A Tutorial on Frugal Photography


In which our hero considers the economic state of things and realizes there must be a more cost effective way to feed his addiction. Or, frugal photography: more shots for your buck.

Credits: rrohe

During this time of penny pinching and scrimping, I found myself face to face with a dilemma. I love taking photos, but… dammit it costs so much for the film and the developing and the prints and the disc of scans. This takes into consideration the photographer already has a camera. Add another expense if not.

To ease this cost I started by looking into expired films. It was cheaper (significantly in some cases), but still quality material in my personal experience. Even films from the early 2000’s have turned out.

From there I went to limiting myself on rolls per week. I had already figured that color or black and white would cost about the same with a disc. So, it was just a matter of limiting myself to a few rolls per paycheck and I could stay under budget. This proved a problem as I really wanted to just shoot and shoot. 3 rolls every 2 weeks just wasn’t cutting it.

I realized I had to devise a plan to make it work. And now, dear reader, I share said plan with you.

I was fortunate enough to inherit a Mamiya/Sekor 500dtl from my father. However, I also own my fair share of Lomography/toy/antique cameras.

The workhorse: Mamiya/Sekor 500dtl.

For a person dabbling or just getting started, there are a few options:

  • Ebay: There are plenty of old cameras on there for quite cheap. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience and waiting for the right moment. Frankly, I’m a big fan of antique cameras. I like their smell, I like the way their photos look; they’re just fantastic.*
  • Goodwill/thrift stores/pawn shops: Same logic as Ebay, however I’ve seen better quality on Ebay.*
  • Piggy points: Write something. Think it through and be creative. Then, apply the points towards the purchase of a toy camera.

Please note: When you buy an old camera, do your homework. Ask questions about the condition of the piece. The cameras are old and lots of times the people selling them pick them up at estate sales. Sometimes (most times) they don’t know anything about cameras. Sometimes (most times) the listing may be lacking in information. So, always ask questions. If the lens condition isn’t listed, ask about it (scratches? Fungus free?). If the camera takes a battery and there is no picture of the battery compartment, ask for one or at the least ask if the compartment is clean or corroded. Also, make sure you make sure you can find batteries for it. In most cases there’s plenty of choice in modern batteries, but you never know.

Personally, I’ve become a bit disenchanted with color films. Now, I like to play with the occasional roll of redscale or crossed slide film. But, generally I’ll be shooting black and white from here on out, I think.

With films you could just get cheap film. This is always an option, but when it comes down to it you get what you pay for. There’s a very distinct difference between your cheap Walgreen’s film and even the low end Kodak film.

You could get expired film. Unlike milk, expired film doesn’t quite… go bad. In my experience I’ve shot both color and black and white films that expired a decade ago and they still shot just fine. Another option is that you could get a bulk loader and purchase 100 foot spools of film. This can cut the price down by about half price, more in some cases.

Further bulk loading? Can we go cheaper? Yes. Yes we can.

Try expired 100 foot spools. For my first run of bulk loading I ended up paying around $1.50 a roll. Single rolls of the same film at my local camera shops are about 5-7 dollars.

Scanning and Developing

If you’re taking film photos, you need to own (I suppose have access to would also suffice) a scanner. At first I thought this was just a luxury and it was way too much to pay all at once. But, in the end I’ve saved myself money scanning my own pictures.

The cost for a photo disc locally is about $3.00. My scanner was about $150. I have already paid for the scanner in the few months I’ve owned it.

Beyond the cost effectiveness of it all, I just like to be able to control more aspects of my photography. If the scan doesn’t come out right, it’s my own fault and I can always just do it over again. Plus, if you shoot with a Diana mini and short wind to maximize images per roll, or you shoot with the Sprocket Rocket sans the mask (who really shoots with the mask?), or maybe you just shot a roll of endless panoramic with your La Sardina. The people at your local shops, likely, won’t know what to do with it or won’t be able to deal with it if they did.

My lab at home. Or, the 1/2 bath on the first floor that my wife refuses to use anymore.

Now for developing. I have yet to do C-41 processing at home. Perhaps some time in the future. But, I have done an abundance of black and white developing. I started with a Caffenol recipe and tweaked it until I got it just right. I went and purchased a bottle of HC110, but have yet to do anything with it. It’s somewhat hard to give up on something you know so well. But, I love the hell out of Tri-x and that may be the deciding factor.

Anyways, the Caffenol developing took some testing for the film I was using. Initially I got a stock recipe from the internet and had to mess about with it to suit my film/camera/developing tank combination. I strictly used the 500dtl (a very manual camera variety of shutter speeds, apertures, etc) for controlled testing. But, after a few test rolls through a couple of toy cameras I am able to use those cameras as well. The thing is to remember to shoot with ample light.

One of my favorite things about developing at home is that the film is done in hours. Otherwise, I’d be waiting 3 days to get my film back from the only lab nearby that will still develop proper black and white (not c-41 bw). The cost effectiveness is quite good too. For me, I’m looking at spending almost eight dollars just to get the negatives back. But, with this recipe I’m spending under 20 dollars for the ingredients and getting 5-10 rolls out of it.

SLR shots in Caffenol:

Credits: rrohe

La Sardina in Caffenol:

Credits: rrohe

Diana Mini con café:

Credits: rrohe

Sprocket Rocket sa kape:

Credits: rrohe

Fisheye 2 avec café:

Credits: rrohe

I hope this little write-up helps put a little money back in your pockets, dear reader. Because, this isn’t a cheap hobby we share and these aren’t necessarily the most lucrative times. Happy shooting!

written by rrohe on 2012-02-28 #gear #tutorials #expired #camera #tutorial #tipster #caffenol #fisheye #diana-mini #sprocket-rocket #sardina #bulk


  1. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    Well done, great article and pretty much my journey over the past few months.

  2. maxwellmaxen
    maxwellmaxen ·

    i started to process my own film two months ago and i have to say, c41 is so much easier than everybody thinks. i wrote a tipster/tutorial about it, but have not heard yet from lsi. but i can tell you, c41 is so easy and the chemicals give about the double of what they say on the label.
    and hc110 is my weapon of choice as well, great stuff. but i always overdevelop about a minute.

  3. sammi80
    sammi80 ·

    I had to start processing my own film as the lab I normally take it to will not process slide film, B&W or 120. I agree with @maxwellmaxen about the C-41 & how easy it is. I have saved so much money by doing it myself. Just for film developing from my lab it cost $5.00 AUD. By processing it myself it costs $2 per roll. And the satisfaction you get when you pull it off the reel, dry it & hold it up to the light is just so rewarding.

  4. buckshot
    buckshot ·

    Excellent article: concise, informative, articulate, witty and eminently sensible. More like this, please!

  5. glenn
    glenn ·


  6. webo29
    webo29 ·

    Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks! :)

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