Film Photography

Film photography has never been less expensive

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!

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Road Trips

The scenery changes

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve been making road trips since 2006. The photo above is from one of my earliest trips, down State Road 47 and US 41 in western Indiana. What a great day it was! And I was exploring and learning about places I’d never really known before.

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve seen a lot of Indiana now with my camera in my hand. Where I was once driven by the desire to see new things, increasingly I want to visit places I’ve been before. They’re like old friends, and I want to catch up. So here’s how this same scene in Thorntown looks as of a few weeks ago — much the same, but a little worn.

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

Nature also changes the view. This is the Shepard Bridge, way down in Ripley County on the Michigan Road. This is how I found it in 2008.

Shepard Bridge

In 2018, it’s becoming overgrown. It’s a shame, because unhidden it provides such a lovely view.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

Sometimes the man-made elements themselves change — or go away. This is the Middletown Bridge as I found it in 2008. It was on a one-lane alignment of the Michigan Road south of Shelbyville.

Site of the former Middletown Bridge

A section of the bridge collapsed and, after a fight to save it was lost, it was removed. I went to see in 2015 and was greeted with this.

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Film Photography

If you click here to go to my For Sale page, you’ll find a smattering of cameras from my collection plus some wonderful lenses for various 35mm SLR systems.

I’ve priced everything more than fairly and included shipping costs to make it simple. If you buy more than one item I’ll cut the total price because combined shipping is less expensive!

Click here to see what’s on offer.

Yet another batch of film gear for sale

Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta XG 1

Garrett at the bridge

Minolta SLRs and I have not gotten on well. They are unfailingly delightful to use and return great images — when they work. Which, in my experience, is seldom. I’ve owned two X-700 bodies that developed the well-known stuck winder problem. The fix involves soldering new capacitors. I’ve owned two Maxxum 7000 bodies that developed the common failure of the aperture-control magnet, meaning every photo was taken at f/22. There’s a fix but it involves major disassembly and considerable luck. Even the SR-T 101 and 202 I’ve owned had issues, though less catastrophic. The one reliable Minolta SLR body I’ve owned is this one: an XG 1, from the late 1970s.

Minolta XG-1

This was an advanced amateur camera in its day, chock full of electronics to make the photographer’s job a breeze. It’s an aperture-priority camera, too, which is my favorite way to shoot. Mine came with a 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens, a good lens with interesting characteristics. Here’s one of my favorite shots on this kit, of my son in his room, on Fujicolor 200.

Garrett, down the hall

For this outing I mounted my 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens. It came with the first X-700 I owned and I’d shot it just once before that camera bricked. I’ve kept meaning to shoot it again, so onto the XG 1 it went. I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 but shot it at EI 100. It did lovely work. Minolta’s manual-focus lenses are just so good.


My sons were together over my birthday weekend and we took a hike through Starkey Nature Park in Zionsville, where we came upon this old railroad bridge.


There are some lovely trails inside Starkey. Zionsville really is a lovely place to live, with a charming downtown and amenities like this middle-of-nowhere getaway right in town. The rents are not for the faint of heart, however. Or the taxes. My inner skinflint wants to run right back to much-less-expensive Indianapolis.


The camera and lens handled nearly perfectly. The shutter button is electronic — placing your finger on it activates the meter, and a light touch fires the shutter. It’s so light that twice I accidentally fired the shutter and wasted a frame.

What is this?

I sure do love my sons. They’re both back in college now. I really miss the years they were still in public school because I got to see them all the time. They’ve got some of the growing-up troubles typical of entering your 20s, but I think that the big picture looks bright for both of them.


I carried the XG 1 to work a few days. The building going up next door to my office looks like it’s starting to wrap up. It was hard to frame things in the viewfinder — a line of black schmutz obscures the view in there. I’m not sure when that happened; I don’t remember it being that way the last time I used it. I’m sure it wasn’t that way when I got it. The mirror is clean so it’s got to be inside the prism. I wonder how hard it would be to get in there and clean it up.


There were just a few shots left on the roll when Damion and I made a quick trip to Thorntown. I wanted to tell him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket here largely for being young and blonde and beautiful. It was good to share a happy memory of his mom with him, from a time before he was born. I’m not sure we would have had that moment without “taking a photo walk” as an excuse to get out.

Welcome to Thorntown

Here’s a gallery of the photos I’ve shot with this Minolta XG 1. Check it out!

Standing on Thorntown’s mean streets, I extolled the XG 1’s strong reliability to Damion when the meter stopped responding. I was at the end of the roll; could that have been why? Or was it a weak battery? I’d used those two LR44s in several cameras before. When we got home I swapped in fresh batteries and the meter still didn’t respond. I rewound the film, dropped in a fresh roll (Ultrafine Extreme 100, photos to come). The meter came right to life and was strong through the roll.

Even though I’ve already decided to focus on Nikon and Pentax SLRs, I thought I might keep this XG 1 in case I came upon good Minolta Rokkor glass in my travels. But then I inventoried just those Pentaxes and Nikons and counted fifteen bodies. While doing that I came upon my two Olympus OM-1 bodies and the great set of lenses I have for them, all donated to me by the father of one of my closest friends, and knew I could not part with those either. I just don’t have room for Minoltas after all.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Recommended reading

This week’s best blog posts:

Kurt Garner on how we’re farther apart then ever as a nation, 17 years after 9/11. A divided country is a defeated country, he says. Read 9/11: Winning the fight, losing the war

Central Park bridge

Canon PowerShot S95, 2016

It’s part of the Midwestern ethos: play hard and work hard to succeed. Aaron Renn wonders if it might be holding the Midwest back. He advocates we focus on winning instead. Read Playing by the Rules in Cincinnati

JP Cavanaugh came upon a 1939 Ford that has been in the same family since new, is largely original, and still gets driven occasionally. This is just the way I like my old cars! Read Curbside Classic: 1939 Ford Deluxe Coupe – This One’s a Keeper

Camera reviews and experience reports:


The Huddleston Farmhouse

Tea service in the 1800s
Pentax K10D, 55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL

Inside the Huddleston Farmhouse everything is set up as if a family still lived there. This tea service was on a table in the parlor, as if guests are expected.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Tea service in the 1800s