This most recent obsession with film has increased in intensity.
A part of me is happy to see that film is making a comeback. Gigi Hadid, of all people, made a disposable camera Instagram. Film has become vogue, stylish, fun. The disposable, once looked upon as child’s plastic, is the hipster adult’s party item. It’s great and all, but–
It’s pricey. Very pricey. After scrounging around the web, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wal Mart, at this moment, is the only affordable film place. But it’s also slow, unreliable, and offers shoddy photo quality. I never asked for a CD or prints; I do ask for timeliness and film that isn’t lost. I’m typing right now and checking the last time I gave them my film. Two weeks ago. A week later, I checked on it: it still hadn’t left the counter.
Some people send out their film to The Darkroom in California. Some rave about the place. Others abhor their lack of customer service. I am deeply skeptical of mail. (This is what happens growing up during my generation. Wow, I sound oddly old. I meant that to emphasize the fact that I am not old enough) There are also other mail-order film labs where you can send in your rolls of film, and they develop and scan for you. Those are upwards of $12, usually hovering around a solid $15 per roll. I’m on a budget here. Look at me–I’m Mr. Meseeks!– a film-obsessed girl on a budget.
In college, I took a film photography class, where we went old school. There was a downstairs darkroom, countless chemical baths, light flashers, and light-sensitive paper. (Looking back, I’m still surprised that I shaved a semester off college, having taken the fun, personal classes that I did. I tanked some plant-salad-squirrel biology test, dropped the class on a whim, and picked up this photography class. I’m really glad that I did: in the end, I made a friend, took a better science, and learned film.)
I am seriously contemplating developing and scanning my own color film. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, according to the many Youtube videos I’ve scrubbed. But it is a high starting cost. I’ll need the chemicals, chemical bottles, a developing tank, a developer kit, a thermometer, and a scanner. I lied in bed last night doing the math. I groggily tried to set up an algebra equation–when would processing film be cheaper by hand than via lab? Ultimately, I deduced, if I ended up developing 25 rolls of film by hand, it’d be ‘cheaper’ per photo than if I simply paid a lab to process it for me.
Going through these calculations makes me feel like I’m working with one of my students. The fixed costs at $150. One roll of film, with 24 images, costs $40. Chemical costs (added to fixed) occur every 40 rolls at $30. How much does each photograph cost for the first 10 rolls, 20 rolls, 30 rolls and 40 rolls?
If you’ve read this far and the thought of basic algebra makes you mildly tingle, then feel free to check my math. It’s 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning–not my best math mode, but a math mode nonetheless. Here are my conclusions:
If I developed 10 rolls, each photo would cost $0.80.
If I developed 20 rolls, each photo would cost be $0.50.
If I developed 30 rolls, each photo would cost me $0.37.
If I developed 40 rolls, each photo would cost me $0.35.
Basically, as long as I got through 30 rolls in life, I’d be paying less per film photo by developing at home than I would if I sent each roll to a film lab.
I suppose that settles things. I just need to ensure that the hobby does not disappear overnight. I doubt it. Every year, I become obsessed with film. It’s like migration for birds: regular, anticipated, and predictably periodic. Now I just have to get my film lab set up. I’m going to wait on the Wal Mart film images first, if those ever get back to me, because I don’t even know how that roll of film will turn out. I used an old film point-and-shoot that hasn’t been touched in a decade. The quality should be fine, but we’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to flood Instagram with old film photos that I fall in love with again and again.
Why film? a little voice sometimes ask. Why not just digital? Because film is–and this seems shallow–beautiful and nostalgic. The color gradients, the shadows, the grainy imperfections, the delay of instant gratification–those are all part of the appeal. But mostly because film is beautiful. Digital tries to replicate; digital can’t.