Film Cameras: What They Are and Tips For Using Them

Plastic based film has been around since the late 1800s and was one of the many substances experimented with to capture photos. Although it might be surprising to some, film cameras are still popular today after all of that time and many photographers who prefer it digital cameras to have more control over their image. However, despite being around for more than 100 years, there is still much about film cameras that the modern photographer may not know.

Film cameras first appeared in 1900 and can still be purchased today, both in used and new models. These devices are sought after because of the specific look one can get from the images, the hands-on process, and the “magic” of film photography. Today, avid photographers can choose from a wide range of film camera types and brands that capture photos comparable, and sometimes surpass, those made by modern digital cameras.

If you’re seriously considering switching from digital to film cameras, or you have a vast array of questions surrounding these instruments, then we highly recommend you read our guide below. One question you may have is what is the difference between digital and traditional photography. See this article for more information on the differences. We will discuss everything you need to know about film cameras, from their origins to what types you can purchase, which cameras are best, and so much more.

Do Film Cameras Still Exist? 

Many like to perceive film cameras as a technology of the past, but in reality, these devices still exist and are sometimes even the preferred medium for photographers. We can thank American entrepreneur and Eastman Kodak Company founder George Eastman for pioneering the world of film cameras as we know them back in the late 1880s with his invention of celluloid film for negatives. Up until then, negatives were created using other substances supporting the light sensitive materials like paper, tin, and even glass. In fact, many of the negatives we have from the Civil War were created on glass.

Film-based motion cameras as we know them with plastic-based negatives (using Eastman’s celluloid film) weren’t readily available to the public until 1913 with the 35mm film movie cameras like the Tourist Multiple and the Simplex. However the first mass produced still camera for the public was introduced in 1900 and is known as the famous Kodak Brownie. The Kodak Brownie was made to be extremely easy to use (you only pointed it and pressed the shutter and birthed the phrase “point and shoot” and was extremely inexpensive. It also was one of the first “medium format” cameras and sold over 240,000 copies before it was discontinued in late 1901.

Now, these old cameras are often for a wide range of functions, from décor to repurposing as light fixtures to public or private preservation as historical artifacts. However, several old film cameras are still used for the same purpose as when they were made decades ago, to cherish memories and discover the world around us.

Are Any Film Cameras Still Made? 

Leica's metered Mechanical Perfection (MP) 0.72 Rangefinder 35mm camera
Leica’s Metered Mechanical Perfection (MP) 0.72 Rangefinder 35mm Camera

While digital cameras have taken over the market share over the last 20 years, some film cameras are still in production that you can purchase new today. 

Some of the most popular and efficient new film camera options available include:

  • Leica’s metered Mechanical Perfection (MP) 0.72 Rangefinder Camera for 35mm film (Find it here).
  • Leica’s M-A (Typ 127) for 35mm film (find it here).
  • Linhof Technorama 617s III for Medium Format Film (120mm / 220mm) film (find it here).
  • Wista Field-45DX Large Format Camera for 4×5 film (find it here).
  • Arca-Swiss F-Metric series of Large Format modular monorail cameras for 4×5 Film (find it here).
  • Toyo-View 45AX metal field Large Format camera for 4×5 film (find it here).
  • Linhof Master Technika Large Format camera for 4×5 film (find it here).

Nikon’s F6 was extremely popular for quite some time and an exceptional choice for those seeking a brand-new film camera. Unfortunately, Nikon officially discontinued the series in October 2020.

However, this does not mean that there isn’t a call for film cameras in the photography community. In fact, Leica has struggled significantly lately with the high demand for their M.P. and M-A film cameras. The company’s chairman, Andreas Kauffman, even stated that interest in these cameras has been so high that the company is unable to produce enough to meet current demand. 

Additionally, the majority of those demanding these cameras are actually younger photographers, ensuring some longevity to these devices.

So, while large camera companies like Nikon and Canon no longer making new film cameras, there is still a significant market for them, even now. Thankfully for the environment’s sake, there is large market for used film cameras but if you want to buy a new film cameras the largest companies that are still making affordable and unique film cameras are:

  • Companies like Lomography and Holga that make unique, plastic, and inexpensive film toy cameras for all formats that create amazing images. See Holga options here and Lomography options here.

