Starting in Film Photography on a $350 budget.

So you have decided to have a crack at film photography?

Here is my recommend “first go” kit for under $350. 

What do you need?

1. Film Camera Body (featured above)

2. Lens (featured above)

3. Film

4. Someone to develop and scan OR scan yourself.


1. Camera Body.

Well, there is some good news and bad news here. The good news is that you can purchase second hand film gear for much less than what it cost new. You can buy a pro level film camera for a fraction of what it would have cost during film’s heyday. The bad news is that they ain’t making them any more. The second gear in the market right now is all that is ever likely to be. So buy your dream camera now. Gear in the market is just getting more and more worn out.

The exceptions to this are a few rangefinders from Voigtlander and Leica, along with one or two Canon and Nikon models, which still seem to be in production.


Nikon FA with 50mm F1.8

Nikon FA with 50mm F1.8 – complete with pimped Nikon eyecup!

First Camera

  • 35mm SLR – You won’t need to spend much and the camera layout and operation should be familiar to you.
  • Nikon or Canon – There a plenty of them, plenty of accessories, and plenty of lenses. Don’t be tempted to go “off brand” yet!
  • Aperture Priority Mode – Give yourself the option of not having to worry about setting everything manually as a minimum.
  • Full Auto Exposure Mode – Make sure you get this feature if you are a little tentative about managing all your exposure settings manually. You can always set the camera back to manual if you choose.
  • Auto Focus or Manual Focus. To start with, experience the joy of manual focus. It is more fun than you would imagine.
  • Keep it Cheap – work out what you like first before you invest in some serious gear.

Recommendations :

I shoot Nikon in 35mm SLR, so I am going to stick with what I know here!

Get a Nikon FA body. $100 on Ebay.

The FA is an affordable piece of Nikon perfection. Lots of metal, lots of stainless steel or black. Everything feels on it feels like it will last for 100 years, if you get one in decent nick. The FA feels nice and heavy in your hand. They look fair dinkum as well.

The FA has everything you need

  • Aperture priority mode
  • A nice, big viewfinder – you might need to give it a bit of clean with a blower as all older cameras will have visible dust in the viewfinder.
  • Hefty, durable dials and levers.
  • Manual film wind – again, you might be surprised how fulfilling it is to wind on the film after each frame.

You might also want to consider an FM or FE – but be prepared to pay a little more. The two best manual focus Nikons ever made, in my opinion, were the F3 and FM3A. Check them out on Ebay. You will need some serious cash for one in good condition though!

Some Nikon F3 Camera Pron

Some Nikon F3 Camera Pron


2. First Lenses

  • Stick with single focal length lenses – use your feet to zoom in and out. Single focal length lenses are always better value for money than a zoom at a similar price.
  • Go with a big aperture lens. Minimum F2 largest aperture. Don’t get sucked into buying a zoom that has a rubbish minimum aperture of F4.5 or above. The F2 will help you in low light conditions and give a beautiful bokeh effect which will look arty and impress your friends!
  • Buy new or second hand – the new lenses recommended below are not super expensive, so buy new if you can afford it.
  • 35mm focal length is the most useful and broadly used lens for street photography. Go with a 35mm lens if you like broader scenes, but the starting price will be over $300 for a good one.
  • 50mm focal length is also worth considering. It will be a little cheaper, too. Go with a 50mm if you prefer tighter shots that focus more on people’s faces.
  • Do not buy Nikon “DX” lenses. Don’t be tempted by how modern they look. These are not the droids you are looking for. They are designed for cropped 35mm digital sensors. You new film camera has the equivalent of a “full frame” digital sensor – the same as a $3000 digital body. The film frame is the same size as the digital sensor. The lenes you want are designated “FX”.

Recommendation :

Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Autofocus – $130 brand new. The f1.8 aperture will smash any lens under $500 in low light performance, and deliver beautiful Bokeh creamy smooshed backgrounds. The manual focus works fine, but is not quite as precise as a $500 plus lens. You can also pop this lens on most Nikon DSLRs as well – with full autofocus. This is simply the best first lens you can purchase.

Buy This

Buy This

You can find out more about this lens here. This is an incredibly affordable lens that produces super images.

The 50mm is great for street photography, bringing the focus a little more to people’s faces than broader scenes. A lot of street photographers prefer the wider 35mm or 28mm lens – but they will tend more towards larger, wider scenes.

