I'd like to share the quick story of how I was able to take a refreshing break from digital, and pick up a full 35mm photography kit for under $50 to shoot my first roll of film in 11 years. [photos at end]
In the Age of Digital, Is Film Dead?
The practicality and technological flexibility of digital photography has made it the dominant format today. There's much to be debated when asking "Is film dead?" In my opinion it could best be summarized by saying, "Film is not dead, it's just not a necessity." Though some film purists would disagree.
The popularity of photography has no doubt increased since the introduction of mobile phone photography beginning in 2000. Probably the last time photography was made so easily accessible to the average person was the release of the Kodak Brownie in the year 1900. At a price of $1.00, the Brownie's affordable cost and simple controls supported its marketing campaign of "You push the button, we do the rest." The Brownie made photography appealing and attainable to the average person in a way that it had never been before.
Much of the industries young notably talented filmmakers and photographers started their careers after using film was no longer the norm. Because of this, many passionate photographers have never actually shot film. While it would be incorrect to say that if you've never shot film you aren't a real photographer, I highly suggest to give it a try. With the information below you'll see just how easily affordable it is.
How I Got My Full 35mm Photography Kit for Under $50
There really is no special trick here. The fact is there is incredibly affordable 35mm cameras in working condition out there just waiting for you to find.
Find a platform for browsing and buying used camera gear, and keep an eye on inventory daily. Do this for about a week. You will quickly get familiar with the going rates of used gear and know when to act.
Here are some resources for buying used 35mm cameras and lenses:
Here in New York I mostly keep an eye on used stock of 35mm cameras at Adorama and B&H Photo. Both have their own systems of rating the cosmetic condition and functionality of the cameras. Typically one might pay around $50 - $100 for a beat up but functioning common model 35mm camera body.
I can only guess how they grade and price used cameras. But one morning I found the following listing for a Canon FTb QL 35mm camera with 50mm f/1.8 for a whopping $30.
Listed in "G" condition, their rating system told me I could expect the following:
" Body: Appears to have been used heavily, showing multiple dings, scrapes/scratches, cracks and heavy brassing but functions correctly.
Lens: Barrel appears to have been used heavily, showing multiple dings, scrapes/scratches, heavy brassing. Lens glass may have fungus, excessive dust, and/or scratches that can affect picture quality."
I placed a call to hold the item and took a walk. When I arrived and actually saw the item the camera is was in more than acceptable condition, with the lens being even cleaner than the other 50mm f/1.8 I already own. Internally it was nearly immaculate.
The battery for the meter was dead and of course I needed some film. So here was the final breakdown.
All That for $50?
Canon FTb QL Chrome 35mm Camera, $30.00
Canon FD 50mm f/1.8, Included
2 Rolls of Kodak Kodacolor Gold 400, $6.58
Replacement Meter Battery, $4.50
58mm Lens Cap for Tilt-Shift Lens, Unrelated Purchase, $4.50
Total - $49.63
Conclusion & Photos
I can't know how shooting your first roll will affect you. All I can tell you is it's inspiring, challenging, and a hell of a good time. There's no excuse as to why I let 11 years pass between rolls, and you don't have one either.
Note: The following roll consists of shots from many FD lenses which I already owned. From 28mm up to a 200mm with a doubler.
Here is the entire roll of 36 exposures unedited in sequential order, followed by a few surviving images of my last roll of film. Coincidentally I also took them here in New York, during my very first visit to the city.