If I have a film camera (point and shoot) that only goes to ASA 400 can I still shoot with film that is higher ASA like Porta 800 or 1600? I’m trying to shoot at night? Mostly looking for dark tones with lights.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a spec specific camera in mind? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ That depends on how the camera in question controls exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just curious: Film cameras with full manual controls or even far better metering systems can be had on the used market for the price of 10 high speed films these days (best choice for what you are trying to do: an slr with a silicon photodiode, not cds or selenium cell, based meter or even better a spot meter) - what is the reason to want to use a film compact camera? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 17:40

6 Answers 6


You should double check the specs on the point and shoot to see if 1) it has the technology to read the ISO from the canister's barcode and 2) use that ISO even if it is outside of the user-adjustable settings.

But, let's assume it can't and the highest you can set it is to 400 and let's also assume you use 800 speed film. In this case, your camera will be overexposing every frame by 1 stop. Color-negative film handles over-exposure quite well - and to be honest, I wouldn't think twice about it.

You have the option of pull-processing the film, a technique where you intentionally over expose the film and then under develop it. Pro labs will offer this but it usually costs extra. This will hopefully salvage some highlights that might otherwise have been truly blown out by the over-exposure.

So, you can still shoot and still get usable negs and you've got options for developing. The biggest downside to your predicament is in not getting to use the faster shutter speeds or more open aperture that the faster film will actually afford you - especially when shooting at night where the difference between camera shake and a decent shot can be only one or two stops away.


You can, but you will be overexposing the film unless you make some sort of adjustment. Colour negative film can take overexposure like that, but you'd be better to shoot actual ISO 400 colour film instead.

Here are your options:

  • if your camera has an exposure compensation mode, you can dial in -1 compensation. This will give you an effective ISO of 800. (Dial in -2 if you want ISO 1600.)
  • if your camera has manual exposure, you can set the exposure yourself. If you meter using the camera, simply close down one stop or change the shutter speed by one speed setting (assuming they're one stop apart as on most) before shooting your image. It will be inconvenient, but doable.

If your camera won't permit either of these, I'd suggest avoiding faster films and simply shooting films it can handle.


It all depends on how, and even if, the camera calculates exposure. The other answers cover cameras with built-in automatic exposure controls, so we'll talk about more rudimentary cameras here.

The simplest film cameras have no exposure meter and very little or no adjustment of shutter time or aperture. Many of the old instamatics were such cameras. They were designed to be used with 100 speed film in bright daylight, and 400 speed film in slightly dimmer light or with a flash cube in even darker conditions, such as indoors.

Some had a "sunny/cloudy" switch that moved a sliding aperture plate with two fixed holes, one for each position, that allowed a two stop or so difference to be used. Sometimes the "cloudy" aperture also doubles as the "flash cube" aperture. This allowed using the same speed film (usually 100 or 200) in either bright, sunny conditions or in more cloudy outdoor light as wells as indoors or at night with a flash cube.

enter image description here

Such apertures were typically in the neighborhood of f/11 for "sunny" and around f/5.6-8 for "cloudy/flash". Shutter times with the leaf shutters in the lens were typically in the neighborhood of 1/100-1/60. Thus with 200 speed film, the "sunny" aperture of f/11 combined with a fixed shutter time of 1/60 was about 2/3 stops overexposed for the "sunny 16" rule of thumb. 100 speed film would have been about 1/3 stop underexposed in the same conditions. Both are within the exposure latitude allowed by most color negative films.

There were even medium format cameras for 120 film that had such rudimentary controls. One such camera was the AGFA Clack.

enter image description here

The listed specs for the AGFA Clack were:

  • Lens: Single element meniscus
  • Aperture: f/8 - f/11
  • Focus distance: 5 ft - infinity
  • DOF Scale: No
  • Shutter Make/Type: AGFA/Rotary
  • Shutter SPeed: B, 1/60
  • Film size: 120
  • Negative size: 6x9 cm

If one knows the exposure value for a specific film in such a camera, then one can manually calculate what exposure value would apply to any other film speeds used. If one knows the specific shutter time and aperture, all the better! We can then use that calculated EV to determine what lighting conditions would be appropriate for what speed film in that camera.


Yes, but just pulling the film by the approximate whole stops of the higher ASA/ISO you have told the camera it has (ISOs in hole stops 100,200,400, 800, 1600, 3800, etc). Remember you will have compensate for it when you develop or tell the lab how many stops you pulled the roll.

Pulling the film happens naturally when you shoot with a higher ASA/ISO film that the one the camera “thinks” it has. Every film has a different pull or push range be sure to check in the specs but you will get nice film photographs. Pulling and developing film will increase the contrast.

By the way this was the way most photojournalist worked back in the day when they didn’t have the best ASA/ISO to shoot what it had to be shoot with the available lighting conditions, rewind the roll in the camera, get a new roll and push or pull it as necessary when finish rewind the roll, take out of the camera, and mark it with number of stops pulled or pushed on it.


The metering system of an automatic camera designed only for film up to 400 ASA is unlikely to work usefully at all in the kind of lighting conditions you describe. Assume that the camera will, if it does not outright refuse to fire, just operate at the widest aperture and slowest shutter speed it is capable of.

If you can find out what these values are, you can use guesswork or an external meter to match scenes to the camera values.

It is likely that the shutter speed used will be too slow for handheld - use a tripod, flexible tripod or other attachment accessory.

The films you mention are negative films, they can take multiple stops of exposure mismatch before yielding an unsalvageable image (that is why cheap and dodgy cameras worked so well in the film era) - and with many night scenes, it is not a desaster if bright lights are blown out or dark parts vanish into black. Do not attempt that with slide film, 3 stops off and there is no image to speak of.


If your reason for wanting to use these particular films is you like the "look", an option is to use expired film. Film loses sensitivity over time, and after about a decade, ISO 800 film should behave like ISO 400, which can be handled by your camera. However, using expired film is unpredictable because of issues such as storage conditions, color shifts, and fogging. Some people intentionally use this unpredictability for artistic effect, including cross processing, as Hueco comments.

If your reason for wanting to use these films is to shoot in low-light conditions, you're pretty much stuck with whatever your camera's capabilities are. You might as well get a "new" (used) one, as rackandboneman also suggests. With people moving to digital, some very good film cameras are very inexpensive. (I've gotten some for "free" simply because they were attached to lenses I was interested in adapting.) Then, if you are not particularly fond of your current camera, you can donate it to Film Photography Project.

The other answers discuss other issues:

  • Jim MacKenzie discusses exposure compensation and manual exposure.
  • Michael Clark discusses cameras without automatic exposure control.
  • Hueco and abetancort discuss pulling film (shooting at lower than rated ISO). The converse would be pushing film (shooting at higher than rated ISO).
  • rackandboneman mentions some general camera limits, manual metering, low-light conditions, and exposure latitude.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hell, if we're going to use expired film, might as well cross process it too :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 22:00

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