Cheap Ticket to Paradise – How to Shoot High Quality on a Budget

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In this day and age, why spend money on an expensive hobby?  We already have enough expenses with food and rent.  So I think the best hobby is one that can be enjoyed thoroughly without as much expense.  Hence shooting medium format.  Having these huge negatives gives me a lot of joy and can be done cheaply.  Here’s how to do it.

First, get an inexpensive medium format camera.

Sure, you can get a 120mm Holga for $100 new (and probably $50 used).  But really, who wants to shoot with a plastic camera?  If you have decent software on your computer, you can always add hipster effects afterwards…. but if the hipster effects are already on the negative… then you are stuck with them.  So skip the holga.

  • $200-$300 : Minolta Autocord.  This is a great TLR.  Don’t be intimidated by something new (I was when I first bought the pentax 67 though…).  This comes with a fixed lens… but it is a beauty!
  • $400-$700: Pentax 6×7.  This is currently what I use.  I got a whole setup for less than $800 (with 5 lenses). Other choice, Fuji GW690 or the like.
  • $800-$1000: Hasselblad 500.  At this price, you could only get one lens (probably the 80mm).  Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great setup.  The Hasselblad engineering will blow you away.  Other choice: Mamiya 6.
  • There are more choices of course that are much more expensive.  But this post is about how to do things on a budget (remember?).
    **Above prices are estimates based upon used deals on craigslist and ebay.

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Now that you have a camera, it’s time to shoot.  So what about the recurring cost of medium format film?  Well there are a couple of ways to trim the fat. Brand new, most film goes for at least $5 per roll (and up to $7-9 for more expensive stuff).  Here’s how to go on the cheap:

  • First, open yourself up to shooting black and white.  BnW has a longer shelf life and therefore can be had for cheaper.
  • Buy in bulk.  Film can last a long time in the freezer so buy big batches at a time and stick them in there with the popsicles.
  • Always keep an eye on craigslist (for both cameras and film).  People can sell film on there for around $2 a roll.  So don’t be shy and go out there and find some in your neighborhood.  I bought non-expired E-6 provia 100f for $3 per roll.  This would sell for new for over $7 per roll…
  • Ebay is another option.  I haven’t seen deals on here like I have on craigslist but it’s worth a look.
  • The cheapest film I have ever seen (new) is Artista EDU.  It used to cost $2.89 but the price went up to $3.19.  I bought 150 rolls of this stuff.  It is really Fomapan – a cheap Czech film that has been rebranded.  One thing about it though – you can’t push this more than 1 stop.  Also of note, the 400 iso is really 240 iso.  So be aware of that.  You can buy it here:
    http://www.freestylephoto.biz/

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I think you will be hard pressed to find film for under $2 a roll (and shooting medium format will only give you 12 shots at most, so that is 20 cents per photo… without taking into consideration development).  Here’s how to save on developing:

  • Develop yourself!!!!  Developing with a lab is outrageously expensive.  Develop the film yourself with your own equipment. You’ll not only learn more about film, contrast, resolution, density, grain… but you’ll gain a much better appreciation for your images.
  • Buy developing gear on craigslist (and possibly chemicals too).  New reels and tanks can cost quite a lot (especially good ones).  I bought my setup for $75 on craigslist which new would have cost over $300.
  • Don’t use stop bath (just use water).  Don’t use PhotoFlo (a chemical that keeps water droplets off of your negatives).  To keep water off the negatives use a squeegee (bought mine for $2).
  • Use Diafine developer.  This developer can be reused for over a year (as long as it is stored in the refrigerator).  While this developer is meant to be reused time and time again, D76 can also be reused quite a lot.  Experiment with this.

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Hopefully this will get more people to be less afraid of medium format and go out and shoot it.  Ours is an expensive hobby, no doubt about it.  But there are ways of cutting corners.  I suggest using all of them :-).

Happy, reasonably priced, shooting.

-J

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12 thoughts on “Cheap Ticket to Paradise – How to Shoot High Quality on a Budget

  1. Some great tips there!
    You will also be surprised how good old folders can be. I have two old Zeiss Ikontas bought for practically nothing. Not only do they take as good a picture as they did in the 1950’s they are also great conversational pieces:)
    Fomadon R09 as developer is also extremely cheap as the concentrate will last for ages. If you have the time to do standing developing (1h typical) the concentration can be as low as 1%, or lower!

    1. Very cool suggestions! I saw some of those Ikontas and they look very cool. Are they finicky at all? I saw some on ebay from the 1930s. If those things are still working then I have to hand it to the engineers. Thanks also for the tip about the stand development. I only do agitation but I may look into that… :-).

      Cheers!

      1. The Ikontas just seem to work. Perhaps a bit slow on the longer times but ok at 1/50 and shorter. I take them apart for cleaning and then they work as originally intended. Finicky? Well, yes. Being cheap comes with a price:) You have to guess distance or simply go at f/8 or so and use hyper focal distance. The finder window is also a bit rudimentary, but if it worked for granddad it’ll work for me. And you are responsible for remembering not to double expose… (http://jabcam.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/der-mess-ikonta/ and search for ikonta on the site)

  2. Can I speak up for some even less expensive medium-format cameras? How about Yashica TLRs, like the Yashica-Mat line? Or if you want to go totally old school, howsabout an old 120 folder? The cameras you list likely have better lenses, but I’ve had plenty of fun with my lesser 120 cameras. I just shot with a Yashica-D I bought for $50 shipped and used a light-meter app on my iPhone and it worked out fine.

