At this point, there is no denying that film photography is enjoying a widespread revival.
What I want to do in this article is to go through the costs associated with shooting film in 2020, and specifically in Canada. There are many YouTube videos and articles about film photography in Germany or in the United States but not much is said about Canada. If you live in Canada, you know that prices of goods can sometimes be significantly higher than in the US, and so this should give you an idea of what you are getting yourself into.
We will consider black and white photography only. This is the cheaper option. We will not discuss the cost of the camera used to capture these images.
We will talk about two types of film:
- 120 (6x6 or 12 exposures)
We will compare using a lab to develop your negatives versus doing it yourself.
We will have two types of photographers in mind: the documentary photographer, and the obsessed photographer.
The documentary photographer photographs their family, special occassions, and vacations. This photographer shoots one roll of film per month on average. (12 rolls per year, i.e. 432 frames of 35mm, or 144 frames of 120 film)
The obsessed photographer loves photography. They shoot almost every day. Their bookshelf is full of photo books done by the masters. They have binders full of negatives. This photographer shoots three rolls of film per month on average. (36 rolls per year, i.e. 1296 frames of 35mm, or 432 frames of 120 film)
The film of choice is going to be Ilford HP5 Plus 400.
All of the costs in this article exclude sales tax.
When I first started looking into this, I assumed the cheapest option would be some a Chinese seller on eBay. It turns out that Ilford actually has a dedicated distributor in Canada, and their products are readily available at Canada-friendly prices.
- 36 exposures, $8.67
- 24 exposures, $7.32
- 100ft of bulk, $110.51
One hundred feet of bulk film is equivalent to 18 rolls of 36 exposures. This is roughly $6.14 per roll, a saving of about 30%. You will have to purchase a bulk loader, and some reusable canisters; this is about $100 in total.
Documentary photographer: there are two options, a) buy 12 36-exposure rolls each year, or b) 2 100ft rolls of bulk film over 3 years.
- a) 8.67 * 12 * 3 = $312.10 (or $104.03 per year; $0.24 per frame)
- b) 110.51 * 2 = $221.02 (or $73.67 per year; $0.17 per frame)
If they decide to go with option b), they will also need to purchase bulk loading equipment, but as you can see, the break-even point is very close to the 3-year mark.
If they shoot 120 film: $92.04 per year or $0.64 per frame.
Obsessed photographer: bulk loading is certainly the way to go here. They will save about $200 every year by loading their own film. Film cost per year: $221.02.
If they shoot 120 film: $276.12 per year or $0.64 per frame.
Developing film — lab
For our lab numbers, we will use Canadian Film Lab. For black and white processing, you can get a roll of 35mm developed, scanned, and edited for $25; 120 film will run you $22 for the same. Let’s add $5 for mailing it in.
- 35mm: 12 * $30 = $360 per year ($0.83 per frame)
- 120: 12 * $27 = $324 per year ($2.25 per frame)
- 35mm: 36 * $30 = $1,080 per year ($0.83 per frame)
- 120: 36 * $27 = $972 per year ($2.25 per frame)
Developing film — at home
Developing black and white film at home is a relatively simple process. When you are finished shooting a roll of film, you place it in a hard bag, remove it from the canister (or spool), and wind it on a reel. The reel is then placed into a light safe tank. This tank is really in that you can pour chemicals in and out of it without exposing what’s inside to light. This is called a Paterson tank, and it can usually fit 2 rolls of 35mm film or 1 roll of 120 film (there are other sizes, too). There are three chemicals that you have to pour in one by one for certain periods of time: the developer, the stop bath, and the fixer. Once your film is developed, you need to scan it, and for that you need a scanner which has a backlight.
There are two types of purchases here: the one time purchase, and the ongoing purchases of things that need to be replenished. While it may seem like a lot of money up from, it all pays for itself in the long run when compared to using a lab.
One time cost
You can purchase one at Paterson Canada for $39.20. This one will fit either 2 rolls of 35mm film, or a single roll of 120 film.
You can purchase at one at Paterson Canada for $56.00. You might be able to find one cheaper on eBay or Amazon.
You can find an Epson V660 scanner on Amazon for $399. You can find an older Epson model for possibly half that.
