So You Wanna Shoot Street Photography With Film, Huh?

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Eric’s Note: This is article is part of an on-going weekly column by Japancamerahunter (Bellamy Hunt) where he talks about vintage cameras, film, and street photography. You can check out his part articles here

Now that you have taken the plunge and bought yourself a film camera you might be wondering what film you should be using. Well, this is a rather difficult one to answer, as one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

But, never fear, Eric asked me, your charming uncle Japancamerahunter to try and steer you through the rough (and sometimes expensive) seas that make up camera film.

Now this article is timely in that it comes off the back of an announcement last week by Fujifilm that they will be cutting production of a number of films. This seems to be a growing trend, and I can imagine it will not be long before only the smaller specialized companies like Ilford and Efke are making film. So if you are fancying a crack at the film game there is no better time than now. Get on it while the going is good.


First of all the main question is: “What camera are you using?”

Believe it or not this does actually make a difference as to what you will be shooting. For example, if you have just got a Mamiya 7 (damn good choice btw) your selection of films that will be available to you are going to be different from say a Leica M4 (wow, can I have a go?)

If you have bought a medium or large format camera then your choices for film are going to be far more limited than if you have a 135 camera. Though that is not to say you will be bored. There are plenty of great films available for medium and large format, some of which you cannot get on 135.

Polaroid is another matter entirely’It is a great format, which you cannot get the original film for any longer. But you can get Impossible Project film, which has come leaps and bounds since its inception and is proving to show some great results. Fujifilm are still making some peel apart films, for now, but for how long nobody really knows.

I am going to base this article on the idea that you have bought a 135 camera, as most people don’t really go for a medium format camera for their first foray into film (unless you count the Holga, but that is not a camera).


OK, you have your camera. Now what kind of photography are you going to be taking?



If you answered ‘pictures of mah dawg with a wide angle lens’ then please give me your camera so I can hit you with it, repeatedly.

If I was to write about all of the different types of film and styles of photography here then I would bore you to tears and we would be here all night. Instead I am going to look at what this blog is all about’.street photography.

First of all, what kind of street photos do you take with your digital camera? Colour? Daytime? Darkly moody and emo? You should probably start by looking for a film that can reflect what you want to take. If you are thinking about black and white then you cannot go wrong with a roll of Tri-X by Kodak. It is an extremely friendly film with great latitude. At 400 iso it is good in a number of situations and it is comfortable being pushed as far as 1600. This is the student choice film, as you can use it in just about any situation and you will get results.

If you cannot get this from your local store I would be simply amazed.

If you want to try something a little bit more expensive you can go for my personal favourite Fuji Neopan 400 (presto). I love this stuff, the blacks are really black and the grain is not too heavy so you can really feel the atmosphere in the pictures. There is a little trick with this stuff too, if you are feeling cheap go and look for Legacy Pro 400 film. It is Neopan 400 but it has been re-branded because it has a short shelf life. At $2 a roll this stuff is perfect. Seriously, I could shoot this stuff all day.

What I like to do with this film is push it to 800 or 1000 and then develop as 400, so you underexpose. This is my film of choice for night shooting.

Black and White Film


Now there is one thing about B&W film, unless you are self-developing the stores usually charge a premium to develop it. Which can leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. There is a way around this though, if like me you are cheaper than cheap. Both Fuji and Kodak make a black and white film going by the name of 400CN. This film is C41 process, which means that you can develop it as if it was a colour film and you will still have the lovely results of a B&W roll. Obviously this film if not as rich as the true mono films, but it is not half bad and certainly good enough for those on a budget.


Colour Film


As for colour, there are tons of different options, though for street I would generally steer you away from slide film, for two reasons:

1.The price, slide film is spendy.

2.Speed. Slide film is generally of a very fine grain, which means that it is usually 50 or 100 iso. This is OK for daylight, but not so great for light compromised situations.

As a general rule of thumb I find that 400 iso film is pretty much the best for street photography, as you have the right balance of speed and quality.

There are lots of cheap options for colour film, Fuji Superia, Kodak Gold, Agfapan etc. Try them all out, and then try out a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and a roll of Fuji Pro 400H and you will see the difference, it is huge.

Flash with Film


Obviously, if you are shooting flash this is going to make a difference to the way the film reacts and you are going to be able to use faster film. Most of the people that I know who use flash on the street use Neopan 400 and they are very happy with the results.

