A Quick Guide to Film Photography in Nairobi, Kenya

If anyone needs any help arguing that analog photography is a dying breed, they only need to come somewhere like Kenya. Film supplies, and developing services are dismal here. Don’t get me wrong, there is a relative abundance of photo studios, but few have the capacity to properly deal with film. Surprisingly (or not), digital cameras, and camera phones, have replaced film cameras so much, that the younger generations are completely oblivious to the concept of film photography.

That said, most kids in Australia are probably exactly the same.

I spent 3 months in Nairobi searching. Everytime I found another photo studio, I asked again. For 3 months, I continued to find photo studios buried throughout Nairobi and it’s outlying suburbs, and they continued to say they didn’t have it. Some had no idea where to find it, some suggested different studios, accompanied with incorrect directions and addresses. Others looked at me like I was crazy for even mentioning it. I knew I was getting desparate when I started asking in small studios I saw in dusty towns. I was hunting for black and white film, an item not too difficult to come across in Europe, I found, but proved almost impossible here. Nevertheless, after probably 50 studios, 10 suggestions, 8 incorrect directions from suggestions, and a lot of blank faces, I finally found my black and white film. The day before I left for Zanzibar.

Still, from that 3 months of searching, I gained enough information to provide a respectable breakdown of the film photography scene in Nairobi, to save anyone else in my position the hassle. The good thing I can say, is that it can be a much cheaper endeavour over here, if you are willing to sacrifice on quality.

Film Availability and Pricing

Unlike black and white film, colour is still easy to come across, due to the presence of the ‘paparazzi’. Don’t confuse them with western paparazzi – these guys crash weddings, funerals, and all those private family events, uninvited, make themselves at home and ruin other peoples views, just to take some boring photos, then rush off to the nearest studio, develop and print the photos, and rush back to the function to sell them, and make their profit. It’s not glamorous.

In a lot of studios, you will be able to find cheap 36exp rolls Kodak Profoto 100, or Fuji Prophoto 200, for 150/- (Just under $2). Depending where you are, they may be expired, but they do produce decent colour, in the right light. A small collection of studios will have other, nicer films, like Kodak Gold, or normal Fuji 200. If you want ‘better’ Kodak film, step into a Nakumatt. Some of them have a camera section, with a small selection of Kodak films, all 270-350/- ($3-4).

Ngong markets - Cheap Fuji film

Colour slide film.. forget about it. I already found what are probably the only two studios carrying slide film (Kodak Elite Chrome), and it was all expired in 2007-08. They gave it to me for free.

Black and White. Most people here, when I ask if they have it, don’t know why I would want to use it. One person recommended a studio called Colourcut. Following their directions I found Fuji Colourcuts, which had 2 rolls of cheap Lucky B&W for 250/-. 6 weeks later, I found Kodak Colourcut, 2 blocks over. This is one of the two places in Nairobi that I can say with confidence sells B&W film. Here I found Ilford PAN100 and PAN400, both at 250/- a roll. This studio supplies to the universities also, so when in stock, they also have chemicals. They have been out of stock for a while. The only downside, is this film is expired. You can’t tell when, but whoever imports it has decided to scratch the expiry date off of every single box of film.
The second black and white option is Fuji Neopan, also expired. But this one is found by asking the people at the Fujifilm studio in Junction to make some phone calls to ask, then checking in a few times more, then they will have found it.

Alternative formats…. Good luck. I have stumbled across 120 film once or twice. All of it expired, while in untouched original wrapping. Again, go to Junction..

Developing

If you plan on developing yourself, bring your own gear. There’s no developing tanks or reels, and definitely no chemicals. The only possibility is the Colourcut place mentioned above, and even that’s a gamble.

If you plan on outsourcing, you should only pay 50/- a roll for flat developing (but they will quote with prints). Things you will be risking are spots/marks on the film (dirty water, or very old chemicals), or scratched film (there’s a lot of dust, and most of the studios will give your film to you in one uncut roll, dumped in a paper bag). And don’t develop in town, those studios are overpriced, awful, and lack customer service. True story: I had 2 rolls of film developed at a place called Photo Vision, and paid up front (Also don’t do this). They ruined one of the rolls completely, and refused a refund. If you can handle waiting a couple days to pick up the film, take it to the studio at Junction Mall. They take it to their head studio to develop (don’t know where that is), but they will at least return your film in decent condition, cut and placed in those little plastic negative sleeves.

What you risk when developing - Calcium spots

By the way, if you want to shoot black and white here, either bring your own developing equipment, or wait til you get home. The only B&W developer I found charged me 250/- per roll, took a weeks turnaround, and returned to me one of the grainiest 100 speed films I have ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, I love grain, that’s what I like about b&w, but still.

I may be wrong, but this looks a little grainy for PAN100.. (Click for the large version if you don't believe me)

Printing & Scanning

4×6 is looking at anywhere from 10/- up. There’s some places that do 8 bob, but I don’t print my photos here, so can’t say anything more on the matter. I did receive a number of enlargers as a gift for asking questions at Studio Mona in Hurlingham (I haven’t printed there, but a friend says they do decent large prints) but that doesn’t help anyone else.

