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Film requires a much different type of investment than digital photography does.OLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images

It takes West Camera, a lab in Toronto, two days to process a roll of 35 mm film. It costs $16 to $11 for the digital scans, $5 for the prints. When they’re ready, most of them will be pretty bad, the lighting too bright or too dark, the framing disappointing enough that you’d instantly delete it if it was a photo you took on your phone.

And yet none of that – the wait time, the cost, the skill level required – is stopping a steady stream of people, most of them in their 20s, from excitedly dropping off and picking up film these days. In fact, it might actually all be part of the appeal.

“It’s really taken off for us,” says Dylan Taylor, the manager of West Camera, where sales of 35 mm film have increased every year since 2018.

West Camera’s experience is no exception. Major manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand for 35 mm film. Kodak does not release sales figures, but Kurt Jaeckel, a spokesperson for the company, said that 35 mm film volume has roughly doubled in the past few years, and even with the company’s film factory running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “we still haven’t caught up with demand.” Fujifilm Canada has seen a similar spike in interest. The company has increased production of its Quicksnap 35 mm disposable cameras by 50 per cent since last year to keep up with demand, which the company says is primarily being driven by teens and young adults.

There are several reasons why film is enjoying such a resurgence in popularity. For one, it’s part of a trend toward everything analog, with photographers seeking out the richness of film the same way music lovers want the warm resonance of vinyl. There’s also the challenge involved, with film requiring much more thought and effort than shooting digital. But there’s one factor above all that may explain film’s core appeal. It’s something you can never get taking pictures on your phone – surprise.

“It’s really the delayed gratification. Waiting a week and then coming back to see how did they turn out. People come to pick up their film and they’re excited,” says Michael Willems, a photography teacher who also runs a film developing studio in Ottawa.

Take a photo on your phone and the results are immediate and easy to change, the lighting improved, the frame cropped. Click the shutter on a film camera, however, and you’ll have to wait days to see the outcome.

That surprise factor is the payoff for more time and effort, says David Sax, author of The Future is Analog: How to Create a More Human World.

“You only get 24 or 36 shots. So you’ve really got to think about them. And you get a physical thing with it. And it costs money. So you have to be careful with it,” with he says.

It is precisely the limitations – the fact that you must be more discerning in what photos you take and how you take them, and the fact that the result will be one of a kind and almost impossible to replicate – that are driving a generation that grew up with the ease of digital photography to film, Sax says.

“People don’t have that constant ability to check their photos on a screen and make adjustments until an image looks perfect. And they have to make 24 or 36 choices about what is meaningful enough to photograph,” he says.

In other words, film requires a much different type of investment than digital photography does.

It’s that investment that drew Montreal’s Kitty Evans to 35 mm film.

“It kind of makes you focus on the moment a little bit more because you’re not able to look at a screen while you’re shooting film. So when you take the picture, you don’t actually know what the result is going to be, if it’s going to come out. So you kind of have to cherish those few exposures you have,” says the 26-year-old.

The technical challenges of film – making sure your camera is on the right settings, knowing the speed of your film, getting the light just right – are certainly part of the appeal, Evans says.

But the main draw is the moment when you finally get to hold in your hand something completely unique, no matter how good or bad, after waiting for days to see it. “It’s definitely the element of surprise,” says Evans. “You don’t really know what you’re going to get. That’s the beauty of it.”

Hot tip

Poor exposure will be the bane of most photographers new to shooting on film. Underexposed shots will appear darker than the scene captured, while overexposed shots will be lighter. To avoid the problem, pay attention to your film’s speed and adjust your camera’s settings accordingly, says Andrew Del Monte, a Toronto-based photographer. Film is rated on its sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive it is. For example, a film with ISO 800 requires less light to get a proper exposure than a film with ISO 400.

“If you tell your camera that your film is a lower light sensitivity than it really is, then you’re taking in more light than would be the box recommendation for that roll of film. And doing that usually improves the exposure, especially if you’re just walking around on the street taking pictures,” Del Monte says.

To get better exposures, adjust your camera to a lower setting than the film’s ISO. For example, Del Monte recommends a camera setting of 500 for ISO 800 film.

Wish you could take better pictures?

There’s plenty of classes available online and in-person to help you become the shutter bug of your dreams.

Photography Masterclass: A Complete Guide to Photography

Designed for the “absolute beginner,” this course consists of 27 hours of on-demand video, among other resources. It promises to teach you everything you need to know about your camera, and how to edit photos like a pro.


Night Photography

Tired of seeing an amazing night time scene and it turning out as a dark, blurry mess in your pictures? Learn Photography Canada offers an in-person course on night photography that promises to teach you to become a master of light.


Private Lessons

If you’re looking for one-on-one time with an instructor focused entirely on you, look no further than Henry’s private lessons online. The store’s online classes promise to address your individual needs, whether it’s camera set up or long-exposure photography.


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