I could go on for a while about the best films to use, but this is really a case of personal preference. Go out and try a few different types of film and see what suits you the best. Unless you are going to use a mad old camera, the meter should take care of most things for you.

Don’t be scared, have a go and enjoy it for what it is. The pleasure is in checking the negatives when you get them back and finding that perfect frame. The feeling of having the negatives in your hand is something that I am never going to get tired of. It feels like I have actually created something real as opposed to some data that I could lose in a crash.


Using film will train you to look and take in your surroundings with a greater intensity, you only have 36 shots and you need to make them count. This is not a piece about which is better, but there are certainly merits to shooting film, one of them being the limitation of shots. This is a double edged sword, as on one hand you only have a few shots, which can be a pain, but the few shots make you work harder to get the right shots.

So, give it a go and see what happens, who knows you might actually find yourself loving it.



Examples of Street Photography with Film by Bellamy Hunt












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What are your experiences shooting film with street photography versus digital? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! 

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  • Woods

    I like to shoot street photography with film. There is something exciting but also relaxing about shooting with a more manual camera. I usually setup the speed and fstop when going out and hardly change the setup during my walks.
    What I also like is that people get less suspicious when seeing someone walking around shooting with an old fashioned camera compared to holding a bulky DSLR.
    I have tried several types of film but now mostly shoot Ilford Xp2 or Kodak Tri-X pushed to ISO 800 or the new Kodak Portra 400.
    — Woods

    • Anonymous

      Contrarily I tend to think of old fashioned cameras as being bulky – what are you using?

      • Woods

        I’m using an Olympus 35 SP rangefinder. It’s a small and light weight camera.
        — Woods

        • Jaap Barnhoorn

          Got one as well. I’ve also got a Yashica CC, which works a bit nicer for street due to being even smaller and much, much quieter and its 35mm focal lenght.
          Portra is on my list to buy for a while now. I really like the results others get with it.

      • Andrew So

        I actually shoot with a 135 Nikon N80 with grip, making it considerably larger than my friends’ D40s and D5100s!

      • mrfranzdaniel

        I use both types of camera. A really bulky Pentax K10d and a analog Pentax ME. The Pentax Me is quite heavy but small and more comfortable.

  • Andrei Petre

    if you use a 400 asa film(fuji neopan) and push it to 800 or 1000 and then develop as 400, you underexpose, not overexpose;

    • Japancamerahunter

      You are absolutely right, sorry about that. In my defense I wrote this piece when I had a fever of 38.6C and was not really feeling all that.

      • Inspiration4passion

        So now that the fever is gone ;o) how do you devellop the film once you have shot it at 800/1000 iso. I use it to and am curious.

  • Midnightrookphotography

    I would like to try Kodak portra one day. Have been using tri-x and Fuji Superia 400 exclusively. It is like 12 dollars for 4 rolls of that color film at best buy, contrasty but nice looking. So for bang for my buck I use that. Would like to try 1600 color film too. :)

  • Anonymous

    “This is not a piece about which is better, but there are certainly merits to shooting film, one of them being the limitation of shots.”

    I use both film and digital and I’m sorry but I simply don’t agree with this particular point. All it takes is a little willpower and you can limit yourself to as little shot-taking as you like with digital. Personally I feel that street photography requires a degree of self-control. I’m in no hurry on the street and given that shots are often over in a fraction of a second I don’t tend to take lots of pictures anyway.

    • Japancamerahunter

      You are right, but there is a limitation with film that does not exist with digital. You cannot check your shots, delete etc.
      I have done both, and I like both. I am lucky in that I can shoot film as part of my job. I just find it easier to be selective when using film.

  • spencewine

    I recently purchased a digital camera for color street shooting and I’ve noticed the difference in my shooting vs a film camera. With the digital camera, I’m distracted by all the buttons, previews, modes, and the results – maybe this will pass with time once I get comfortable with the camera. With my film camera, it’s just pure shooting. I have aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. ISO is fixed for each roll, so 2 things to worry about. And I don’t worry about the results until a week later when I’ve developed the roll of film and scanned it. I’ll also throw my hat in the ring for Kodak Gold 400 (Ultramax 400) – I like it much, much better than Portra 400 for street.