After acquiring the necessary equipment, you will need to keep buying the chemicals. There are three things you will need: developer, stop bath, and fixer. We will buy all three of them from the Ilford Canada website (they offer free shipping if you order over $100).
Our developer of choice is Ilfosol 3. It costs $13.10. It comes in 500ml bottles. The liquid must be diluted before use with a ratio of 1:14. Our Paterson tank has a volume of 500ml, and does either 2 rolls of 35mm film or 1 roll of 120 film. Given the ratio above, 35ml of Ilfosol 3 will yield one Paterson tank batch. Thus, the 500ml bottle of developer should yield 14 batches.
- Cost per 35mm frame: $0.013
- Cost per 120 frame: $0.078
- 35mm: one bottle should last at least two years; cost per year: $6.55
- 120: one bottle should last at least one year; cost per year: $13.10
- 35mm: one and a half bottles: $19.65
- 120: three bottles: $39.30
Our stop bath of choice is Ilford stop bath. It costs $11.40. It comes in 500ml bottles. The liquid must be diluted before use with a ratio of 1:19. One bottle should yield 20 batches.
- Cost per 35mm frame: $0.008
- Cost per 120 frame: $0.048
- 35mm: one bottle should last at least three years; cost per year: $3.80
- 120: one bottle should last at least one year; cost per year: $11.40
- 35mm: one bottle: $11.40
- 120: one bottle: $11.40
Our fixer of choice is Ilford Rapid Fixer. It costs $10.47. It comes in 500ml bottles. The liquid must be diluted before use with a ratio of 1:4. One bottle should yield 5 batches. The liquid can be reused 24 times. One bottle will yield 120 Paterson tank batches.
- Cost per 35mm frame: $0.001
- Cost per 120 frame: $0.007
Compared to the other items, the cost of fixer is negligible.
- 35mm: $10.35 per year
- 120: $24.50 per year
- 35mm: $31.05 per year
- 120: $50.70 per year
Let’s put it all together
Let’s put all the numbers together. Since developing film at home involves some startup costs, we will indicate how much each photographer spends per year for the first 5 years, and then we will do some averages.
- DP: $104.03 (film) + $360 (lab) = $463.03 ($1.07 per frame)
- OP: $221.02 (film) + 100 (loader) + $1,080 (lab) = $1,401.02 ($1.08 per frame)
Year 2 - 5
- DP: $104.03 (film) + $360 (lab) = $463.03 ($1.07 per frame)
- OP: $221.02 (film) + $1,080 (lab) = $1,301.02 ($1 per frame)
Year 1 - Year 5
- DP: $92.04 (film) + $324 (lab) = $416.04 ($2.89 per frame)
- OP: $276.12 (film) + $972 (lab) = $1,248.12 ($2.89 per frame)
Startup cost: $495.20
- DP: $104.03 (film) + $495.20 + $10.35 (chems) = $609.58 ($1.41 per frame)
- OP: $221.02 (film) + $495.20 + $100 (loader) + $31.05 (chems) = $847.27 ($0.65 per frame)
Year 2 - 5
- DP: $104.03 (film) + $10.35 (chems) = $114.38 ($0.26 per frame)
- OP: $221.02 (film) + $31.05 (chems) = $252.07 ($0.19 per frame)
- DP: $213.42 ($0.49 per frame)
- OP: $371.11 ($0.29 per frame)
- DP: $92.04 (film) + $495.20 + $24.50 (chems) = $611.74 ($4.25 per frame)
- OP: $276.12 (film) + $495.20 + $50.70 (chems) = $822.02 ($1.90 per frame)
Year 2 - 5
- DP: $92.04 (film) + $24.50 (chems) = $116.54 ($0.81 per frame)
- OP: $276.12 (film) + $50.70 (chems) = $326.82 ($0.76 per frame)
- DP: $215.58 ($1.50 per frame)
- OP: $425.86 ($0.99 per frame)
We have seen a lot of numbers. The biggest take away is that developing film at home can significantly reduce your costs if you shoot a lot. However, the biggest downside to developing your own film is that there is a lot stuff you need to buy up front. Some people may not enjoy the developing process, and the higher cost of having someone else deal with it might be worth it. Also, bulk loading your film can save you a ton of money, too.