Soviet disaster

Made in USSRIn October I excitedly announced the arrival of my new camera – a Zenit made in the USSR nearly 45 years ago. It’s a mechanical beauty which takes film, and I quietly went about getting to grips with analogue.

I’ve been running my digital cameras as normal – more recently a Fujifilm X-E1 – so it’s taken a long time to come near to filling a roll of monochrome film and sending it off to the processing lab to see the first results.

This looked tantalisingly likely this weekend, so I braved the cold to capture those closing shots.

My Zenit-3 seemed to promise a couple of bonus shots, as I was expecting the shutter lever to tighten and signal the film’s end. But it just didn’t happen.

Back in the warm, I decided to manually rewind the film – only to discover there was no tension there at all. I opened up the back to find my worst fears had come true.

The film was torn from its cartridge and the entire roll was ruined.

Well the post-mortem showed that I’d made a very stupid mistake. This majestic old camera doesn’t tell me the film is nearing its end. When the mechanical counter reaches 36, that’s your cue to rewind the film. Don’t try to squeeze a couple of extra clicks.

So this was a Soviet disaster, although maybe not on the scale of Chernobyl. Another film has been loaded into the Zenit and I’m going to start all over again.

This isn’t a digital camera where you receive a polite message if your memory card is full up. It requires an old-fashioned kind of respect. It’s been tempting to give up this analogue journey and its pitfalls, but I’ll keep going.

This camera has been around longer than I have, so I’ll take notice of my elder and learn from her.

28 thoughts on “Soviet disaster

  1. I’m just coming to the end of my first film that I’ve had in a Zorki 4. I’ll try to take care and avoid the same bad luck that you have had. Fingers crossed for you next time. By the way, great choice with the X-E1.


    • Good luck with getting your film safely to its end and back in the cartridge. I read your piece on the X-E1 with interest – I’m thinking of getting the macro lens (60mm) as it’s close-ups where the prime lens doesn’t seem to perform so well.


  2. Can’t blame the camera entirely, you the camera and the tape at the end of the film is all to blame, its a combined effort. Better luck next time! Now it’s time to cheer you up with my mishap. Ever shot a roll till 36 but it kept winding, Open the door I find out the leader came off the spool when I first loaded it, on a trip. Orrrr. Having drunk friends around when you’re developing film and they decided to open my (loaded) developing tank under the light to see what’s inside.Or, give a film camera to your 10 year old nephew, he would take his time focusing and adjusting the aperture to a photo, and then open the back to try and see the picture after every shot! Cheers mate. Better luck next time!


    • Hey Derek, thanks for coming by. You’re right, it’s all about human error and not anticipating a machine that needs a human to work it. Oh dear, you have some tales of woe. It turns out we all do, which makes me feel a little better, somehow. Next time will be different, he says with fingers crossed.


  3. Love your approach. I began my photographic journey in the analogue world and although I am a firm fan of digital now, I do sometimes wonder if I would take images that pleased me if I hadn’t first earned my spurs on film. By the way, you may have seen on my blog that I am intending to invest in a CSC as a second camera and recently tested the Sony NEX-7. I have one other camera to test, the Fuji X-E1! Would love to hear what you think of it.


    • Oh, very interesting! I must say the Fuji is proving its worth – I’m pleased with the crisp and detailed shots. However, I recently discovered that the prime lens struggles with macro work, leading to the inevitable purchase of the 60mm lens for £450 or more. But I guess that’s the whole point of a compact system. The camera quickly felt like my own and is a great mix of old school and very modern styling/technology. Do let me know how you get on, Rachael, and let me know if you have any other questions.


  4. It is happen not just with Zenit. Any camera with 45 years age does the same. Goof luck, Mike, with your adventure in the old photo world. Unfortunately, a lot of experiences come to us through mistakes.


  5. I ripped a roll of 35mm film once when i didn’t set the counter and thought the tension was a jam in the camera. Thankfully I had a friend who helped me out and was able to wind the film into a blank can for bulk film loading and i was able to get the film developed. Now any time i feel tension on a roll of film, I rewind the film.


    • You certainly have to treat these cameras differently. Glad to hear you managed to salvage your film – it was too late for me and of course it had been exposed to the light. As I say, my counter has been nudged forward and I’ll probably rewind earlier rather than later. Thanks for coming by, Steven.


  6. I look forward to the next roll of film to hit the blog Mike. I know what you must be feeling regarding the last roll, but it is always enjoyable if a little expensive to be using film with its element of surprise and the real clunk of the camera mechanics. Do you think you will be developing the films you?


  7. That’s a real *****! ….. but at least a lesson learned at the beginning.
    It was a problem I always feared but fortunately never experienced with my Zenit, although I must admit I used to wind it on pretty gingerly when I got near the end :)
    Definitely don’t give up as it’ll be so much more rewarding when it all comes together. Besides, if you give up then you’ll be making me give up before I even start the return to my Zenit ….. no pressure there then …. :) :)


  8. Darn Mike, what a pain. No polite messages either? Sorry!!! Bad luck and better luck next time. Will there be a next time? Film can be so rewarding. We just got done with some toning experiments in our darkroom. Some techniques we’re ditching and some we’re keeping. There’s a real reward in holding that print in your hands though. ;-) Most of our cameras are older than the two of us!!


    • Wow, good stuff! Yes, the next film is loaded and the counter purposely nudged forward a little so there should be spare when it reaches 36. If the truth be told, I can’t really remember the shots I took – another interesting feature of vintage photography :-)


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