The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part I: Shooting in 35mm

Olympus XA

35mm is the film format with the more choices.

Pretty much every reflex made in the past 60 years is capable of delivering great results, assuming that is working within specs – i.e. it’s not broken. The prices are pretty close grouped too, at least at the same level of sophistication.

So in this case the differences are in ease of use and number of functions. Why buy a no-name camera when now for pretty much the same money you can have, for example, a Nikon?


UP TO 50€

At this price point you can already find fully professional, manual cameras, like:


  • Canon EFM
  • Contax 139 Quartz / 159 with a 50/1,7 or 50/2 Yashica ML
  • Minolta X700 with a 50/1,7 Rokkor
  • Nikon FG / FG20 / FM with a 50/1,8 Nikkor
  • Olympus OM1 / OM1md / OM2 with a 50/1,8mm OM Zuiko lens
  • Pentax ME Super / MX with a 50/1,7 Pentax M
  • Yashica FR-I with 50/2 or 50/1,7 Yashica ML


A few autofocus, motorized cameras like:


  • Canon Eos 650 / 620 / RT / 1000 / 500


Or the rangefinders from Russia:


  • Kiev 4AM with 50/2 Jupiter-8 (a beautiful Sonnar copy)
  • Zorki 4k with a 50mm


In a class on its own is the:


  • Olympus XA

It is an extremely small rangefinder camera with an exceptionally good 35/2,8 and aperture priority exposure. Its price varies quite a bit; you can often find one for 30€, but sometime it sells for over 150€!


Your choice will be determined more from what you like esthetically than anything else, even though if you have a digital camera with interchangeable lenses you may well check if the lenses of the film camera system you are going to buy are compatible; in this case with a simple and cheap adapter you can use them with both.

 Pentax ME Super

UP TO 150€ / 200€

Here we are entering in the realm of the admirals, autofocus and with fast motors.


  • Canon Eos 1 / 1n with 50/1,8 EF
  • Nikon F4 / F4s with 50/1,8 Nikon AF
  • Pentax Z1 with 50/1,7 AF


Or the amazing – but with a s****y finder:


  • Contax G1 with 45/2 Zeiss Planar



UP TO 500€

And now come the queens.

First the rangefinders:


  • Minolta CLE with 40/2 M-Rokkor or Leica Summicron-C
  • Leica M2 / M3 with 50/3,5 Elmar


And then the fastest reflex:


  • Canon Eos 1V
  • Canon Eos 3
  • Nikon F5


 Nikon Lenses


If you happen to have a camera and want just a suggestion for a few cheap – but extremely good – lenses here we are.

Please keep in mind that with an adapter you can use Nikon, Olympus and Pentax lenses on Canon EF bodies, even if with a bit of discomfort (you will have to manually close the aperture before each shot and / or focus with the aperture closed at the working value).


ALL UNDER 50€ (in italics) / 100€, for SLRs

  • 20/3,5 Nikkor UD pre-Ai
  • 24/2,8 Nikkor pre-Ai or Ai
  • 24/2,8 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 28/2,5 Minolta MC W-Rokkor SI
  • 28/2,8 Tokina RMC (various mounts)
  • 28/3,5 or 28/2,8 Nikkor Ai
  • 28/3,5 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 28/2,8 Yashica ML
  • 28-85/3,5-4,5 Yashica ML
  • 35/2 Nikkor O pre-Ai
  • 35/2,8 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 35/2,8 Yashica ML
  • every 50/1,7, 50/1,8 or 50/2 Minolta / Nikkor / Olympus OM Zuiko / Pentax
  • 50/1,8 Canon EF
  • 50/3,5 Nikkor Micro Nikkor pre-Ai
  • 50/1,4 Pentax S-M-C Takumar
  • 50/4 Pentax M Macro
  • 50/1,7 or 50/2 Yashica ML
  • 85/2 Nikkor Ai
  • 135/3,5 Minolta MD
  • 135/3,5 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 100-300/5,6 Nikon Ai
  • 80-200/4 Yashica ML


