Thanks to technology, we can connect and share photos with people in a split second. In this fast-paced world, film photography is one activity you can try to get away from the everyday rush. Plus, it has a distinct vintage character that no app or filter can ever replicate. Film photography forces you to sit through the delayed gratification and give a little more thought to what you want to put out and create. If you're looking to shift into analog but don't know which kind of film camera to get, we put together a quick guide that might just help you out.
What to consider before buying your first film camera
First things first: Ask yourself how much you are willing to shell out for a vintage camera. What are you going to use it for? This will help you decide which model may be the most convenient. Do you want a pocketable camera for everyday or travel use? Or are you going to use it to enhance your portrait photography? A forewarning: This is nothing like the digital experience! Weighing out the creative and functional uses of the different film cameras to see if it fits your personal taste is an essential step.
Kinds of film cameras
Comparable to the instant relief you get from a smartphone, instant cameras reel you into the allure of immediately getting a hard copy of your photos right after capturing them. Each film comes with a processing gel that can quickly develop your image on the spot. Some manufacturers offer different sizes: a Mini (narrow portrait format), Wide (wide format), or Square (square format). The good thing is there are different colored films available to make your photos pop even more.
Instant cameras occasionally allow you to choose from several shooting modes to adjust the brightness of the image. Once you click the shutter, the film pops out and that's it! You now have a fully developed shot so make sure it counts. And believe me: Never shake it like a Polaroid unless you're aiming for the ruined effect!
If you're only looking to try analog photography and cannot yet commit to investing tons of money on a film camera, then the good-old disposable might just be your first choice. Designed for one-time use, it comes pre-loaded with a roll of film that has 27 to 40 shots and uses a simple wind-and-shoot process. Most operate on fixed-focus lenses, meaning you cannot adjust the focus—giving you more time to just snap away and hope for the best! Once you run out of film, the whole camera is either thrown away or recycled (aka reloaded with film to be sold again). On the bright side, it's an inexpensive and accessible camera that still gives you that authentic vintage vibe with the occasional light leaks. You can start with the in-demand classic green Fujifilm Disposable or the yellow-red combo of a Kodak Funsaver.
For those who can't find the time or patience to grasp the technicalities of other film cameras, this vintage camera is your best alternative. It's made of plastic and is so easy to use! Plus, it still gives you that dreamy, soft, and nostalgic effect on your photos. Some professional photographers even go back to get the signature vignetting, light leaks, and distortions that are artistically unique to toy cameras. It's perfect for people who opt for the artsy and creative look! The popular Diana and Fisheye cameras, produced by Lomography, typically belong to this category.
This one leaves you with nothing but a pinhole on one side, a light-proof box, and a whole lot of science to capture a moment. A single image can be created only when light enters the tiny hole and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box onto the film can. Even without lens, the images produced from a pinhole camera often have an immense depth of field and a wide camera angle.
Pinhole cameras can be easy or challenging to rookie analog photographers. When you get the science right, it may work (or not!). Either way, it's an effective entry point to understand and appreciate the basics of photography.
The name says it all—point-and-shoot cameras refuse to do anything else. Like the disposable camera, this is similarly compact and lightweight since it has no mirrors and no complex mechanisms as seen in more advanced cameras. It also controls both the focus and exposure settings automatically. But unlike the disposable, you can reload the film and reuse this as many times as you want. Most models also have a lever to advance the film and wind the shutter, as well as a crank when you want to unload the film from the camera. These basic functions let you concentrate more on the framing and composition. Basically, all you have to do is just sit back and let the point-and-shoot do the work!
Single-lens Reflex (SLR)
Up for a little more challenge? Go completely manual with a single-lens reflex camera. This analog equivalent of the DSLR lets you control the aperture and shutter speed all without digital help. Single-lens reflex gets its name from having only one lens for focusing, framing, and capturing the shot. It also has an internal mirror mechanism that allows you to see a near-exact image before capturing it on film. Unlike the previously mentioned cameras that have built-in lenses, SLR cameras encourage you to swap and play around with different lenses—granting you even more power over your shots!
Rangefinders are the *real* mirrorless cameras. It looks like an SLR on the outside, but don't be fooled. A rangefinder's viewfinder is separate—often at the top-right side from the lens like that of a point-and-shoot, but unlike the SLR where you can view the scene through the lens itself. What sets the rangefinder apart is that it calculates distance via triangulation for accurate focusing. Simply put, there is a "rangefinder patch" that looks like a ghost image of what you're shooting when you look through the viewfinder. The goal is to line up this ghost image to the actual scene for a guaranteed focus. So yes, no more anxiety if your shot's a blur or not!
Twin-lens Reflex (TLR)
As aesthetically looking as this one is, twin-lens reflex cameras are not made for the gutless. It has not just one, but two lenses! TLRs have double lenses with identical focal lengths on top of each other. While the SLR is held at eye level, for TLRs, the top lens is held at chest-level for viewing while the lower one at waist-level exposes the film. This means that what you see isn't really what you get! On the plus side, this feature allows the camera to continuously display the scene on the viewfinder as you shoot, so no blackouts when you snap away.
Advanced level cameras
If you're confident and ready enough to expand your analog collection, advanced-level cameras are the way to go. These three cameras are a lot more complex even for the experts so enter at your own risk!
Stereo cameras are like human binoculars with their multiple lenses and image sensors. What you see is actually a three-dimensional image. Panoramic cameras, from the name itself, create panoramic photos. Pics produced by this camera are large and highly detailed as it makes use of the entire film frame. Lastly, folding cameras have an accordion-look between the lens and the camera body. And it's not just for the aesthetic! This part can modify the focus, lens angle, distortions, as well as in-camera effects.
Where to buy film cameras
Hidalgo St. in Quiapo and Makati Cinema Square are just some of the go-to places, but you can also check your local thrift store to score these vintage film cameras. There's also a large marketplace online where analog enthusiasts either sell or swap, and may just be your safer bet in the meantime! Facebook groups Vintage Camera Market and Lomomanila Marketplace offer you a diverse camera trade from different parts of the country.
On Instagram, trusted shops like film4ever, C41 Club, Film Score, KFILMSHOP, and The Analog Cartel all have a wide variety of camera drops—from toy cameras that are below P1,000, point-and-shoots that typically start at P2,000, to the more advanced-level cameras that can cost you for its rarity alone. If you wait long enough for sale season, the Kodak M35 or M38 reusable film camera can even be bought at less than a thousand on e-commerce sites. (Read: Where To Buy Disposable Film Cameras For That *Authentic* Vintage Effect)
A piece of advice: Be a smart buyer. Some film cameras are pre-loved and passed down from generations of photographers. Minimal wear and tear is the norm, so remember to triple-check the body, lens, viewfinder, shutter, and aperture if everything is clean and fully functional before investing in your pick. You can even ask the seller for sample photos that the camera has taken.
What to do when you've used up all the film
Next comes the unparalleled charm of film cameras—the waiting part! Unless you are well-trained and equipped enough to develop your own film at home, you can dispatch your film rolls over to Sunny16 Lab, Fotofabrik, Film Avenue, or film&print where they can process, scan, and develop for you. Whether it's sent back to you via email or printed in hard copies, nothing beats seeing your photos for the first time!
Film is definitely not dead. At a time like this, analog photography is a reminder that you're allowed to slow down, take a break, and make something good in the process. No time like today to get your hands on a film camera.
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