Halfway through… six months in already? How did that happen… didn’t we just start? Actually, we are settling into our routine but the bloom is off the rose, the novelty has worn off and this is the point where projects either succeed or fail.

To put it another way, how has the Frugal Film Project been doing?

It’s been going pretty darn good! The members are still going strong, although, like everything in life, things happen. Old cameras can fail, people can make mistakes and sometimes life has other plans for us, even with the best of intentions. We have a few unofficial participants joining us on social media, which is so awesome to see. Their work is mind-blowing. Sadly one participant has had to hang up their camera for a couple of months due to life commitments. Hopefully, they will be able to rejoin us soon!

To be honest I never dreamed that this project would have developed a daily chat group from the members, a very active one! Sometimes it is so busy that I can’t catch up on missed messages but the beauty of it is even if you fall behind on the chat, you can just jump back in and continue. I have learned so much from my fellow FFP members it isn’t funny.

Catch up six months in

Brian Havican:

Six months in to the FFP has brought several revelations; one, it is difficult shooting with a “cheap” camera. In my case cheap meant freebies. The Argus started strong, but developed some mysterious light leaks and ghosting on the film. Switching to a Kodak Brownie kept things cheap and simple – albeit a cracked bakelite case means using gaffers tape to seal up against light leaks. It will be a case of TBD if the El Cheapop camera(s) will make it to the finish line!

Two, it is easier to shoot with a cheap camera! Yep, you can have it both ways! The very fact you are using a very basic camera – a simple box allowing in light in via a small aperture at a fixed shutter speed makes your choices very limited and lets you focus on compositions instead of fooling with other settings.

Three, shooting a year long project is much more challenging than I would have thought it would be. There are change of seasons to deal with, outside of activities, demands of kids sports and school obligations, vacations, yard work and projects around the house, work and OT, other hobbies (yes, I admit to having other hobbies besides photography and darkroom) I think it is good to put down the camera on occasion for a bit, leave the darkroom ‘dark’ every now and again… but other hobbies means time and money spent on something outside the realm of photography. This has amounted to some difficult times in fitting everything in each month.

And four, I am looking forward to keep pushing through all this and keeping on with the FFP for the second half and see where we all end up. It has been fun, insightful, challenging and a good learning process to be part of.

Dustin Cogsdell says:

Man, six months! Who knew that it would come so fast? It still feels like I’m just really getting started with this project, the excitement is still there and it doesn’t feel like a chore yet and maybe it won’t. It’s possible that change in camera a couple months back has something to do with it still feeling fresh to me. It’s possible the excitement and enthusiasm from the group every morning when I check it keeps me going.

Either way I’m glad I joined this project, I have gotten to know some great people and it has inspired me to do a couple personal projects. I have come to respect the cheap film I’m using and learned what I can and can’t do with it. The camera is just a tool and it doesn’t really matter what you are using, as long as you are out shooting.

Graham Binns says:

I’ve loved the project and getting to know everyone involved over the past six months. I’ve enjoyed using my old folding camera and it has actually made me want to shoot more similar to it.

If I was to do this project again I would possibly choose a different film because I have struggled at times with the choice of shutter speeds available to me. I’ve definitely learned a lot from the project and would love the project to continue next year.

Jason Konopinski:

I really appreciate the collaborative spirt of the project. A single camera and single film stock is very much in line with how I frame my photography. For me, working with a budget-friendly film stock has opened up a willingness to experiment.

Kevin Dillon:

At mid-point of the project I find myself sometimes at a loss for inspiration. Not helping is the fact that the weather this year has been awful, with many of my days off being rainy. So this past month I only shot a half roll and gave up after the weather just didn’t;t cooperate during the last half of the month.

Other than that, things have been going ok, even though I sometimes with I had stuck with my original choice of bodies (the Pentax SF-1.) This is mostly due to the fact that focusing through filters is about impossible with these old eyes, especially on dreary days with low contrast. If nothing else the SF-1 would have given me focus confirmation with manual focus lenses.

Film wise, I have also sometimes regretted my choice to shoot Ultrafine Extreme 400 since there are so many colourful things to shoot that just get lost in B&W. It is what it is, so hopefully I’ll find some inspiration and something that translates well to the Ultrafine.

Matt Jones says:

It does feel like a bit of a pain barrier at the six-month stage, but I am willing to push through as I am sure I am going to learn even more about Fomapan 100 when I get to the end of the year. I am also working my way through different developers with this film.

I have also switched things up a little bit by building a half-frame mask for my Lubitel (made out of cardboard.) This has the advantage of challenging me to compose differently and also giving me 24 frames of medium format to choose from as opposed to twelve.