ALL UNDER 50€ (in italics) / 100€ for Rangefinders (Leica screw M39 or Kiev 4 mount)

  • 35/2,8 Jupiter-12
  • 50/3,5 Industar-22
  • 50/2 Jupiter-8
  • 55/2,8 Industar-61 L/D
  • 85/2 Jupiter-9

And if you have a Contax G series camera each and every Contax G lens:

  • 21/2,8
  • 28/28
  • 35/2
  • 45/2
  • 90/2

For one of these you can expect to pay from 150€ (for the 90) up to under 350€ (for the 21).


See you next time with the medium format options.


The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography: introduction

The cheap bastard guide to film photography

If you’re a beginner that never touched a camera before or a digital shooter that wants to dip his toe in the vast pond of film photography you may feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices you face.

After all film cameras have been around quite a bit, so you may find them in all shapes, formats and prices. Where to start? This guide is for you!

I will treat each film format separately, and recommend when possible at least three alternatives: under 50€, under 100/200€ and under 500€. Like I said the choices are many, so I will exclusively talk about cameras and lenses I personally used, or of which I’ve seen examples first hand.

By the way, while 500€ is not by any mean cheap, you have to put things in context: it is still the average price of a good quality compact camera, and less than the price of a decent smartphone.

Especially if you are a complete beginner, you may have trouble just choosing with which format to shoot. There are no rules set in stone, meaning that you can use a large format camera for street photography or shoot landscapes with a 35mm. But below are the most common choices:

Street photography & Reportage

This is the realm of 35mm film. You may also consider “fast” medium format rangefinders like the Fuji GS645.



In this case medium format is your best bet.



From 35mm to large format, mostly depending on the style you want to pursue and if you prefer dynamic or more static, posed shots.

 Pentax 67


At least medium format, if not large format. That said, a master like Galen Rowell used 35mm cameras for portability.



You will need probably lots of movements, so shooting large format is recommended.


When it comes to choosing what kind of lenses you want to buy you should look at a critical selection of your pictures – the ones you like the most – and compile a small “statistic” of the focal lenght you used the most.

If you are a total beginner you better do the same, but using pictures shot from photography masters or, at the very least, you’ve selected from sites like Flickr, 500px etc. and dividing the results for wide-angles, normal lenses and tele – just check the EXIF datas.

And now a preview of how this series will develop – the links will become active once the corresponding post is online:


Part I: 35mm
Part II: Medium format
Part III: Large format
Part IV: Films and developers
Part V: Digitizing the pictures


Next time we’ll start with the 35mm.


How many megapixels do you need?

How many megapixels do you need to print on a specific paper size

I made this simple table for personal use, than I thought it may came in handy to others too, so here we are.

It sums up how many megapixels do you need to print on each of the more common paper sizes available.

Given that the level of quality requested varies according to the kind of image – a portrait will be more enlargeable without artifacts or softness than a detailed landscape, for example – I’ve set three thresholds at 200, 260 and 300 dpi.

Please note that here we are talking about PRINT resolution, not PRINTER one.

If you don’t have this point clear please read one of the basic introductions available online. Let’s suffice to say that normally you will have to “stretch” the megapixel of your picture onto the area you intend to print; to have a quality result you don’t want to stretch them too much, and that’s what I’m talking about.

Printer resolution, on the other end, refers to the way printers manage to actually create an image putting thousand of ink dots one after the other on a piece of paper.

While print resolution – how many megapixels you need to cover the area of a piece of paper – it is alway the same regardless of the device used to create the image on paper, printer resolution varies wildly between models, makers and technologies used.

Panorama multishot Olympus shift 35mm f/2,8 OM Zuiko

And now let’s look at the table. In the first column you find the paper format; in the seconds its size; in the third, fourth and fifth how many megapixels do you need for each print resolution, from the worst (200 dpi, in red) to the best (300 dpi, in green). You may pull it off with 200 dpi if the viewing distance for your print is not very close, especially if there is an actual physical impediment for the people to getting closer; otherwise everyone usually tends to stuck its nose to the print searching for more detail – and at 200 dpi this detail it will simply not be there.

