The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part IV: Films and developers

Films and developers - Guardia Piemontese castle

When it comes to films you really cannot be more of a cheap bastard than shoot in black and white and develop on your own. 😉

But for completeness I will examine color films as well.

Remember, this is not the “guide to the best films on the market”, but the “cheap bastard” one.

However, given that it would be foolish to skimp on the quality of film if the results were poor the recommended ones are still really good choices, in fact outstandingly so; but some of them do not make use of the last cutting edge technology.

Fujichrome Velvia - Ferns in the Sila Grande forest


When it comes to color you have the choice between negative and slide film. Frankly shooting slides nowadays does not makes a lot of sense, that is if you intend to scan them later.

Yes, they are beautiful, but a negative has often comparable colors – no, I’m not talking about Velvia, sorry this one is quite unique – with a much larger exposure latitude.

Moreover, I was a big fan of Fuji Sensia – cheap but with beautiful colors – and now it has been discontinued.

The remaining alternatives are all quite expensive, so if you insist in shooting slides just buy the ones that can give you the looks you prefer.

For print films the situation is less grim. I would recommend:

  • Agfa Vista
  • Fuji Superia
  • The cheapest Kodak ones (they are sold under different names in different countries)

I’m also testing the Rollei Digibase, but I’ve still shot too little with this one to make a final call.

Lake Arvo


With black and white films, at least for now, we can relax again given that we still have a fairly vast choice.

But, like I said, here we are “cheap bastards”, so the uncontested king, the one that rules them all is (drum roll please):

  • Shanghai GP3 100 iso

You will have to order it often directly from China, but it costs half the price of the other films – yes, shipping included – and has beautiful tonalities. It has instantly become one of my favorite films, no matter the price. The one cons it has it is that the grain is not so fine, but nothing to worry too much. Soup it in Rodinal semi-stand at 1+200 and you will be in for a treat…

Like I said, lot of alternatives here, so you may also like to try:

  • Foma Fomapan 100 Classic
  • Foma Fomapan 200 Creative
  • Ilford FP4 125 iso
  • Ilford HP5 Plus 400 iso
  • Kodak T-Max 100
  • Kodak T-Max 400
  • Kodak Tri-X 400
  • Rollei Retro 80s
  • Rollei Retro 400s

The T-Max has tabular grain, almost invisible. The other ones have more of a traditional grain structure, but to my eyes often better tonalities too.

Shanghai GP3 in Rodinal 1+200 semi-stand


Here I got three suggestion for you, two commercially available and one to prepare on your own. But black and white developers are hundreds, and many quite cheap. So you should do your own research to see which one performs more to your likings coupled with the specific film selection of your choice.

  • Rodinal (and clones, like R9 etc.)
  • Kodak X-Tol
  • Caffenol

You can use the Rodinal up to 1+300 (yes, one part of developer for 300 parts of water) and it lasts pretty much a lifetime in a well closed bottle, so you may well infer how it is the “cheap bastard” first choice.

The Caffenol is what you think it is, a developer based mostly on coffee (or caffeic acid, to be precise). There are various recipes on the net, just do your homework while you brew and sip a cup of joe.

To the next time, when we will discuss how to digitize – yes, I purposely didn’t say scanning – your pictures.


The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part III: Large format

Linhof Technica III second version

The large format options are more limited.

In reality there are dozens of possibility, but the larger the format the more difficult to find a good camera for a cheap price.

And the admission ticket starts to skyrocket too…


UP TO 150€

  • Graflex Speed Graphic (various models) with one lens
  • MPP (various models) without lens
  • An old Arca / Linhof / Plaubel 4×5 studio camera (non folding)


UP TO 300€

  • Bush Pressman model D with one lens
  • A Toyo / Horseman folding, without lens
  • Linhof Technika III (4×5 or 5×7) with one lens


UP TO 500€

  • Shen-Hao / Tachihara 4×5 without lens
  • A Toyo / Horseman folding, with one lens

A few notes

When you buy a large format camera you have to be sure that the bellows is light tight. If there are just a couple of holes, however, you may use them to get a discount, and then fix the leaks with a bit of black heavy tape or liquid rubber.

The Speed Graphic are a bit limited with regards to the movements, but are still capable of great results.

The Linhof are on the heavy side, being all metal, but tough as rocks and beautifully engineered. Various MPP models are essentially Linhof copies.

An old – but good – non folding, studio camera is difficult to carry, being heavy and large; however many great masters do just fine this way, and it is the ultimate solution for the ones who want every possible movement. Besides, if you often shoot near your car and do not hike long stretches, it is not a bid deal.

Shen-Hao and Tachihara are a beauty to behold, but are a tad pricey and, being made of wood, more delicate – but also more light.

Next time we’ll talk about films, developers and scanners.

Stay tuned.


The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part II: Medium format

Hasselblad 500c/m

With medium format cameras the price of the admission ticket used to be pretty steep. Thankfully to the explosion of the digital craziness now you may buy cameras that costed thousand of euro for a few bucks. Keep in mind that the quality will be correlated to the original price, not the one you will pay now!

I will not include in the “up to 50€” section cheap cameras like the Holga, the Diana or the Agfa Clack; if you like the specific look they deliver they are really good, but for a first-timer in the medium format world probably not the best choice.

All the same, in the “up to 150 / 200€” section I decided to not include the Pentacon Six and the various russian cameras, because at this price point I think you may buy cameras much more reliables nowadays.

Keep in mind that more often than not you will need an external exposure meter (not with the Fuji GS645, the Pentax 645 or if you’ll buy an exposure finder). You may also use the meter of another camera, obviously, but this would mean taking more weight with you; your choice.


UP TO 50€

  • Rolleicord IIb / IIc with Zeiss Triotar 75/3,5


UP TO 150 / 200€

  • every Rolleicord with a Schneider Xenar 75/3,5
  • Fuji GS645*
  • Fuji GW690*
  • Mamiya M645 with 80/2,8
  • Mamiya RB67 with 90/3,5
  • Zenza Bronica ETR / ETRs / ETRsi with 75/2,8

* rangefinder cameras

Rolleiflex Rolleicord Vb

UP TO 400 / 500€

  • Fuji GX680 with a couple lenses and an AA battery adapter
  • Hasselblad 500c/m with Zeiss Planar 80/2,8
  • Hasselblad 500EL with Zeiss Planar 80/2,8
  • Mamiya RZ67 with 110/2,8
  • Pentax 645 with 75/2,8
  • Pentax 67 with 105/2,5 and TTL finder
  • Rolleiflex with Zeiss Planar 3,5 and meter

Rolleicord, Rolleiflex and the two Fuji rangefinder are all fixed, non-interchangeable lens cameras.

For the others you can pick a wide angle and a tele for under 300€ total, often for much less.

See you next time, with the large format options.


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.