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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before I started developing film at home, I really liked Fomapan 200, which I usually buy from Freestyle Photo rebranded as Arista EDU 200. I shot it at box speed and the labs I used always returned scans with good contrast and dramatic dark tones. And the images always looked so smooth, with almost imperceptible grain.
But I wasn’t so thrilled with the film when I developed and scanned it myself. It just lacked the punch I was used to, with muddy middle grays and blocked up shadows. In Rodinal, sharpness was pretty good, but not in HC-110.
A couple of you mentioned in the comments that this film does better when shot at EI 125 or 160 and developed normally. So I loaded my last roll of this film into my Olympus XA2, set it to EI 125, and shot it around the neighborhood.
It would have been a better test if I had developed it in Rodinal, but I used Adox HR-DEV instead, diluted 1+35 and developed for 9:29 at 22.9° C. And so I don’t know whether it was the extra exposure or the developer that gave these results. But these are the results I was used to getting from this film when I shot it at box speed and sent it out for developing and scanning!
I used the HR-DEV because I have no idea of this developer’s shelf life and I have a lot of it left. I found a recipe for this film and developer on the Massive Dev Chart, so I went ahead and used it. I’m sure I’ll buy more of this film one day, and when I do I’ll shoot it at EI 125 and develop it in Rodinal to see if I keep getting results like these.
Pencil cup Pentax ME 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M Arista EDU 200 L110 Dilution E
My son Garrett made this when he was 4 or 5. It’s a pencil cup made out of a tin can with a piece of thick paper glued around it. He wrote his name on it and painted it. I love the way he shaped the g to start his name: a circle and a J-like curve, not connected. You can’t tell because this is a black-and-white photo, but he painted it in watercolors, peach and pink and green.
Garrett also made the fake flower, in the third grade. It’s a pen, actually; his class made them by the score and sold them to raise funds for something I can’t remember anymore.
I used to have a drawer full of keepsakes my kids made. I let a lot of them go a few years ago when I moved out of my last house. It was a little painful to see them go. It was very nice to get that drawer space back.
I will keep a few things, like this. They will stand in for everything else.
I’m not loving Arista EDU 200 in LegacyPro L110 developer, a Kodak HC-110 clone. This time, my fixer was starting to exhaust. It affected the whole roll to varying extents. But a handful of photos turned out all right enough, and I’m willing to make my claim based on them. Next time I use L110, I’m choosing a different film.
At least I had a good time with my Pentax ME and its 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. Shooting the ME always brings me a little joy. Before the pandemic and the stay-at-home order, I’d been shooting my 35mm f/2.8 lens most of the time. I work in Downtown Indianapolis and that wider lens lets me get more in the frame without having to step into the busy street. But here in the vinyl village there’s plenty of room to roam. 50mm is perfect.
These are the best of the images from several lunchtime walks around my neighborhood. I just shot whatever. The shooting itself was therapeutic. I still have my vinyl-village project in mind, so whatever I shot I tried to grab lots of surrounding context.
Arista EDU 200 develops mighty fast in L110. Using Dilution B, 1:31, it develops in 3:30. My meager experience tells me that development times of under 5 minutes are not a great idea — there’s so little margin for timing error. Last time I worked around this by using Dilution E, 1:47. I didn’t love the results. This time I used Dilution H, 1:63. To get enough developer into the tank that it wouldn’t exhaust before developing finished, I had to use my 500ml tank rather than my 290ml tank.
The photo forums say that HC-110 (and I presume its clones) work well with Tri-X, HP5+, FP4+ — films with a traditional grain structure. Too bad I don’t have any of those films on hand. Arista EDU 200, which is Fomapan 200 in disguise, has more of a tabular grain structure I gather.
I’m realizing I’m still on my film-developing learning curve. I had only just started to get repeatable, decent results from Rodinal when I decided to plunge into L110. I’m so impulsive. I should have stuck with Rodinal until I mastered it.
My goal was to be able to develop a roll of Adox HR-50 I’m shooting. Rodinal is not recommended for that film; the Massive Dev Chart doesn’t even list this combo. After our discussion in the comments on my last L110 post, I ordered the Adox HR-DEV developer that is meant for HR-50 film. That ought to lead to the best possible results.
If you’re thinking, “What’s he bellyaching about? These are fine” — well, I don’t disagree with you. I’m not showing you the ones that didn’t work out at all, however.
