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For The Love Of Grain | The Foundations of Film Photography

By SLR Lounge Official on October 12th 2017

We are excited to bring you  the following  guest post courtesy of our friends at Richard Photo Lab

There’s no denying it—film is making a comeback in the industry. And for any photographer making the journey back to film or trying it out for the first time, tackling the medium can feel daunting. You know you love the “look” of film, but you’re overwhelmed with a flurry of questions: What film should I use? What’s the difference between cameras? What about a light meter?

Never fear, Richard is here to tear down all those roadblocks and get you down the path to becoming a film fanatic! We have teamed up with the fine folks at SLR Lounge to provide an ongoing series of articles dedicated to exploring the ins and outs, the positives and negatives (ha!), of the glory that is film.

Shooting film is like going back to high school science class—there are a lot of variables, and you need to master them one at a time. But before you can master them, you need to learn what they are! So, let’s review the foundational elements of film photography: film types, sizes, and camera settings.

[RELATED: Shoot Expired Color Negative Film With Confidence]


Negative film captures images as a “negative”, in which colors and values are inverted. It’s great for preserving details in high-contrast situations. Some popular negative film stocks include Kodak Portra 400, Fuji 400H, Portra 800, Portra 160, Kodak TriX, Ilford HP5, and Ilford Delta 3200.

Reversal film (also known as “slide film”) captures images as a “positive”, replicating color and values directly. Because of this, it captures a rich range of colors. It’s also quite clear, with less grain than negative film. Success with reversal film relies heavily on accurate light meter readings since the film does not have a wide range of exposure latitude.


135 FILM, which is also referred to as 35mm (the width of the film), has a frame size of 36x24mm with a standard of 36 exposures. The film is perforated on the edges so that it may be wound to and from one spool within the camera. Those perforations are called sprocket holes.

120 FILM is much larger than 135 film, it is 61mm wide—the larger size allows images to appear less grainy as they are enlarged. This film size has no perforated edges because the cameras used to shoot this film because instead of using just one spool, the film goes from one spool to another. The film also has protective backing paper on it. The standard frame size and number of exposures for 120 film are: 6×4.5cm/16 exposures, 6x6cm/12 exposures, 6x7cm/10 exposures.

220 FILM is identical to 120 film, but with twice as many frames per roll and NO protective backing paper. The lack of backing paper allows the longer film to fit on the same sized spool as 120 film, and the resulting thinner film requires a different pressure plate in the camera to achieve the best focus. Some cameras require a separate insert for this film type, while others come with different settings to accommodate both 120 and 220.

MEDIUM FORMAT refers to any film (and camera) type in which a single frame is larger than 135 film (36x24mm) but smaller than 4×5 inches. Typically, this term refers to 120 or 220 film types.

LARGE FORMAT refers to any film (and camera) type in which a single frame is 4×5 inches or larger (5×7, 8×10, etc). Since the film is so large, the subsequent images can be reproduced at a larger size without as much grain as the smaller formats.


EXPOSURE is the act of light hitting film. Exposure is controlled by both shutter speed and aperture. Underexposure occurs when not enough light hits your film, making your final images look dark & grainy and creating color shifts in the shadows. Overexposure occurs when too much light hits your film, making your final images look flat & grainy and creating color shifts in the highlights.

SHUTTER SPEED refers to the amount of time the shutter is open and allowing light into the camera. It is measured in fractions of a second (example 1/125, 1/250, 1/500).

APERTURE refers to the size of the opening, also called the iris, within the lens. It adjusts the amount of light that enters the camera. Aperture measurements are called f-stops, written in the format f/8, f/11, f/16, etc. The smaller the number, the more light is let in.

ISO is the level of sensitivity your film has to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive to light it is. For example, ISO 100 film has a low light sensitivity, so you would need to shoot it when light sources are ample. Alternatively, ISO 800 film is more sensitive to light, so you can shoot it in low-light situations like at night or when you need to use a fast shutter speed to capture something in motion.

Whew! Take a deep breath—that’s a lot of information to process. These variables aren’t meant to intimidate you, but rather to empower you. YOU have lots of control when it comes to shooting film and finding your own style. Jump out of your comfort zone!

In the next article, we will deep dive into the technical side of light metering and exposing film. Until then, your homework is to figure out what film type and size you want to start with. Happy shooting!

About Richard Photo Lab:

Richard Photo Lab is a quality-obsessed company, more interested in doing things the right way than chasing high volume or fat margins. Their passion feeds their work, and their work feeds their passion. The team at Richard Photo Lab take a great degree of care with their image processing, scanning, and handling–sweating the details of each and every frame to exceed your expectations, and take pride in the personalization of their services, developing unique relationships with clients, and treating them as the individuals they are. Clients, which have come to include prominent names in wedding, family, fine art, and commercial photographers like José Villa, KT Merry, Jen Huang, Eric Kelley, Caroline Tran, and Johnny Patience to name a few.

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Articles by SLR Lounge Official are created by multiple authors. They represent official announcements by SLR Lounge.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    I enjoy photography. I have two film cameras (Canon A-1 and New F-1) and a DSLR (Canon 5D III). It doesn’t matter what I shoot with, although the film SLRs are lighter in weight than the 5D. I turned off image review on my 5D since I don’t use it.

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  2. Josh Leavitt

    Great introductory summary. Film is certainly getting a lot
    of renewed interest. I love taking my Olympus OM-1 out with a roll of Kodak
    Tri-X 400; spending more time thinking about exposure, composition, and framing
    – it forces you to slow down and really think about the technical aspects to be
    rewarded with a perfect photochemical image.

    That said, I think the industry can
    do a much better job in sparking more interest in film. Film lost to digital in
    popularity for many reasons, but chiefly among them was the workflow
    efficiency. Film cannot compete with digital in terms of production speed,
    period, and time is money for professional photographers. I think we need to
    see economically viable film processing machines to massively renew interest in
    this type of photography. Developing film manually is part of the fun, but most
    photographers of the millennial generation will become frustrated quickly about
    the time investment. Manufacturers need to understand this and design hybrid
    manual/automated systems to make the process both engaging, and expeditious. 

    a machine like Lucas Fritz’s Filmotmat retailing for $400. Or perhaps a more
    sophisticated miniaturized darkroom machine that could fit on a desk or table,
    wherein you could handle the negatives in their development trays via airtight
    arm sockets with protective rubber coating, while observing the development
    process in real time through a high resolution camera within the development
    chamber using an amber safelight for illumination. I think these machines are
    the missing link to restarting the film photography economy so that it can
    coexist with digital.

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    • Mark Romine

      -The principle reason why I went with digital is not for reason of workflow, although that is nice. The bottom line, digital gives me a better image and a better final product. It is superior in every way. If film gave me a superior product I would not have switched regardless of workflow issues. 

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  3. Edward Verosky

    Thanks for this article.  It’s amazing to see so many people coming back to film, so many younger people embracing it, and everyone else joining those of us who never abandoned the medium.  Some of my film videos on YouTube:

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