Friday, January 20, 2012

The Affordability of My Film 52 Weeks Project

I just spent about $100 on B&H's website buying film chemistry/development equipment so that I can start developing all of my film myself at home.

I had always been deterred by my local lab; not verbally, but by the prices of the chemicals. I attended an art school for one semester and still have a bunch of the equipment, but never wanted to invest all the money in the chemicals. Logically, it made sense that doing it myself would be more cost effective, but looking at the price tags on developer and fixer just pushed me back into contentment with dropping my film off at bargain labs in drug stores.

Lately, however, I've been thinking more and more about developing on my own. I started photography with B&W film in high school, where we developed and printed all of our film ourselves. For a short while after I graduated, I was still able to return to my high school to continue using the chemistry and the darkroom, but I then moved on to almost exclusively digital shooting.

Recently, however, I started to love film again, and thus my film 52 weeks project was born. Just three weeks in, I've already reconsidered the affordability of this project. About 68 rolls of film sit in the trunk at the foot of my bed, so chances are, I will not need to buy any more film this year (though I undoubtedly will anyway.) Even then, spending around $7/week for just one roll of film was going to quickly add up.

This, along with the fact that my favorite local lab filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early this month, closing my local branch, left me looking for new, affordable places to get my film developed. I had a few suggestions but I was drawn back to the idea of developing my own film by hand. I checked a couple of my regular suppliers online and realized that the chemistry for film is actually much more affordable than I had previously believed.

So, this afternoon, I bought all of the chemistry necessary to do both HC-110 and C-41 film processing at home, as well as a brand new tank and two reels, and all the new opaque plastic jugs in which to store the chemicals.

This got me thinking even farther into the economic standing of analog photography, especially when considering that Kodak is filing bankruptcy as well, and I realized that all this time, even with my past experience with film, I had been under the impression that shooting film is a much more expensive process than it really is.

I spent only $20 for a C-41 development kit that will process 12-16 rolls of film, meaning each roll will only cost between $1.25 and $1.67 to develop.

Not only can you save money by developing film yourself, but you can save a ton of money by buying bargain/expired film as well. I sat down and compared the cost of a passive film 52 weeks project and a more aggressive, cost-conscious approach.

The less involved path:

  • $4/roll for a standard, 24-exposure roll of film from a drug store like Walgreens or Rite-Aid
  • $7/roll for developing and scanning, or anywhere between $12-15/roll for developing, scanning, and printing from a drug store (those prices reflect my local CVS where I've been getting film developed for months)
Assuming you do this project the same exact way as me, one roll of film per week, developing and scans only, you'll be paying around $11/week for one roll of 24 exposures. In one year, this would add up to $572 and 1,248 frames. That's about 2 exposures per dollar.

If you become a little more active in trying to find deals and save money:

  • $2/roll for my absolute favorite 36-exposure expired Agfa film from Lomograpy's website (when you buy ten at once)
  • $1.50/roll to develop at home using a Tetenal C-41 Press Kit from B&H
  • I also have a film scanner so scanning is free for me
Again, shooting one roll per week, but buying discounted film and developing and scanning it myself, I'll pay $3.50/week for one roll of 36 exposures. In one year, that's $182 for 1,872 exposures. I'm spending less than 1/3 of the money and I'm even getting more exposures; about 10 exposures per dollar.

And all of this isn't even touching the HC-110 chemicals for black & white film! They're even more cost effective. The film is a couple more dollars per roll, but you can develop tons of film with the same chemistry before it goes bad, and replenisher is pretty cheap too.

What it comes down to is that film is nowhere near as cost-effective as digital, but it's not nearly as bad as some people think, myself included until today. If you love shooting film or have always wanted to venture into the realm of analog photography, give it a try! It can be terribly intimidating but once you get the hang of it, there is nothing as rewarding as pulling a roll of film out of the fix and seeing that it looks perfect.


  1. this is great, I've been wanting to have my own little lab too for a while now, especially after I finished my degree in the summer. I am just craving to get back to film - plus I got about 10 rolls of film I still haven't developed ^.^ nice entry here.

    1. Thanks! You should definitely get back into it :) I haven't shot anything digital in almost two months, I am really loving getting back to film where I started!