Film and Film Cameras Mount a Return to Glory

Film and Film Cameras Mount a Return to Glory

Analog imaging never really vanished completely, and now it’s on the rebound!

Shot on LomoChrome Purple XR 100–400 © Sherry Christensen

When the digital revolution reached its peak around 2007, pundits predicted film and film cameras were on their way out. Analog photography seemed destined to become a tiny niche consisting of diehard traditionalists and marginal artists.

Film stocks dwindled and scads of pros and enthusiasts unloaded high-end 35mm and 2-1/4-roll film cameras on the used market at distress prices. Indeed, the prophets of doom seemed correct.

However, over the past five years or so, film cameras and related analog equipment and services have experienced a steady resurgence. Moreover, it’s a trend that’s accelerated since 2020, largely due to the pandemic that kept so many photographers at home with time on their hands.

All this has sparked a renewed interest in shooting, processing and scanning film. Consequently, analog photography is poised to reenter the mainstream, albeit at a more modest level than in pre-digital days.

Everyone from photo specialty retailers and auction sites to film processing labs have noted upward trends related to film and film cameras. Many well-stocked camera stores are selling more film and processing gear, film mailers, film scanners, instant picture cameras, as well as used film cameras.

Furthermore, at major auction sites, the opening bids and actual selling prices for the most desirable film cameras, lenses, etc., rose sharply in the last few years.

Many film processing labs also experienced either steady business or robust increases in the volume of film developing, scanning and printing services. While we can’t provide quantified data, it’s noteworthy that nobody we contacted reported a significant decline in film-related equipment or services since 2020.

Film Cameras You Can Buy Brand New

There are scads of worthy cameras, from sophisticated point-and-shoot models to 35mm SLRs and rangefinder cameras, as well as medium-format twin-lens reflexes and SLRs, that are no longer available brand new.

Exceptions are the exquisite, totally manual Leica M rangefinder cameras, including the Leica M-A ($5,295) and Leica MP (with built-in meter, $5,395, body only). Also available are the last-of-line Nikon F6, a full zoot professional 35mm SLR ($4,000, new old stock, body); a handful of specialized Linhof medium-format cameras; as well as a dozen large-format view cameras.

Aside from this elite group, the current crop of new non-disposable film cameras includes the following. 1. Low-end plastic 35mm and roll film P&S (essentially modern “fun” versions of the classic box camera). 2. Instant picture cameras. 3. Pinhole cameras. Here’s a representative sampling.

Holga 120N

An unabashed, plastic-bodied, “fun” medium-format camera, it takes pictures with a “soft, dreamy” look; that’s thanks to vignetting and body light leaks. Sold by Lomography, the Holga comes with inserts for 6x6cm and 6×4.5cm images on 120 roll film. It features a 60mm f/8 plastic lens with f/8 and f/11 apertures that zone focuses down to 3 feet.

Holga 120N

It also provides a single shutter speed of 1/100 sec plus B. A tripod socket enables shooting time exposures, while a hot shoe mounts an electronic flash. Moreover, manual film advance is via ye olde red window. $39.99.

Harman Technology EZ-35

Resembling a disposable plastic camera, this little Harman cutie adds the benefits of motorized film load, advance and rewind for reloading a fresh 35mm cartridge. It also has a built-in flash powered by a single included AA battery.

film cameras-Harman-Technology-Z-35
Harman Technology EZ-35

Other features comprise a fixed-focus, wide-angle lens that captures sharp images down to 3.3 feet and a clear window viewfinder. The Harman Technology camera comes with one roll of Ilford HP5 Plus 400 black & white film. $53.

Lensless WA3B

This beautiful 4×5 pinhole camera from Lensless is made of Baltic birch and features a 3-inch, 75mm wide-angle “lens.” The lens is actually a tiny hole (1/64 inch) precisely drilled into the front panel. The shutter is simply a small, hinged metal plate the photographer swings up and down to begin and end the exposure.