How Do Film Cameras Work?

How a film camera works

It’s easy to think that all cameras are simple point-and-click machines, but in reality film cameras are finely tuned tools that utilize multiple components to capture an image. Film cameras work by recording light reflecting off of objects in the world using a specific size of the aperture in the lens and speed of the camera shutter to capture an image onto film. The images recorded on film, once developed becomes an negative that is then turned into a print either in the darkroom or by scanning and printing digitally.

What Are The Parts of a Film Camera?

While film cameras come in all shapes and sizes, they have a few components that are standard no matter what kind you purchase. These are the essential pieces necessary for a film camera to function properly:

Canon AE-1 35mm Camera Body
Canon AE-1 35mm Camera Body. Source.

A camera body:

this can be made of either metal or plastic and must be completely light-tight in order to protect the light-sensitive film inside. Exposing this film to light prematurely could effectively ruin a frame or two, if not the entire roll.


The Aperture in a Camera Lens
The Aperture in a 35mm Camera Lens

A aperture:

An aperture is the small circular opening in your camera lense that lets light into the camera depending on the size of the hole. It is created by a structure of overlapping blades that creates a small or large opening in the middle of the lens.

In general, aperture sizes are notated by “f/” and referred to as an “f-stop” which is a certain amount of light. While apertures technically can be from f/1 to f/64 the most common sizes are f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11. f/16, f/22 with f/2.8 being the largest sized-hole and f/22 the smallest of the most common sizes. The smaller the size (f/22) the less light will enter your camera while the larger the aperture (f/2.8) the more light will enter. Changing the setting from f/2.8 to f/4 cuts the amount of light from entering the camera by half (or one “stop” of light) and moving from f/4 to f/2.8 lets in double amount of light (or one “stop”). The aperture also allows you to control your depth of field of focus (the area in a photograph where everything is sharp and clear). Some lenses have fixed apertures, meaning the aperture doesn’t change but the lens can let in a lot of light, while others have variable apertures lenses which provide a larger range of options with limitations.


The Shutter in A 35mm Camera at different shutter speeds
The Shutter in A 35mm Camera at different shutter speeds

A shutter mechanism:

This component comprises two curtains that move across in front of the film. Depending on the camera the shutter moves either down (like in the image) or across when you press down on your shutter release button. In SLR cameras, the mirror must move out of the way (or reflex) so the light can hit the film behind the shutter. The size of this gap between these two curtains determines how long the film in your camera is exposed to light. The faster the shutter the less light enters the camera but also captures fast moving images. While shutter speeds technically can be as long as necessary to 1/4000th of a sec, the most common speeds are are 2 secs, 1 secs, 1/2th, 1/4th, 1/8th, 1/15th, 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th, 1/500th, 1/1000th of a second. Changing the shutter speed setting from 1/60th to f/125th cuts the amount of light from entering the camera by half (or one “stop” of light) and moving from f125 to f/60 lets in double amount of light (or one “stop”). You should also note that shutter speeds are written in relationship to seconds.


Pentax SMC Takumar 85mm F1.8 M42 35mm camera lens
Pentax SMC Takumar 85mm F1.8 M42 From VintageLens.nl

A lens or set of lenses:

The camera’s lens is located in front of the shutter and changes how much of scene in front of you can be recorded onto the film and is known as a lens focal length. Lenses come two types – prime and zoom lenses. Prime lenses have one focal length while zoom lenses cover a wide range of focal lengths. Prime lenses come in a variety of focal lengths from 10mm to 800mm but, generally, the most common prime lens focal lengths are 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, and 300mm. Zoom lenses come in a variety of ranges as well from 10 – 18mm to 18 – 300mm, however, the most common zoom lenses are 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70 – 300mm.


35mm and Medium Format Film Negatives
35mm and Medium Format Film Negatives. Source.

