get great results at box speed. The labs must have some magic that I lack! Available at most online film retailers in 35mm and 120.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor
Margaret
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Callery pear
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M

Kodak UltraMax 400

For some, this is the ultimate cheap color film. I still reach for Fujicolor 200 first, but I’ve never been disappointed by UltraMax 400’s warmth, managed grain, and bold color. It also offers tremendous exposure latitude, making it very hard to misexpose a shot. I like UltraMax 400 slightly more than Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, which costs about the same. I find this film to be especially long-lived — several rolls of the UltraMax 400 I’ve shot were ten years expired, and most of it behaved like new. Available at online film retailers and sometimes in drug stores, in 35mm only.

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand
Nikon F3, 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor
'murica
Olympus Stylus
The house across the street
Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro

Ultrafine eXtreme 100

The Ultrafine eXtreme films are the least expensive black-and-white films I know of. Its ISO 100 version is a classic-grained film offering great definition and sharpness with fairly high contrast. Available at Photo Warehouse in 35mm and 120. Stock is limited as of this writing; keep checking their site for availability.

Carpentry Hall
Minolta XG-1, 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X
Dad and Sons
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
AT&T
Olympus XA2

Other inexpensive options

I didn’t include any lower-priced ISO 400 black-and-white films here because I’ve not shot any of them (yet). But based on the performance of the Foma Fomapan and Ultrafine eXtreme films I have shot, I feel good recommending their ISO 400 offerings.

You can sometimes find a good bargain on Kodak Gold 200 (example images here) and Kodak ColorPlus (example images here). Gold offers well-saturated color and fine grain. ColorPlus is a real throwback, offering a classic Kodak look from years gone by. Some say it’s the old Kodak VR200 film formula from the 1990s.

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34 thoughts on “Five (relatively) inexpensive films you should try

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    You got me with Ultrafine Extreme…I wonder who makes it?

    Gone are the days I used to buy Agfa APX100 in 120 rolls, in quantity, for my department, at $1.80 a roll!

    • A friend gave me two rolls of the original APX 100 in 35mm. Such a lovely film!

      I have no idea who makes Ultrafine Extreme. I’m actually a little concerned that it might be at end of life, given how many of the formats are out of stock and have been for a while now. I just ordered some 12-exp rolls of the ISO 400 stock so I can try it, in case it’s not being made anymore.

  2. Mike Eckman says:

    Great selection. If there was a 6th, I would recommend Kodak ProImage 100. You can easily find it in 5-packs for $29.99. It has the same fine grain of Kodak Ektar, but less vivid colors (which isn’t a bad thing as sometimes I think Ektar is too vivid), but at $6 a roll, is nearly half the price of Ektar.

  3. tbm3fan says:

    The old formula of 1990, huh? You had to use the word old? I think you just dated yourself a bit. God forbid you run across an old formula from the 70s and date the rest of us dinosaurs.

  4. Thanks for this list. I recently bought Arista EDU 200 in 35mm and 120, but haven’t shot it yet. I love Ultrafine 100, the 400, not so much.

    Except for scanning headaches, all of the Fuji stocks have given great results. So far, my B&W gotos are Ultrafine 100 and HP5. Each has consistently produced beautiful shots.

    • I’ve had great luck with Ultrafine 100. I’ve not developed it myself, though, always sent it to labs. Hopefully they’ll have more in stock soon so I can try it in HC-110 and see what I get.

  5. I’ve developed Tri-X, Ultrafine 100, 400, and HP5 in CineStill DF96 monobath. The Ultrafine 400 has been uneven, the others have gone very well. I keep telling myself I’m going to try regular chemicals. But doing 6 minutes at 70 degrees plus 5-minute wash is hard to give up.

    • I originally intended to try Df96, but I got some advice that full on development isn’t much harder and so that’s what I did. It really doesn’t take that much more time so I’m good. But it is nice to just do every film for 6 min at 70!

      • I’ve done traditional in-darkroom and home DF96. They are very different for me. I have one bottle of reusable solution. So, less mixing and storage. I do minimal agitation which is 6-8 minutes as the solution ages. However, shorter times are possible. Finally, for the wash, I turn on the sink and walk away for 5 minutes.

        Not trying to convince anyone to use it, but having done it both ways I find the monobath equally effective, with fewer storage requirements and a shorter Dev/stop/fix wash time.

  6. My go-to cheap color stock is Kodak ColorPlus 200. It’s been selling for just $4.50 at Blue Moon, so I stock up when they have it in stock. I thought Fuji 200 was OK but availability has been spotty. I think ProImage 100 is also good, but that’s almost $6 a roll at Blue Moon, so I generally stick to ColorPlus.

    I like Ultramax too. But that price has really shot up over the past few months. Blue Moon is selling the 36 exposure roll at $8. That’s just $2.50 less than Portra 400!

    As for black and white, I dig the Foma/Arista 200. It’s the nicest looking of the Fomapan series. 100 can be a little too infrared for my tastes, and 400 seems to like to be overexposed a bit. My cheap 400 b&w go-to is Kentmere 400 as it’s a bit more reliable than Fomapan. Blue Moon has it for $5.

    • I love the Foma 200 as well, or at least I did when I was sending my film out to pro labs. I haven’t liked it as much when I develop it myself! But maybe I haven’t found the right developer for it yet. My scanning situation was terrible until recently too, so perhaps it’s time to try it again.

      I prefer Gold to ColorPlus. I’m not sure why!

  7. My go to color films are ColorPlus 200 and UltraMax 400, I like to shoot Max at 200 ISO. I don’t shoot B&W often but when I do TMax 100 and 400, shot at box speeds, have given me images I like. I currently have roll of Arista EDU 200 in a camera and I’m slowly finishing it up. I don’t develop my own film I send them out to one of 2 labs I like to use.

      • The lab I use in Honolulu was the Wonderlab but recently changed owners and is now called Treehouse Photo Lab. I’ve yet to use them since the change. The other lab I use is via mail order the Darkroom in California.

        • Ah yes, The Darkroom! I would imagine that would be a reasonable mainland choice for you. My main labs are Fulltone Photo in Kentucky and Old School in New Hampshire — a much longer distance for film to travel from HI!

  8. Darts and Letters says:

    Great essay, Jim. I don’t shoot film regularly but I always pick up things here and there from you that I keep, hopefully accumulating a working knowledge for later when I start dabbling more with my dad’s old Minolta. love that second frame down. I also liked seeing the portrait of you and your boys, cool.

  9. Keith Sharples says:

    I recently pushed a roll of Fomapan 100 and shot it at 400. I developed it in HC110 (B) for 11 mins 45 sec at 20 Deg C and the results were quite impressive. For a budget film, I find Fomapan to be very credible.

    • Foma 100 definitely has a classic look, down to the grain structure. I like the look, but I generally go for ISO 400 b/w films just because I can shoot them under more lighting conditions.

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