Back in Time with Black and White Film

It was my birthday in July and the present that surprised me most was an old Zenit-B film camera. I hadn’t asked for this camera but it was in fact my first camera that I had when I first became seriously interested in photography in the late 1970s. So, it just had to be done. I bought a film and literally stepped back in time.

The Zenit-B Camera

The Zenit-B is a purely mechanical 35mm SLR without a light meter. It has no automatic diaphragm; the lens has to be stopped down manually after focusing. There were also no focusing aids apart from the plain ground-glass screen.

The lens is Helios-44-2 58mm f/2.8, M42 screw mount, filter thread: 44mm

All Zenit-B produced between 1968-73.

You can find all of the info here

I used a Black and White Ilford Delta 400 film. I decided to go for a higher ISO to give me a few more options on settings but I would be losing some quality in the end results.

The Task

I had no idea whether this was a working camera or not. Also, I needed subjects where I could take my time and get used to the manual settings again. I decided to go to Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, England. I have photographed here many times before so I knew some good spots. The 5 images below are just 5 examples of the 36 shots on the film. I did have a couple of failures due to some schoolboy errors.


Unlike later Zinit models there is no exposure meter on this version. I did have some old hand-held exposure meters in my loft but when I checked them out they were dead. So my only option was to revert to my mobile and an App called the Photographer’s Companion. The exposure readings were reasonably accurate. I did have to take a number of readings for each scene and make my own judgement for the average setting.

Pressing the Button

This was the biggest difference for me. Using this manual camera and being limited to 36 shots really slowed down my photography and made me think a lot more before pressing the button. All of which is a good thing. At the time I hadn’t calculated the final total cost. It turned out to be 50 pence per shot. Knowing that now, I would have taken even more time.

Getting the Film Developed and Processed

Many years ago, I was able to develop and print my own film. Sadly, I no longer have the kit so I had to send the film away for developing and printing. The whole process took about 10 days but there was the delayed gratification of waiting for the prints to arrive in the post. I’m not my kids would understand this. It was at this point where I discovered the total cost of the film, the developing, the printing and postage came to a total of £20. For another £20 I could have had scans of the negative. ouch!

The Prints

To be honest I was a little disappointed with the prints when I looked at them. I had a look a the negatives and they looked OK. I had to remind myself that the print process will have been automated with average guesses on how the prints should be exposed. I also have no idea of the quality of the print paper used. Have a look at the left side of the images below to get an approximate idea of the prints I received.

Scanning and Editing

My next step was to scan the negatives so that I could go through my current editing processes. As might be expected there was quite a lot of information on the negatives which wasn’t there on the prints. In the main the three editing steps I took were to adjust the overall exposure, adjust the dynamic range and adjust the contrast. All of which I would have been able to do if I had my own printing facilities. My edits on the right-hand side of the images below.

Final Thoughts

I liked the end results including the high contrast and film grain. I really liked the way the manual Zenit slowed down my photography. I will be trying a lot harder to press the button less in future. It was frustrating to have so much of the process out of my control but the modern edits meant I wasn’t disappointed. Would I do it again? Yes, but just as a once-a-year treat. I really love my modern camera.

The Rangers Lodge
Deer in the Bracken
Old John through the Silver Birches at Sliding Stones
Old John from Sliding Stones
The Meadow at Swithland Wood

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