cover image for blog post on film photography and Ilford Sprite 35-II

Dipping toes into film photography with Ilford Sprite 35-II

There’s a certain romance with film photography. We are blessed with better and better technology that allows us to take extremely precise and vivid digital photographs with DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and even smartphone cameras. I’m personally a fan of Google Pixel cameras and the Sony α (Alpha) mirrorless camera series. But maybe precisely because you can essentially control every part of the process with technology, there’s always been a longing for the limitations of simple film cameras that I’d been itching to try.

My DSLR, mirrorless camera, and hell, even my smartphone has almost limitless options for settings, which I honestly felt overwhelmed by. There were so many things to learn, so many settings to figure out, and I felt like I was constantly trying to create art with the technical side of me instead of the artist side of me.

Same scene taken in New York City with Google Pixel 3 and Ilford Sprite 35-II

I wanted to try photography with the constraints of a fixed-lens camera with a fixed shutter-speed, where it was just me, the camera box, and the composition. Without the thousands of different technical configurations and details to maneuver. Where I couldn’t just snap 10 of the same scene and delete 9 to keep the “perfect” copy. Even the fact that I couldn’t immediately confirm that I managed to capture what I envisioned in my mind’s eye was exciting.

So, before my trip to New York City around the Christmas Holidays last year, I decided to buy myself a cheap reusable film camera, some rolls of film, and snap shots of my favorite city.

After some help from Twitter friends, I decided to purchase the Ilford Sprite 35-II, a reusable $30 analog film camera. Film photography is an expensive hobby, even with a $30 camera ? I’ll be breaking down the costs associated with purchasing and developing film as well.

cover image for blog post on film photography and Ilford Sprite 35-II

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Technical specifications of Ilford Sprite 35-II

Here is a table of technical specifications of Ilford Sprite 35-II from Ilford’s product page:

OPTICAL LENS:31mm, F=9 , 1 element
FOCUSING:Focus Free, 1m – ∞
SHUTTER SPEED:Shutter 1 / 120s
FLASH TIME:Built-in Flash Push Switch – 15s recycle                            
FILM TRANSPORT:Manual wind and rewind
FILM FORMAT:135 Film (24x36mm)  ISO 200 / 400 / 800
VIEW FINDER: Field = 70%
POWER SOURCE:1AAA – Alkaline Battery (required)
WEIGHT: 122 grams
DIMENSIONS: 119 (W) x 67 (H) x 44 (D) mm

It was the perfect entry-level “point and shoot” film camera. It has a fixed shutter speed (1/120s) with fixed lens (31 mm, single element f9 fixed-focus-wide-angle), with built-in flash (though I ended up never using it).

Ilford’s product page has just two colors available (Black and Black and Silver), but Amazon’s product page has 8 different color variations available for the body. While all the color variations were cute in their own ways, I decided to go with the black for a classic look.

Screenshot of Amazon's product page for Ilford Sprite 35-II camera.
Screenshot of Amazon’s product page for Ilford Sprite 35-II

Buying the film

I ended up buying both color and black & white film rolls, both from Kodak, with ISO 400. I haven’t used the black and white films though.

Film is expensive ? When I checked back now, both types were $6~8 more expensive than last year.

I picked ISO 400 because according to the camera’s product page, ISO 400 provided “great results” (with flash) for cloudy and indoor situations, as well as “optimal results” with flash off for sunny environments. Of the choices (ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800), it seemed like the most versatile, especially given I was going to take outdoor street photos of a city during the day.

Using the Ilford Sprite 35-II

Photograph of a hand holding a black film camera with the back opened showing an ISO 400 roll of film.

The Ilford Sprite 35-II is extremely compact and light, weighing just 122 grams. This made it a very ideal camera for slinging around on a trip, attached to a strap around my neck. One of the cons of a DSLR, and to a lesser extent, my mirrorless camera, was the weight associated with it, especially with my rheumatoid arthritis.

It was my first time operating a film camera, so I wasn’t sure if I even managed to put the first roll of film in properly. But to take a photo, I just point, then shoot. Couldn’t get any simpler than that!

Manhattan Chinatown, New York City

I really enjoyed taking photos of the city with this camera. I had to be very aware of how many photos I’ve taken and how many I had left on the roll, and not mindlessly snap away like I do with my digital cameras or my phone. It gave me an opportunity to really evaluate what I was taking a photograph of, and to attempt to capture the moment.

I loved the grungy look that came out of the photos, despite it being #nofilter. Totally Gotham!

Here’s a week on the streets of New York City:

Because it was my first time, I did end up with some funky photos once the films were developed. Here’s a few:

It seems like I managed to screw up every first photograph of the film, because every first photo was half white ? There were photos that were too dark, ones with wild sun flares, and others out of focus. All part of analog film photography!

Developing film: Scanning and printing film photography

To develop my rolls of film, I sent them in to “The Darkroom,” an online film development service. I purchased a scanning package, and mailed the rolls of film to them.

In the process, you specify the type of film (35 mm), what type of scan you want (the higher resolution, the more options you have later), and whether you want prints (and if so, in color or black and white).

A week later, I got an email notification telling me that the scans were ready to be downloaded. In the mail, I received my professionally developed film negatives. From there, I selected the photographs I wanted printed on the web gallery, along with the print size, and a week later, I received printed copies of my favorite photographs!

Cost of film photography

Film photography camera gear

Amazon had free shipping, so with taxes, total for the camera and films came out to $161.13.

Film development

  • Film Development: 35mm rolls with enhanced scans ($15 per roll x5 = $75)
  • Film Prints: 4×6 color prints ($0.35 per print x 24 = $8.40)

With taxes, and shipping, the total for the film development and printing came out to $100.30.

Grand total

The total cost of buying the camera, 9 rolls of film, getting 5 rolls developed, and 24 of the photographs printed was $261.43. I didn’t use half of the rolls of film I purchased, so if we just count what I used, the total would be closer to $200.

Looking up at the Empire State Building from the subway station

The real cost was in the scanning and the films, which are both running costs… It’s kind of like buying an inkjet printer or a Keurig… The printers and coffee maker are cheap, but it’s the inks and pods that get ya… ?

Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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