Matt Melcher:

I am satisfied with my choice of camera, but I find myself wanting to switch it up! Fortunately, I have many other cameras to scratch that itch. I’m still on the fence about the bleach bypass process as I’ve just not found the right combination of light and subject matter to make me happy with the results yet.

I am still excited to make photos for the project though, it requires just enough planning and involvement to keep me engaged, but not so much that it is overwhelming. I’ve roughly planned out most of my subject matter for the year and that allows me to set the project down for a few weeks while I do other things.

Marius-Andrei Voicu has this to say:

Six months into the project and it is just amazing! I have had the chance to meet and talk to some really talented people, who are passionate about film photography. Fortunately, I have had no issues with the camera so far and that can only be good. I have found that having a goal, small as it is of shooting one roll per month can give me some disciple and creates a good habit.

Even if I have a photographers block, having this deadline makes me go out and shoot and gets me out of the creative rut. This only has benefits. Regarding the equipment, I have got more intimate with the way the camera works and learned how to shoot it better. The film choice was a good one, I am seeing this each month. Fomapan is a reliable film stock that has all you need to shoot in many ways and get what you want.

Initially, I thought that it would be flat and less contrasty, but that is not the case. It is also very forgiving and can be pushed or pulled giving good results. I am looking forward to see how things will turn out at the end of the project and what conclusions we can draw there, but I feel that things will be awesome.

Matt Murray has this to say:

When I first took up photography 20 years ago, I shot with the same cameras and same films for years. I’m currently in my third “film phase” and for the past couple of years I have been enjoying trying out as many different cameras and films as I can, just for fun. This project has forced me – in a good way – to see the benefits of using the same camera and film again. It has also made me rethink how much gear I need going forward. It has also made me realize the difference between consumer and high end professional film cameras is not as great as I had imagined. I will very hard to leave my LT-1 point and shoot behind when the project is over.

Reading what my fellow Frugal Film shooters have to say made me think, just what was the purpose of the project when I started it? Ok, I will be honest… I really didn’t know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time… yes it really was that vague! My intention was to explore this cheap camera and learn how to manipulate it to do different things. While the Pentax MV is an SLR… it is aperture priority only, something I don’t normally shoot (I prefer manual mode) and what the heck can I get Kodak Gold 200 to do?

I never imagined that a simple group chat getting to know fifteen strangers would turn into a daily running message board, an active one too! Some mornings I get up and find over 40+ messages there! Plus the added benefit of asking questions about different things I know little about or encouraging others has been rewarding. We have discussed developing techniques, instant photography, darkroom techniques, strobe lighting, street photography, portrait photography, landscape photography, gallery shows, printing and even if this is a film project, we have talked about digital photography too!

But here is something else I noticed while updating the project blog… the images are getting better as we get more familiar with our gear and film stock. Our skills using cheap gear and film are developing nicely (pun intended.) I know I have learned how to manipulate my camera better and so have the other members. Look how Matt Jones came up with a clever way to double his exposures! I have also found limiting myself to 50mm lens has been challenging, one lens, one camera and one film… like Sam I have ummm… a few other film cameras, some that fit the $50 budget and have all the modern conveniences, but what is the challenge in that?

Monette Cruz:

After using the same camera/lens/film combo for the past six months, I now feel very comfortable with my gear I choose for the project. Although there were months when I struggled to come up with what subjects to shoot and at times I feel a pang of regret for pairing my camera with a 50mm lens instead of the 28mm. I’m really now starting to enjoy the experience of going to out to take photos.

This project also made me rediscover areas of Low Angeles that I have often overlooked. Sine the project began, I’ve made it a point to explore sections of the city that are familiar to me, but rarely visit. It’s my first time taking part in a group photography project and it has been a wonderful experience getting to know the other members of the collective.

Nelson Mullis has this to say:

This project has been great! If for no other reason than  the interaction with the wonderful folks in the group. The discussions, positive support and sharing of knowledge. Shooting one camera and film is difficult in the sense that all of us are camera and film nerds, we would all go crazy if this were all we shot! Still it has been a challenge to come up with an interesting subject monthly.

I had a scare in May when the film advance jammed on the first shot – long story short it was the operator not the camera. It was the camera lens combo (Minolta X-370 and Tokina 28-85) has proven to be a good choice so far, the zoom gives a lot of flexibility. I hand meter with a cellphone app because the meter on the camera is inaccurate. I am bored with Superia 400, although it is a good film. Part of the reason I went with colour was to get out of my comfort zone, maybe I can experiment with developing like Matt Melcher does.

Rolando Bravo:

While shooting colour film I am now more familiar with the people from my local lab, I go in there to purchase film and have my film developed. I also purchase my chemicals for black and white here as well, because it is a convenience to shop locally. I know I can buy online and save a few dollars to spend on film, but now I prefer to support my local camera store instead.

