How Much 120 Film Can You Get for $48,990?

Kodak New Portra 160

With today’s announcement of the new Phase One camera system with 100MP, we also saw the price of $48,990. Quite the price, huh? That’s more than some folks make in a year.

645 format sensors have obviously become much better over the years, but what I was really curious about is how that will compare to film’s pricing. As we all know, 645 medium format film cameras can be had for pretty cheap. Then after that you need to shoot film, and consider the costs associated with it all.

But just how much can you get for $48,990?

Chris Gampat Bronica etrs and film 75mm f2.8 (1 of 1)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 1.4

So let’s take a look at all this. We’re going to say that you’ve got a 645 medium format camera already. If you don’t, then you can spend a few hundred for a really good Bronica ETRs, pay hundreds for a Mamiya or Hasselblad, or get something as coveted as a Contax 645 with the glorious Zeiss lenses that it used and splurge nearly $2,000 for a body, lens, back and metered prism.

120 film can be shot a variety of ways: 645, 6×6, 6×7; but for this analysis we’re sticking to 645. It’s only fair since the Phase One and Sony sensor is a 645 format.

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at a good scanner. The Canon Canoscan 9000F Mk II is usually $199.99 on Amazon. So that’s pretty much $200 right there. We’re choosing to scan ourselves as a long term cost saving measure.

Now what about film? B&H Photo lists a five pack of Kodak Portra 120 for $29.95. Of course, you’re locked into a single ISO but Portra is versatile and it can be pushed or pulled an excess of over two stops. I’ve done it–and I’m surprised at how well it held up.

Right there, that’s five rolls. Each roll of 120 film shoots around 12 645 film photo shots. Sometimes you can get more, but the general accepted value is 12.

So now that you’ve shot the film, we’ve got processing to do. This is normal C-41 processing. Unfortunately, it seems that Costco, Walgreens and WalMart don’t develop 120 film anymore. For arguments sake, I’m picking the best bang for your buck labs that I’ve used in NYC over the years.

Shot with Kodak Portra 120

Shot with Kodak Portra 120

Color Resource Center: $6.40 a roll x 5 for the Portra pack is $32 + $29.95 = $61.95

Lomography: $16 a roll x 5 for the Portra pack is $80 + $29.95 = $109.95

Bushwick Community Darkroom: $6 a roll x 5 for the Portra pack is $30 + $29.95 = $59.95

Gowanus Darkroom: $8 a roll x 5 for the Portra pack is $40 + $29.95 = $69.95

The best deal is Bushwick Community Darkroom, so let’s consider the pricing now. To be fair though, my personal favorites based on quality are Color Resource Center and Gowanus Darkroom. CRC is the one I’ve used the most.

$48,990 (price of the 100MP back) – $199.95 (Canon Scanner) = $48,790.05.

To find out how many packs and developments we can get, we have to divide that by $59.95; that comes out to 813.84. For arguments and simplicity’s sake, we’re going to make that a solid 813. Now to see how many shots that will give us, you’ve got to multiply 813 x 12 = 9,756.

With 35mm film or digital, that’s a pretty simple and easy number to get to, but this is medium format and film; so you’re most likely going to be a heck of a lot more careful, precise, and deliberate. It’s really tough for someone to get to that number when they’re shooting landscapes, portraits, advertising, etc. and shooting medium format.

XF System_lowres

Of course, you’re not getting a bunch of digital’s benefits:

  • Multiple ISO settings
  • Digital previews
  • Scanning pretty much done for you because of the RAW file format, giving you the digital negative. However, TIFF scans can be quite versatile.
  • Much less space being used to store the film.

That’s one I almost forgot! Not only will you need the film, you’ll need a freezer to store it all or you can buy it in small batches for a while. Considering the prices of all this, it’s probably more advantageous to shoot at a larger format like 6×6 square format or 6×7.

So is it worth the money? Honestly, that’s up to you to decide because every one is an individual case, but considering that this is 645 medium format and keeping in mind all the methodologies that go into it, that’s the only way that you can make a fair decision.

Editor’s Note: thanks to the readers who caught my math being off.

