If You’re feeling Frugal what film Format should you shoot ?

As I clipped in another Instax film pack at Christmas, someone asked so how much does that cost ? The answer I gave was nearly a quid but got me thinking about the cost of shooting film. So how much does shooting film cost us and what will work out the cheapest ?

This is of course tongue in cheek. Shooting film is gonna involve a wee bit of expenditure. Our pocket at the end of the day need to suffer a little for our art. However unless you’re a Leica addict you can be rest assured the camera costs will be much less than a comparable modern digital.

Danger ! Might be the cheapest film on the high Street but not such a bargain when you add in development cost.

Essentially I’m gonna compare some real world costs for film by factoring in D&P costs to give a comparative cost per frame. Yes I appreciate the cheapest way of doing things is to DIY but time is precious to me so I’d rather leave things to someone who knows what they are doing.

For the purposes of this review I’m gonna quote the costs of 2 labs I use on their marketed cost at the time of typing AG Photolab & Digital Photo Express Carlisle. AG is a well respected lab that does a large mail to process service and is based in Birmingham. The lab in Carlisle is a fantastic small family run lab that only offer C-41 (or X-Pro) but can deal with most formats. I’m ignoring post costs and quoting for D&P with Standard or medium scans. Print cost frequently work out in the ball park per frame if you keep to the smaller print sizes like 6×4″.

The films

This purely focuses on Instax, Polaroid & Colour films (C-41 for non instant). B&W can be cheaper but this provides a more consistent base & is comparing like for like to the Instax films. We assume you buy enough to ignore quoted postage prices


Instax Square shot on Diana Instant Square

There are 3 formats (mini, wide and square). Our cost are calculated using the cheapest option on amazon for each. In addition Polaroid make a mini film


2 formats are used here – 600 and the newer i-type. Triple pack osta from Polaroid’s UK site for standard colour packs are quote here (yes the eagled eye of you will note one of the colour frame version is on sale below this)

  • i-type 3×8 pack £42.99 = £1.80/frame
  • 600 3×8 pack £50.99= £2.13/frame

Colour Negative film

For ease I’m using Lomography films for the comparison. They are the only game in town for 110 film and the cheapest 120 film on market. You can get cheaper for a 35mm film by about £1. I’m using Lomography’s own website for prices and ignoring postage as they’ll wave that if you spend enough.

Lomography Film & Diane baby 110 as well as the original Lomo the LC-A

So Our Lomo Films are

  • Lomography CN100 35mm (3 pk £11.90 = £3.97/roll)
  • Lomography CN100 120 (3pk £13.90= £4.64/roll)
  • Lomography Tiger CN200 (110) (3pk £16.90= £5.64/roll)
What is the frame cost ?

What I’ve done is take the lab cost, add in the cost of the film and then divide it by the number of frames.

+ Med Scan **
+ Std Scan
35mm (36)£0.38/frame£0.28/frame
HalfFrame (72)
£0.19/frame £0.14/frame
110 (24)£1.03/frame **£0.74/frame
120 9x6cm (8)£1.77/frame£2.08/frame
120 6x6cm (12)£1.18/frame£1.39/frame
120 4x6cm (16)
or 4x4cm
120 3×4.5cm (24)£0.59/frame£0.70/frame

** AG Photo 110 D&P price includes scan & print


So unsurprisingly 120 film works out quite badly compared other formats with only using a half frame (3×4.5cm) camera like the Bencini Koroll 24s as being in touch being below the cost of Instax film per frame. Polaroid is still the most expensive format

Bencini Koroll 24S
Bencini Koroll 24s a cheaper way to shoot 120

110 is a pain to find a good lab and costs vary. The AG costs include both prints and scan but still work out cheaper than many 120 format cost. If you have a scanner & 110 scanning mask at home you could just pay for their D&P only service (£4.49) giving a per frame cost of just 38p but we could reduce costs across the board if you were willing to home scan.

35mm sits way cheaper and if you’re a fan of half frame cameras thing get even more economical

Final thoughts

Papa's got a Brand new Half Frame bag
Not just a classic but very frugal to use too ! Olympus PEN EE-2

So if you were being totally bloody minded about cost and no other factor mattered go out and buy a half frame 35mm compact. However whilst there are lots of good reasons to get a half frame 35mm and some great cameras in that class you are using the second smallest format on test ! and that probably the explanation across the groups 120 costs more because it is bigger. The same goes for polaroid v instax. The only beast bucking the trend is 110 but that is pretty niche.

For 35mm I’ve banged on about length before especial with the recent Power Geek film at poundland which whilst is the cheapest film on the UK high street at just £2 isn’t such a bargain as it has just 10 exp a roll. Getting that processed & scanned at AG Photo gives a frame cost of £1.15. But bear in mind that whilst 36 exp is cheaper per frame in cost quite a few cameras struggle with it’s length like the VUWS or Recesky DIY TLR.

Recesky DIY Clones like this shouldn’t be loaded with 36 exp film

The fight in cost wise terms for instant print is won by some margin by instax but even with their largest format the frames are still smaller than the Polaroid ones. The colour palette and saturations differ as well so make sure you pick not just on cost terms

Cheaper to use than a ‘roid but is it better ? Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

6 thoughts on “If You’re feeling Frugal what film Format should you shoot ?”

  1. £2.50 a roll for C41, not sure about 110 but probably do as they do APS. Relatively local and only a couple of hours. For black and white I DIY, selection of tanks including a daylight rondinax.
    Do all my own scanning. Epson V300 for best, Cheapie from Lidl for bulk quickly. Just compared them and Epson at 2400dpi is better than Lidl circa 3600dpi. Lidl colours are also off a bit. Not a problem with black and white from a Lomo camera.

    1. Hi David – I think you might have truncated you lab name. Yes home scanning can save a bit too and you have got full control and is a midway compromise between full DIY. I too have a Lidl type scanner which saw some action in the days when I used ASDA for lab

  2. AlanD wrote: “Yes I appreciate the cheapest way of doing things is to DIY but time is precious to me so I’d rather leave things to someone who knows what they are doing.”

    The snapping of a shot is but a tiny part of the story. What makes film interesting is learning to develop and print that snapshot.

    The professionals might know what they are doing, but they don’t know what you are doing, even you don’t know what you are doing until you have learned how to develop and print (or scan).

    The fact that it is possibly cheaper too is merely a by-product of self developing and printing. It depends how many bottles of redundant chemicals you stack up on your journey.

    For me, 120 is pretty cheap, since the costs of D&P are the same whatever the format. I also rate 120 for the quality of the negs, particularly the bigger ones.

    1. I would love to do my own D&P but by the time I get back from the NHS day job, sort tea/lifts/etc out, walk the dog and sort the house out time is precious.

      That said I signed up to the lab box Kickstarter

  3. Great article! Lead me to thinking about how the differences in cost per frame are real, but I shoot different formats in different ways. Generally speaking, the larger format the less frames I shoot. So if I go out for a wander with my 35mm I might shoot a 36 exposure roll, but if I shot 120 I wouldn’t shoot three rolls I’d more like again just shoot the one. If I am shooting 4×5 I’ll often only shoot a couple of frames. So the costs even out a little because I shoot each format for different reasons and with a different mentality.

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