Introduction to Film Photography Basics


In this blog we’re going to get into some of the beginner basics to film photography. We’re going to discuss ISO and two main types of 35mm film cameras.


Film stocks come in a multiple of light sensitivity ranges that vary from 100-3200. You can think of your ISO for film in terms of how much sunlight is available to shoot. If you’re outside in a bright beautiful day, a 100-400 ISO film stock will do the trick. If you’re shooting at night, or with very little available light you’re going to want to shoot a film with a higher ISO in the 800-3200 range. In terms of shooting film, the ISO is probably the first and at times most important part of getting a great image. Knowing what film stock you’re shooting and how it can be manipulated for the time of day and available light is imperative. Keep in mind, the higher ISO films you use the grainier your image will be in post production. More light is always the key when shooting film. When attempting to create the perfect exposure with film, you’ll be competing with your film stock and time. Basically how much time that particular stock needs to be exposed to the available light. You can think of this in terms of how much shutter speed to use on your camera. There’s three main components to exposing the perfect image: Film Speed (ISO), Aperture, and Shutter Speed.

Types of Film Cameras

The three most common 35mm film cameras: point & shoots, range finders, and SLRs.

A point and shoot camera is as described, you point the camera and fire the shutter button. Typically these cameras do not allow for much customization when it comes to alternating aperture or shutter speed and will rely on internal components to expose for a proper image. Point and shoots can be a lot of fun and I have in previous posts given all the reasons to dive into point and shoot photography.

Range Finders are a 35mm film camera which does not utilize a through the lens mechanism for viewing your scene. A rangefinder has a separate view window that takes into account your full scene and gives you proper frame lines for what lens you have attached to your camera. Typically rangefinders are smaller cameras because they usually operate without the extra weight of viewfinder prisms, focus screens, or flipping reflex mirrors. The most famous brand that offers rangefinder style cameras is Leica. The Leica M6 is in my opinion the holy grail of 35mm film cameras and rangefinder style 35mm cameras as well.


SLR cameras are the most common and popular 35mm cameras produced. They have been around since the early 1960’s. SLR stands for Single-lens reflex. Reflex means hat there is a reflex mirror inside the body that bounces light up from the lens onto a flat ground-glass screen. Some of the most common and popular SLR cameras are the Nikon F series and the Canon AE-1 series of cameras. SLRs are typically much cheaper to find than rangefinder style 35mm cameras. The nice thing about an SLR style camera is that you are viewing your image composition through the lens of the camera. What that means is you have an exact frame of what is in view. No matter how far away or how short your lens is, whatever you see is usually what you get.