5 Tips to Being a Thrifty Photographer

In this guide, you will find out how you can save money on film photography. I will go over five basic ways on how any film photographer can pursue their artistic dreams and develop their creative outlets without having to spend a fortune.

I have only explored this hobby for about a year, but I have absorbed so much through friends and other fellow photographers that it would seem selfish to not share what I’ve learned with the rest of the world. I must admit that I am not some expert, but I am still a beginner, and I have much to learn. But maybe, after reading my guide, your path to photographic enlightenment will kick-start much faster!

1. Your Camera

Your camera is important because that’s your tool! There are a lot of great cameras that can be had for under $100. At most thrift stores, toy cameras and film point-and-shoots can be found in abundance for under $10. If you can’t find any, or if there are no thrift stores in your area, try flea markets. If flea markets are no avail, go for eBay.

With eBay, you can find many old film SLRs, rangefinders, and compacts for under $100. For your first camera, you’re going to want to find something with interchangeable lenses, a working meter, and either aperture priority (semi-automatic) or program auto (fully automatic). That leaves you with basically every type of ‘80s-’90s film SLR. If you are concerned about the size and bulk of SLRs, go for a film point-and-shoot, which are much more convenient, but sometimes lack manual features.

Some quality affordable film SLRs include:

Some quality affordable film point-and-shoots include:

Some quality affordable film rangefinders include:

2. Cheap Film

Your film is important because that’s your sensor. Luckily, every single shot you take on 35mm film will be full-frame. To get a digital camera with a full-frame sensor, you’d have to pay $2000+. Luckily film is cheap. As a thrifty photographer, you’re going to love Wal-Mart and their Fujifilm Superia. For ~$10, you can 4 rolls of 24 exposures in varying ISOs of 200, 400, and 800. I prefer Fujifilm Superia over Kodak UltraMax, another cheap film found at Target and other stores. Superia is slightly more saturated, which I love.

3. Two-Dollar Developing

At places like CVS and Wal-Greens, there is a way to get your photos developed for only $2. All you have to do when you hand them your exposed film, is ask for “develop only,” where they develop your negatives for you, and they won’t make prints. This saves you a ton of money. They do C-41 process only, so if you have any slide films, you can cross-process for $2 as well!

If there are no CVS or Wal-Greens in your area, Wal-Mart will send out your film to Fujifilm for about $1.80 if you ask for develop-only. They also accept medium format, which I’ve heard is around $5 and slide film, which is $8 for mounted slides.

You’re probably wondering what you’re going to do with all these negatives, which leads to…

4. Investing in a Scanner

A refurbished Epson Perfection V300 is $55, which scans your 35mm negatives and slides. If you might be getting into medium format (120 film) you should probably invest in a refurbished Epson Perfection V600, which is $155. Both of these can be found through the Epson web site. The both of these may sound pretty steep for scanners, but after shooting a ton of rolls for only $2, as opposed to the usual $10, you will end up saving more money than you spend.

And if you would like to one day have large poster prints, that can be done. All you have to do is scan at an insanely high DPI, like 9600 or 12800, and then send the JPG to Wal-Mart. For 3×5 prints, 1200 dpi is sufficient. Since you’ve already scanned and converted your negatives to JPGs, 3×5 prints are only ten cents a photo.

5. Go Out and Have Fun!

A a photographer, what’s most important is getting out there and taking shots! Don’t worry too much about what film you use, what camera you use, what lenses you have, or any of that stuff! All that matters is your eye, because it’s you that takes the photo, not the camera.

About the author: Duy Tran is an amateur photographer and film enthusiast living in the Dallas, Texas area. Having just graduated high school, he intends to pursue a career in journalism. This post was originally published here.

  • Ralph Hightower

    I’m not a fan of lomography. But, I’ve dumped getting prints with my film processing; I get developing, an index print or a contact sheet, and a CD to minimize my expenses. For 2012, I am shooting B&W film exclusively and I probably shoot about 60% using C-41 B&W film instead of traditional B&W film. I get the C-41 film developed locally and send the tradition B&W film out of state for developing.

  • ennuipoet

    B&H also offers a cheap, easy C41 home processing kit (Usually under the brand names of Tenatal or Jobo). For $20 you can develop dozens of rolls of C41 just as easily as B&W, saving you even more money.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    If you are concerned with saving money, then film photography is probably not a good path…

  • hasel

    Film is dead. I been scanning my old films the last year or so. It takes forever. And the quality of an old D70 or 300D is superior in noise to cheap negative film. Only the very best slide films can hold well up against digital.

    Consider a D70 wtih lens can he had for about 300 for a nice sample. I think this is a much better learning camera. You can click away all day, and not have to spend 12 dollars every 24 frames. Also you get instant feedback.

