Is 35mm Color Film by Five Below any Good?

The short answer: No, 35mm Color Film by Five Below is not worth it.

However, let’s talk about it in detail.

If you are a photography enthusiast or are exploring analog photography, finding an affordable 35mm color film like the one offered by Five Below may appear to be a golden opportunity. After all, who would not want to save some money on film, particularly when the cost of shooting analog can quickly add up? However, as any seasoned photographer will tell you, the true value of film extends beyond its initial price tag. 

35mm Color Film by Five Below
Image: 35mm Color Film by Five Below

Therefore, before you rush to stock up on these bargain rolls, it is crucial to understand what you are really getting into. Continue reading to learn more about whether the budget-friendly 35mm color film by Five Below is worth your time and money.

The Appeal of Affordable Film

In this digital age, shooting film has become a niche hobby. The tactile experience of loading a roll into your camera, the anticipation of waiting for your film to develop, and the unique aesthetic qualities of film photography are all part of its charm. For many, though, the cost can be prohibitive, especially when you factor in both the price of the film itself and the cost of developing it.

The Temptation of $5 Film

Five Below is known for offering budget-friendly products across various categories, including their 35mm color film. The allure of their 35mm color film, priced at $5.55, is undeniable. It is the kind of deal that catches your eye, especially if you are experimenting with film photography or simply want to try something new without breaking the bank. But does affordability equate to quality when it comes to photographic film?

35mm Color Film by Five Below: What You Need to Know

Now, we will discuss what makes 35mm color film by Five Below both intriguing and somewhat dubious in the eyes of seasoned photographers and film enthusiasts alike. 

At our photo lab, someone brought in a film canister branded under the ambiguous label “Up-Tech,” raising immediate questions about its quality, processing requirements, and overall value.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that this budget film option comes with significant caveats. The packaging lacks crucial details such as the type of color film (negative or positive) and, more critically, the required development process. With no information on the website of Five Below either, it is a mystery. This omission is not just inconvenient but potentially costly for anyone unfamiliar with the specifics of film processing.

35mm Color Camera Film for Color Prints
Image: 35mm Color Camera Film for Color Prints

The ECN-2 Conundrum

After a surprisingly extensive amount of research, we discovered it needs ECN-2 development.

Here is where things can get tricky. 

35mm color film by Five Below reportedly requires ECN-2 development, a process not widely offered by most local labs these days. ECN-2 processing involves handling a film stock that includes a Remjet coating, which differs significantly from the more widely supported C-41 process used for most color-negative films. However, it does not hurt to ask, but your local lab most likely does not process ECN-2. The scarcity of labs capable of ECN-2 development means you may have to pay more to ship your film to a specialist lab, effectively negating the initial cost savings of the cheap film itself.

Moreover, it is not labeled anywhere on the packaging or canister, so your local lab might mistake it for C-41, ruining your negatives and everyone else’s.

The Cost Calculation

While the initial cost of $5.55 for a roll of film seems economical, the economics of shooting and developing this film tell a different story. With only 10 exposures per roll, the cost per frame is significantly higher compared to more conventional film options like Fujifilm 200, which offers 36 exposures at a slightly higher price point. When factoring in development costs, which often remain consistent regardless of the number of exposures, the overall expense per image escalates dramatically with 35mm color film by Five Below.

Let’s break down the math. At $5.55 for 10 exposures, each shot on color film by Five Below costs roughly $1.81. In contrast, a reputable brand like Fujifilm offers 36 exposures for around $8, making each exposure approximately $0.22. 

Additionally, the need for specialized development may further increase the overall expenses per roll as it requires you to deal with a less common development process like ECN-2.

Quality and Performance Issues: Review and Feedback

Beyond the cost considerations, there are also concerns about the quality and performance of 35mm color film by Five Below. It is difficult to find any reviews of their 35mm color film, but the reviews of their black and white film offerings suggest issues with underexposure, even when shot at box speed. Despite shooting at the recommended ISO, photographers have reported disappointing results, which may also extend to their color film offerings. This inconsistency in quality can be a deal-breaker for photographers who rely on consistent results and accurate color reproduction from their films.

When Might 35mm Color Film by Five Below Make Sense?

Despite its drawbacks, including unpredictable characteristics and specialized development requirements, there are scenarios where 35mm color film by Five Below could still find a niche. It can be a cost-effective option for initial tests on a used camera or as a trial for home film development enthusiasts looking to experiment without substantial financial risk. However, those looking for dependable outcomes and consistent image quality can consider alternate film options with wider industry support.

Final Verdict: Is It Worth It?

While 35mm color film by Five Below might initially seem like a budget-friendly option, the hidden costs and uncertainties associated with its development process make it a less appealing choice for serious photographers. The risk of incompatible development requirements, coupled with potential quality issues, outweighs the allure of its low price tag. Therefore, it is wise to spend a little bit more money in the long run on a reliable brand with explicit processing requirements like C-41 if you want reliable results and peace of mind.

Takeaway Advice

When shopping for 35mm color film, always prioritize clarity on the development process type. You need to look for brands that clearly state compatibility with the widely available C-41 process unless you are prepared to handle the complexities and costs associated with less common processes like ECN-2. 

Remember, in photography, as in life, you often get what you pay for—so choose wisely to ensure you can capture your creative vision with the quality it deserves.

In essence, while 35mm color film by Five Below may have niche uses, particularly for experimentation or casual shooting, it falls short of meeting the standards expected by discerning photographers. For reliable performance and consistent results, it is worth investing more in higher-quality film from established brands that prioritize transparency and compatibility with standard development processes.

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