1) $48,990 less $2,000 scanner = $46,990 for film (which is true, a better scanner is lots of money)
2) $46,990 divided by $59.95/pack of film = 783.8 packs of film
3) 783.8 packs of film multiplied by 60 shots per pack = 47,029 shots

To the folks who say that you get 15 shots per roll of 120 film, I’ve honestly never heard that. My Bronica ETRS only does up to 14 max, and I’ve never yielded 15 or 16 shots per roll.

Even so, I still stick to my statement that for the money involved with developing, you’re still probably better off shooting 6×6 or 6×7 and still getting more bang for your buck.

  • xxbluejay21
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Hot damn…. 4-5 dollars per shot? Even if you shoot just one shot a day you’ll end up spending a thousand dollars a year on film and development. I really love medium format film but with those prices how is it possible??

  • Nikolay Chernichenko
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Hasselblad H1 gives 16 shots per roll! You need to count also the TIME to post process all these photos from the digital camera. Time is a lot of money if your profession is photography. You can use the time to work on promotion instead of editing.

  • Horace Langford
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    So much for the skill of photography, why not just use the right tool for the job? I still shoot professionally with a Bronica ETRs, and Hasselblad film as well as digital formats

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Really? Send me an email, I want to see some work.

  • SomeoneNotImportant
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Nothing beats a Heidelberg. The way Photo Multipliers work is beyond good and evil. The way the Imacon works on the other hand is childsplay.
    Having drumscanned 35mm transparency and negatives shot with Leica glass at 50MP, 6×6 Portra400 at 90MP, 4x5inch from a Linhof Technika with Schneider glass at 120MP i’d rather spend the money i’m saving on models and location.
    I do not want to discuss skintones on celluloid since nothing beats film when it comes to a natural rendering of skintone.
    Means less work for my colorist and cheaper in post after all.

  • Moulyneau
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Allow me to redo the math with a scan for, say 1000 bucks and 60 shots per pack (not 12…):

    49000(100MP back) – 1000 (decent scan) / 60 = 800 packs. That makes 800×60=48000 or a very, very long time of shooting indeed!

    Makes it fun to look at it this way but in the end, what really matters is personal preference and work requirements. Not much about the cost, isn’t it? That said, makes me want to go looking for an old 645…:)

  • Turbofrog
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Film 645 won’t be anywhere near comparable in quality to the Phase One, and certainly not when scanned by a $200 scanner.

    For a more fair comparison, I think you’d need to look at a Epson V850 (which, coincidentally, is $850) as your starting point, or more realistically, the Pacific Image Primefilm PF120 for $1400.

    2nd, to make up for the resolving power of film compared to a state of the art CMOS sensor, you really need to start the comparison with 6×7 or 6×9. More realistically, you’ll be comparing against a 4×5 large format camera.

    On the cheap, you could get a Toyo-View 4×5 for $900 and pair it with a $2000 Rodenstock.

    So you’re still left with $45K for film and processing. But at 4×5, those cost $4.50 a pop. Figure another $3-4 for development.

    So that’s still between 5000-6000 shots, which when it comes to 4×5, might be enough for a lifetime if you aren’t a professional.

    But if you aren’t a professional, you probably aren’t considering a 100MP, $50,000 camera, are you?

    • DMR
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      If you’re going to add the cost of a 4×5 ($900) and a Rodenstock lens ($2,000), then you must also add in the cost of the Phase One Camera body + Lens. This evaluation was comparing the cost of film, specifically as to the number of shots, to the cost of the 100MP Phase One Digital Back.

      Beyond that though, I absolutely agree that you must realistically factor in the cost of a higher end scanner. I would even suggest an older Imacon scanner, such as a Precision II, for ~$2,000. But, the Imacon’s can scan 35mm, 120 from 6×4.5 thru 6×17, or 4×5. So, it’s a versatile scanner that has high resolving power, which I can speak to from personal experience. I scan my 6×9 @ 3200 dpi & 16-bit color depth for an equivalent Megapixel of ~71 MP & a file size of ~475 MB.

