cost of film

is film really cheaper than digital?

These prices are as of 11/19/2014. They are all taken from actual receipts. This point of this exercise is to challenge the statement (that certain internet pundits make) that shooting film is cheaper than buying a digital camera every few years. Having done a lot of both of those things, I don't believe it to be the case, but I want some evidence to back this belief up. 

Development Costs

Costs per frame for 35mm film

From cheapest to most expensive, only new film considered (i.e. no eBay film). The "total cost per frame" is the base cost per frame, plus shipping fee, plus development, plus scanning.

Film PackCost/PackCost/FrameTotal Cost/Frame
ProPlus II pro pack with 5x 36 frames $23.58 $0.131 $0.626
Roll of T-Max 400 with 36 frames $4.95 $0.138 $0.696
Pro400H with 36 frames $8.24 $0.229 $0.724
Ektar 100 pro pack with 5x 36 frames $41.91 $0.233 $0.728
Portra 160 Pro Pack with 5x 36 frames $43.26 $0.24 $0.735
Superia X-TRA 400 with 4x 24 frames $10.98 $0.114 $0.826
Super HQ 200 with 4x 24 frames $11.29 $0.118 $0.83
Superia 800 with 4x 24 frames $13.45 $0.14 $0.852
Velvia 50 slide film pro pack with 5x 36 frames $53.47 $0.297 $0.892


The 24-frame-rolls are secretly much more expensive than I would have thought. There are cheaper labs than the one I used, but with every other lab I have had significant quality issues, and this lab has never had those issues. But to think each time I push that shutter button it costs me ~75 cents is sobering. That's between $25 and $32 for a roll of 36 photos, or roughly $20 per roll of 24. Aiee. 

I average 12,000 photos a year. (I used to shoot more, but I've been better at taking fewer crappy photos lately.) So the math on that works out to, using an average cost of $0.80 per film frame, for a year's worth of photos: $9,600. Wow. That's significantly more than a digital SLR. Amazon tells me a Canon EOS 5D MkIII camera body is $3,400. If I buy a new one of these every year (which is ridiculous), that's only 4,250 photos per year of film. 


Anyone who tells you film is cheaper is lying.

First published on 19 Nov 2014; last updated on 26 Jan 2017.

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