How to Use Film Camera


Many people see film camera as old, obsolete, and even dead. A long forgotten art. A thing of the past. A mere history of camera genealogy that is superseded by the more “superior” digital camera.

Well, they are certainly old. The film camera has been present in the market since the 20th century. But it is premature to say that they are “obsolete” and “dead”. In fact, the digital camera is not always “superior” to film in every aspect of the game.

There is also a recent fad over film camera and point-and-shoot instant camera. The popularity of Fujifilm’s Instax series can be considered a prime example. Apparently, the sense of “limited shots” challenges both amateur and professional photographers to improve their understanding of the craft.

What is a Film Camera?

A film camera is a type of camera that exposes the film to light in order to capture images. Its first use is dated around the late 1800s. It also comes with a different system – may it be a point-and-shoot film camera or a more superior single-lens reflex film camera.

What we actually call “film” is a chemical emulsion imbued on a plastic substrate. The chemical on this dark-colored strip is very sensitive to light. That is why it is installed in the camera with the utmost amount of care.

The film camera is produced vis-à-vis the variety of film types including 35mm, 120, 122, and the larger format 4×5 and 8×10. In general, film roll comes in 12, 24, and 36 exposures. Film manufacturers, however, add an extra two to three exposures because different camera models rewind the roll differently. This means that you’ll have around two extra shots if you properly install the roll and your camera doesn’t rewind that much.

When the film is exposed due to the opening of the camera shutter, it creates an analogous photo of the subject in the film layer. That is why film camera is also called analog camera.

Why Use a Film Camera

At this point, there is no question regarding the quality and the convenience of modern digital cameras. If such is the case, why use a film camera? Listed below are some reasons why you have to try film photography.

  • It makes you think more.

    In the world of film, every shot counts. This reality alone makes the analog camera much more exciting and challenging than a digital camera. Many photographers learned the fundamental principles of photography using film. You also cannot check your photo right away. Thus, an excellent shot will feel very rewarding.

    When using film, you need to be mindful of the number of remaining exposures. You can’t just shoot as many times as you want and pick the best image later. The very fleeting nature of film photography makes every shot valuable and meaningful.

  • It’s cheap and timeless.

    Decent SLR film cameras are much cheaper than decent digital SLR camera. For this reason, the initial cost is relatively affordable. It is true though that you’ll need film rolls to capture an image. But quality film rolls, coupled with excellent shots, are surely worth the price.

    Unlike modern digital cameras, film camera will not demand constant upgrades to keep up with the standard and the trend. Its imperfections are recognized as part of its overall artistic value.

  • Superior BW capture.

    Professionals would agree that the high-dynamic range of SLR film cameras is superior when capturing subjects in black and white. It offers a classy and crispy tone that many digital single-lens reflexes (SLR) are not capable of doing (especially without post-processing alterations). With excellent darkrooms skills, the film can even recreate moments that are closer to what you actually saw.

  • Great for albums.

    It is pretty ironic that we produce so many photos today but we also make fewer albums. Well, I am not referring to your blog, or Instagram, or Facebook account. What I am saying is that we now have fewer physical albums unlike before. Vernacular photo albums were meaningful. In the past, photography encourages you to be in the moment.

  • Not mutually exclusive.

    And lastly, you need to remember that using digital camera does not stop you in exploring the world of film. The two systems are not mutually exclusive after all. In actuality, you may better understand the mechanics of both devices when you use them together.

Fundamental Photography Elements

Because it is more difficult to shoot using film, you have to grasp two things. First, you need understand the functions of your camera. For starters, you need review its manual to see all the available features/potentials of your device. Second, you need to familiarize fundamental principles of photography to use your analog camera to its fullest. Though this is also true when using a digital camera, this point is more noticeable when using analog.

Always remember that you are the brain when you shoot with a film camera. You can’t simply rely on auto-mode. Other than the subject composition, you also need to recognize other factors that’ll influence the shot.

The process of film exposure can be divided into three fundamental (but connected) elements, namely: ISO, aperture, shutter speed. Professionals call this the exposure triangle. If you want to achieve a good photo, you need to harmonize and juggle these three.

  • ISO

    This refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensors (usual shooting range of ISO is around 100-1600). The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive it is to light and vice-versa. It determines what you can capture in a low-light room or bright environment without using flash. Be reminded that the higher the ISO setting, the more noise/grain your photo will have.

  • Aperture

    This is the mechanism that controls the volume of light that enters the camera. If you’re wondering why some of your photos do have pronounced depth effect (this is called “depth of field”), your camera aperture is responsible for that.

  • Shutter Speed 

    It refers to the speed of sensor’s exposure to light. Its speed is measured in fractions of a second. In case you are using an SLR camera, may it be analog or digital, you will surely hear the clicking sound produced by the closing shutter every time you take a photo. Shutter speed determines the motion capture of the subject.

    Every condition and environment will require a different mix of these three. Thus, it is helpful to familiarize yourself first with these elements before scheduling a photo shoot. The good thing is that your experience with your device will help you understand the right calibrations vis-à-vis a particular environment.

Things to Remember When Using a Film Camera

  • Load film rolls.

    It all starts with your film. Learning how to install a roll into your analog camera is the first step when it comes to film photography. When purchasing one, always check the required film type for your camera. Most analog cameras use 35mm roll. As you load the film, it is a good idea to go indoors first to avoid premature exposure to light. Every film camera has different loading technique. Just follow the instruction for your model and you will be okay.

  • Avoid unwanted exposure.

    Do not open the back of your camera once a film roll is loaded. Opening the camera rear will only expose the rest of your film. This is a rookie mistake that people commit when handling their rolls. If you happen to forget the number of your remaining shots, simply check the shot counter of your camera.

  • Take your time before every shot.

    Once you are familiar with the three elements of exposure, you will be ready to try your device. But do not be in haste. Slow down, settle in, and understand your composition. Taking your time is important to avoid wasted shots and opportunities.

  • Hit the end of your roll and develop your film.

    Shot counters may not be that accurate because of the extra exposures in your roll. There are times when the counter says zero but you can still shoot. If this is the case, just shoot until you reach the end of the roll. By any means, your analog camera will stop winding when you used all your film exposures. Once your device completes the auto-rewind, you can now develop your film without much problem. Bring the camera into the shop so that they will remove the film for you. Or you can do it by yourself. Just make sure that your roll is properly stored in a sealed container.

    Currently, you can still find shops that do film processing and developing. Malls, for instance, have several camera stores that provide this service. But if possible, try to look for a well-named film shop with excellent darkroom records. It’s always great to find reliable people to process your work.

    If you want to learn a new skill, you can do develop the film by yourself. This will provide an introductory knowledge regarding this process.

If you are interested in other photography topics, check out this article that talks about how to develop a film on your own. You can also visit other articles that talk about action camera, Polaroid camera, and mirrorless camera.