I need to shoot up some film that’s expired but, since the garage fridge died, I can’t store cold anymore. I have a roll of original-emulsion Agfa APX100 left, and from what I hear that film was made for Rodinal. A reader sent me a roll of Arista Premium 100, which is said to be repackaged Kodak Plus-X. I’ve seen some samples of Plus-X in Rodinal in the forums and I love the look. I also have one last roll of Ferrania P30 Alpha to shoot. I tried that film in Rodinal before but the Rodinal was, surprisingly, exhausted. I’d like to give that film another go in fresh Rodinal.
I thought I’d use Rodinal for some time before trying other developers, but I’ve just tried an HC-110 clone, LegacyPro L110. It didn’t go as well as I hoped, but all was not lost.
I was looking for a developer to use with a roll of Adox HR-50 that the kind folks at Analogue Wonderland sent me to try. It’s a specialty film modified for use in regular photography. The roll is in my Olympus OM-1 now.
The Massive Dev Chart has timings for HR-50 with only a few developers, and my go-to, Rodinal, isn’t one of them. Adox mades a developer especially for this film, HR-DEV, and it’s allegedly great for all black-and-white films. I probably should have just bought it. I might yet.
But my first thought was to use HC-110. The Massive Dev Chart has timings for HR-50 in Ilfotec HC, which is said to be an HC-110 clone. HC-110 is less expensive than Ilfotec HC. But L110 is less expensive still than HC-110, and I could get it in a smaller quantity than HC-110. So that’s what I bought.
I put a roll of Arista EDU 200 into my Pentax ME with the 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. I shot the roll over a couple days around the house and neighborhood and then developed it in L110 Dilution E, which is 1:47.
The popular dilutions appear to be B at 1:31 and H at 1:63. But Dilution B gives a development time of just 3:30 at 20° C, which gives no margin for timing error. Dilution H gives some margin at 7 minutes of development time at 20°. But you need at least 6 ml of L110 or the developer will exhaust before the film is developed. At Dilution H, that would mean a far greater volume of diluted developer than would fit into my 290 ml tank. I didn’t want to use my 500 ml tank, so I compromised on Dilution E. I always round up to 300 ml in my 290 ml tank, which led to 6.2 ml L110 and 293.8 ml water. HC-110/L110 development times scale linearly with dilution, so I calculated 5:15 at 20°. The diluted developer was 21.2° thanks to room temperature, which would have reduced development time to less than 5 minutes. So I chilled it in tap water until it reached 20° and plunged in.
I gave all that detail to show how careful I was. Yet I got thinnish, slightly underdeveloped negatives. When I scanned them on my CanoScan 9000F Mark II using the bundled ScanGear software, only a few images looked truly good. Most needed heavy rescuing in Photoshop and even then many of those turned out marginal. A few images could not be salvaged.
I’ve had growing thoughts for a while now that ScanGear isn’t giving me the best from my negatives. So I bought VueScan (thanks to your Buy Me a Coffee donations!) and rescanned the whole roll. VueScan gave me far better scans from these negatives, though it did take far longer to scan the roll than with ScanGear. Quality takes time. Still, VueScan couldn’t overcome all of the underdevelopment. Shadows are blocked up in several shots.
I think next time I’ll just use Dilution H and my larger tank, to give myself more development time and therefore more margin for error.
I shot a series of things on my coffee table with the camera on a tripod, and many of those turned out well.
Most of my outdoors photos turned out well.
These two photos led me to try VueScan. Using ScanGear, the first was muddy and dark beyond saving, and the second had blocked-up shadows everywhere. VueScan let me make them usable.
One last photo from the roll. I shot this one at noon, sunlight streaming in through a nearby window. It looks like I shot it at night.
I’ve popped another roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Pentax ME. I love using that camera anyway, and I want to have another go with L110. This time I’ll just use Dilution H in my larger tank.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, the finest 35mm cameras had built-in rangefinders to take the guesswork out of focusing. But during the 1950s, manufacturers began to introduce 35mm single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras. The Germans built leaf-shutter SLRs, including Kodak with its 1953 Retina Reflex. Kodak kept improving that basic camera over the next 14 years before getting out of the SLR business. The 1960-64 Kodak Retina Reflex III was the third, and next to last, of the line.
The Reflex III, which the Retina cognoscenti also know as the Type 041, came with one of several 50mm lenses. Mine features the f/1.9 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, which focuses to 3 feet. This is an interchangeable lens camera; twist counterclockwise and the lens comes right off. Eight different Schneider-Kreuznach lenses were available, ranging from 28mm to 200mm. Six different Rodenstock lenses were also available, ranging from 30mm to 135mm.
All Reflex IIIs use a Synchro-Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. That’s pretty speedy for a leaf shutter. It syncs to flashes via a cable, either M or X sync.
