When I got my first proper film camera, a Cosina PM-1, for the grand total of £3 from a car boot sale, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had one camera, one lens, and a couple of rolls of expired film. It quickly escalated from there, and though I cringe when I think of all the money I’ve since spent on photo gear, there are a few accessories I simply can’t live without.
Here are five must-have accessories for the film photographer. These items won’t be too surprising for anyone who’s been shooting film for a while, but for those just starting out, buy this stuff as soon as possible. You will thank me. They’ll improve your quality of life, make the process easier and faster, and (most important of all) make your photographs better.
A decent tripod
When experimenting with long exposures or shooting slow film in low-light conditions, a tripod is absolutely essential. There are plenty of people who will tell you that it’s important to have the most expensive, lightest weight carbon-fibre tripod. Don’t listen to them. Unless you’re regularly hiking up a mountain with your gear, a few ounces of extra weight to save a couple hundred bucks is worth the trade. In fact, for most uses a heavier tripod is better – more weight means less vibration, shake, and swaying in the breeze.
For ease of use, try to find a tripod with a longer tilt/pan handle on the head – this makes it much easier to maneuver. K&F Concept make good quality starter tripods, most with ball heads – unless your setup weighs over 3kg, one of these will see you right for most shooting situations. For heavier rigs, try the larger-scale aluminum tripods from Manfrotto. And if you’re looking to save money and don’t mind older gear, search eBay for a big-honking tripod. James, the site’s founder, uses a thirty-year-old Manfrotto tripod. It cost $30 and works great.
[Without James’ $30 tripod pictured below, Anthony couldn’t have made the photo to the right. In addition, the camera is fitted with a one-stop, center-weighted neutral density filter.]
There are a few types of filter I’d consider absolutely essential. If you’re a black-and-white shooter, an orange filter will darken skies and increase contrast – I never leave home without one.
For long exposure shots, to pair with the aforementioned tripod, a set of Neutral Density (ND) filters should also be on your list. “ND” stands for Neutral Density, and the purpose of these filters is to block light without impacting colour cast. ND filters come in “stops”, with a ten stop filter being darker than a two stop filter. These filters allow the photographer to make shots in lighting situations that would otherwise be impossible – for example, long exposures to smooth water in a landscape bathed in bright sunlight. The absolute top of the range are Lee’s Big Stoppers, but you needn’t break the bank – Cokin also make excellent filters, and as they’ve been making them for decades, are available second-hand too.
You should also consider buying a set of macro filters (we wrote about these here). With a high quality +10 filter, it’s possible to make stunning images without spending a lot of money or carrying the weight of another lens. These filters screw onto the front of any lens, just like any other filter, and act as a high quality magnifying glass. For under $20, you can make shots like the one below, which is close to the magnification we’d get from a dedicated macro lens (these can typically cost hundreds or thousands of dollars).
If, like me, you’ve ended up with lenses in various diameters, look for a filter set with a range of step-up adapter rings. These will allow you to mount larger diameter filters onto smaller diameter lenses, meaning you won’t have to buy duplicate filters for different lenses. Picking a filter set that’s compatible with Cokin’s A (ideal for smaller 35mm lenses) or P range (larger, for medium format lenses) means you can take advantage of the huge range of fun, creative filters too – starburst, anyone?
When switching between different film stocks, cameras, or lens combinations, it’s essential to keep notes on what works, and what doesn’t. ShootFilmCo’s PhotoMemo books are perfect for this – with space to record the specifics about each roll, plus extra notes, it’s all you’ll ever need. Yes, you could record this on an app, or a regular notebook, but the PhotoMemo book is made for photographers, and it’ll never run out of batteries. They’re slim enough to fit in your pocket, too. Just don’t forget a pen!
Being able to use an external light meter can open up a whole new range of cameras to you. Funky pre-war Soviet tank cameras, old Leicas, or bargain cameras that other people might pass over for not having a built-in meter – all of these can make perfectly exposed photos if you have access to a good light meter.
We’ve previously covered the Sekonic Flashmate L-308s, and it’s definitely my pick when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck. Before picking up an external light meter, I was using an app on my phone, which worked just fine, but was fiddly – after unlocking the phone, getting rid of notifications, getting distracted by Twitter, I’d usually lost my focus. Light meters can be a little confusing to get to grips with at first, but they’re worth the effort of learning – after a few rolls, you’ll be a natural.
Of all the recommendations on this list, a camera bag is the most personal choice. Backpack or messenger-style bag? Modern, black nylon or retro cool canvas? My recommendation would be to find a bag that will fit a camera body, two lenses, plus a few external pockets for the other bits and pieces you need to lug about day-to-day.
My preference is for messenger or satchel-style camera bags – I like being able to swing the bag around to access my gear without too much hassle. Consider whether you’ll need waterproofing, or a place to secure a tripod. Domke offer a range of messenger bags, with rugged, understated styling and well-considered finishing touches. They also offer a protective pouch, designed to protect your film from fogging while passing through airport x-rays – evidence that they have the interests of film photographers at heart!
Did we forget a crucial accessory that you won’t leave home without? Let us and our readers know about it in the comments.
You can shop for all of these accessories and more at B&H Photo
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Another great old super heavy tripod is the Manfrotto 074B. This is really a studio tripod as too heavy to carry far. It has a geared crank up central stem. It is easily heavy enough to use with a transverse bar with a flash or lighting at the other end of the bar or for reprographic use, with the camera cantilevered out to the side. I normally use it with a Manfrotto joystick head, modified to Arca compatible. I bought the tripod for £25 from a second hand shop. Old professional video camera tripods are another great buy from S/H shops or Fleabay.