Film:

Film can come in a roll or individual sheets and are made of a thin, plastic-like material with gelatin emulsion on one side covered in microscopic light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The most popular types of film are color and black & white film but there are other types like infrared, movie film, and instant film like Polaroid film. The most popular size of film is 35mm but also it comes in other sizes like 110, medium format (120mm / 220mm), 4×5 inch – 11×14 inch sheet film, and other various formats. Most film can be processed at home (like color and black and white film) but it makes more sense for other film sizes like 110 or movie film (ECN-2 process) to be developed by someone else. See this article about where to get film developed and how much it costs.


Hand Held External Photographic Light Meters
Hand External Held Photographic Light Meters. Source.

Light Meter:

A light meter is part of the camera that measures the amount of light hitting the film inside the camera. It is used to help the photographer make decisions about the exposure settings for the aperture and shutter. Some film cameras need a battery for the light meter to work while others do not.

Some film cameras like most disposable cameras, large format cameras, some medium format cameras, and most plastic toy cameras (like Holgas) don’t have a built in light meter, so you have to use an external light meter (like this handheld one by Sektonic or this one you can put on your camera’s hot shoe), a smart phone app (I recommend Lightmate), your digital camera, or just use the sunny-16 rule.

The Process of Taking an Image

The process to capture an image with a film camera is actually quite involved and relies on each of the components of a camera to work together perfectly. The following are the general steps:

Step 1

Assuming you have film in your camera and your ISO is set correctly, the first step is to choose a subject and compose the scene in your viewfinder (the thing you can look through on the back of your camera).

Step 2

The next step is the turn the lens on the front of the camera to make the image in the viewfinder come into focus. You may need to turn it clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on the camera you have. Some cameras have a circle or a patch in the middle of the viewfinder that helps you know if the image is in focus. Most cameras also have a light meter to read the amount of light coming through the lens so you can set your exposure settings (see this article for how to use the information in the viewfinder of your camera). Set your aperture and shutter speed settings based on your light meter results.

Step 3

Once you’re certain you have the ideal placement of your subject inside the viewfinder, the exposure settings are correct, and the image is in focus then you can click the shutter release button to capture the image. 

Clicking the shutter release button will open up (or close down) your lens’s aperture as you press it down. The aperture will let in more or less light, as dictated by the size and setting of your photo (ex. dark settings require more light). Whatever light makes its way through the camera will then hit the light-sensitive material on your film to create the image. 

This process must be done meticulously by the camera, or the photographer, as too little light will not produce enough information to create a scannable / printable image on the film negative. On the other hand, too much light could also ruin the image by making it so dark that you can’t see any information on the film negative.

Step 4

The final step before you take another image is to wind the film advance lever to recharge the shutter and move the next section of film into the correct position. This is how all mechanical, and some automatic, film cameras capture pictures. In general, all cameras use this form of this process to take an image except large format cameras that only shoot sheet film at a time. The difference in most cameras comes down to how much control you have over the different settings. For example, most disposable cameras won’t allow you change any settings so you get what you get.

What Are the Different Types of Cameras?

Not all film cameras are made alike. In fact, there are several different types of film cameras you can use for your photography needs, and they each have their own distinct style and features. 

There are generally 5 different types of film cameras:

Pinhole Camera
Pinhold Camera. FInd it here.
  • Pinhole: A pinhole film camera is the most rudimenery type of camera camera that uses a hole and a light-tight container. It has no lens or other moving parts other than the shutter (usually a piece of tape or something opaque) so the image is captured in focus all the way through to the back of the device and the exposure time can be anywhere from a minute to several days. This is actually an ancient technological design; it’s the earliest recording in history that dates back to the fifth century B.C., by the Mohist philosopher Mozi. Something interesting about these is they can be made of most anything from matchbox, pringles can, watermelon, delivery truck or even a room.

A Fujifilm Disposable 35mm film camera with a flash.
A Fujifilm Disposable 35mm film camera with a flash.

35mm disposable cameras: These are simplified film cameras with a plastic lens set at a fixed focal length, fixed aperture and shutter speed, and little to no access to exposure settings. These cameras are sought out because of their size, ruggedness, some are waterproof, the look of their negatives/prints, and they cost less than digital cameras. Disposable cameras are made to be used once, come preloaded with film (color or black & white) and a battery for the flash, and then sent in for development. This is bad for the environment so reloadable 35mm film cameras made with better materials that provide the same look for images are also available. See this article for more about different types of disposable film cameras and how much they cost.


