How to Use the Zenit E

The camera I have been learning with is the Zenit E. Check out reviews on I Still Shoot Film and Lomography.

When I first received it, it looked like a mass of incomprehensible dials. I have since learnt to love it. They’re great cameras and so cheap it doesn’t matter if it breaks or you bash it about. They’re built like a brick and as heavy as one (916g!).

I found this great, but not all encompassing guide, on a Lativan website. Here is the manual.

  1. Put your film in, it’s easy enough. Open the case pop up the know on the left side by twisting it. Put your film and and push into the small catch on the right. The film holes should catch onto the points and advance the shutter to pull it through. Short video here.
  2. Next on the left there is a knob with DIN / ASA-GOST written on it. Move the left marker to the number closest to your ISO.
  3. Cock your camera by turning the advance lever.
  4. Point your camera and the needle in the dial will move around depending on how much light there is. Move the left knob to turn the small circle in the dial so it is over the needle. However,
  5. The selenium light meter which Zenit E’s use can become defective with time, mine is around one stop out. I use an iPhone light meter app sometimes and select the aperture and shutter speed from there.
  6. Now you have the information you need for the correct exposure. If you want to shoot in aperture priority you look at what aperture you want (say 8) and then the corresponding shutter speed; then you change the shutter speed dial which is the small black one. If you’re shooting in shutter priority then you look at the shutter speed you want (Say 250) and then change the aperture to the corresponding number through the aperture dial on the lens.
  7. To remove your film DO NOT OPEN the rear until it has rewound, you can feel it when it is finished. Follow this charming video, I do nearly every time to make sure I don’t f**k it up.

You can also determine the year your Zenit was made. Look at the serial number; the first two digits are the year and the third the month. For example mine starts 762 so it was made in the year 1976 and in February, the second month.

How I began to teach myself film photography

When I embarked on the idea of learning film photography I didn’t realise it would be so difficult to find materials. I thought you could simply google it and it would all be there. But, as I am finding more and more, there is so much crap on google that some times it’s difficult to cut the wheat from the chaff.

I bought two books but I found them of little use: one, Colins Complete Photography Manual and, two,  the 35mm Photographers Handbook.

The first thing I found useful was the I Still Shoot Photography beginners guide. With these guides I began to understand the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed and, importantly, just what the hell these terms meant. Other terms I began to grasp was f/stop and depth of field.

I also learnt why I’d want a smaller f/stop for  a shallow depth of field. I simply remember it as the smaller the actual opening in your lens the sharper everything in the photo is (f/stop of 16 for example). And the bigger the opening in the lens the more blurred things are which you’re not focusing on (f/stop of 2.8 for example). You can use a smaller f/stop number (2 or 2.8) for portraits so that all the focus is on the person but a larger f/stop (16 or 11) for landscapes to get everything in the image sharp.

Confusingly the smaller numbers mean a larger opening. The larger numbers mean a smaller opening.

Following these tutorials I still felt like I needed it explained to me in person. I found these fantastic and entertaining tutorials on youtube:

I watched them up to around the 20th lesson and they helped so much. They really built on what I’d read on the I Still Shoot Photography beginners guide. I highly recommend the videos!

Lastly, I played around a lot with the CameraSim. This nifty tool lets you practise changing the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and even focal length and weather conditions.

The most important thing is to keep taking photos and practising what you’ve learnt. It took me a while, but, the first time things actually started to click was in a Beijing market. I found I knew what all the terms meant and what I was supposed to do but actually putting that into practice on the moment I found difficult.

Practise, Practise, Practise.

Scammed in Beijing

Scam 1: Before we entered the Palace Museum we were taking pictures of the huge Mao portrait and a friendly guy approached us telling us he was a student.

Stop. Right. There.

We’d seen a warning telling us about this scam. Where friendly Chinese blokes and lasses ask you to talk with them in a traditional tea room, after which; you’re landed with a 700 Yuan bill. It’s only £70 but considering you’re only taking £20-£25 a day it wipes your budget and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. So we ignored him and he shouted some abuse, calling us “rubbish”, but then he left us.

Here is a link to someone who, unfortunately, fell for it; but got her revenge.

