I didn’t imagine that film which over 30 years expired would yield any result, decent or otherwise. Following the unwritten rule of adding a stop of exposure per decade expired, my film speed plummeted from 80 ISO all the way down to 12 ISO. Not ideal for anything that moves, such as children or sports!

At 12 ISO it’s essential to use a tripod especially if you intend to shoot anything above f/4.

To keep things in the Soviet spirit I shot with the Kiev 4a. I think the match of camera and film made perfect sense for the experiment I had in mind. A real blast from the past, so to speak!

Expired Svema Foto 65 film

All in all, I’m very content with the exposure and contrast of the images produced by the Svema film. I choose 12 ISO and added a little more development time. I ended up with little to do in post-processing. I simply scanned the images and removed spots and scratches. There are some black spots in the images, which I left. These are from the decaying film itself.

I find there is a certain air of mystery to the photographs. Whether it was the combination of the foggy day and the aging film. It somehow works for what I had in mind. If it’s what you imagined in the first place and it came close or exceeded your wishes, I guess then it is a success.

Of course, working with expired photographic film always adds unexpected variations to the mix. I had told myself beforehand not to be too hard on myself. If things didn’t work at all. It is always important to keep this in mind when venturing into the unknown!


I put together a video which talks about the Kiev 4a and Svema film in detail. There’s also some location footage and closes up off the images themselves.


Ten things about Svema

  1. It was produced in the city of Shostka situated in Ukraine.
  2. Svema began its work on October 1, 1930.
  3. “Svema” means light-sensitive materials.
  4. Svema was one of the main suppliers of cinematic and photo film within the former USSR.
  5. In its heyday pretty much the whole city worked at this plant. Of the 80,000 inhabitants, 15,000 worked there
  6. Svema made black and white photographic film, photographic paper, black and white / colour cine film and also magnetic tape.
  7. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Svema continued to work quite steadily for some time into the mid 90s.
  8. Just before the government decided that the country no longer needed the plant, they had just completed the DS-100 photographic film, supposedly similar in quality to the Japanese “Fuji Superia”.
  9. In 1995, Astrum, a photographic supplies company located in Ukraine was established. It operates equipment once used by Svema to produce similar product lines.
  10. Modern Svema-branded film is now sold by the Film Photography Project Store, the official US distributor of Svema branded film

Developing Svema Foto 64

I used Rodinal 1:50 and developed it for 15 minutes with my Spinmatic device.

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About the author

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Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972, Gavin Lyons is an award-winning landscape and nature photographer who is self-taught. After living in Italy and France for a couple of years, it wasn't until settling in Austria that he became more serious about using a camera....

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  1. Svema also made color photo films for prints and slides.
    I had shot some color slides on Svema with ISO32 in 80’s but it gave not very impressive colors.

  2. “Svema” is an acronym, not a word 🙂
    It is formed from two words – “СВЕточувствительные МАтериалы” (SVEtochuvstvitel’nie MAterialy).
    свет (svet) – light
    чувствительные (chuvstvitel’nie) – sensitive
    материалы (materialy) – materials.

    Just like LOMO. Which means “Ленинградское Оптико-Механическое Объединение” (Leningrad optical-mechanical association).

    Almost any plant or factory in USSR had some sort of “short name” 🙂

  3. I love the look created by the film, especially the hanging branch photo. I have used old expired Svema film myself quite a few times and recognised the look straight away… thanks for reminding me of why I should buy some more through your photos!