Holga 120s medium format camera
Holga 120s medium format camera

Plastic Toy Cameras: These cameras are similar to disposable cameras with the plastic lens, fixed focal length, little to no focus options, and exposure settings but are reloadable and can do more formats than just 35mm film. These cameras are prized for the look they give because of their plastic “low-quality” look with their images (complete with light leaks) and the most famous versions are the Holga line of cameras, which inspired many of the presets on Instagram, as well as the Diana F+.


Olympus Stylus Zoom 70 35mm point and shoot film camera
Olympus Stylus Zoom 70 35mm point and shoot film camera

Point and Shoot 35mm Film Cameras: These cameras are in between SLR cameras and disposable cameras. They are small and compact and have a fixed lens but usually give you options for zooming, focusing, and exposure settings. They can also take color or black & white film. One of the more searched for example of these types of cameras is the Contax G2.


Canon AE-1 Single Lens Reflex (SLR) 35mm camera
Canon AE-1 Single Lens Reflex (SLR) 35mm camera

35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR): A 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera is equipped with a viewfinder and uses a shutter and detachable lenses (depending on which model you have) for capturing pictures. The mirror in the camera allows for the person to see what the lens is seeing and moves out of the way when the shutter button is pressed. This is the most common type of film camera and is what most people think of when they think of a film camera. The Canon AE-1 is probably the most famous version of this camera.


Leica's metered Mechanical Perfection (MP) 0.72 Rangefinder 35mm camera
Leica’s Metered Mechanical Perfection (MP) 0.72 Rangefinder 35mm Camera

35mm Rangefinder: This type of camera is similar to the SLR except it doesn’t use a moving mirror to focus the image. Instead it uses two mirrors to focus the image inside the camera so it much quieter and compact. Leica and Contax cameras are the most reconizible makers of this type of camera.


The Hasselblad 500C medium format film camera and a Yashica-D Twin Lens Reflex  (TLR) medium format camera.
The Hasselblad 500C medium format film camera (left) and a Yashica-D Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) medium format camera (right).

Medium format (SLR and twin-lens styles): Medium format cameras are different from 35mm SLR in both size / weight and what size of film they can use (120mm or 220mm film). These cameras produce a larger, usually square, negative with more image information than 35mm film cameras which means you can print much larger from the negative but are usually slower to get the exposure settings correct due to their size. However, they are still much more portable than the next type of cameras. Hasselblad is the most recognizable maker of this type of camera.


Arca-Swiss M-Monolith 4x5 View Camera
Arca-Swiss M-Monolith 4×5 View Camera

Large format (View Camera): A Large-format cameras are different from the other types of cameras because they create even larger negatives such 4×5 inch to 11×14 inch. They work by positioning a large piece of negative film inside of the film holder on one side uses movements of the parts of the camera to focus during shots. These cameras create negatives that hold more information than many digital images and can make very large prints. They are also generally manual so you will need a light meter and understanding of exposure settings. Arca-Swiss and Graflex are the most recognizable makers of these types of cameras.


Fujiflm Instax SQ6 Instant Film Camera
Fujiflm Instax SQ6 Instant Film Camera

Instant Film Cameras: Instant cameras are unique because they not only take the image but produce a physical image in a matter of minutes – something that digital cameras or other film cameras cannot do. However, there are combinations of digital and instant cameras like the Fujiflm has the SQ10, which combines a instant camera with a digital camera which allows you to edit and choose which image to print out to help save you film. Fujifilm and Polaroid are the major players in the instant camera space. Polaroid offers two sizes of film and cameras (standard sized Polaroid film and the Polaroid Go film, which is smaller) and Fujifilm offers three sizes of instant film and cameras (Instax Mini, Instax Square, and Instax Wide). Some instant cameras have begun to use different types of instant film besides the traditional instant film from the 1970s. Zink paper was introduced in the early 2000’s and unlike regular instant film is waterproof, non-toxic, and much less expensive. One of more popular cameras to use Zink paper is the Snap Touch 2.0 by Polaroid.