Scam 2: As we were strolling back to the hostel from the Forbidden City, we decided to take the subway. A guy pulled up on a motorised rickshaw (basically a trike scooter) and offered to take us to the subway. His lucky guess was our bad luck. He said it would cost “three money” we confirmed this a few times not wanting to get ripped off. Off we went and I almost immediately he was on his phone but he put it down without speaking. We weren’t going in the general right direction either.

He was back on his phone as he took us down a back street off the main road. Not wanting to panic Charlotte I was thinking of when we could jump off but Charlotte’s spider senses were tingling already and we both jumped out as we stopped at a turning. The guy was pretty angry and taller than me (a rarity in China). We gave him 3 Yuan but he said he wanted “three money”. Then he took out his wallet and showed him a card it said “City Tour 300 Yuan”.

Ah! I’d seen this warning too in the hostel. Rickshaw drivers will say the cost his 3 Yuan but really it will be 300 Yuan. I liked how he used “money” to as moral justification for the mistake. He then started to push me demanding “three money”. I just calmly said “no” and tried to walk away but he would just follow me back and try to push me. I gave him the 3 Yuan but it fell on the floor so he then ordered I pick up the money. “No”, I replied. No way was I putting myself in a position where he can attack me easily. So I stayed upright and just walked forward. He relented and drove off.

Not a nice experience; and not a nice “what if…” moment. But whilst a Charlotte was a bit shook up and we were more wary; we’d lost nothing and nothing bad had happened to us.

Here is a link to some other scams in Beijing.

5 Nights and 6 Days in Beijing (Inc. Costs)

Charlotte and I recently travelled to Beijing for a 5 day sight-seeing trip. We had grand plans but as with all travel plans they often go awry.

Overall we saw pretty much all me wanted to see: we got to walk the Great Wall of China, marvel at the Forbidden City and gawp at Mao’s wax-like corpse. But we missed out on the Olympic Stadium.

We planned to spend 220 Yuan per day (£22); I overspent by a mere 250 Yuan (£25). Chuffed.

Plans of Mice and Men  

Monday’s Plan: Arrive at 8am, take the subway and get to the hostel by 10.30am. Wonder around the Houhai lakes and enjoy the popular cuisine of the Hakka minority group at Han Cang restaurant on the Shichahai East Bank.

What Actually Happened: All was going well until a well-intentioned local took us on a 2 and a half hour detour in the sweltering heat. A shower and a rest later and we explored Hoihai but couldn’t find the Han Cang restaurant. We ended up in a nice looking restaurant on the bank of the lake but the service and food was awful.

Prices: Airport express train, 25 Yuan; restaurant, 70 Yuan; 2 Yuan (all subway tickets are 2 Yuan) subway. Bottled water in the hostel was 2 Yuan but it can be 4 Yuan and even as high as 10 Yuan in big tourist places. In the heat we drank a lot of water.

Tuesday’s Plan: Go to Beihai Park early in the morning to see the older generation sing revolutionary songs and practice Tai Chi. Then on to Mao’s Mausoleum, moving onto explore the Forbidden City and finally winding our way up to the Drum Tower. Then go to the Dali Courtyard restaurant.

What Actually Happened: We decided to walk to Beihai Park but the distance was longer than we thought and the heat more oppressive than we expected. We took a taxi aiming to get to Tianamen Square but got out too early and ended up in Zhongshantang Park, meaning it was too late to visit Mao’s embalmed body.

We did make it to the Forbidden City (AKA Palace Museum) but after walking through its enormous interior in the sweltering heat we had to make a pit stop back at the hostel for a cold shower. The Palaces were great to see although a little monotonous and there aren’t many artefacts to view. A Taiwanese friend told us Chiang Kai Shek managed to grab all the good stuff before fleeing to Taiwan.


We did see a man throw a bunch of leaflets into the air, causing half of the tourists around us to suddenly turn into undercover police. They raced over to him, handcuffed him and gathered up all the leaflets. Then they melted back into the crowed.

That night we found the restaurant, Dali Courtyard. We found the sign to the street but it was a little ally and after the scam attempt we were wary. But we could see the restaurant. We walked down and the restaurant was busy and its interior beautiful. There were many tourists and Chinese businessmen. There isn’t a menu; they use whatever they have bought, caught or have available. We ordered “two” and they brought: tofu skin and salad, steamed fish seasoned with paprika, chicken in a sauce, barbecued prawns, rice and noodles. Plus we ordered two large bottles of local beer. The food and setting made it one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I highly recommend it. I’d also recommend you make a reservation.