  • George L Smyth

    I continue to shoot film on the street. My favorite camera for doing this is my Nikon 35Ti, which is small, unobtrusive, and has a great fixed focal length lens.

    Unfortunately, the problem with Tri-X is that you can no longer get it in 100′ rolls. I have always loaded my own cartridges, which makes the cost of film very easily affordable, so for me Tri-X is out. I have been liking Fomapan 400, which works quite well for my purposes.

    I would only add that anyone not developing their own B&W film is really missing out. This is something that is as simple as it gets, and requires no darkroom (only a room with no light while you place the film into the developing tank). Additionally, after getting comfortable with your film and style, you can develop to suit, as opposed to being at the variable whims of whomever works on your film.

    • spencewine

      Arista Premium 400 is rebranded Tri-X and costs $2.00 a roll

    • Japancamerahunter

      You can actually still get 100ft rolls of tri-x in Japan. PLease contact me if you want some.

  • Paul Cunningham

    I’m going to finish reading this article, but was stopped dead in my tracks, “A Holga is not a camera.” I see you have a sense of humor!

    • Japancamerahunter

      I am just messing around. I actually have 3 Holga’s and they have been very useful for making film a more popular format.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    I’m sorry if I may come off as a hater. But article was truly poorly written and not really an introduction to film photography. For example, it’s not true that 120-film is not as widely available as 135-film. I don’t know what store the author usually orders from, but the store I always order from has the majority of films in both 135 and 120 formats.

    And secondly, the push-process is not done in-camera, it’s done in the developing process. Sure, you put the camera on 1600 ASA if you want to push to 1600 ASA, but all that means is that your light meter will act as if you have 1600 ASA film. So in conclusion, if you photograph a 400 film as if you’re using a 1000 ASA film, but develop it as 400 ASA, then all you’ll end up with is an underexposed 400 ASA, not a pushed underexposed one.

    I’m all for film photography, and I’m all for inviting everyone to try it out. Trying out, and almost completely converting to film, has helped me become a much better digital photographer as well. So I’m not against this article per se, but please proof read your article before allowing it to be published.

    • Eric Kim

      Dear Erik,

      Thank you for your thoughts and feedback. I would say this article was much more as a way to inspire people to try out film and get their feet wet. I frankly don’t know much about film – but I am still learning myself!

      Thank you for pointing those points out. Perhaps would you be interested in doing an article about shooting in film as well?


      • Erik Lauri Kulo

        Hello Eric,

        If you are serious about your offer I can in fact write an article about film – though with a different angle than this one since it has already been done now. (While still covering the basics, of course)

        I’ll mail you straight away.

        Kind regards,

    • Japancamerahunter

      Thanks for the input, although I feel that your commentary to be undeservedly harsh. The range of 120 film is being discontinued far faster than the range of 135 film. And whilst you may be able to order them easily, I know that a number of people are having trouble ordering the films that they want.

      I acknowledge that I made a mistake with the rating of the film and the pushing. In my defense I was running a temperature of 100F at the time. Perhaps I should have proof read it when I was more compos mentis.

      This article was meant to get people enthusiastic about film and was never intended to be a technical introduction into film.
      Thank you

  • Tobias Weisserth

    Hi there,

    again, this is a good post. Don’t mind the hairsplitting in some of the comments from people eager to demonstrate they are analog purists.

    I want to mention that Ilford XP2 Super 400 is another excellent choice of C41 black & white film. Its characteristics are much more true to a real black & white film, the grain is very pleasant and obviously you can process it at any lab as it’s C41.

    What I would love to see (on this blog or Bellamy’s blog) is a starter about what is needed to develop/process your own black & white.

  • Charlie Kirk

    A few random comments.

    1. Provia 400 pushed twice is fantastic.
    2. Avoid Fuji where possible. They couldn’t give a shit about film users.
    3. I’d guarantee anyone that has never shot film would improve as a photographer if they shot it exclusively, with one lens, for 6 months.
    4. 120 film does seem to be quite readily available. Downside to MF is that you get less dof so harder for street. Also scanning is a pain.
    5. Film is just cooler.