    However i must admit that i do love the old film cameras and i have a cabinet full of old film cameras i never use. But they are beautiful and i do love the mechanics of them. Ohh how i miss the film advance lever on the Nikon fm3a.

    Anyway consider getting a darkroom and B&W film. I lots of fun but again time consuming.

  • Grant Taylor

    My local Wal-greens charges around 7 dollars for develop only. Haven’t been there for about 2 years but I can’t imagine the price having come down. Going to have to check CVS though.

  • 7enderbender

    Can I just say how sick and tired I am to see these hipster-type photos like that ones presented here as “typical” for film? All the kids these day think that people over 40 used to walk around with film cameras shooting discolored, grainy snapshots. And that’s then considered “vintage”. Well guess what – that’s incorrect. Film technology has been producing outstanding quality for many decades! There is a reason why I waited until 2 years ago to get my first digital SLR. Everything before that just couldn’t compete with film really. And even today only the top-shelf pro level DSLRs are in that realm or now surpass it. Same thing can’t be said about prints by the way. My chemical prints from the 80s and early 90s still beat everything that comes from today’s ink jet printers.

    Just thought mention this. Keep clicking away on your iPhones with its “vintage” annoying filters – but don’t be disappointed when what you get from a good film camera and decent film is tack sharp and without any yellow cast and wrinkles.

  • enero

    The choices of “Quality” SLRs seems a bit off to me. Why is the Pen-FT in there?! First of all: its a half frame camera, Second: Camera body alone is about $200+. Then another $200+ for a lens. Also the rest of the cameras are kind of all over the place. As well as Nikon-centric (dont get me wrong, I’m a nikon shooter, but lets be fair). Why not suggest actual quality (and cheap) cameras, like (the best fully mechanical camera ever made) the Nikon F2, or the old photo student’s trusty ole Pentax K1000, or for the Canon fans, the AE-1. Any of these with a 50/1.8 can be had for about $100 bucks. These are all classics and $100 is actually on the more expensive side. Other models can be had for even cheaper, especially the ones that some beginners might feel more comfortable with like aperture priority and built in light meters, etc.

  • Lee Young

    Olympus OM-1/2 should be in the list. It’s probably the cheapest professional-grade film camera you can find

  • lativa

    Why would you say film is dead and then contradict yourself by saying you “love film cameras”. Why collect them when you can’t use them.

  • supermario

    There are even cheaper good-quality SLR’s out there. I’m still using my Canon EOS GII. Any beginner can use one, and on top of that, you can still use all the new EF lenses Canon carries. You can find bodies on Ebay for less than $10.

  • Andre

    It is cheaper to shoot film. The cheapest full frame digital camera is about $1000 now. You can buy an Olympus Om-1/2 for $100 then have $900 to spend on film and developing, that should last you a while as an amateur….

  • WGsux

    Ditto- my local walgreens raised their price on “processing only” from $2 to $7 a couple of years ago. Total rip-off. I had to explain to the “Photo Lab Manager” what “processing only” even meant. She didn’t know they could even do that. What a dummy.

  • Eric Omori

    The 99 cent store has fuji superia rebranded as Memories film. 2 rolls for $1. Also Target does film developing for 97 cents.

  • rjbell

    Digitalising them on a cheaper $50 scanner kind of defeats the object a bit doesn’t it? just buy a $50 digi camera and get better quality prints.

  • Joe Blount

    Thanks for that tip! Turns out there is a 99only store less than 5 minutes from me.

  • val escobar

    Feel free to write a blog of you own, with you vast superior knowlege. She just graduated H.S. Give it a rest for crying out loud.

  • val escobar

    See my reply to “enero”. I don’t think she was trying to listing pro grade cameras.

  • val escobar

    Ahh dude you missed the point, entirely of this young girl’s blog. See the word “film” in the 1st sentence.

  • val escobar

    I totally see his(?) point in regard to his collection. Though I’d use them if practical.
    I am glad I learned some photography long before digital. There is something in the whole experience in not see your work instantaneously. I sometimes purpossly do not look, esp when shooting manual. Plus having only x number of exposures, you are forced to slow down, ultimately becoming better.

    Also the blog was about film photography, by a young lady just graduated from H.S. Oh and I too am retake up the art of film.

  • enero

    You’re getting defensive for no raisin. This comment wasnt meant to be criticism, it was just some more reasonable suggestions. Not my fault if Petapixel isnt doing their job in editing or suggesting other options before publishing something that most people that read this blog would find questionable. This isnt Photojojo for pete sake!

  • enero

    this is supposed to be an article about being thrifty. My suggestions werent “pro-grade”. They were thrifty-er. you freakin troll!

  • Gareth Mitchell

    If you want thrift and quality and ease of use and a pocketable camera, you can’t go wrong with an Olympus Trip. It doesn’t even need batteries. Yeah!