As for scanning, I have never had much luck. Rolls always come out misaligned in the scans, and the frames drift into each other, leaving me with 2/3 one frame and 1/3 the next. I found a photo studio behind the Nakumatt Karen (not to be confused with the studio next to the main entrance) which scans each roll onto CD for 250/- and includes a proof sheet. The studio in Junction charges 500/- and doesn’t have the proof sheet. Can’t offer any other options, because once I find something acceptable, I stick with it. Or google “DIY film scanners”.

Cameras

Overpriced. For a decent condition film camera, I have been quoted 35,000 shillings (That’s about $400) at Elite Studios. Photo Hive, on Moi Avenue, has some cameras, but after examining a $80 Yashica MAT124, it was irreparable. Some of the studios around town do have them, but you are seriously gambling on price and condition (central Nairobi is very dusty, very polluted, and most of these cameras aren’t stored well. Spare parts are difficult, and many won’t strip down a broken camera to sell you a piece of it. Just hope nothing goes wrong, or carry spares, or find someone to bring replacements. Remember, it only gets worse out in the country.

In summary, don’t expect to find any professional film. If you are coming from outside, bring everything you will need. Even though you might find some things, it’s a hassle to find which studio will stock it, and most storage conditions leave much to be desired. If you buy and develop here, you can get yourself operating as cheap as 200/- spent on every 36 photos, but the film quality might show it.

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10 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to Film Photography in Nairobi, Kenya

  1. 1. Dude you’re in Africa! You’re swimming in photo opps and you’ve come up with some gems, no doubt (the Turkey pics are my favorites, as well as your portraits, and the Christmas slaughter)
    2. You’ve inspired me; I’m going back home for a while next week, and I’m reviving my mom’s old Nikon from the 70’s. Gonna be playing with film and other artsy things in NYC. There is value in doing things the old way. I assure you, this probably wouldn’t cross my mind if I hadn’t stumbled upon your amazing blog.
    3. People like to say the world is small, like when they randomly meet someone they know in a completely random place. I’m guilty of this, too. Something about travel, you meet the same people over and over on the same trip, or even on different trips. So the world is small, but it is also very large with a lot to see. So you’ve only been to one of the places I’ve mentioned, and yet, I’ve never even been to Africa!! The beauty of this is that if you want to go, you will go, just as I will go to Kenya one day soon, 70’s Nikon in hand, and suddenly find the need to locate a camera shop that sells B&W film.
    4. Finally, brilliant post. A comprehensive how-to for a topic so narrow, so seemingly irrelevant, so helpful, that I will be Nairobi and consider Well Worn Soles the bible for how I should conduct my time there.

    • 1. I’m one of those people that seems to always crave more. I know I’ll get to all those locations one day, just like you will get here one day.
      2. I’m flattered. Honestly! Definitely break out the old camera. It’s a dying art, but it doesn’t have to go just yet. Play, experiment, explore, and send me the links.
      3. Too true, and it’s one of the things I love about travel.
      4. Thanks… It’s these random, obscure pieces of information that I always end up looking for, and never find, so I have decided to be a part of the solution.

  2. hey there, found your blog via google while looking for advice on analog film/camera in nairobi. i am living in nrb as well for some months now and am missing my analog cameras big times (don’t know why i didn’t bring them) so i wonderer if you have some advice where to buy decent priced 2nd hand ones (35mm film) here?
    thx and sawa sawa – mara

    • Decent priced will be the issue. Analog cameras are much more expensive in Nairobi than places around Europe. Like I said, the stores seem to overcharge. Try Photohive on Moi, but give the camera a thorough check before you commit to it. Otherwise, Elite on Kimathi has some very nice cameras, but I didn’t like the prices (you might). Apart from that, I can’t recall where else had more than one or two bodies. The other option is find someone coming over to Africa and get them to bring one…

  3. This is amazing. Thankyou so much for taking the time to write this! I have been doing the same fruitless searching in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for 3 months. Thought to myself..”Perhaps Nairobi is better?” Good to see it isn’t, now I have a chance to get film brought over from Aus. Thanks! I usually shoot B&W, but due to lack of developing facilities, should I get some colour rolls as well?

    • All depends on how patient you are with your film, and if you can handle waiting however long it might be before you can get your film to somewhere with reliable developing.. I’d probably just get some colour film for the hell of it. Never been to Ethiopia, but I would assume, like Kenya, it has some pretty colourful places

      • Cheers, got a mix of B&W and colour. I’m not too keen on having undeveloped rolls in the backpack for 12 months, so I might search out some respectable places in Tanzania..Thanks for the advice 🙂

  4. Great info! I remember doing similar searches in Cairo and Teheran, it’s certainly easier over there. I’m now stuck in Kenya with few undeveloped rolls… I see that’s it’s been two years now, but do you still have the contact of that B&W developer?

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