My Cost to Switch from Digital to Film

Are you thinking of switching from digital filmmaking to motion picture filmmaking? I did and I thought it would be helpful to share my cost to switch from digital to film. I also fund my film projects entirely out of pocket from my 9-5 job in IT. So hopefully having this understanding can help you see the possibilities of making the switch to film if it’s something you’ve been considering.

Buying two Super 8mm cameras was my first attempt to switch to film. I purchased a Canon 514XL for $50 and a Canon 514XLS for $60. I bought about 4 rolls of Super 8mm film (50′ each) for about $14 a roll. Each roll is about 2-3 minutes. Processing and 1080p telecine for all 4 rolls is $168. Keep in mind that you can easily and cheaply process your own film and just pay for telecine services. Some people also telecine their films as well. It’s really up to you, how involved you want to be in the process but it’s important to point out that you don’t have to pay and rely on someone else to process and telecine your film if you don’t want to.

A few weeks ago I saw a Bolex H16 Rex 5 16mm camera at a price I couldn’t refuse so I bought it. Purchasing the camera really opened my eyes to new filmmaking possibilities. So I committed to the transition. The items below outline my cost to switch from digital to film:

Bolex H-16 Rex-5 16mm Film Camera w/ 10x Viewfinder Plus Precut Pelican Case – $500.00
Bolex H-16 Rex-5 16mm Film Camera w/ 13x Viewfinder – $498.05
Bolex H-16 Rex-4 16mm Film Camera – $540
Bolex Pistol Grip w/ Tripod Adapter – $77.75
Bolex MST Motor – $175.00
TCS TXM-20Ba Bolex Crystal Synch Motor – $510.00
Bolex 400′ Magazine, Storage Case, MM Drive Motor, Sound Blimp, Camera Rollers – $310.72
Bolex 400′ Magazine – $85.05
Three 100′ Daylight Spools for Bolex H-16 Camera – $12.49 total
Bolex Paillard Filter Set with Original Case – $23.94
Bolex H-16 Custom Sound Blimp – $200

Yvar Kern-Paillard 150mm C-Mount Lens – $180.49
Yvar Kern-Paillard 100mm C-Mount Lens – $594.15
Switar Kern-Paillard 75mm C-Mount Lens – $415.90
Switar Kern-Paillard RX 18-86mm OE C-Mount Zoom Lens – $368.25
Switar Kern-Paillard RX 50mm C-Mount Lens – $551.65
Switar Kern-Paillard RX 25mm C-Mount Lens – $305
Switar Kern-Paillard RX 16mm C-Mount Lens – $250
Switar Kern-Paillard RX 10mm C-Mount Lens – $400
Nikon To C Mount Adapter For Bolex 16mm Movie Camera – $35.67

Film Stock:
* I now have over 2000 feet of film to play with. I’ll just put the most expensive film stock purchase and the least expensive film stock purchase.
Kodak Vision 250D – #7246 – 400 Ft – $55
Three-3 Rolls Kodak 16mm Ektachrome 7242 EF Film – $17.99 total

Sekonic Digi Master Model L-718 Light Meter – $85.74
Sekonic Lumidisc For L-718 Exposure Meter – $16.90
Gossen Luna Star F2 Digital Light Meter – $136
12VDC AC Power Adapter with 4 pin XLR plug (for Tobin motor to power outlet) – $39.95
6Ft 4 Pin XLR To Cig Plug 12V Power Cable (for Tobin motor to Bescor battery) – $18.75
5 Rolls of 1″ Black Gaffers Tape (to protect against light leaks during filming) – $51.90

Some of these things are simply not needed just to get started. My cost to switch from digital to film would have been less with just the camera, the daylight spools (since my camera didn’t come with any), a few good lenses, a light meter and some film. Because I could spare a little more, I bought as much as I could afford. As you can see, the biggest expense at this time are the lenses. I searched for the best and most well taken care of lenses I could afford. I saw a lot of lenses for these cameras that were just in rough shape. I’m sure many of them would work fine but if you can afford to get equipment in good condition, strive to do so.

I also bought the Sekonic meter for my switch from digital to film and didn’t realize I couldn’t get a replacement Lumisphere for it until after the fact (it didn’t come with one). I’m a bit glad about it because it forced me to learn about other meters and I feel I got a better meter with the Gossen I bought to replace it.

It’s not too hard to find film stock online but be careful with Ebay because there are many people selling film stock at higher prices than you would pay at say B&H Photo Video and you don’t really know what condition it’s in or how it’s been stored, etc. I bought the listed stock because it was cheap and expired so I can do some test movies and even try to develop film myself.

I also bought new, unexpired stock on Ebay but only if it was being offered at lower price with shipping than I could at a reputable retailer. I have also been in contact with a sales rep at Kodak to establish a relationship with them for buying film in the future. I think this is important. We need to let Kodak know we support them and we want to be able to shoot on motion picture film for many years to come.

The Nikon adapter is so I can use manual focus Nikon lenses with the camera as well. I’ve tried it out a little and it works great. It also helps if you switch from digital to film and you already have good Nikon lenses. They can still be put to use.

I’ve also been buying cheap CCTV cameras to make a video assist but the Bolex viewfinder is so dark, even to the naked eye, that I’m having trouble finding a camera that can deal with it.

Also, let me share the prices I’ve spent for relatively low-end digital. I will leave out sound equipment, software or any equipment that can also be used for my film camera. I am also of the opinion that high-end digital cameras should never be purchased (only rented) unless you do enough paid film work to justify the purchase (or if you just have money to burn or otherwise don’t care because in the grand scheme of life, you just feel like wasting money). *Smile*

Panasonic DVX100B (a paperweight now) – $4,000
Two Canon HV40s – $1400 (on sale)
No-name 35mm lens adapter – $650
HD Production monitor – $400
MiniDV Tapes – $1000 +
non-quantifiable mental anguish – priceless

I’m not writing this to say that the switch from digital to film is cheaper or not cheaper, only to point out that it IS affordable. You still have to factor in the cost of processing and telecine if you don’t do your own but it is still affordable. Take the DVX for example; it’s outdated already and have been for some time. The HV40s are still in the game because they are HD but not in the game because they still lack professional features that would make creating video with them better. So in less than 7 years, all of my digital gear is in need of replacement by today’s standards. But I can still work with the 16mm camera for a while and that camera is already over 40 years old. So with digital there is the ongoing cost of replacing equipment with the latest model and with film there is the ongoing expense of processing and telecine. It is what it is but if you can afford the digital rollercoaster, you can also afford to shoot on film if you so desire.

1 Comment
  1. Thanks for posting this wonderful article, even I have switched from Digital not totally, to Photochemical as I think both compliment each other, Celluliod makes you a disciplined student of Film, but Digital make you take things for granted, having a good foundation in Film-making first thorugh Celluliod is a must for student of Films

    Please keep posting such helpful articles

    Richard Kazn

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