My first roll… Of 35mm film: Kyiv on Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 in a Zenit E – by Garrison Way

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Not too long ago EM posted an article about his first roll of film. I was going through my old scans at the time and found mine. This coincidence inspired me to share that roll with you, albeit with a few shots removed (at the subjects request). The majority, however, remain in all their uncomposed glory.

I shot my first roll of film in the spring of 2009 with a Zenit E and a Helios-44. It was Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 and I was just beginning my third year in Kyiv, Ukraine and looking for something to fill my time in between teaching English and learning Russian. I was finally making enough to travel a bit and photography seems to go hand in hand with exploring new places.


I do not remember doing any research into how to expose correctly or what camera might be best for me. My father always had a camera when we travelled. He would snap away, making it look easy and then once a year we would sit in the dark living room sorting the slides on a projector. The pile of rejects would grow on the floor as we tried to remember what we had done and where we had been. It all seemed effortless at the time.

The terrible results I was getting from my digital point and shoot were the main drive to try it the “old” way. My father missed exposure more often than focus, unlike my 3 megapixel monster. By accident, I discovered a swap meet for collectors of everything old near my apartment. The Zenit looked good and the price was right. I picked up a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400 from a nearby kiosk and set off to make a masterpiece.

These days I am glacially slow when finishing a roll of film. It took me six months to get through a roll of 120 film last year. I hate wasting film on pictures I am not sure will turn out. But back then I was super excited to see what I could capture and blew through the roll in a day. The kiosk where I bought the film also sent it out for developing and scanning. Here are the results:

I was delighted with these first shots. Now I see that the camera probably had a pinhole in the shutter curtain. That little burn mark on every frame (top half, right side) really bugged me back then. The scans are full of dust and other junk that I have not removed digitally because I did not have the means at the time. As I recall, the developing and scanning cost less than the film itself so I can’t complain much about the results.

The camera was not easy to use. I remember squinting, trying to see if it was focused. With the lens stopped down, the viewfinder was dimmer than a darkroom. Without any indicators in the viewfinder, I was constantly bringing the camera down to check the light meter. It was so heavy that holding it level was an accomplishment. The leather strap on the case broke halfway through my second roll and I sold it to a colleague shortly after that.

Despite its bad reputation, the Zenit E is a great beginner’s camera. I have since gone through many cameras and have proved that it is not the camera that takes good pictures. That first roll introduced me to the real magic that is film photography. I finally made the plunge into darkroom work earlier this year and only wish I had begun earlier.


I hope my first roll inspires you to go spend too much time fiddling with an old metal box and some film.

~ Garrison

Want to share your first roll or sheet of film?

Poorly exposed, badly framed and blurry photos? No-one is perfect, especially when shooting their first roll of film...but that's ok and I'd like to spread that message. Submit as many frames from your first roll as you're able to with an accompanying text of at least 500 words using this Google form. If you would prefer to submit another way, please use the contact link at the top of the page.

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