Your official guide to the city’s best film photography resources and tips from the experts.
Shooting film offers a unique perspective on the ordinary and the possibility of capturing something you might otherwise have missed by forcing you to pause, look around you, focus, adjust and shoot. Knowing you have one shot to capture a moment means you take your time to make sure you get it just right.
The anticipation of receiving your first roll of film back is either met with relief or disappointment to find that half the reel is blank. To avoid the latter, we’ve consulted some of Melbourne’s finest to put together a complete guide to film photography.
Buying your first camera
Buying your first camera is just about as personal as dating: you look at a few options to see how they fit, test their functions, step outside to see what they see, before either concluding they’re perfect or it’s just not working out. Either way, you want to make sure you make the right decision because this commitment is a costly investment.
Film Never Die
Located on Bourke Street, Gary Wong opened his doors back in 2011 to his (then) small space that housed hundreds of cameras ranging from point-and-shoot, Polaroids, medium format, rangefinders and SLRs. Since then, the store has expanded and relocated downstairs where it’s become a hub for creatives with a film developing counter, a workbench, scanners and occasionally, fresh coffee.
Emil Raji runs the store’s social media and says many people starting out buy the most expensive cameras, believing they’re better, but you can get a decent point and shoot for around $300-350.
Put simply, point-and-shoot cameras are exactly that, point and shoot. The simplest to use, these are a good camera for beginners and their inbuilt flash and automation features make them the best companion for a night out to a gig, party and low light conditions.
“There’s a lot of hype around some brands, like Leica, because it’s like a luxury brand. They’re made in Germany, mechanical and from hand so it has that appeal, kind of like a Swiss watch,” he says.
While he admits he uses a Leica, Raji’s choice is based on years of experience with all sorts of cameras.
For beginners, Raji suggests the Pentax K1000 or Canon A1, depending on the amount of control you want over the camera.
The Pentax has an inbuilt light metre, Raji explains, offering a guide for aperture and shutter speed settings, takes common batteries and is fully mechanical, meaning it’s easily serviced if something goes wrong which can often happen in film photography. The Pentax range also allows for a greater variety of lenses due to its traditional K-Mount (bayonet) style lens, with adapters available for screw mount lenses.
In terms of usability, Raji says the Canon is much the same as the Pentax, but also has an automatic option, which can preselect the shutter speed based off the set aperture, or visa-versa. The downfall of this camera, however, is that its automation can make it more difficult to repair.
The next step up from a point-and-shoot is a medium format camera. Medium format was invented in the early 1900s and was the most widely used type of camera up until the 1950s when 35mm film became more affordable. Today, medium format is mostly used by professional photographers who prefer the camera’s larger depth of field, meaning their photographs produce greater detail. Because of this, the cameras are significantly more expensive. Raji suggests either the Pentax 67 or Mamiya 7 rangefinder, from around $400-2500 respectively.
Rangefinder cameras are a smaller and lighter version of an SLR. Their inbuilt rangefinder measures the distance between the photographer and the subject and splits the image in two, only to be connected by adjusting the lens. The advantage of a rangefinder is a higher quality of image but the viewfinder is separate from the lens meaning your perception is slightly off. This can either be a pleasant or frustrating surprise during the development process.
For those seeking instant gratification, there’s Polaroid. Polaroids have been around since the late 1940s, and contrary to Outkast’s catchy lyrics, they are not meant to be shaken. Recognisable by their traditionally square shaped film and thick white border, they’ve been replicated by several brands including Fuji who sell their Instax Mini for around $90.
Finally, there are SLRs. SLR stands for single-lens reflex where the image produced is a reflection off the inbuilt mirror. These are the most commonly used film cameras and allow for more user-control, where you can set the desired shutter speed, aperture and use different lenses. There are a lot of SLRs on the market and plenty of decent options for around the $300-400 mark, depending on whether you want a semi-automatic or manual camera.
Budding film photographer and regular Film Never Die patron, Andrew Tralongo, says he loves the authenticity film photography offers. “I find that film is more thought out and therefore has more character to every image,” he says. “And once you finish your roll, I love hearing the motor in the camera work its little heart out to wind all the film back into the canister.”
Film Never Die also offers a four-week course for beginners and hosts free monthly photo walks through the city to inspire you to look beyond the aged cornerstone buildings and find something new.
Buying film supplies
Film and paper can give a photo an entirely different look and feel, whether you’re aspiring for the nostalgic feeling 35mm film can give you, or wanting more clarity and depth in colour, there is a range of options available.
When it comes to film supplies, the guys from Vanbar are veterans, having opened their doors in 1980. Michael Fountoulakis works in the Fitzroy store, acting as a tech-guru for those just beginning their budding career in film photography.
“We get a lot of people in who are just getting started in film photography,” he says. “They’ve either found their parents’ old camera or are in their 40s and 50s, who grew up shooting analogue and want to get back into it.”
In the film department, there’s black and white, colour or for the daring, alternative formats.
For black and white, Fountoulakis suggests ILFORD FP4 125(ISO) is best suited for daylight shooting, or ILFORD HP5 400 to shoot indoors or in dimly lit conditions for a grainier, more authentic feel to a photograph.
Advanced black and white films can offer greater variety in tones, such as the Rollei RPX 100 (medium) or 400 (fast).
For the night owls, there’s also film suited for minimal light such as ILFORD’s Delta range, which makes for the perfect companion for a gig or drinks out with friends.
If you’re shooting colour, Vanbar suggest starting with either AGFA Vista at 200 or 400 ISO or Kodak Ultramax 400 ISO which all have 24 exposures and are only about $7-8 per roll.
There is also a range of richer colour films on offer like Kodak Portra and Ektar varieties.
Apart from colour and black and white, there’s Lomography, the slightly crazier cousin of 35mm film who just can’t move on from the 90’s. Think deeper contrasts and saturated purples, magentas and blues. Lomography cameras are generally quite small which Vanbar sells in packs of three for about $30-35.
If you want to try your hand at developing your own photos, Vanbar also sells a range of photographic paper, with the option of pearl, gloss and matte in packs of 25 or 100 for $15-100.
The developing process
There are a number of places that will develop your film for you for a fee, or there are dark rooms where you can do it yourself.
Before Photoshop, there were darkrooms. Surprisingly, developing film can be relatively easy once you get the hang of it, and it gives you the chance to manipulate an image to make it look however you want. Experiment with coloured filters over black and white, overlay images to add dimension or use dodging and burning to lighten or darken parts of a photograph where detail has been lost. Light leaks and dust marks ensure the originality of film and often make for the best mistakes in developing.
The Fox Darkroom
What began in 2014 with donated unused sinks, cameras and enlargers, has become a darkroom for hire and exhibition space. Located in Kensington, The Fox Darkroom offers annual membership for $95 which then discounts the hire rate to $15/hour compared with $30 for non-members.
Hire includes all equipment and chemicals with film, paper and frames available for sale if needed.
For those new to the darkroom, founder Tom Goldner suggests enrolling in an introductory course first.
“We get a lot of people who visit the darkroom for the first time and expect somebody to be there to help them out or show them how,” he says, “that’s why we always suggest completing an intro course or bringing along a friend who’s experienced in film developing.”
Goldner offers a number of workshops depending on your ability and interests, from an express black & white film developing workshop to a tintype workshop, coating a tin in emulsion and exposing in a large format camera, with courses from $95–245.