Pros and Cons of Using Film Camera Types

With so many different types of film cameras, it can be difficult to determine which suits your style and photography needs best. To help, we’ve created the chart below that clearly details the pros and cons of each camera type:

Pros and Cons of Pinhole Film Cameras

Pros:

  • Often used as a teaching tool for young/early photographers.
  • Simple design means there is nothing that can break.
  • You could easily make one yourself.
  • All of these cameras use paper negatives and need a darkroom to load and unload it and to develop it before you can see the resulting image in sunlight
  • Can be made of anything (bottles, cans, cardboard boxes, large fruit, box trucks, and even houses!)

Cons:

  • Very long exposure time.
  • Image can appear warped depending on what you make the camera out of
  • Cannot freeze action or movement.
  • No light meter

Pros and Cons of Disposable Film Cameras

Pros:

  • These cameras have a very unique look that is hard to replicate with digital cameras
  • Easy to use (good for small children or beginners)
  • Comes with color and black & white film preloaded
  • Very light weight and portable. Can fit in your pants pocket.
  • All of these types of cameras use 35mm film
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • These cameras are bad for the environment (but reloadable ones are available)
  • No focus or exposure control other than the flash
  • Film has to be developed, which usually takes about 10 days or more
  • No the absolute best image quality but that’s okay if it is the look you are after
  • No internal light meter

Pros and Cons of Plastic Toy Film Cameras

Pros:

  • The plastic body and plastic lens gives these cameras a unique look, even from frame to frame on the same camera, that can be difficult to replicate with digital cameras
  • These types of cameras inspired the makers of Instagram and their image presets
  • All mechanical, only a battery is needed for the flash
  • Very easy to use
  • Most are very lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • There is a large community of people that can answer all of your questions for this type of camera because of its quirks.

Cons:

  • Not the best image quality
  • Most have light leaks and other imperfections, but these can be really cool
  • Little exposure or focus control
  • Need to get film developed before you can see your images
  • No internal light meter

Pros and Cons of Point & Shoot Film Cameras

Pros:

  • Point and shoot cameras are very lightweight and portable, some even can fit into your pants pocket
  • Most have an internal light meter
  • Can use both color and black & white film
  • Most, if not all, use 35mm film
  • These cameras have exposure and focusing controls
  • Some have zooming capabilities

Cons:

  • Most use batteries and when they die the camera is unusable
  • Some are sought after and therefore the prices are inflated. This can make it hard to purchase or find online for a decent price

Pros and Cons of 35mm SLR Cameras

Pros:

  • This kind of cameras are small and lightweight for easy portability.
  • Small and relatively inconspicuous compared to medium or large format cameras
  • Film typically allows up to 36 images per roll.
  • Some of most affordable camera options are for 35mm
  • The focus system allows you to see what the lens sees, so there is little threat of “parallax error”
  • These cameras are inexpensive and readily available because so many were made
  • A lot of really good lenses are available for these cameras
  • Most have an internal light meter
  • There are some mechanical SLRs that function without batteries or when the batteries die
  • Some have manual and auto focus

Cons:

  • Negatives are small and can’t be enlarged too much, or they will lose detail
  • Shutters are loud because of the focus system
  • Some SLRs, especially those made in the 1980’s, are electronically controlled so when the battery dies, so does the camera

Pros and Cons of 35mm Rangefinder Cameras

Pros:

  • Most of these cameras are small and lightweight for portability
  • Film typically allows up to 36 images per roll.
  • Shutter is quieter than other cameras so it is good for candid photography
  • Can do 35mm color and black & white film
  • Most have an internal light meter

Cons:

Pros and Cons of Medium Format Film Camera 

Pros:

  • Larger negative at 6 cm x 6 cm or 6 cm x 7 cm with more resolution than 35mm cameras
  • More portable than large format
  • Usually sharper and better lenses
  • Most have an internal light meter
  • Although expensive, you can get digital backs for these types of cameras
  • Some of these cameras allow you switch film so you can change between color and black & white film

Cons:

  • Much heavier and larger than 35mm format. 
  • Limited negatives on the film at about 12 per roll. 
  • Body and lenses are more expensive than the 35mm
  • Can take longer to focus
  • Some of these cameras can be expensive (Hasselblad Medium Format Cameras)

