How Expensive Is It to Shoot on Film? Breaking Down the Costs

How Expensive Is It to Shoot on Film? Breaking Down the Costs

Before you get lost in the romantic notion of analog simplicity, you might wonder if shooting on film is going to dig a hole in your pocket.

Let’s talk cash. It’s not as clear-cut as you might think.

Rolling out a roll of film comes with its own set of costs, which includes not only the price of the film itself but also the development and scanning if you’re not into the DIY developing game.

How Much to shoot on film

For example, if you’re eyeing black and white film as a more economical option due to its typically lower cost per roll, you’ll still have to consider that it might come with higher development costs.

On the flip side, some color films can be pricier off the shelf.

Then there’s the gear. Hunting for that perfect vintage camera might be an exciting pursuit, but remember, they can come with a price tag, especially if they’re in mint condition.

Sure, you might luck out at a yard sale or inherit a gem from your family’s attic. Once you have a camera, that’s when the journey—and the expense—of actually shooting film starts.

The Cost of Film Photography

Diving into film photography isn’t just about the feel of the camera and the thrill of the click – it’s a financial commitment.

You’ve got to budget for the film itself and what it takes to turn those negatives into wearable art.

how much does it cost to shoot on film

Film Stock and Development

To start, the film stock you choose is a prominent piece of the cost puzzle. Color negatives are a common go-to.

Grabbing a 3-pack of 35mm film might set you back by around $15 to $25, depending on the brand and ISO. Don’t forget—each roll gives you a finite number of shots, usually 24 or 36.

Once you’ve filled a roll, film development swings into view. Costs vary, but you’ll typically be looking at about $5 to $10 per roll if you get it developed at a lab. Some places will cut you a deal if you bulk develop multiple rolls.

  • Cost for 3-pack color negative 35mm film: $15-$25
  • Average development cost per roll: $5-$10

Scanning and Digital Conversion

After development, getting those shots into a digital format is next. If you want them scanned by the lab, the price often goes up.

A basic develop and scan service can range from $10 to $15 per roll. High-resolution scans will cost extra.

Don’t want to break the bank? Scanning at home can save you cash over time. A decent scanner costs upfront and can cost a few hundred dollars, but think of it as investing in your craft.

  • Cost for develop and scan service: $10-$15 per roll
  • Home scanner: Initial investment, saves long-term

Costs Comparing Film with Digital

When you’re looking at film and digital, there’s more to consider than just the initial price tag of a camera.

We’ll break down the differences and potential long-term costs, so you’ll have a clear picture of what each medium costs you over time.

how expensive is film photography

Film Versus Digital Cameras

Film Cameras:

  • Initial investment: Generally lower. You can snag a traditional film camera for significantly less than a digital counterpart. For beginners, anywhere in the $50 – $150 range is good for something decent that won’t give you too many headaches.
  • Experience: Offers a tactile, organic process preferred by many purists.

Digital Cameras:

  • Crisp images: Exceptional clarity, especially with high-end models like DSLRs.
  • Review & retake: Instant feedback on shots allows you to retake without wasting resources.

Long-Term Costs and Savings


  • Developing costs: Can add up, especially if you’re a prolific shooter; think about the cost of film rolls plus development.
  • Less tech upgrade needed: Film cameras have a longer “shelf life” without the need for frequent upgrades.


  • Storage & accessories: Memory cards and backup storage solutions are part of your ongoing investment.
  • Electricity: Battery charges and possibly a computer for editing bump up your electricity bill over time.

Costs associated with processing and printing film are ongoing, but once you’ve invested in a digital camera, other than occasional upgrades, the day-to-day costs can be lower.

With digital, you don’t have the recurring expense of film and development, which can make it more economical, especially if you’re taking a lot of pictures.

Moreover, maintaining a DSLR might not be as pricey as it seems. The initial cost can be offset by the lack of film purchase and development fees, and if you’re printing your photos, digital files may be less expensive to print than film negatives.

Shooting digitally also means less worry about your equipment losing power during long shoots, as highlighted in an article on Adobe’s blog.

Equipment and Shooting Costs

When you do decide to dive into film photography, you’re looking at two main financial commitments: hardware and consumables.

The camera you choose and the film you shoot will make up the bulk of your initial outlay.

Choosing the Right Camera

Your choice of camera can range from a pocket-friendly 35mm to a more substantial medium format setup.

If brand heritage is your thing, a Leica might tempt you with its reputation for excellence, but be ready for the investment — these beauties don’t come cheap.

On the other hand, a sturdy Nikon might be more within reach and is a great companion for those rugged shooting adventures.

Popular Camera Choices:

  • Leica M6
  • Nikon FE2
  • Mamiya 7 (Medium Format)

Bulk Buying and Film Types

To save on the recurring cost of film stocks, consider buying in bulk. A bulk roll might give you the best bang for your buck, especially if you’re shooting frequently.

Plus, you’ve got options: 35mm is a classic choice and often comes cheaper, whereas medium format film offers higher quality at a higher price.

Different Film Stocks:

  1. Kodak Portra (Color)
  2. Ilford HP5 (Black & White)
  3. Fujifilm Velvia (Slide)

Wrapping Up

While the costs associated with film photography can seem daunting at first, it’s important to consider the unique benefits and potential for long-term savings that this medium offers.

Ultimately, the decision to shoot film or digital comes down to your personal preferences and priorities as a photographer.

If you value the unique aesthetic and mindful process that film offers, the costs associated with this medium may be a worthwhile investment.

By being strategic about your choice of camera, buying film in bulk, and considering cost-saving options like home scanning, you can make film photography a financially sustainable pursuit.

Happy Shooting!