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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cock your camera by turning the advance lever.
- 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,
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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: