Zenit-E 35mm Camera

When I first returned to film photography, it was with my grandfather's Zenit-E which had been sitting in my attic since he died in 1989. It's a Soviet camera built in what was the U.S.S.R and, like most Soviet cameras, was made as cheaply as possible and yet was hugely popular.

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It came with the Helios 44 58mm f2 lens, an imitation of the Carl Zeiss Biotar. The Soviet way of thinking when it came to cameras was to take what others had refined, strip it down, and copy it. That said, they are not to be ignored - they were cheap and flawed but in that lay their charm. My camera has a unique sounds as the shutter fires - it's almost a chirp as the shutter curtain releases and the mirror rises.

The lens is super sharp, but at a shallow depth of field there is a captivating swirling effect that occurs around the edges that I fell in love with from the moment I noticed it. Instead of an aperture preview button or auto-stop down when the shutter is fired - you have to do this manually on the lens.

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When I first looked out the Zenit from the attic in 2010, I opened the back to find a roll of film loaded. I slammed it shut and tried to rewind it but nothing - the metal teeth that help advance the film had ripped it out the cassette and destroyed the sprocket holes too. I managed to fish the film out the camera in the bathroom, put it in an empty film canister, and get it developed. I wasn't hopeful, but When I got it back I was so surprised to, not only get viewable negatives (albeit some fogged), but prints too. They were photos I had taken at a VW show in 1997 - apparently I had used this camera before. They were all overexposed and I know this was down to forgetting to manually close down the aperture before taking a picture.

 "Iain" by Matthew Deary

 "Iain" by Matthew Deary

Soon after seeing the VW show photos, I took it on holiday to the Cotswolds and used some Fujifilm Superia 200. It was a cheap film and would let me re-familiarise myself with a manual camera. When we got back I put the films in for developing and got scans and prints...they were good and I was happy. Only when I bought a film scanner later that year and went to rescan the negatives, did I realise that the negatives were almost black. Yet again, 13 years later, I was still forgetting to close down the aperture before firing the shutter.

Despite all this, these Cotswold photos remain some of my most popular on Flickr and are reblogged every day on Tumblr. Only this week did one get viewed on Flickr over 3,000 times. So, since everyone else is sharing them, I thought I would share them myself.

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The Zenit-E holds a firm place in my collection. Not just because it was my grandfather's but because it's quirks and flaws make this a great camera to use, which is a rare occurrence in today's World of perfection. I just wish I used it more.

Slide Film Revisited

It's been an interesting few months for me and this website - I took the notion after looking at different services available to me for a fee that I could design it myself. I fancied brushing up on my HTML knowledge and also learning how to use CSS so it was a good project to take on.

At Christmas I started shutting down other services that I didn't use or have a need for - 500px and Google+ went and Tumblr was a click away from following. I moved from Tumblr to Blogger in September but struggled to get it to do exactly what I was after and would often revert back to Tumblr which also didn't meet my needs. I spent the next few months jumping between the two unsatisfied so I finally set myself the challenge to learn what I needed in PHP and build my own blog in Wordpress.

The design is very simple, but it matches my simple website and I can vouch and understand every line of code for when things do go wrong. I'm glad it's done now though, it means I can build on this to get exactly what I want from it, but most of all I can get back to what this blog is all about - photography.

I bought a roll of Fujifilm Velvia 50 last year from Jessops and held on to it for a month or so, scared to use it because I knew I had to get my exposures spot on, but also because I paid so much for it (£17.00 for two rolls of film and one was Ilford Delta 100 at £6.99 if you're lucky). I bit the bullet and loaded it up in the Zenit-E just to make things interesting...no exposure meter. I wanted to try out metering by eye and seeing what results I could get, negative film is known for being quite forgiving if your exposure isn't perfect but I didn't want that, I wanted to see how right or wrong I was. The results are about 50/50, but it was an interesting test and proved it can be done and in some cases better using a meter.

This is only the second roll of slide film I've ever shot - the last one was in my early days and was quite a mess. It certainly won't be my last though - very few rolls of film blow you away before you've even scanned them or seen the prints.

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I've wanted to take a photo of this bingo hall for some time, it's very out of place from its surroundings and has such character about it. I originally saw it late at night but you could still make out the bright neons as the sun was going down when I passed it one afternoon.

I'm sure I was being watched by security as I hung around waiting on this ride to start up again, I'll admit I looked suspicious, but I got what I wanted in the end - albeit out of focus.

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I really wanted to try this cliché shot whilst the fairground was in town over Christmas. I worked out the EV and bracketed at different shutter speeds. To be honest, none were terrible but a couple out of focus.

Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 100

In September I bought myself a Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 100. It was a purchase that surprised myself but I was persuaded, not only by a number of photographers who I had followed on Flickr and Tumblr who were shooting with these pack film cameras, but also the people at The Film Photography Project and their podcast which I had been listening to on my walks to and from work.

The surprise to myself was because I hadn't always sympathised with the host of the FPP guys and their love of these "pack-tastic" cameras - only a few episodes into first listening to it I stopped because of the constant Polaroid conversation. It wasn't until I had considered just how rare a podcast devoted to film photography for fun was that I pushed through and started listening again.

When September came around I was officially a Polaroid convert, I had heard the stories of how much people enjoyed the sound of the film snapping out the back of the camera and the buzz from seeing a final printed image minutes after clicking the shutter. I researched the different types of pack film cameras but soon decided on the original Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 100 and gave my money to the people who introduced me to it in the first place at the Film Photography Project Store.

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It was a thing of beauty and I had ordered three packs of film - all Fujifilm FP-100C colour pack film - in a mix of gloss and silk. It only seemed right to load it up and take it with me on one of the walks to work.

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It took a bit of getting used to, but the first thing I learned with this film pack was that it is all in the technique; pull the film image out slowly, smoothly, but confidently. I also learnt that they don't like rain much which caused a few issues. I put a few in my pocket after taking them to peel them later, but this was a mistake; I ended up with an iPhone caked in film chemicals. The chemicals also gathered at the end of one of the image causing the crusting you see - it wasn't ideal but I quite liked it. I soon loaded it up again.

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I now knew how to get a good exposure but there was something missing - these pictures lacked any personality so I needed a better subject. The next day I had decided to put my Pentax SP500 with some Ilford Pan F film to work on some long exposures - a moving tide at the low light of sunrise would be perfect for the job. Unable to put the Polaroid down, I loaded it up with some Silk finish FP-100C and mounted it to the tripod.

This was more like it. I would add though that another thing these pack films don't like is sand as you can see above; laying the image down in my camera bag was a big mistake.

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Next I'm hoping to order some older Polaroid film to experiment with but, just like the cameras, these are harder to come by than the Fujifilm in the UK.