In the last column I’ve listed how many shots you will need to use if you decide to join multiple frames in a matrix fashion to achieve a resolution of 300dpi with a 21-24 Megapixels camera* (first number is the total of shots needed, then how many shots rows x columns).


*With a 20% margin of juxtaposition to join the frames flawlessly


Paper format

Paper size
(mm / in)

200dpi260dpi300dpiN° of shots
[rows x columns]
A01189 x 841mm
46.8 x 33.1″
628914015 [ 5 x 3 ]
800 x 800mm
31.4 x 31.4″ 
3957899 [ 3 x 3 ]
A1841 x 594mm
33.1 x 23.4″ 
3145706 [ 3 x 2 ]
700 x 700mm
27.5 x 27.5″ 
304468 6 [ 3 x 2 ]
600 x 600mm
23.6 x 23.6″ 
223250 4 [ 2 x 2 ] 
A2594 x 420mm
23.4 x 16.5″ 
2235 2 [ 2 x 1 ]
500 x 500mm
19.6 x 19.6″ 
2235 2 [ 2 x 1 ]
A3420 x 297mm
16.5 x 11.7″
 11 17


Large format crash course

Linhof Technika 13x18

1 ) Minimum requirements: a tripod (unless you are willing to use a Speed Graphic type camera in the Weegee style, handheld), a large format camera with a focus screen and a back, a bunch of film holders that fit both your camera format AND your film format (see below), a lens mounted on a shutter (again, unless you buy a Speed Graphic camera which owns an internal shutter), films in the chosen format, a loupe (the bigger the better, personally I use a 22x, even if an 8x it is ok to start with), a darkroom or a changing bag to load and unload the film holders (in a pinch you can also do it in your bed, under the blankets with the lights off and the window blinds shut, but it’s not very practical…)

2 ) If you chose 4×5″ than, possibly, make sure that your camera has a Graflock back (in 4×5″ it is the international standard back); it’s not imperative, but it will simplify your life

3 ) If you chose other formats make sure that the camera has a back compatible with modern, internationals, double-sided film holders

Linhof Technika III

4 ) There are many formats from which to chose, but the most common are (in parenthesis the european film sizes): 4×5″ (10×12, 9×12); 5×7″ (13×18), 8×10″ (20×25). For each US / European format the cameras are the same; what changes is the film holder that you have to use to load the film. So, if you want, you can use your 5×7″ camera with both 5×7″ and 13×18 films just buying the correct holders for each size of film

5 ) You could chose between studio cameras and field ones. The first have most movements and are usually cheaper (given the same features), but are bulky and uncomfortable to carry into the field; if you intend to use them close to your car this can not be an issue

6 ) When shopping for a camera watch for camera movements too: at least it should have frontal or back tilt and frontal rise; ideally even frontal and / or back swing. The “technical” cameras normally have more movements that others field cameras

Linhof Technika 13x18

7 ) The untold secret of large format reside in using the black cloth and a good ground glass, maybe fitted with a Fresnel screen (it will enhance the luminosity); this way you can focus and check the framing easily

8 ) You can mount lenses from every brand on every camera, just change the lens board

9 ) What you have to check in a lens, quality aside, is that it has enough cover for the format of your choice. The very reason to shoot in large format is to use camera movements, but you can do this only if the lenses that are you using have a larger coverage than the film format you are shooting on

10 ) For the previous reason (the coverage circle) usually it is better stay away from Tessar and Xenar schemes lenses; these, nonetheless, are often excellent lenses and quite cheap so they can be useful starting lenses in landscape photography, where the need for movements is less felt

