How to load film into a 35mm Camera

Film photography is becoming more and more popular, especially among the younger generations. So if you just bought your first film and you’re wondering how to properly load it into your camera so you can start shooting, this guide is for you. Please note that this guide is aimed at 35mm cameras, which are also the most popular film cameras.

Opening the Back of your Camera

To open most manual cameras, like this Canon AE-1 Program, you have to pull up on the rewind knob. If it doesn’t pop open, you will need to check the bottom of your camera for a lock.

The example camera: the Canon AE-1 Program
Pull the rewind knob in order to open the camera back

Loading the Film

In the next step, just place your film stock in the left side chamber of your camera. Push the rewind knob down, this makes sure the film is secured and stays in place.

The open camera back with film chamber, sprocket and take up spool

Now pull the film leader across the camera to the right side where you place the cut-off end of the film into the slit of the take-up spool.

Use your thumb to wind the bottom of the sprocket or use the film advance. It’s important to make sure that the sprocket teeth catch the film’s sprocket holes. Advance another time to make sure everything sits tight or else you might find yourself without a single picture after 36 exposures.

Make sure that the sprocket teeth catch the sprocket holes

You can now close the back of the camera and should be able to hear a click.

As the first frames of your film were already exposed to light they become useless. Now move the film on around 2-4 shots until you see the number “1” on the counter. In order to do so just press the shutter and then advance the film. Make sure the left side rewind know is rotating when you advance the film. If not you need to reload.

Your film is now loaded. If your camera has an internal light meter don’t forget to set your camera to the correct ISO/ASA value which you can find on the film stock.

Unloading the Film

You will know when you have taken your last shot once the counter shows 36 (or 24) or the film won’t advance anymore. Sometimes the counter shows 36 pictures but you can sneak another one or two shots in, depending on how you loaded your camera.

As a next step, you will have to unload your camera. In order to do so, you need to find the film release button and either press it in or hold it pressed. Usually, it’s on the bottom of the camera like with this Canon AE-1.

This button unlocks the rewindknob

Now use your rewind knot to wind the film backward until you feel the tension release, the film has now left the take-up spool. Keep rewinding for a bit to make sure the film goes all the way back into the cassette. You can also leave a small tail if you do not want to crack the film open when developing. However, it is recommended to fold the tail so you know the film has already been exposed.

As the last step, you can now pull the rewind knob again and unload your exposed roll of film.