It is no secret that there is an ongoing surge in the number of photographers discovering film for the first time. And we are often asked at Analogue Wonderland what films should people use to begin their analogue explorations.
And of course there is not a simple answer! With nearly 200 films being made fresh around the world and available to buy from our store, the choice is extensive and all of them can be quickly learned by a beginner to create fantastic photos. But by making a couple of small decisions early on we can narrow down that range to a select group that are particularly well-suited to new film photographers.
Format and Style
The first and most important question is what format camera have you acquired? It is most likely to be 35mm, but potentially medium format (also called 120) or even a more rare 127 or 110. This is critical as cameras need to be matched with the right format. Fortunately it is easy to Google your camera and see what format it needs! We will assume in this guide that we are dealing with a 35mm camera, but many of these films are also available in other formats on our site.
The second question is more subjective. What kind of photos do you want to take? And how do you want them to look? This is often a strange thought for new film photographers who are used to the flexibility of digital where a quick setting change is all that’s needed to cope with low light, black and white, or applying a filter. But in the wonderful slower world of analogue these are all considerations to be made before the camera is loaded, and will be the biggest determinant of your film for the day.
Colour: Slide or Negative?
To complicate matters slightly more, one last decision needs to be made if the new film photographer wants colour results. Do they want traditional colour negative film or colour slide? The simple difference is that colour negative film looks like the stereotypical ‘false colours and contrast’ after development whereas slide looks like the original scene when you hold it up to light. Negatives will need scanning and reversing to be seen properly, although this is much easier than it sounds - especially with the new FilmLab app!
(Slide at top; colour negative at bottom)
The benefit of slide film is that the final image is not dependent upon a scan (or print) interpretation of the colours. Typically these films also come with a price premium.
Onto the meat of the matter! Let’s assume that you have a 35mm SLR camera - perhaps bought from those lovely chaps at FILTR - and that you have decided you want a classic look. Black and white, a bit of grain, but forgiving on exposure latitude (which means that if you get the exposure slightly wrong the film will still be able to cope)
We would recommend starting with Ilford HP5 - one of the best-selling films of recent times, thanks to its consistency and suitability for many different situations.
If you are looking for something a little different then maybe try the Kosmo Foto Mono - not only will you get excellent B&W results but you will also enjoy feeling like a Soviet Cosmonaut. Particularly well-matched to one of the ex-USSR SLRs like a Zenit!
This is where your choice is most impressive. You can easily start with something cheap to get a feel for the camera - like Kodak Colorplus or Fuji Superia - or you can jump up a tier to enjoy films with brighter colours and richer contrast like Kodak Ektar or Fuji Pro Image.
Photo on Fuji Superia, © Vadim Timoshkin on Flickr
Conversely you can stretch your creative wings and head into the glorious world of pre-exposed films! Brands like Dubble, Revolog, KONO! and now Yodica all specialise in turning regular colour negative films into magical explosions of colour, shapes and tints. Our particular favourites are Dubble Bubblegum for its subtle colour shifts, Revolog Kolor for the gorgeous rainbow that appears all along the film strip, and KONO! Katz just for fun…
Yodica is the brand to try if you’re after psychedelic and unpredictable brightness - guaranteed to make your photos stand out!
There has been much excitement this year as Kodak have brought back their epic Ektachrome film in 35mm format. The buzz is well-justified as the images shot on Ektachrome that are starting to surface are truly stunning.
All I want for Christmas is...
Another very popular slide film is Velvia 50 - often called the Best Landscape Film EVER - due to its fantastic and bright renditions of rolling landscapes and still lifes. Word of warning though: its colour balance turns people a slightly red shade so if you’re looking for a portrait slide film try Velvia 100 or Provia 100F instead.
Fuji Velvia 50 © Pacheco on Flickr
Infrared or Redscale?
Not to be recommended as the first film you ever try, but definitely a great experiment for early in your analogue travels - redscale and infrared are film types that are definitively analogue in their visual impact.
Redscale is colour negative film that has been reversed in the canister so you shoot through the plastic backing. This gives the whole image an uniform red tint (perfect for festive shots!) Infrared is a part of the light spectrum that is right at the edge of human vision and is normally overwhelmed by the visible elements. However, matching a black and white IR film with a dark red filter and developing it in normal chemicals will reveal a striking interpretation of our world. Use for creating exceptional landscape shots!
Redscale in action
Spooky infrared! Image © Jelle on Flickr
And there you have it: a whistle-stop tour of some of our favourite beginner films! All of these and more are available to buy from our shop at Analogue Wonderland - we can ship quickly and easily from our UK base and every purchase will earn you Wonderpoints to help you save money on future film purchases.
Enjoy your newfound love, and happy shooting!
- Analogue Wonderland