Lensless WA3B

The Lensless model accepts a standard 4×5 sheet film holder. Consequently, there’s no need to load the camera in the dark. The average exposure on ISO 400 film in bright, noonday sun is four seconds. $88.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

This retro-styled Fujifilm instant camera has a 60mm lens that’s in focus from 11.8 inches to infinity, as well as a built-in flash. It also features autoexposure mode; six shooting modes, including landscape, double exposure, party and macro; a manual brightness control; and a rechargeable battery.

film cameras Fujifilm-Instax-mini-90-Neo-Classic-brown
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

Its small LCD displays settings. A tripod socket comes in handy when shooting exposures up to 10 sec in bulb exposure mode. What’s more, it produces credit-card-size prints on Instax mini film. In brown or black, $139.99.

Polaroid Now+

Bearing a close resemblance to the classic, elemental OneStep instant film camera formerly made by the original Polaroid Corp., this is a perky-looking update in polycarbonate. The Polaroid Now+ makes 3.5×4.2-inch prints with a 3.1×3.1-inch image area on Polaroid i-Type and 600 instant film. What’s more, it offers a lot more creativity than its predecessors.

Polaroid Now+

Users connect the camera to the Polaroid app to unlock creative tools, like light painting, double exposure, manual and tripod modes. Or they can mix it up with five lens filters. New features include autofocus with 40mm- and 35mm-equivalent lenses; a lithium-ion battery that recharges via USB; a flash; a self-timer and a tripod mount. In blue, white or black. $149.99.

Pre-Owned Film Cameras for Analog Fans

The market for used film cameras is red hot. Prices for the most desirable models—35mm rangefinder system cameras, 35mm SLRs as well as 2-1/4 SLRs and twin lens reflexes—increased by 25–50% and more over the past few years.

The reason: many committed digital shooters are embracing analog to achieve a classic “film look” in some of their images. They’re also looking for a more immersive, challenging shooting experience.

Of course, there’s a small percentage of “film forever” devotees who shoot exclusively on film. However, most of today’s film shooters use digital as their primary capture medium and turn to film as a satisfying traditional alternative for creating distinctive, compelling images. Here’s a representative selection of top-selling used film cameras.

Note: All prices are used price ranges gleaned from listings posted by major retailers and leading auction sites. In addition, unless otherwise noted, they are for the camera body only.

Canon EOS 3

This robust 35mm AF SLR was one of Canon’s last great film cameras. Yet, it’s optically compatible with current Canon EF-mount DSLRs. With comprehensive weather sealing, it pioneered the 45-zone AF system used on subsequent Canon pro DSLRs. Moreover, it achieves a burst rate of 4 fps (7 fps with PB-E2 booster).

Canon EOS 3

Other features include user-programmable eye-control focus; 21-zone metering; depth-of-field AE; E-TTL flash; predictive/servo AF; and a 100,000-cycle electronically controlled focal plane shutter with speeds of 30–1/8000 sec and X-sync at 1/200 sec. The EOS 3 is a great choice for crossover analog/digital Canon fans. $275–$400.

Pentax K1000

The Volkswagen Bug of 35mm SLRs, this elegant, straightforward, reliable SLR was in production for more than 20 years. Further, it established the Pentax K-type bayonet mount. The manual match needle camera still appeals to film fans.

Pentax K1000

In addition, its K-mount lenses will work (with some exceptions) on the latest Pentax DSLRs. Its main features are a single-stroke film-wind lever; fixed eye-level pentaprism; cloth focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1–1/1000 sec plus B; and TTL, centerweighted metering at maximum aperture. With 50mm lens, $125–$200.

Nikon F100

Rugged and sophisticated, it was one of the last full-featured upper-tier Nikon 35mm AF SLRs. It’s often called a classic, scaled-down F5. The F100 incorporates a version of Nikon’s matrix metering system that uses a 10-segment light sensor and factors in distance information to provide accurate exposures.