Pros and Cons of Large Format Film Camera

Pros:

  • Larger negative than 35mm and medium format measuring between 4 inches x 5 inches and up to 8 inches x 10 inches (can get as small as 2 x 3 inches or up to 16 x 20 inches, but these are not very common)
  • Much more precise controls (for example, special areas on the camera allow for perspective correction)
  • Very high image resolution from scanned negatives
  • While expensive, there are some digital backs available for large format cameras
  • Some really good lenses available for this format

Cons:

  • Much portable than 35mm and medium format due to weight and size
  • Fewer images on film (1 sheet of film per image and negative carrier usually only carries 2 negatives)
  • Cost more for development of film
  • Typically the priciest of all the options
  • Takes the longest to set up and focus since there are not any large format cameras with autofocus available to my knowledge
  • Most do not have an internal light meter
  • Film is expensive and getting harder to find

Pros and Cons of Instant Film Cameras

Pros:

  • Cameras are lightweight
  • Fun and nostalgic film types
  • Automatic exposure and focus controls so good for young / beginning photographers
  • No developing of the film negatives since film develops “instantly” (about 30 secs to 1 min) in front of your eyes
  • Some instant film cameras are hybrids of digital and instant film cameras, like the Instax LiPlay, that allows you to take an image, delete or edit it, print it or save and print it later.

Cons:

Best Film Cameras by Your Photography Needs

When it comes to photography, many people like to specialize in a certain area or subject, and so, they will choose the best camera and accessories to help them achieve this. 

If you’re passionate about purchasing a film camera for portraits, landscapes, and other specialties, we have the best options for you listed below. 

Bear in mind that a lot of these specialties rely more on your lenses, lighting, editing, and other factors more than the actual camera itself, but the ones we’ve suggested are great starts: 

Best film cameras for beginners
Cameras
General Cost
Best film cameras for beginners
$100- $300
Best cheap film cameras for professionals
$39
$50
Best film cameras for portrait photography 
$550
$350-400
Best film cameras for landscape photography
$3,500
$130-180
$200 – 400
Best film cameras for night photography
$500
$130
Best film cameras for street photography
$30000
G1-$1,200
G2-$2,500

Best Film Camera by Cost

It’s no secret that the art of photography is a pricy passion to pursue, particularly if you want to advance to a professional level. To help ensure you have the best film camera for your budget, here is a detailed chart below that splits each camere by cost.

This way, even beginners even with $50 to spare can still enjoy film cameras, but we also include the best of the best for those of you unconcerned with the price tag:

Best Cameras By Cost
Camera
General Cost
35mm film cameras under $150
$50
$120
$130
35mm film cameras under $500
$200-300
$350
$150 – 250
35mm Film cameras under $1000
$600-1,000
$500-650
Medium format film cameras under $150
$49
$50
$150
Medium format film cameras under $500
$350-500
$200-300
Medium format Film cameras under $1000
$600-750
$600-800
Large format film cameras under $500
$400-500
$300 – 450
Large format film cameras under $1000
$600
Large format film cameras under $5,000
$2,500
$4,500

Film Cameras and Batteries

Because of their reputation for being cameras of the past, it’s common to wonder if film cameras are equipped with more modern elements like batteries. The answer to this question is, sometimes. 

There are technically two types of film cameras when it comes to this form of operation:

  • Mechanical film cameras: these cameras allow you to manually wind the film spool and capture images. Some use batteries for the light meter (and flash) but can still fully function if the battery dies.
  • Electric film cameras: these cameras utilize the power of batteries to wind the film, autofocus, engage flash, and other features. If the battery dies then the camera is useless – like digital cameras.

The majority of older film camera models are mechanical and function without a battery, like pinhole cameras. Conversely, many newer models have batteries because it helps the camera eliminate the extensive internal clockwork mechanical gears have, resulting in simpler, more robust, and more reliable instruments. 

