Zenit E First Impressions

Zenit E First Impressions

The Zenit E is a 35mm soviet camera with an m42 lens mount. Made in the USSR, The Zenit E was produced for twenty two years between 1965 and 1986. It is a heavy, chunky and sometimes clumsy camera, but is it worth your time?

A little back story on my personal finds here. I got two Zenit E’s. One came with the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 lens, the other the Industar 50mm f3.5. I have what looks like an older model here, with a little body damage. The other one looked newer and cleaner, but locked up before I had a chance to put a roll in.

When people talk about the Zenit E, it’s hard not to talk about the Helios lens, known for its funky bokeh.

One of the things you’re going to notice on the helios lens, is that it has both designated aperture settings, and a step less ring.

The idea here is once you know your exposure, you set the aperture with a clicky ring. Then open up again with the step less ring to help you focus, then close down again.  With the clicky part making sure you don’t close down too far. At least that’s the way I used it.

I don’t use screw mount cameras very often, so I forget the aperture doesn’t close down when the shutter is released, but just sits there at whatever you set it to. You can see there’s some gunk on my blades and if I were using a newer lens, from an F series Nikon or A series Canon, I might be a little more worried, because the aperture may drag and not close in time when the shutter goes off, giving me an overexposed image.

I kind of found the overall placement confusing. I’m so used to the aperture ring being in the back. My Nikon 50mm lens is the opposite. Focus on the front, aperture at the back.

The industar lens is the same, except its step less only.

Adjusting the shutter setting is done by lifting and rotating to line up with the mark here. It doesn’t matter if you advance first, or after adjusting your shutter speed. You don’t have to worry about messing up the mechanics.

While the principle of a battery less light meter is neat, I would not count on the built in light meter, which uses selenium and they almost always lose sensitivity over time.

Looking into the viewfinder is like staring at a classic arcade machine with the rounded corners and reflection on the bottom.

One of the biggest issues I ran into was opening my aperture to focus, and then forgetting to close down again before taking the shot. If you are committed to buying this camera it’ll be an extra step to remember.

I’m going to give you my personal pros and cons as well as tips if you have one or are interested, but first, here are a few photos I took with the Zenit E.

Alright, lets talk pros and cons, first the pros.

An m42 mount gives you an incredibly wide range of lenses, reliable lenses that don’t have as many mechanics.

And It’s inexpensive. You can get one for about $100 dollars shipped.

And now the cons.

The built in light meter is unlikely to work, and you’ll need an external one.

You have to set your own frame counter when you put the roll in, something I forgot to do both test rolls. If you do, you’re left guessing how many photos you have left.

Ergonomically, it feels terrible. It’s heavier than it needs to be, and while this might have been all that was available at the time it was made, I’m comparing it to what we can find now. There are a lot of other cameras out there similarly priced, that will offer more comfort and features.

The last thing I should mention is there will be a lot of taking your eye away to re-adjust. To change the shutter speed, and to change the aperture as well as open it to focus then close it down again.

Honestly I think there’s a subset of film photographers out there that just love Soviet cameras. I have owned the Fed 5 and Kiev 4, and while they can be classy looking tools, they feel janky.

After putting a couple rolls threw I knew this wasn’t the camera for me, so here are my tips to determine if this camera is right for you.

Tip 1, make sure you’re prepared with a good light meter, and don’t mind using it.

And tip 2, Be ready for the reduced visibility from closing down your aperture before you fire the shutter.

If you are okay with both those aspects you’ll probably do just fine with this camera.

And that’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed my first impressions of the Zenit E. I didn’t mean to poo poo all over it but that’s what I got out of the experience. Do you agree with my assessment? Be sure and let me know what you think in the comments section.