If you would like to see the difference, log onto Nikon’s Lens Simulator at and just plug in your lens focal length to see the difference it makes vs another lens.

Some images from the simulator :

Here are three examples – just roll over the image to see which lens took which shot.

3. Film

Part of the experience is developing your own film. OK, if you need to chicken out, you can buy some colour negative film. Let’s spend a moment decoding what the different film types are.

C41 – “Negative” film. Processed by all labs still in operation. This is the film you may have shot as a kid. Normally colour. There are a couple of Black and White films that are set up to be processed using standard colour C41 chemicals. These were designed to enable people to get black and white developed at their local KMart with minimal fuss. C41 films are easy to use, and are more forgiving of exposure misses. Difficult to develop at home.

E6 – “Positive” slide film. Now only processed by a very limited number of labs. Expensive to buy and process. E6 films produce beautiful slide images you can produce prints from or do an old fashioned slide show with! E6 films are very “fussy” and need quite precise exposure settings to get the best result. Virtually impossible to develop at home.

Black and White – traditional film. Processed by only a handful of labs – mainly because it is so easy to develop yourself at home! Is forgiving with exposure – similar to C41 films.

Chicken Starter Film :

k400Kodak Portra 400 is an easy to use film that will produce great results. Anywhere that is still developing film will be able to handle this for you. Start with this as it is the least hassle. It is also very forgiving in terms of exposure.


I get all my films direct from BH Photo in New York for $US7.35 a roll – but beware of the shipping costs if you are only buying a few rolls…

You might like to try Film For Sale in Australia. You can find Portra here for a little under $10 for a roll of 36 exposures.

If you like this, next step will be to shoot Black and White to develop at home!


4. Scanner

If you are going to have a go at film, it can get very expensive very quickly if you get the lab to scan your films.

Most people who find they enjoy the whole film experience eventually experiment with larger format films. So buying a scanner that will handle at least medium format films will save money in the longer run.

We promised to go cheap here, and there are some very cheap options out there – I have not tried any of them, but I suppose for the price, there is not much risk. This Kaiser Bass Photomaker retails for $70. I had a look on Flickr and the resulting scans that other people have made look ok for $70!

Otherwise, just get your developing lab to do scans – but beware that most labs do a rubbish job of it.



Your “Starting Out” Shopping List

  • Nikon FA $100 Ebay
  • Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Autofocus – $130 brand new.
  • Box of 5 Rolls Kodak Portra 400 $50
  • Kaiser Baas Photomaker Scanner $70 Officeworks
  • Developing at a photolab $10 per roll
  • Total : about $350

Now, this assumes you can’t find an old SLR kit in your Uncle Arthur’s wardrobe. There are plenty of old SLR kits out there, just waiting to be discovered. People find it very hard to toss things that once cost a lot of money. Ask around, and you migh be pleasantly surprised!



3 Responses to “Starting in Film Photography on a $350 budget.”

  1. Hi! I came across your blog since I’m looking at buying my first 35mm camera.
    I’m from Manila and I’ve seen local online sellers here, the prices are good, but I’m hesitant to buy since I don’t know how to check this type of camera.

    My luck has turned towards a reputable seller/repairman/salesman with Mr. Dong. He owns his own camera shop in Hidalgo St., Quiapo, Manila and has been there since the 70-80’s. Also he said I can test the camera with a roll of film and ask him a ton of questions.
    Since I’m on a tight budget and still thinking if I want to spend $200 for this:
    Nikon EM with 50mm pancake lens for $140-150
    or Nikon FM with 28-70mm for $150-160
    a minty FM body at $200.

    Currently I have the D5200 with 35mm 1.8g and would like to practice shooting better since I know film is unforgiving. What’s your advise for a classic film camera noob?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would go for the nikon FM body and get a brand new 50mm F1.8 from the article – you won’t regret it! The 50mm F1.8 is cheap but fantastic – you will love it. It gives beautiful bokeh, and you can pop it on your D5200 as well, I think? (actually, I am not sure on that one!) Which 35mm lens do you have? Is it a DX or FX lens, and does it have an aperture ring? If it does, you can probably use it on the FM.

      If you want to go super budget, the EM and 50mm lens should be fine. The EM is a nice camera, and is very compact. The FM will feel a bit better in the hand and is a classic.

      Here is the lens…

      Let me know if you have any other questions – I am not a super tech person, but happy to offer guidance wherever possible…


    • oh, and I should also say, the F1.8 will nail any low light situations nicely!


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