As far as the shooting with one camera and focal length with no built in light meter, now I think differently. When ever I walk into a different lighting condition I find myself metering and setting up the camera just in case there is a photographic opportunity, yes I adjust my cameras shutter speed and aperture even if I do not take a picture. That way I I only have to worry about focus and framing. I didn’t think I was going to love shooting this cameras much as I do.

Sam Warner’s thoughts as we reach the halfway point…

I love this project! Why?

The project motivates me to shoot more. It’s really easy to let life get in the way of taking some time for myself. Photography is like my therapy, even if sometimes the therapy feels like torture. I’ve learned more about my camera of choice that I ever would have without the project. As a chronic GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) sufferer, this camera could have easily been placed on the shelf to collect dust after the first test roll so I could move onto the next camera. If that would have happened, I never would have realized the potential the little beast has!

I’m learning more about the film too. I tend to bounce around to different film stocks as much as I do with cameras. This project has allowed to see how developers and developing techniques affect the photos when the camera and film remain the same. It is giving me a consistent looking body of work too, that will be great to do something with at the end. I feel like I’ve made some lasting friendships from being in this group, plus I have learned a lot from discussions we hav had!

Do I like this camera and would I choose it again? That is a tough one. It definitely has pros and cons. Collapsed, this camera can easily fit in my coat pocket. There is really no excuse for not taking it with where ever I go. I also continue to be impressed with the quality of images I am getting from this camera. Being a purely mechanical camera, its really nice to not have to worry about the meter not working (it doesn’t have one) or the batteries going dead (it doesn’t use them.)In addition to being very small, the leaf shutter means this camera is also very quiet!

The Vito is a zone focus camera, which means its more of a guess than anything which definitely falls into the con category. One other thing that could be a con (but isn’t for me) is most photographers love shallow depth of field and some pleasing bokeh, but you are not going to get that out of this camera with its 1: 3.5/50mm lens. Again not a complaint, just an observation. I can’t come up with one more single con about the camera, it has become one of my favourites and I will never sell it.

My film choice? TMax 100 is a great film, normally I would feel limited to a 100 speed film, but the Vito has a top shutter speed of 1/300th of a second, so the 100 speed film is a perfect match. Would I choose this combination again? Yes and No. While I really love all the positive attributes of this camera, I’m an SLR shooter at heart. I was accepted into the project just as it was closing membership, so I went with the most recent cheap camera I had just acquired that was already loaded with TMax100. If had more time to choose, I probably would have chosen one of the SLR’s I have acquired within the budget.

Will I stick with the project for the remainder of the year? Absolutely! In fact, I hope we do another one next year.

William Lehman:

I have had two people at work quit recently and my work load has tripled. This has completely prevented me from getting to my lab to get my negatives scanned (I do not own a scanner and develop at home) and pricing out mail order options were very high in price. I posted in our group and Sam offered to give me hand with scanning until my work situation resolves.

As Sam also pointed out we will have a good body of work when it is complete… I guess we will have to explore what to do with it afterwards. Yes the education of our gear and film has been amazing and I know Dustin has been thinking of putting a zine together, which I think is a great idea! I probably should have thought further ahead here…who knows… it would be a shame to let it just sit there when complete, looks this is another topic for group discussion!

His AE-1 with the coating issues on the lens? Well, long story short, Dustin took a tumble and the AE-1 broke his fall… Dustin wasn’t badly injured, fortunately, but the camera… it wasn’t as lucky, the lens mount broke off.  This left Dustin scrambling to find a replacement, his options for a $50 camera kit were limited, so he ended up using his Canon Elan 2 and a nifty fifty he picked up in the Facebook marketplace which came in just under budget.

With the rising popularity of film photography, it is a very real issue finding a decent working camera kit within the fifty dollar budget, maybe even difficult. Remember that includes shipping if buying online… which can use up a lot of that fifty dollars quite quickly. Not to mention getting a replacement within a short time frame and shooting a roll, hoping it works, developing the film and getting it uploaded is no easy task. Dustin and Brian met that challenge and faced it beautifully!

If you would like to check out our project… you can find us at The Frugal Film Project or on Instagram 

~ Sherry

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About the author

Sherry Christensen

I'm a photographer and farmer in western Canada and can be found on a rural road with a camera on the dash of a dirty old farm truck. Will shoot pretty much any camera at least once and loves experimenting with new film stock. Enjoy the adventure found everyday.

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  1. The consistently excellent results from this project prove the wisdom of that old axiom: The photographer makes the memorable photos, not the camera. Kudos to all who are participating!

  2. Hey Kevin Dillon, the SRT SC-II was my first35 mm camera. Unfortunately stolen. But I’ve become a Minolta Collector because of that Camera!