  • Anonymous

    I tried so many different films just because I wanted to find cheaper films. :)
    As you mentioned in the post, Tri-x(400TX) is one of my favorites. I guess this films are most widely used and popular for a long time. I liked Ilford HP5 Plus 400 as well.
    Since we cannot change ISO before we finish the film loaded in a camera, that makes me prepare what I am going to shoot or what kind of light condition I may encounter before leaving home.
    When we use films, different light condition force me to think more how I can use ambient light around. Although I still make many mistakes in getting correct exposure condition, I really enjoy this whole analog process. And I am not worry about scanned images to be lost. I am not that worried about image back-up as well. If it happens I will re-scan films. :)

  • Dylan

    My local Kodak store only stocks Tri-X when I make a request for it. Then it gets snapped up pretty fast

    • Japancamerahunter

      We are pretty lucky to have it here on demand. A brilliant film.

  • Rafa Badia

    Unluckily, after 15 years working on street photography with my Nikon FM2 and my beloved Fuji Sensia 100ASA, the japanese factory stopped producting this type of slides. Fuji Provia is more expensive and I don´t like the colors that provide. So, finally I choose Fuji Superia 200, a negative film that I tested (and approved) with my daughter´s Lomo CLA.
    Next step?. Probably buying a Fuji Finepix X-100, probably the best way for passing from analogic to digital cameras..

  • Pete Considine

    I’ve never shot street photography with digital, so I can’t really speak to that. However, I have noticed that the gear I use does make a difference to the shots that I get.

    For example, I have a fancy black Nikon F100 auto-everything film camera that I sometimes use. To most people, it looks just like a dSLR. Sometimes people get guarded and defensive when they see it, thinking I’m just some random perv with a fancy camera, so I have to make sure I get my shot before my subject sees it. No problem. I can do that.

    In contrast, I also have a 50s-era Nikon F. Photographically speaking, it’s the same as the F100 – 50mm lens, 35mm format. But because it’s silver and old and odd looking, it doesn’t put people on their guard when I shoot them with it. I can be more methodical with that one, because I can sometimes get more than one chance at my shot.

    And even then, my best street photos have been taken with a Rolleicord III TLR from the early 50s (I think). An even more disarming camera, with its cute little size, it’s waist-level finder, and the almost silent little “click!” of the shutter.

    Of course, with the new digitals like the Fuji FinePix X100 and the Olympus Pen EP-1, I think I could very easily find a place for a digital camera in my arsenal. I’ll never shoot black and white on digital until I’m absolutely forced to, but I’d much rather shoot digital in color. It’s just a much easier workflow for me.

    That’s just my 2 cents, though.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been toying with several film cameras. Shooting on the street I have used my father’s Minolta 35 Model II Rangefinder, my Yashicamat 124G TLR and my LCA+ [Zone Focusing]. I prefer black and white film over color and generally use Ilford brand [Like Tobias mentioned] right now because I do not yet develop my own negatives. I also like the Rollei films [crossbird, nightbird]. I have noticed with film I tend to take my time, there is no cropping [unless you scan and then technically.. you can still edit..] so I need to get it right in camera and because of this I have learned not to be wasteful. Now when I shoot digital which is a DSLR btw, I am far more choosey. There is no.. ‘just take a shot and see if you get something’ mentality. And hey.. I have used a holga before. Great cemetery camera really and for lo-fi images I have an adapter I can use on my DSLR. I know.. the purists are shuddering right now haha!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been toying with several film cameras. Shooting on the street I have used my father’s Minolta 35 Model II Rangefinder, my Yashicamat 124G TLR and my LCA+ [Zone Focusing]. I prefer black and white film over color and generally use Ilford brand [Like Tobias mentioned] right now because I do not yet develop my own negatives. I also like the Rollei films [crossbird, nightbird]. I have noticed with film I tend to take my time, there is no cropping [unless you scan and then technically.. you can still edit..] so I need to get it right in camera and because of this I have learned not to be wasteful. Now when I shoot digital which is a DSLR btw, I am far more choosey. There is no.. ‘just take a shot and see if you get something’ mentality. And hey.. I have used a holga before. Great cemetery camera really and for lo-fi images I have an adapter I can use on my DSLR. I know.. the purists are shuddering right now haha!

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  • Tracy Clayton

    I recently got back into shooting film exclusively for my street photography. I primarily shoot with Kodak Tri-X but want to experiment with Kodak Portra 400. My question is, for street photography do I shoot Portra at box speed of perhaps push it +1, or even +2 although it might be too grainy. My inclination would be box speed, but welcome any thoughts. Thanks.

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