Zenit-E, My Communist SLR


I don’t know much about my new Zenit-E but I do have an idea of where it’s been.

The journey of a camera made approximately in 1975.  It was manufactured in Krasnogorsk just outside Moscow, Russia (A).  I purchased it from an eBay vendor very near to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (B).  And the nice eBay vendor shipped my Russian camera to me in Chicago, IL USA (C).  I can only dare to imagine where else the Zenit-E traveled.

First, my best sample photo with the Zenit-E

This is my gangway to my bungalow in Chicago, IL USA.  I often shoot my wife’s flowers with hopes of getting some good bokeh in the background.  You can see our sidewalk and our red Weber grill.

Zenit-E, Flowers with Bokeh

How does the Zenit-E feel?

Perhaps the best time to describe how a camera “feels” is before you process its first roll of film.  You’re not focusing on the results of the camera but the operation of the camera.

First, allow me to thank the eBay vendor from Canada who advertised a tested camera and delivered a camera that worked properly.  No lens, just a body, packed wonderfully in a nice box protected against harm.

The Zenit-E is a Tank

Honest to goodness, this camera is built like a tank.  Heavy as heck, rock solid, I like it.

Zenit-E Impressions

  1. Feels good.  It’s made of steel and in my opinion, decently assembled.
  2. Selenium meter.  No batteries on this SLR.  The selenium meter does adjust to light.  Whether it’s accurate, I have no idea.
  3. Little camera shake.  Since I am fond of tiny apertures and longer shutter times, I end up taking lots of photos at 1/30 of a second or less.  I like cameras that don’t shake.  This Russian Zenit-E doesn’t shake much at any speed.
  4. Sounds good.  Strangely enough, I like the sound it makes when it takes a photo.  Not too loud, just right.

Problems?  Not many.

  1. X and M.  My first two photos were wasted in the daytime.  I had the camera set to X/M, pressed the shutter, and the exposure was in B mode.  My mistake.
  2. Initial film transport.  It took perhaps 10 minutes to figure out how to insert the film, slip the tail end of the film into the take up roll slot, and start the film properly.  Film transport is something I am still learning even after shooting over 30 film cameras in the past year.
  3. Film rewind.  A little quirky.  At the end of the roll press the film transport release button located near the shutter button.  Normally these buttons are on the bottom of the camera, on the Zenit-E, it’s on the top of the camera by the shutter release.  Next, the film rewind is on top of the camera on the opposite side of the shutter.  Pull out the little knob and rewind in the direction of the arrow.  Keep winding until you no longer feel any film tension.  That means you’re finished rewinding.

Selenium light meter

After reviewing my first roll I believe the selenium light meter isn’t working quite right.  And then I used an untested light meter I had sitting around.  So I rolled the dice twice and lost on too many overexposures.

We always hope that our film photographs come out well, nicely exposed, and well focused.  But as you can see from this overexposed pond, trusting the light meters of untested old cameras and old light meters results in questionable exposures.

Zenit-E, Overexposed Pond

A Little Worried about Stopping Down the Diaphragm

I found this quote from Camerapedia after shooting my first roll.

The Zenit E requires the user to manually stop down the diaphragm before exposure; the lens has an extra ring for this purpose. The Zenit EM was an upgraded version, with an automatic diaphragm.

Here’s hoping I didn’t waste an entire roll because I certainly did not “stop down” the diaphragm.

As it turns out, some Russian lenses have a diaphragm “dial” for stopping down prior to a shot.  But other M42 screw mount lenses do not have that feature.  Basically, for most M42 lenses without a diaphragm dial, you set aperture, shutter speed, focus and shoot.

Zenit E – Technical Details

I don’t mind if you read Matt Denton’s description of this camera at Matt’s website.  It’s for a Zenit EM, not the Zenit E.  But it’s close enough to give you an idea of what you might be purchasing.

My summary.

  1. No lens.  My Zenit-E came without a lens, just a body.  I used a Carl Zeiss Jena 55m 2.8 aperture lens.  It seemed appropriate.  An East German communist lens for a Soviet camera (just having a little fun here, cameras don’t care where they’re manufactured).
  2. Shutter speed.  30, 60, 125, 250, and 500th of a second.  B also.

I know it’s a little thin as descriptions go.  Visit Matt Denton’s website for more info.

Provenance or History

No fancy provenance on this camera, just a short history.

  1. Made in Krasnogork near Moscow, Russia.
  2. Somehow travelled to near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
  3. Shipped from Vancouver, Canada to Chicago, IL USA.

Ironically, I visited Moscow during the summer of 1975.  Quite possibly I even passed through Krasnogorsk at that time.  I was with 50 American students from Wisconsin travelling in a German VW van with Belgium license plates throughout all of Russia and soviet bloc countries.

I’ve also been to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Beautiful town, great time.

So I’ve made a similar journey as did my Zenit-E camera.  Both of us are still in good shape (thank you).

My Repairs for the Zenit E

No repairs needed.  Everything seemed to work courtesy of a diligent and good seller on eBay.

Sample Photos with the Zenit-E

Half of my exposures on the first roll were overexposed.  But their were some decent photos.  Here’s a basketball player shooting a shot.  As I recall, this photo was taken while using the camera’s selenium meter.  Also, the player is a little blurry at 1/30th of a second.  But perhaps you can learn from my imperfect photos.

Zenit-E, Hoops at Lunch

This is a Chicago gangway.  That means it’s the space between two buildings.  Our neighbor’s brick two flat is on the left and my wooden bungalow is on the right.  You can see the locked gate at the back of the photo.  Although it’s a good taste of what Chicago is like, you can still tell that the photos is overexposed.  One day, I’ll use a genuine accurate light meter.

Zenit-E, Chicago Gangway

Zenit-E Final Review

I won’t sell this camera, for now.

Once I purchase an accurate light meter I’ll shoot another roll and see how it performs.

I have many happy memories of visiting Russia in 1975.  It’s quite possible that my Zenit-E was manufactured that very summer as we drove into Moscow on a blistering summer day of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  As we drove into Moscow on the outskirts, we passed a team of large Russian women in red bikinis working with picks and shovels moving dirt for a new road.  If only I had a Zenit-E to photograph that amazing sight in 1975.

Thanks for reading my Zenit-E review today.  And finally, thanks for visiting What is a Film Camera .