      And, the author got his math off on the last step. He multiplied 813 packs (purchased & developed) by 12 shots of film. In fact, 1 pack produces 80 shots of 645 film (5 rolls x 16 shots/roll). So, the actual cost of film equivalent shots vs. the cost of the 100MP digital back is 65,040 as compared to the number listed of 9,756.

      If you were to account for the additional cost of a ~$2,000 scanner, you would end up with:

      1) $48,990 less $2,000 scanner = $46,990 for film.
      2) $46,990 divided by $59.95/pack of film = 783.8 packs of film
      3) 783.8 packs of film multiplied by 80 shots per pack = 62,705 shots

      That’s more of an apples-to-apples comparison. The author should update the article to reflect the miscalculation.

      • Turbofrog
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        The $49,000 cost includes the back, body, and Schneider 80mm lens, so it’s equivalent.

        71 MP out of 6×9 (56 × 84) is still not 100MP, so I maintain that 4×5 (121 x 97) is a closer comparison. 4×5 would be a nominal 177MP at 3200dpi.

        Still, compared to a scan of a physical thing (just think of all the high resolution dust you’ll be able to see!), with a CMOS sensor and a native 16-bit ADC, the per-pixel quality should be better on the Phase One. The Imacon has a Dmax of 4.1 which I guess is about as good as film can give you, but pales in comparison to the dynamic range of a CMOS sensor, so you want all the negative size you can get…

        • DMR
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

          Thank you for the correction! I missed that point.

          Agree with the other comments you mention and in summary, I agree that the Phase One 100MP CMOS back should and would beat film scanned. I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to make that comparison. More so, just using the comparison of a 6×9 scan to state that ~$2,000 seemed like a more reasonable number for cost of a scanner for comparative purposes.

          Only last thing I’d note is this: if you weren’t spending ~$50,000, you can still get high quality scans and resolution out of a relatively small investment in film. I invested ~$2,250 ($2,000 for Imacon + $250 for Fuji GW690iii camera) and achieve high quality results that I am pleased with. And, at the rate of my shooting, I won’t be shooting ~60,000 shots of MF film in the next ~300 years (2 rolls a month @ 8 shots/roll).

          That’s not a film vs. digital fight, merely an example of how the investment of film produced the results I wanted at the cost I was willing to invest.

          Best Regards!

          • Turbofrog
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

            Oh, I totally agree. I enjoy MF on a budget! For me it’s a $100 Koni Omega + DIY digitizing rig (stitched 16MP M4/3 digital with a 1:1 macro lens). And likewise, I do a roll or two a month @ 10 shots, so clearly I’m not in the Phase One market…

  • Jerry W. Kelley
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    $200 dollars for a scanner? You have got to be kidding! For this kind of quality, you need a good one, an Epson 11000xl for $3200.

  • willief
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    I had an ETRs. Accepted shots is 16, not 12 per roll. So your figures would actually have to include the extra 30% approx.

  • Bruce Harding
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    That made my day, lol

    To make calculations more honest I would suggest using a better film scanner. I mean a dedicated MF one, not a consumer flatbed.

    Also, after those 8k frames Phase One will still keep a considerable depreciable value unlike a pile of empty 120 film boxes 🙂

  • AmbiencePT .
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Scanning your negatives on a shitty flatbed scanner is pretty much a waste of film. Too get decent and consistent results you’ll spend a lot more.

    • aurele
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      I agree, get a better scanner. I have it, because i needed to digitalize lots of pictures in various formats and it’s an “OK” scanner, but if you have 50k $ to spend, don’t spend 200$ for a shitty scanner ! Get a very good one !

      it’s like : ok, gyts, i want a Porsche, but i don’t want the MP3 player, only CD, because MP3 is too expensive ….

    • EVener
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      A lot more plus good quality scanning software like SilverFast AI 8!

      And you are not taking into account the cost in time involved in making high quality scans as well, from prepping and cleaning the film to color balancing and dust busting. a and that doesn’t take int account climbing the learning curve involved in making high quality scans

      Let’s say you don’t want make your own scans but have a high end service do them for you. For a fine art/reproduction quality scan, be prepared to spend $80-$140.00 per scan.