Prices: Palace Museum through ticket, 60 Yuan; Dali Courtyard, 30o Yuan for two people with two bottles of Chinese beer; Scammed, 3 Yuan; Zhongshantang Park, 5 Yuan.

Wednesday’s Plan: Take a trip to the Great Wall of China.

What Actually Happened: We took a trip to the Great Wall of China! We booked through the hostel to go the Mutianyu section of the wall because we wanted to toboggan down. The trip cost 260 Yuan. We were picked up by mini bus and we were in a group of 9 but met up with a larger group of around 20 later. We were taken to the cable car, which we had no idea about, and we had to pay 60 Yuan to go one way or 80 Yuan return. We took the one way ticket because we planned to take the toboggan back down.


We walked along the Wall, it was really amazing to experience and to try and imagine how it was built along the tops of the mountains. We queued for the toboggan after buying the ticket for 60 Yuan. Unfortunately some Chinese bloke decided to jump the entire line, which happened a lot whilst we were there, and went before me. To my dismay he decided to ruin my experience by travelling at approximately 1 MPH. He further spoilt it for the 10 people behind us, who were shouting to go faster. We stopped at times to allow enough time so we could travel at speed but it was never long enough. It was infuriating. Thanks to that guy, you massive ********.

We then were taken to a nearby restaurant and the food was great. There were different dishes including sweat and sour chicken, so I was made up.

Prices: Half day trip to Muntiyu, 260 Yuan; Cable car, 60 Yuan; Toboggan, 60 Yuan; water on the Great Wall, 10 Yuan.

Thursday’s Plan: Go down to the Temple of Heaven, then, travelling up Subway Line 5 to Wangfujing Snack Street and the Lama Temple. For dinner: Da Dong Duck Restaurant.

What Actually Happened: Firstly, we went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s Mausoleum. We saw some stories about appropriate clothing but we saw people going inside with flip flops on and uncovered shoulders. We did need our passport and we needed to put our bags in the locker which cost 50 Yuan! Rip off merchants. Even thought we shuffled past Mao in about 10 seconds it was an experience I’m glad I got to do.

We got to the Temple of Heaven. I enjoyed this more than the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, well worth visiting. Wangfujing Snack Street was an experience too. You could get anything from wriggling scorpions on a stick to barbecued lamb joints. We didn’t make it to the Lama Temple however. Nor did we find Da Dong Duck Restaurant but there are loads of duck places in that area so we picked one. Decent prices and the duck was delicious.

Prices: Lockers in Mao’s Mausoleum, 50 Yuan; Temple of Heaven through ticket, 35 Yuan; Duck restaurant, 70 Yuan for half or 100 Yuan for a whole duck.

Friday’s Plan: Head north to the Summer Palace, then to the Silk Road Market and, finally, a night time visit to the Olympic Stadium to snap the Birds Nest and Water Cube. For dinner we planned to go to Hua’s Restaurant.

What Actually Happened: I got where the Summer Palace was on my map wrong and led us on a hellish two hour walk in the heat in the opposite direction. What a nightmare. We finally got to the Summer Palace and the pollution was so bad you could hardly see the other side of the lake! We bought a through ticket but there wasn’t really much to see in the extras you paid for.

The extra time we spend on our leisurely stroll meant we were behind schedule. We got to the Silk Road Market but a faux pas in bargaining (Charlotte offered 6% of the original price) meant we decided to leave early with our tails between our legs and return the next day.

Not surprisingly (for us), we didn’t find the restaurant and ate the great food in the hostel. We found out the subway was closing earlier than we expected. After our experience with the tricycle scam man and having had to walk an hour at midnight the previous day because the subway closed a stop before we got to the one near our hostel, we decided to give the Olympic Stadium a miss.

Saturday’s Plan: Go to Beijing Antique Market. Then to the airport.

What Actually Happened: Well he had to go back to the Silk Road Market. An couple of hours and two snide Mulberry bags later we headed out to the Antique Market. It was huge! Loads of stuff too look at and a photographers paradise.

