My first roll really was a first roll. I’m an amateur photographer now but at the time I had no previous experience with photography in either digital OR film. It all started from a Reddit Christmas gift exchange I signed up for in 2014. It entailed pairing random strangers from across the globe with each other, and required both parties to buy gifts based on the other’s interests.

My gift partner listed many interests and hobbies, one of which intrigued me – analog photography. How strange? Armed with a budget of only $20 I fired up eBay to look for something “analog photography” related. This is when I discovered the magical world of second-hand cameras, such a wide selection and for so cheap! I purchased an old Soviet Fed-5B rangefinder camera and proud of my fantastic gift, I sent it off in the mail.

A part of me felt unsettled though, I became so deeply curious as to if such a camera would even function and what the images might look like that I immediately bought a second one for myself. Being a broke student at the time and having just spent $40 I was insistent on buying the cheapest film I could get my hands on – which at the time was Fuji’s Fujicolor C200 in 24 exposure rolls for about $3 a roll. So while I waited for my camera and film to arrive I watched some Youtube tutorials on how to load film into my particular camera as well as some basics. I learned about ISO, F-stop, shutter speed, the Sunny 16 rule and minimum shutter speed to avoid camera shake.

Now, the images I include here are genuinely my very first images from that first shorty roll of Fuji C200, from which I got 20 images. The pictures were taken over a rainy weekend in my town in western Poland. My only intention when setting out for the first time was to get to the centre of the old town and take some pictures of the beautiful old architecture found there. Now one of the quirks of the Fed-5B is that you need to cock the shutter before changing the shutter speed in order to avoid horribly damaging the fragile Soviet internal mechanism.

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As a result, I remember the disappointment I felt when I accidentally bumped my camera and fired off a blurry shot while waiting to cross the street. I loved learning how to use this tool, squinting through the dark and tiny viewfinder to see the split image motivated me to take more photographs. I remember wanting to test what different settings were like, so I took a few double shots in this roll – preserving the same exposure but shooting at different f-stops.

I do this at the river after which I walk past a literal “bread-line” of people queuing at a bakery (above), so I snap a quick shot on my way to the local bazaar. I make my way to the “love-lock bridge” where I took my first step into the buttery land of bokeh by taking two more shots at f/2.8 and f/4 (below). These at the time, were the best and most pleasing images I had taken and fully cemented my commitment to photography.

Nowadays I still used rangefinders, mostly a Leica M6 — is a far cry from my humble eyeball-straining beginnings with the Fed-5B — although I still wholeheartedly recommend that camera to any new photographers wanting a cheap, fun and satisfying first taste at film rangefinder photography. Sadly I no longer have my original Fed-5B, and I now have to live with the deep searing guilt of having sold my trusty steed. Still, $20 is $20.

~ Chill_Grain

Want to share your first roll or sheet of film?

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  1. Great story! 😀 I like very much that the emotion with which you write feels as intense as the time you first started and what I feel when I forget and then come back to watch my first photos. The reds in that trafic light is something that in my digital cameras (they are a bit old) couldn’t get.