Nikon F100

Its AE system also offers standard center-weighted and spot-metering modes. Additionally, its dynamic autofocus system is still very effective. Other features are a 4.5-fps burst rate; auto bracketing; 30–1/8000-sec shutter speeds; and 22 custom settings. Best of all, it accepts every F-mount Nikon AF Nikkor and most manual AI and AI-S Nikkors. $125–$250.

Rolleiflex Automat MX EVS

Any post-WWII Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex is a great choice for analog shooters. However, the classic MX EVS with a 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Tessar or Schneider Xenar lens is the most affordable. It has parallax compensation over the entire focusing range down to 3 feet as well as a commendably bright reflex viewfinder.

Rolleiflex Automat MX EVS

It also employs a quiet, low-vibration, high-grade 1–1/500-sec Synchro-Compur leaf shutter; and a single-stroke crank wind. With a compact form factor, it takes 120 roll film and captures 12 2-1/4×2-1/4 images per roll. Twin-lens Rolleis don’t have interchangeable lenses. They show a laterally reversed viewing/focusing image and won’t focus closer than 3 feet without parallax-adjusting Rolleinar close-up lenses. Regardless, they’re great shooters and seem to last forever. $450–$850.

Hasselblad 500 C/M

This timeless, modular 2-1/4×2-1/4-inch roll film SLR from Sweden was the mainstay of pros in the film era. Moreover, it’s still a superb, durable machine capable of outstanding results. It has a Synchro-Compur 1–1/500-sec plus B leaf shutter, providing full flash sync at any speed.

Hasselblad 500 C/M

It also provides interchangeable focusing screens and uses reliable A-series film magazines. The classic bundle includes the body, the waist-level viewfinder, the superlative 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar normal lens and the A12 magazine. The Hasselblad 500 C/M is exquisitely made, surprisingly compact and excepts superb Carl Zeiss lenses from ultrawide to telephoto. Classic bundle, $1,800–$3,000.

Films for Analog Shooters

If anyone needs proof of the resilience of analog photography in the digital age, all they need do is pull up a list of photographic films currently available. They run the gamut from ISO 25 to ISO 3200 and comprise blackandwhite to color negative and color transparency—not counting special-purpose films. There’s even an orthochromatic black-and-white film that creates the vintage Hollywood “black lipstick” look.

In addition, Lomography offers an amazing range of films for every creative need and camera format, including instant film. For instance, LomoChrome Purple XR 100–400 color negative film captures “surreal images with a purple hue.” Three rolls of 35mm or two rolls of 120 both sell for $59.50.

Perhaps more important, the film sector is in an expansion mode. Three of the representative films covered here were introduced in the last three years.

Kodak Professional Tri-X 400
Kodak Professional Tri-X 400

This iconic ISO 400 BW film was the choice of photojournalists throughout the film era. The current version by Kodak Alaris upholds the tradition. It delivers relatively fine grain, very good tonal gradation and high acutance (detail rendition). The gritty Tri-X look is still there, too, if not quite so brutally as in the Tri-X of the 1960s. Today’s Tri-X is still tolerant of exposure errors and processing deviations; however, when both are nailed, it delivers unsurpassed shadow detail along with that distinctive “film look” photographers admire. 35mm 36-exposure roll, $10.49; 120 roll 5-pack, $45.95.

Ilford XP2 Super
Ilford XP2 Super 35

This is a fine grain, chromogenic (C-41 process) ISO 400 black-and-white film from Ilford It captures a wide brightness range and has a wide exposure latitude.

In addition, it yields prints of excellent quality. What’s more, it is conveniently processed by almost any local 24-hour lab. 35mm 36-exposure roll, $11.25; single 120 roll, $9.99.

Kodak Professional Ektar 100

Claimed the world’s finest-grained color negative film, it also offers extremely high edge sharpness. Furthermore, it captures exceptionally fine detail and delivers brilliant colors thanks to, among other things, “T-grain optimized emulsions and Kodak’s Advanced Development Accelerators.”

