Your kilo of soviet metal, your light meter which stopped working decades ago, your dark, murky viewfinder designed to just miss focus, your rewind mechanism engineered to give me blisters on one hand and arthritis in the other. Your complete lack of any sort of functions or assistance. The one and only Zenit-E. Why would anyone even make this thing, never mind choose to buy it? Nothing about you is easy. But then again if I wanted easy I’d go digital. Here I am, still faithfully putting roll after roll through you, despite having been actively interested in photography for long enough to know better.
I bought you for less than the price of a beer when I couldn’t really afford anything else. You were cheap, I was poor, I had the time to learn to love you and didn’t have the means to buy anything better. The more I fell into this hobby, the more I learnt about your reputation as the unloved, unwanted ginger stepchild. I’d follow the big websites, listen to the leading podcasts in the scene, and your name only came up as a laughing stock or as a point of reference on what not to buy. Maybe it’s my desire to prove people wrong or maybe just that I love a good underdog story, but I was determined to show what you’re capable of. I’ve even tried to learn Sunny 16 and understand the exposure triangle to get the best possible results (but please don’t test me on them).
You soldier on, despite my lack of technical knowledge. The more I put in, the more you give me back. Your resilience matches mine. You’re not weatherproof, waterproof, anything-proof, and yet I’ve faithfully dragged you up the mountains of Patagonia, across the beaches of Uruguay, through the forests of Sri Lanka, around the bathhouses of Budapest, and just about every other condition this planet has to offer, and you keep going and going.
Despite your weight and bulky size, you’re the first thing that goes in my backpack for every trip. You’ve been to more countries then most people do in a lifetime. It’s your limitations that make you the perfect companion. Your fully manual, sturdy build means I never have to worry about finding batteries, or a bit of rain or sand landing on your bulletproof body. Your tactile actions tell me that everything just keeps working as it should. That tension as I wind to the next shot, the sound of your shutter crashing up and down, loud enough to turn heads, the resistance as I rewind the film after another long day of dragging you around.
And then I get home, and it was all worth it. Sure, there’s a few misses due to your unforgiving nature. For example, when I hand you over to someone else to take a photo of me, this is what I get back.
But the hits make up for it. Yes, lens choices are limited, but what more do you need? That swirly Russian bokeh when you’re open and that sharpness which turns almost creamy towards the edges when you’re stopped down give me back memories which then live in frames on my walls. I had to work for them, but show me something in life that isn’t better when you’ve earned it.
Yes, every time I go by a market I’ll inspect a Pentax, gleefully admiring its relatively lightweight form and wide range of accessories. But for the time being, you can find me being happily weighed down with my 42 year old Zenit. After all, it seems to me that some of the loudest voices in our community aren’t practising what they preach. If the cameras we love are essentially not much more than a light sealed box with some film in, why would we abandon and deride one which has proven to be such a trusty partner? If anyone else has any other cameras disdainfully thrown in the back of a cupboard in need of a loving new home, send them my way and I’ll prove what they’re capable of.