The Zenit E is a Russian camera made in the USSR by KMZ in the town of Krasnogorsk (also made in Belarus). Soviet era cameras have a poor reputation – mostly undeserved in the West – but my Zenit E purchased in 1973 was an excellent camera. It performed well for many years with much neglect (including being dropped off a moving bus!). I now have a newer Zenit E from 1981
focal length: 58 mm
apertures: f2 to f16
focus range: 0.5 m (2.6 ft) to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 s to 1/500 s
flash: PC socket
film size: 35mm
The camera is solid and weighty – weighing 700g. The body is made from die cast aluminium with brass base plate and top housing. The controls are well placed and accessible – they compare well with a Fed 5 where I have to fumble for the poorly placed shutter release. I have large, not very nimble, hands and I find this camera very easy to use.
The shutter offers speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 plus B which is plenty for normal use. The focal plane shuttersynchronises with the flash socket at 1/30 both for electronic flash (X) and for Bulb flash (MF).
The built in meter is a selenium meter which does not require a battery and is not TTL. It is no improvement over a hand-held meter other than you only need to carry one item. The meter is of the traditional match needle type and has settings for 13 – 28 DIN and 16 – 500 ASA (new scale, the same as ISO).
Zenits came with a Helios-44 lens with a focal length of 58mm which is normal for 35 mm film (‘normal’ means it gives the same perspective as the human eye does). The Helios-44 lens is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotor lens. This lens has an aperture range of f2 to f16 which is more than adequate for most situations. The aperture setting ring has click-stops and there is a second ring to close the aperture after focussing. – the lens does not stop down automatically when the shutter release is pressed, you have to do this manually after focussing and before touching the shutter release. This lens has an excellent reputation and is considered to be better than the Carl Zeiss Jena lens it copies – the Helios lens is multi-coated which the Biotar lens was not.
Focussing is from 0.5m to infinity. The fitting is the Pentacon M42 thread as was standard on Praktica and Pentax (and many other cameras) up to the advent of bayonet fittings in the 1970s. The focussing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prism or split image focussing aids found on more expensive cameras. There is a printed depth of view scale on the lens barrel and a hyper-focal position marked which will give a focus range of 5m to infinity at f8.
There is an accessory shoe fitted on top of the pentaprism but it is not a “hot” shoe, flash connection being by way of a PC connector on the face of the camera.
Loading film is simple and easy. The back is hinged along one short side and the other short side is locked by a sliding catch. The rewind knob has to be pulled up to allow for the insertion of the film cassette and when pushed back in, locks the cassette in place. The film travels over the film plane, over two sprocket wheels and fits into a slot on the take up spool. Once the back is closed it is necessary to wind on two frames to place unfogged film behind the lens. At this point, you can set the film counter to zero.
Focussing is not as easy as with most manual SLRs of the period as the focussing screen is plain ground glass – no micro-prism, no split image – but it is certainly adequate.
The Helios-44 lens is very sharp and if stopped down to f8 the depth of field is more than capable of removing any defects in poor manual focusing.
When one is used to an automatic camera, it is easy to forget to manually stop down the lens before pressing the shutter release. To make focussing easier, the aperture ring has click stops at each f number but does not actually alter the aperture which remains wide open until the secondary aperture ring is turned after focussing. Once used to this camera, it becomes second nature and adds to the slowness of using this camera. I find that this slowing down to be useful as you are forced to be more considered in your actions and this leads to better pictures.
Please share this article if you enjoyed reading it: