by Johnny Martyr
I know that everyone is frustrated by the continued price increases of fresh film – count me among them!
Many people write me with the predicate that film cost probably doesn’t matter much to me since I shoot paid work with it. But this is far from the truth. In many ways, the cost of film is a more serious problem for me because my income depends on it. I cannot just keep raising my prices to cover for my film expenses and the last thing I want to do is shoot fewer rolls per session and compromise the quality and quantity of my results. As a hobbyist, you have the choice of switching to a cheaper stock or just shooting less. If I do this, I am rolling dice with my family’s income.
My personal goal is to be the best film photographer that I can be. And my commitment to you is to provide honest and sound advice that will not only help you do the same, but additionally, I want to sustain our efforts for future generations of film photographers.
To this end I continue to recommend that we not only keep shooting film, but we shoot alot of film. And buy it fresh as much as possible. In order to do this, we need to reduce the cost of buying film and sell the byproducts, and potentially, the fruits of our labor.
My advice might be what you’re already doing or you might write it off because this won’t reduce costs enough. But look, I’m doing the best that I can and I want you to have all the tools that I’m aware of. If you know a better way, please, share it with me and others in the film community so that we can all work on this problem together!
Choose a Retailer
Step One is to choose who you’re going to buy your fresh film from. I very seldom purchase film from brick-and-mortar stores anymore because their prices, for years, have just been too high for me to justify despite wanting to support them. I implicitly trust the following online retailers to sell me fresh, in date, safely stored film. If you have other recommendations, please share their names/links in the comments.
Film Photography Store (New Jersey)
Freestyle Photo & Imaging (California)
B&H Photo Video (New York)
Adorama Camera (New York)
I decide who I am buying from based on what and how much I need to buy at that particular time. I open each of these business’ sites in separate tabs on my web browser. Then, I load up my shopping cart on each of their sites with the same products. My typical haul is 10-30 rolls of Kodak TMAX 100 36exp 35mm, 10-30 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 36exp 35mm, 10-30 rolls of Kodak TMAX P3200 36exp 35mm and 10-30 rolls of Ilford Delta 3200 36exp 35mm.
It’s important to take this step of loading everything you want to buy in each of the four tabs and go all the way to the point of checking out at each site.
Some stores will have each roll of film more or less expensive than the others, but shipping cost can make a big difference in who I order from. Also, sometimes, even availability is a problem.
By opening these four reliable retailers’ pages and checking the total pricing on each, you ensure both availability and lowest total cost to you.
I live on the east coast so I tend not to buy from Freestyle Photo & Imaging in California because shipping costs are higher for me. But if you live on the west coast, the opposite will be true. B&H Photo Video offers free shipping on orders over $50. But their price per roll of film is often a little bit more than Film Photography Store. So even though FPP charges for shipping regardless of how much you buy, I usually find that the total cost from them to me, living in Maryland, is the cheapest.
Depending on changes in postal charges and changes in inventory costs, this isn’t always true though, and that’s why, I can’t say it enough, it’s important to check all four (or more) retailers’ total costs.
Film is Never On Sale
One thing I’ve learned is that these retailers never offer deals on film. The closest thing you’ll see is that if they over order and end up with expired stock, they will offer the expired supply at a discount. But fresh film prices are never lowered. I’ve ordered as much as 30 rolls of a particular stock at a time and I don’t get a discount from any of these guys. B&H Photo Video used to give you a discount if you bough a “pro pack” – 5 rolls. But I don’t think I’ve seen that discount for a few years.
I can’t get film at wholesale prices so I’m pretty sure there are no or very few photographers who can get it at wholesale. As I understand it, you’d not only have to be shooting hundreds of rolls per month consistently, but I also get the impression that various laws and standards would not allow an individual to buy at wholesale without reselling.
Now, I suppose you could get a job at a store that sells film and get an employee discount. That’d be cool. But personally, that isn’t an option, tempting though it may sound!
Add Discount Browser Extensions
In exchange for your shopping data, there are some businesses that will give you a percentage of the money that you spend online back, usually in the form of points, for each purchase you make with their browser extension enabled.
I understand that some folks may be reluctant to give up their data. But the way that I look at it is that social media, Apple and Google are harvesting our data constantly and we only get the use of their products in return. If you’re willing to do that, you should also be willing to give up data in exchange for money.
I use three such extensions, Capitol One, Swagbucks and I just started using Paypal Honey. There are others too though. It might be smart to load up your browser with as may of these extensions as you can stomach.
So now, in addition to getting the lowest prices offered by any of my trusted retailers, I also get a small percentage or points back for each of my purchases. If I spend $100, I get $1 back from Capitol One and 100 points from Swagbucks (which equates to $1.)
Additionally, Capital One will cycle through any available discount codes that it can find online at the checkout. This won’t work for small shops like Film Photography Store and Freestyle Photo & Imaging, but every once in a while, you get a hit on B&H Photo Video or Adorama Camera. This will further reduce your total cost.
When you earn around $5-$25 after using these extensions for numerous purchases (not just for film), you can order a gift card from them. So recently, I had about $30 worth of points in my Swagbucks account. I could have just got a $30 Amazon gift card. But Amazon’s film prices are often ridiculous. So I did a search through Swagbucks‘ gift cards for what offered the highest discount. I found that if I got a $25 Mastercard, I would only have to pay $22 in points for it. So I got the Mastercard for $22, bought a Film Photography Store gift card for $25 and then took that $25 off my next film purchase from FPP.
Pay with a Credit Card
If you pay with a credit card, you can unlock more cash-back discounts. I am not recommending you rack up credit card debt on film. Far from it. But if you have $100 in your checking account to spend on film, don’t use your checking card to buy your film. Buy with a rewards credit card that offers cash back on purchases. Then go pay your $100 credit card statement immediately. Never carry a balance! Just use your credit card for the rewards. This kind of activity is good for your credit score also.
This is the same situation as the browser extension thing in terms of how much you can expect back – only like 1-3% with most cards. But if you are using multiple cashback browser extensions and paying with a rewards card, now you’re getting anywhere from 3-6% back total, AND improving your credit score.
Sell The Trash
Once you’ve gotten your film, you can also make money from the trash it creates. People buy empty plastic 35mm film canisters, metal 35mm canisters and 120 spools in bulk on eBay. The plastic canisters are easy to save up and sell. From what I understand people who melt and reuse plastic as well as teachers doing school projects use these. The metal canisters from your film need to be carefully opened (or not opened at all) when you go to process your film (yeah, this tip only goes for home processers!). People who bulk load like to buy used metal canisters because they have dx codes and film type markings on them that are more useful than buying blank bulk load canisters. 120 shooters like to keep some extra spools around. I imagine that there are also school projects and home recycling going on with these.
When you go to list this stuff on eBay or Marketplace, be sure and note the type of plastic that is marked on them. This is key for the home recycling buyers.
Also remember that eBay sends a tax form of your activities to the IRS now. So whatever you sell there, save your receipts for packing and shipping so you can write those off of your taxes!
Again, this is another tip that you’re not going to get rich off of alone. But when you combine the discounts and cashback offers above with selling your trash instead of just trashing it, you are making a dent against your costs.
Sell Your Photographs
You don’t have to be like me and hustle all your friends’ friends for family portraits and wedding photography. But it’s not hard to start a website where people can purchase prints of your photos. I didn’t personally have much luck with Redbubble, SmugMug, or Fine Art America, but then again, I know others who have. Joining a stock photography site that will accept film work such as Stocksy should yield more of a return if you can get in. And you can also pay for something like a Pixieset site which is what I use. (I am supposed to tell you that if you create a Pixieset account using this link, you’ll get 250mb added to your free 3gb of storage) While you have to advertise your Pixieset site yourself, you can connect your store directly to ink based printers who will fulfil your print orders at their cost while allowing you to set your own profit per print. You can also allow people to buy a license to an image and download it. So there’s a lot more control over your content than with Redbubble for example.
It’s really rewarding when people buy your work too!
Okay, so that’s all that I’ve got and essentially all that I do aside from running a photography service on top of all this. I don’t think any of this stuff takes a huge effort and like I’ve said, nothing here is likely to make you rich, or even allow you to break even. But it’s something.
If you have any tips for how you afford to pay for fresh film, let me know in the comments. I’d love to pick up some other tactics!
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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Very important is to buy your film in a “brick” bulk. That way you get the same batch of film Emulsion and your results are predictable. Do one roll for film speed rest etc and the rest will follow vs getting multiple film emulsion batches. Things do vary even within the same film maker and same asa.
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I’m sure that you are absolutely correct! I have never personally noticed a difference with b&w stocks (maybe bc they are more simple or maybe because I usually buy in quantity) but I do recall differences with color years ago when I shot that. It can be hard to trace what you see with color back to film itself, age, heat exposure, development and scanning. So many variables there. Thanks for your comment!
I’m fortunate enough that my employer has employee discounts with several online retailers. For me, I use Adorama because I get a discount. It’s not much, but it helps. If you work for a medium to large employer that would normally purchase from an online retailer, it might be worth asking them to setup a company account to get employees discounts. It never hurts to ask.
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I can’t believe I never thought of this! Thank you for the recommendation, I’m sure that this could help alot of people.
This is a fantastic article. I learned a few things! Thank you!
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Glad this was useful! After writing it, I think I’m going to reopen my Redbubble shop. Why not, right?
Bulk loading? I know it only works for a relatively few emulsions, but might get the cost of those films down a bit… (TBF I’ve not yet tried it!)
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I’m getting that one in my Facebook comments too – it’s a good recommendation that I mentioned in this one: https://johnnymartyr.wordpress.com/2022/05/10/film-prices-are-skyrocketing-shoot-more-film/
I don’t feel it makes sense for me to bulk load yet for paid work because it introduces another set of potential points of failure and time. But yeah, that is absolutely great for many.
Great post, Johnny. I’ve done this in the past and gotten some great deals on bulk buys from B&H.
Check out Blue Moon Camera and Machine. They frequently run a “Film Friday” promo with 10%-15% off of a chosen film stock. I picked up 10 rolls of 35mm and 10 rolls of 120 Bergger Panchro for just over $129 with shipping, all fresh, with a 2026 expiration date.
That said, at the end of 2022, I read the tea leaves and dropped quite a bit of money on 100′ rolls of HP5 and Fomapan 200, as well as some bulk buys of color film in advance of the price increases. I buy fresh when I can, but the price of some of my stocks has literally *doubled*.
I understand the need for film producers to generate revenue to increase production, but I have to look sideways at Kodak’s recent price increases followed by the sale of Kodak Alaris wondering if it was really all about making themselves an attractive buyout target.
You might also want to try Unique Photo in New Jersey, they often give a discount for buying in bulk https://www.uniquephoto.com (not affiliated with them, personally I normally buy small batches from FFP)