The Reflex III lets you set film ASA from a surprisingly slow 5 ASA to a surprisingly fast 1600 ASA. To set ASA, push up the little thumb lever on the camera back below the ASA/DIN dial that’s on top of the camera, and then turn the knurled setting wheel on the bottom of the aperture/shutter-speed rings until the arrow points to the ASA you want.
The top plate is remarkably free of controls beyond that ASA setting and a film type reminder on the rewind knob. The shutter button is on the camera’s front. The winder and film counter are on the bottom.
It’s not obvious how you use this camera, so let me share what I’ve learned. Before you take the first picture, set the film counter. Don’t forget, because when it counts down to zero, the shutter won’t fire. There’s a little slide control near the winder; push it repeatedly in the direction of the arrow until it shows the number of frames on your roll.
To open the camera to load film, twist the control around the tripod socket clockwise to reveal a little chrome button. Push it and the back pops open.
The winder is on the bottom, too. Winding the film cocks the shutter. To rewind, press the little button that’s in the crook of the winder arm and twist the rewind knob on the top plate.
To set exposure, first choose the shutter speed you want by turning the shutter-speed ring on the lens barrel. Then turn the knurled setting wheel until the aperture you want lines up with the shutter speed. If you then change the shutter speed the aperture changes with it, maintaining the chosen exposure. For example, if you set 1/60 sec. at f/8, then turn the shutter-speed ring to 1/125 sec., the aperture shifts to f/5.6. As you do this, two red pips on the focus scale move to show you the depth of field you will get. It’s a neat little system, really.
There’s one last way this camera doesn’t follow the modern SLR idiom. The mirror doesn’t return after you fire the shutter, leaving the viewfinder black. The mirror returns only when you wind to the next frame.
This complex machine is also “whoa, that’s heavy” heavy. It was also startlingly expensive in its day: $248.50 USD, which is equivalent to more than $2,000 today.
You’ll find Retina Reflex IIIs with two different meters on its face, one slightly smaller than the other. The smaller one is on Reflex IIIs from before 1962. Mine has the larger meter. Both meters were made by Gossen, and if you look carefully at the plastic cover you can see Gossen’s name in it.
If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed several: a Ia (here), a IIa (here), a IIc (here), and a Reflex IV (here). I’ve also reviewed a Retinette IA (here) and a Retinette II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Retina Reflex III and started shooting. (I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.) For the majority of shots I left the shutter speed at 1/250 and used Sunny 16 to guess aperture. For the rest I set exposure based on what my phone’s light-meter app reported.
My Retina Reflex III was well used by its original owner, who was my sister-in-law’s father. It came to me with several issues. The ASA setting mechanism on my Retina III may be broken — turning the knurled knob moves both the scale and the selector, at different rates. But the meter is dead in mine, too, rendering that problem moot.
The coupled aperture-shutter speed setting doesn’t work properly on this camera, either. If I choose 1/500 sec. at f/1.9, and then twist the shutter-speed ring until I reach the minimum aperture of f/22, and then twist the shutter-speed ring back until the aperture is f/1.9 again, my shutter speed is only 1/125 sec. It should go right back to 1/500.
Sometimes after shooting and winding, the aperture blades closed all the way, blocking the viewfinder. I found that releasing the winding lever very slowly often prevented this. When it didn’t, I had no choice but to fire the shutter and wind again. Toward the end of the roll I realized that the camera was probably still making an exposure, so I tried just pointing the camera toward a subject to see what turned out. This is one of those photos.
Finally, the focusing ring is stiff, so stiff that I had to be careful in twisting it not to twist the lens off the camera. Focusing was slow going. Of all of this camera’s faults, this is the only one that tried my patience.
But after I did the hokey-pokey to set exposure and focus, the Schneider-Kreuznach lens went to work and delivered well.
I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve yet to meet a Schneider-Kreuznach lens I didn’t like. Unfortunately, shooting this camera was more frustrating than rewarding.
During the 1960s, rangefinder cameras declined sharply in popularity as the SLR took over. The Japanese found the right formula, starting with focal-plane shutters to open up top speeds of 1/1,000, 1/2,000, and even 1/8,000 sec. Their cameras were generally lighter and less complex. They were easier to use and felt good in the hand. Kodak decided not to change with the times, instead exiting the SLR business with the last Retina Reflex IVs in 1967. Kodak leaned hard into its Instamatic cameras and didn’t look back.
I’m not looking back at this Kodak Retina Reflex III, either. It simply has too many issues. But I’m sure that when it was new, once its original owner got the hang of it, he made scads of lovely images with it.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
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