11 ) To focus a view camera properly often you have to follow the Scheimpflug principle. Basically it says you have to make sure that subject, film and lens planes they all converge in some imaginary point in the space to achieve the best possible focus for a given aperture; and trust me, the theory may be awkward, but using it it is really simple once you understood the basics

Fujonon 150mm

12 ) The lenses are really simple: usually just the shutter times selection ring, a screwed hole for the remote shutter cable and four little levers. One of them is for opening and closing the shutter (you’ll need to close it before you’ll pull the film holder dark slide; you’ll need to open to framing and focusing). The others are for charging the shutter, select the apertures and shoot

13 ) Best way to start is to stick to one lens and one lens only. In any case you don’t need a lot of lenses, because especially with the larger formats there is a lot of space for cropping. If you really want more your best bet is to duplicate the three lens you most use in 35mm; to make the conversion multiply every 35mm focal length for 3,3 if you are using 4×5″, for 4,4 if you are using 5×7″ and for 6,5 if you are using 8×10″; likewise divide every large format focal length for the above coefficients to know what is its 35mm equivalent

FEM: Film Equivalent Megapixels

How many megapixels does film have? And I mean: for real, not the bazillion that the “experts” ascribe to it. The complete and yet unfulfilling answer is: depends. Mostly by ISO and by the format size, both of the film and the digital sensor.

Because two, for example, 12 megapixels sensors are not equal if one of it it is full frame and the other it’s the tiny tiny sensor of a camera phone. The rule of thumb, both in the analogue and in the digital word, is “the bigger the better”.

Those you find in the table below are my own findings, after over a decade of taking pictures. They are not results extrapolated by reading someone else opinion on some forum. So you may agree or disagree, but I’ll stick with my findings…


And by the way: even if a camera like a Canon 5D Mark II or a Nikon D3x (or better yet, if money are no object, a medium format digital back) it’s equal or better than film in most situations I STILL SHOOT (also) FILM.

Keep this in mind reading the results, because shooting film is more cumbersome, costly and time consuming, but has its unique advantages: it’s fun, it’s handy when if you don’t feel comfortable using a 2.000+ € electronic equipment under pouring rain, it has its look and it still yeld wondeful results in proper hands.

And some cameras like the magnificient Fuji GS645 or the Olympus XA serie (the review is coming) still don’t have a proper successor in the digital world.

For your convenience I have listed the results in the table below where you’ll find the format, the approximate diagonal size in cm (and I remind you that an inch is equal to 2,54cm) and a FEM (Film Equivalent Megapixels value) minimum, medium of maximum.

I have had to make this distinction because, for exemple, you may shoot with a crappy lens and shaky hands, or with the camera screwed directly onto a granite boulder (this actually it’s the setup to perform the MTF tests).

Heavy rain

By the way, under “handheld” I collect all the non-optimal situations, like heavy wind, diffraction limited lenses, blurred images caused by photographer movement, blurred images caused by movements of the subjects (during long exposure time, for example), curved film, focus not spot on.

So you can interpretate the three levels as such:

MIN (handheld and / or scanning on a flatbed and / or high ISO) = calculate roughly 1,5 Megapixels for cm of format diagonal

MED (low ISO, tripod and / or scanning on Imacon and high-end scanners) = calculate roughly 1,85 Megapixels for cm of format diagonal

MAX (really low ISO, tripod, mirror lock up and  scanning on a drum scanner) = calculate roughly 2,3 Megapixels for cm of format diagonal

FormatDiagonal (in cm)MinMedMax
4×5″ / 9x12cm15,6232936
5×7″ / 13x18cm22,2334155
8×10″ / 20x25cm32485974

And please, please, please take this results with a grain of salt: obviously you can go further with any format using special equipment, like shooting on ultra-low-iso-with-almost-no-grain-film and scanning on the SuperUltraMegaDrum @ 1.000.000ppi and so on. I made this reference table with an average user in mind…

UPDATE: please check the following two posts for a better and cheaper way to scan your films

Canon 5d Mark II vs. Drum scanner vs. Epson v700

How to-scan films using a digital camera