The Hostel

We stayed at the Beijing Heyuan International Youth Hostel, part of the Youth Hostel group. It was fantastic; the interior and exterior were great. Our room was clean, our shower powerful and the aircon cold. The food was also really good. A decent breakfast such as an omelet was 30 Yuan, for lunch there was beef noodles etc for between 10 and 15 Yuan and for dinner they had quiet a few things for 25 Yuan. Plus they had pizza but I can’t remember the price. Overall good quality food at a decent price.

Here is a Google map I made before we went. Lots of info: 

Why I’m shooting with film

When I decided I wanted to get into photography I bought a Zenit E (SLR): fully manual, made in the USSR in 1976.

So, why didn’t I go pick up a Canon or Nikon DSLR?

Fistly, you can pick up an old soviet camera’s dirt cheap on eBay rather than shelling out on a decent DSLR. Then pick up some film and your off; and only 40 quid out of pocket.

Secondly, I wanted a manual camera because I wanted to learn photography. I didn’t want to lazily put my Canon D600 in auto and fire away. I wanted to learn what the hell aperture really is, what ISO actually means and to understand shutter speed. Not being able to simply switch my camera to aperture priority mode meant that I have to understand the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed.

I didn’t find it easy. It was surprisingly difficult to get my brain to understand that if the aperture F-stop number is getting smaller then the iris is opening bigger.

With a DSLR you can just blast away in auto like it were an AK-47. On the other hand, with a fully manual camera you’ve got to actually think about what depth of field you want, what your focusing on and whether what your about to photograph is even interesting. When I do go digital I can take these hard earned lessons with me and hopefully I will be a better photographer for it.

Thirdly, because I think photographs are getting hidden away in badly labelled files on your laptop or lost to the ever increasing depths of Facebook. I want to physically hold a tangible copy of my photography.

Lastly, I wanted just one of my technological tools not to be instant. Everything we have gets us the result instantaneously. But with a film camera you can look at the rear LCD screen to check if you got the shot you wanted you’ve got to wait until all 36 shots have been taken, the (precariously) unload the film and wait 5 days for the film to be developed. It’s nice to be in a rush or get the result straight away.

These are my reasons for choosing film photography.

Here is a good video explaining some more reasons for choosing a manual camera to learn with:

Boryeong Mud Festival

Last weekend me, Charlotte and the group travelled to the Boryeong Mud Festival. It was our last weekend with Josie “Dobbers” Dobson 😦

Great night out but we wished the day was more muddy.

Here is the group (minus Claire):


But here’s my favourite photo:


Took my new Fed 3 rangefinder for it’s first proper outing, hoping the photos come out alright!

Why I’ve taken up photography.

I’ve always had an interest in photography but I’ve really been given the imperative to actually take the time to sit down, teach myself and take it up as a hobby.

Firstly, I saw some amazing travelling photographs from friends on Facebook. This made me realise that I want to be able to capture the most exciting, hilarious and wonderful moments of Charlotte and my travels at the beginning of 2014.

Secondly, I have been following the incredible work being done one the International Brigade Memorial Trust‘s Facebook page. There people have been digging up old portraits of volunteers and putting names to faces (view some here). Although they must have known what they were doing was spectacularly brave and that split moment (I don’t think) they would have realised in 70 years people would be gazing at them in wonder and desperately trying to put a name to their face just to try and preserve their heroism for the future.

It’s this idea that when we take a photograph we can’t imagine, at that moment, why in 30, 70 or one hundred years would think it’s interesting. Whether it’s seeing the fashion of the time, the now archaic utensils in the background or even the former packaging of the brands we love today; the subject and the background can all provide something curious to look at. Taking candid, real life photographs documenting the life of ordinary people is what really interests me.

So, these are the reasons why I’ve taken up photography and later I’ll post how I’ve been learning.


Charlotte’s Birthday

Charlotte's Birthday

Yesterday was Charlotte’s 23rd (24th in Korean age) Birthday.

Happy Birthday Charlotte 🙂

Love you!


A great day out at Taehwa River Park


Amazing park in Songnam-Dong, Ulsan. Looked incredible with the different flowers blooming.

My second favourite park; my first being St. James’ Park in London.