It’s a fine choice for nature, travel and outdoor photography in good light, as well as fashion and commercial photography. 35mm 36-exposure roll, $15.99; 120 roll 5-pack, $48.99.

Ilford Ortho Plus 
Ilford Ortho Plus

This is a new Ilford medium-speed, B&W negative orthochromatic film. It was designed for continuous tone copy or reproduction work, as well as half-tone technical and forensic applications. Unlike modern panchromatic films, it’s insensitive to red light and captures a tonal range like vintage ortho films of 50–100 years ago.

In addition, it has a nominal daylight sensitivity of ISO 80, which drops to ISO 40 when exposed under tungsten lighting. It can be developed in standard black-and-white chemistry or by inspection under a red safelight. Its high-resolution, fine grain structure and long tonal range also make it a fine choice for portraiture and art photography. 35mm 36-exposure roll, $12.28; single 120 roll, $11.99.

Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100

Reintroduced a few years ago by Kodak Alaris after an extended hiatus, this widely acclaimed daylight-balanced color transparency film has an extremely fine grain structure. Moreover, it provides vibrant color rendition. Plus, its low overall contrast profile contributes to its wide dynamic range.

Kodak Professional Ektachrome E100

The film’s neutral tonal scale yields greater color accuracy; its low D-min also ensures brighter, whiter whites. The medium-speed ISO 100 film is developed in E-6 chemistry. Further, its smooth grain structure and micro-structure optimized T-Grain emulsion make it suited for scanning. 35mm 36-exposure, $19.99; 120 roll 5-pack, $67.95.

Film Labs for Analog Processing and Scanning

Based on informal conversations with retailers, it’s evident a significant minority of film shooters are moving toward developing and scanning their own B&W film. This trend is reflected in robust sales of darkroom supplies—everything from developing tanks, darkroom thermometers, graduated beakers, film clips and changing bags, as well as black-and-white film processing chemistry.

Not surprisingly, film scanners at all price points, from low-end to pro models, are also selling briskly.

However, the percentage of film fans setting up full wet darkrooms for making photographic enlargements is far smaller. Additionally, only a minuscule number of them are processing their own C-41 (color print) or E-6 (color transparency) film.

Print-Collage–PhotoVision film cameras
© PhotoVision

Most film shooters rely on film labs to process and scan film. In general, these businesses are doing quite well, with orders on the increase or holding steady at profitable levels.

Here’s what they said about the film-processing segment last year.

Indie Film Lab, Montgomery, Alabama

Founded in 2011 by owner Josh Moates, Indie Film Lab processes and scans black-and-white and color negative (C-41 process) film on the premise. E-6 orders are outsourced.

“Our business is experiencing a steady upswing,” said Moates. “We expect this trend to continue as more people appreciate the unique and fulfilling experience of shooting on film.”

TheFINDlab, Orem, Utah

Operating in its present form since 2011, TheFINDlab processes and scans black-and-white, C-41 color negative as well as E-6 color transparency films on premises.

“We experienced a lull during March and April due to the pandemic,” noted Anthony Haskell, assistant manager. “However, we recovered nicely when it started getting warmer. Business continued to pick up over the summer and into the fall.”

PhotoVision, Salem, Oregon

A family firm founded in 1968, PhotoVision processes and scans black-and-white as well as C-41 color negative films on premises.

“Our business took a hit in the second quarter due to the pandemic,” said Brian Wood, owner. “However, in the third quarter and into the fourth, we were almost back to full staff. Orders are up sharply because photographers are doing a great job shooting film.”

Old School Photo Lab, Dover, New Hampshire

Since 1981 Old School Photo Lab has lived up to its name by providing a full range of services for film shooters. They process, scan and print C-41, E-6 and traditional B&W films on-site in 35mm, 120–220, 126, 127, 110, 828 and 4×5 sizes. Moreover, they use both traditional and newer technologies.

According to Old School’s president, Steve Frank: “The increase in volume over the last three years is about 20%. Black-and-white processing and scanning are up by 30% over the same time frame. In short, we’re experiencing a genuine resurgence.”