    1. I’ve read about those cameras and I think that if you have the patience then they can be great. For first timers though – I am not sure if they are ideal. I’ve heard the folders are finicky. Not sure about the Yashica’s but I know the Minolta’s a tank with a great lens. For me, I would shoot with them. But for an amatuer looking for a first time medium format camera on a budget, I would want them to get something really dependable so they don’t get discouraged.

  3. Nice write up here! I agree with everything you mentioned, aside from the bit about the Holga. First off, they’re nowhere near as expensive as $100 new ( unless maybe on the lomo site ). I bought mine new for about 35 bucks. Also, instagram and whatever other hipster post processing styles do not accurately capture the Holga’s style. It’s utterly unique and there’s beauty in its plastic. The holga is super light weight, can be carried anywhere, and due to its cheap cost it’s no sweat if it gets lost or broken. Don’t get me wrong, the Holga is not the ideal camera for all. Some will hate on its vignetting, highly inaccurate viewfinder, soft focus, etc. But that’s why it’s such a blast to shoot. Also, due to its simplicity, it’s easy to get experimental with. I’ve even shot black and white and color infrared with great results in a Holga. Anyhow, I don’t mean to start an argument. I just gotta stick up for the Holga because I’ve got a lot of love for her : )

    1. We’ll have to agree to disagree then! In some ways, I respect that the Holga is getting more people to shoot film. And I know some respectable photographers who use it and appreciate it for what it is… But to me – it only adds more cheap images to the pot. Some people think that the effects it adds are creative – but not knowing what the camera will do is not creativity – I think it’s a cheap trick. Knowing exactly what the camera will do, setting up the right composure, waiting for just the right moment… this is creativity. I may be too serious about the whole thing… but because I devote a lot of my spare time to it, its just my attitude.

      Glad your sticking to your guns though :-).

      1. Well, I feel cameras are just tools. A photographer can use these tools to his or her liking. If the Holga doesn’t work for you, that’s perfectly fine. It will certainly work for others. For me, I enjoy shooting on an assortment of medium format cameras ( Holga’s and Rolleiflexes alike ). Sure, I’ve got a lot more control with the Rolleiflex – I can see exactly what I’m getting, can control the shutter speed more accurately, and have more apertures to choose from. Yet, that’s not to say the Holga can’t produce great images – one’s that, in my opinion, are not cheap or gimmicky. Sure, the viewfinder is way off, but it’s simple to adjust once one has gotten the hang of it. I tend to hold the camera out in front of me instead of looking through the viewfinder at all. This way I know my subject is centered. Also, there’s something great about its focusing. Since it’s essentially a zone focusing lens, it can be shot from the hip very easily and discretely – something wonderful for candid street photography. I usually keep it strapped around my neck, resting at stomach level. When an interesting subject happens to be close by and within a few meters, I’ll snap a photo without anyone really knowing. If I’d been shooting with an SLR or something more obvious, I feel it’d be much more challenging to get that discrete photo. People on the street tend to shy away and feel intimidated by large, professional looking cameras. Yet In all, I don’t think it really matters what camera one is using. Beautiful and lackluster photos alike can be captured on the most primitive pinhole camera to the top of the line digital slr. Anyhow, if you’ve got a moment, check out some of my Holga photos. I’m pretty sure you won’t find them to be cheap 🙂
        http://pjbrezphotography.wordpress.com/category/holga/

        and this next one is one of my favorite holga shots. I took it on Kodak Aerochrome color infrared film.

        http://pjbrezphotography.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/sprouting-wings-of-cloud/

      2. Thanks for the reply! I agree, it’s a tool and it allows you to get a certain look that you might not be able to get otherwise… but if it were me, I’d shoot with the Pentax 67 and then add in effects in Lightroom or Photoshop. Sure it can’t give you the same effects… but color 120mm film is too expensive for me to shoot in a Holga!

        I also shoot street with the 67 and because there is a waist level viewfinder, I can compose a shot without people knowing :-). My next upcoming Friday B n W will have some of those… Another trick is to have a plunger type cable release and have it come through your coat sleeve and into your hand. That’s really sneaky. But then there’s the shutter sound… and it’s really loud. I’ve had a lot of awkward moments with people when they realize that I’ve photographed them haha.

  4. Waist level viewfinders are great! I really enjoy shooting with my Rolleiflex – especially for street photography. Most people won’t know what you’re up to even if you’re shooting them just an arms length away. However, I’ve been caught in the act before by some flustered folks. Definitely awkward! Anyhow, I look forward to checking out your upcoming 6×7 shots ~

  5. It’s the scanning that’s either a bit of a pain (and requires an expensive and large piece of equipment) or is expensive to get done regularly.

    BTW, great work. Saw your bag on JCH.

    1. Thanks! Actually the scanner is not so expensive… You can get a cheap flatbed scanner for $150 and still get good results. Develop at home for the most cost effective approach… Except when you screw up development :-p

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