Some older film cameras require a battery with a specific voltage in order for the camera’s internal light meter to function correctly and may require a very specific-size battery. For example, the Olympus OM-1 35mm film camera needs a 1.3 volt battery in a specific size for the internal meter to read correctly, which can be found here. If another correctly sized battery but with a different voltage, say like 1.5 v, the camera’s internal meter may read incorrectly and all of your images will be underexposed. However, you can use an external light meter (like this handheld one by Sektonic or this one you can put on your camera’s hot shoe), a smart phone app (I recommend Lightmate), your digital camera, or just use the sunny-16 rule.

Film Camera Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a few frequently asked questions about film cameras that include questions about film, if a camera can get wet, how film cameras compare to digital cameras, and others.

Does Film Expire in a Film Camera?

Yes, camera film can absolutely expire, both in its packaging and in your camera, so be aware of its expiration date when you load it. 

The film has an expiration date primarily because the sensitivity of the silver halides on the film that reacts to the light will slowly degrade. This will significantly affect your ability to capture an image because it will no longer react to the light optimally for a clear and accurate picture.

Of course, this expiration date is really a “best by” date, and you can try to use the film past its suggested time. Just be prepared that your photos might not turn out the way you wanted. 

If you have some film you know you won’t be using before its expiration date, place it in the freezer. This won’t damage the film; in fact, it will slow the process of its silver halides degrading.

See this article for more information about shooting expired film.


Do Film Cameras Have Image Sensors?

An image sensor is a tool that converts an optical image into an electrical signals using pixels (group of red, green, and blue dots) and is mostly a component of digital still and video cameras.  The equivalent of this in film cameras would be the film negative in the camera that captures the image.

Hasselblad Medium Format 501 CM Camera with a Hasselblad 50c Digital Back
Hasselblad Medium Format 501 CM Camera with a Hasselblad 50c Digital Back

However, there have been some examples, such as those created by Hasselblad and Leaf Digital Backs, where you can buy an image sensor (also very expensive) for specific film cameras to create a hybrid digital camera with a film camera body.


Do Film Cameras Have Megapixels? 

Sensor of A Canon Eos R Digital SLR Camera
Sensor of A Canon Eos R Digital SLR Camera which is 30.3mp and similar in size to a 35mm film negative.

A megapixel refers to one million pixels and are a way to measure the amount of data sensors in digital cameras (still and video), scanners, and monitors. Pixels are small squares that contain a bit of red, green, or blue that combine to create an image on a digital screen. Digital cameras have sensors that use these pixels to gather light to turn the information into data that creates a digital image. Interestingly, these sensors have twice the amount of green as the others so it appears green to the naked eye. The equivalent of this in film cameras would be a film negative. A scanned 35mm film negative will generally have about the same about of resolution as a 20mp digital camera sensor but this depends on the film used, how it is scanned, the specific image, and the scanner itself.


 Do Film Cameras Have ISO?

A 35mm Film Canister of Kodak 400 ISO Color Film with 36 Exposures.
A 35mm Film Canister of Kodak 400 ISO Color Film with 36 Exposures

ISO refers to the sensitivity of the film or its “light gathering” ability. So, yes, your film camera has ISO as this is referring to the film itself. Most manual film cameras even have adjustable ISO so you can use film with different light sensitivities when shooting expired film as well as pushing and pulling the film.  

See this related article for more information about pushing and pulling film.


Do Film Cameras Have Timers?

Contax G1 35mm film camera
This Contax G1 35mm Film Camera Has A Digital Timer.

A self timer on a camera is useful when you want to take a self portrait and there is not one else around or if you are taking a long exposure and want to limit camera shake as much as possible. The function works by moving a lever, pulling up a tab, rotating a dial, or pressing the correct button then pressing the shutter and waiting for a 5 – 10 sec countdown before the image is taken. Most modern 35mm SLR film cameras, some older 35mm SLR cameras, some point and shoot cameras, and some rangefinder cameras have a timer but not all of them do but all disposable / single-use camera do not. So, it depends. If your camera has metering that is through-the-lens (TTL) then it will mostly like have a self timer function.

Here is a list of film cameras that do have a timer, howeer, this is not an exhaustive list by any means:

  • Canon AE-1 and AE-1 Program
  • Contax G1 and G2
  • Contax T1 and T2
  • Leica M series
  • Nikon FM2
  • Nikon F6
  • Olympus XA series (XA, XA2, XA3, XA4)
  • Olympus OM-1
  • Olympus OM-10
  • Olympus mju ii
  • Pentax K1000
  • Yashica Mat 124G
  • Yashica T4 and T5

Do Film Cameras Have Flash? 

