Having been sucked into digital in the early naughties and bled dry by four-figure kit purchases it was time hail out the modest EOS 300 I had in my 20’s and see what further damage I could do to my bank account now all these wonderful and obscure emulsions have appeared on the market.
Leaping off the screen at Analogue Wonderland was Svema. I remember Svema. Oh yes indeed. Unfinished business here. You see, back in 1990, I was in the Soviet Union on a day trip from Sweden, as you do, visiting what was then the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Estonia, like its neighbours Lithuania and Latvia, had found itself absorbed into Stalin’s USSR at the end of WW2.
I wanted to witness the first stirrings of independence at first hand and, at the time, documented empty shelves, furtive flags unrolled in the main square before being proudly flown for all to see. Going into the main department store, a bizarre shopping experience as anyone who visited the USSR will tell you, I decided to by some local film out of curiosity – Svema.
Opening it in this land of shortages I was dismayed to find that a roll of film was exactly that. A roll of film. No canister. It was now a ruined roll of film. So, 30 years later FPP have defrosted and loaded into canisters some Svema film from Ukraine and these are the results, patiently processed and scanned by Duncan at Silverpan Labs.
Mostly I shot the pics on a walk along London’s Regents Canal during August this year but also went for a wander around the West End soaking up the summer evening vibe. I wanted to see how the film coped with fading light. The answer being, it’s a bit crap as you can see from the pic Neal’s Yard. That was only one stop under. The grain is like sand and the colour also, but not unpleasing when correctly exposed. Might have a go for portraits next time.
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This is funny, people are raving about Svema Color film from the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, that is supposedly “defrosted” from some warehouse somewhere in Ukraine, yet, Soviets never made such film back in the day! Polyester based color emulsion that is to be processed in C-41 is most likely Kodak! Definitely not Svema! Polyester-based films were only available for motion picture cameras and never to be processed in C-41, since Soviets never used C-41 but instead old Agfa color process from before WWII! Until “their” fall of Communism (which was about 5 years later after the fall of East Berlin’s Wall and destruction of Communism in Poland) the Soviets only produced films on acetate. Yes, the color on this thing might be off and nostalgic looking, it might bring good or bad memories, but last time I checked, when Svema was in business, they had terrible quality control, and their films were years behind their Western counterparts… I have used most of the Svema and Tasma films as an experiment to test their quality with Soviet lenses back in the late 1980s when I was a kid, and they were so bad…
Yes, they were cheap, I could buy a load of film, camera, lens and accessories for an equivalent of Swiss person’s daily wages or Swiss teenager’s weekly allowance, but quality was not there at all!
Compared to Agfa, Kodak, Fuji, Konica or even other Eastern Block films such as Adox-based Yugoslavian Efke, Agfa-based East German ORWO or Ilford-licensed Polish FOTON, Soviet films were years behind! Some of my Leica, Zeiss and Nikon lenses at the time had a resolving power of 200l/mm, best Kodak films 320lp/mm while the Soviet films were almost 90lp/mm while their Zenit or Helios lenses were only 48l/mm on the very best examples! That’s like comparing Ferrari to a Rover, or a Mercedes-Benz to a Lada!