This Pentax 35mm camera has an external flash attached to it.
This Pentax MX 35mm camera has an external flash attached to it.

Some film cameras, like disposable cameras and some point and shoots, have built in flashes but most film camera need to have one attached. This is what the little bracket, called a hot shoe bracket, that usually on top of 35mm SLR film cameras is for. The bracket holds the flash onto the camera, syncs and fires the flash with the shutter so it is triggered at the right moment. Some camera have “cold shoe” brackets because they aren’t connected to the shutter and just hold the flash or other accessories but can be synced to the shutter using other methods. For example, all Canon AE-1 or Pentax MX film camera do not have a built-in flash but they have a “hot shoe” to attach and sync an on-camera flash. Most 35mm film SLR cameras, 35mm rangefinder cameras, medium format and large format cameras do not have a built-in flash but these cameras do:

If you have a used camera and it didn’t come with a flash, I recommend this on-camera flash found on Amazon that that is highly-rated, small, lightweight, and uses 2 AA batteries.


Can All Film Cameras Shoot Color? 

Kodak Portra 400 35mm Color Film
Kodak Portra 400 35mm Color Film

When it comes to film cameras, if your images will be in color is dependent on the film you load into the camera, not the camera itself. However, if you have your color film negatives scanned digitally, then you would be able to change them digitally from color to black & white.

While there are some cameras that can switch mid roll between color and black & white film like some medium format camera (like Mamiyas and some Hasselblad film cameras) and large format cameras, this is more of a feature of digital cameras that can switch back and forth between black and white or color photos based on your settings. 


Can Film Cameras Get Wet?

Few cameras can withstand mass amounts of water without experiencing irreparable damage to the camera, damage to the film, or otherwise. 

For the most part, I recommend limiting your film camera’s exposure to water and sand as much as possible. While there are some point and shoot cameras that are water resistant if you’re truly set on taking a nice film camera around or into water, we suggest you opt for a protective case or waterproof disposable film camera, like the Kodak Sport.

This Disposable Film Camera by Kodak Is Waterproof And Is Made To Be Used In Water.
This Disposable Film Camera by Kodak Is Waterproof And Is Made To Be Used In Water.

Can you still get film developed?

Yes, there are still many places to get your film developed. Businesses like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart still develop 35mm film but they don’t return the negatives, just the digital scans of your images on a CD and oftentime are mediocre, at best. If you want to get your film developed but also want to get your negatives back to scan them yourself or for your archives, then I suggest these professional labs that cost about the same to develop film as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart but have better quality scans:

  • The Darkroom — For $17.95 (including shipping) per roll, they will develop your color and black & white 35mm and medium format film. You download a shipping label from their website and mail in your film. They will process the film, send you digital scans, and will send the negatives back to you via mail.
  • Mpix.com —  For $17.90 (including shipping) per roll, they will only develop your color 35mm and medium format film. You send them your film and they will process your film and upload your scans online. Then, they’ll send the negatives back to you via mail.
  • OldSchoolPhotoLab.com — For $19.79 (including shipping) per roll, they will develop your color and black & white 35mm and medium format film. You download a shipping label from their website and mail in your film. They will process the film, send you digital scans, and will send the negatives back to you via mail.

Final Thoughts

Film cameras have been around for well over 100 years now, and they still remain popular today. Although they may seem hard to use to some, these amazing devices can be used by anyone, from beginners to professionals alike.

Not only are film cameras fantastic training tools for those just getting started, but professionals also use them worldwide to capture the most awe-inspiring images. Considering they force you to slow down when taking images , be more aware of your exposure settings, and their prices are comparable to digital cameras (sometimes for much less) I strongly advise you to give a film camera a shot in your photography journey. 

Sources:

Lee

My name is Lee and I love photography and learning. I received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in 2010 and have worked as a university professor for the last 10 years in addition to being a working photographer. I started this website to learn more about digital and film-based photography and to provide a resource for all of my students.

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