Zenit TTL and it's victim.

5 Frames with a Zenit TTL on the top of a Welsh Valley in -5 Degrees C – By Toby Van De Velde

I bought a job lot of cameras well over a year ago. Long before COVID19 was even a thing. I was mostly interested in the FD mount lenses to use with my Canon AT-1, and, to be honest, most of the glass had fungus issues so I just chucked the whole lot into the back of my camera cupboard and forgot all about it.

Just recently, after hearing about the Crappy Commie Camera Party on Twitter, I dragged the box back out again and decided that I’d have a go shooting the Zenit TTL and Helios-44M f2 58mm lens that had been a part of the bargain. I had heard ‘Bad Things’ about these cameras, and decided to see what the fuss was about.

I loaded up a home spooled roll of Ilford Kentmere Pan 400, rated it +1, and headed up to the top of my local valley.

Shooting a camera with a reputation like the Zenit TTL has for the very first time, in howling winds, in sub zero temperatures, might seem like a foolhardy thing now. But at the time I thought it sounded like a bit of a laugh to be honest.

My hands went numb very quickly from the wind chill combined with holding that solid metal body. That weird yellow filter in the eyepiece combined with what I found to be a challenging lens to compose and focus through all made for a brisk experience.

I found that shooting the K400 at plus one was a mistake as it meant I was forced to use f/8 and f/11 quite a lot, and with the lens stopping down as you use it I was constantly struggling to see through the closed aperture.

Maybe the loss of contrast I had heard about this lens suffering from is visible in my five frames, but I look forward to reloading with slower film and exploring the f2 end of the aperture.

In the end I shot most of the roll but the cold beat me and I climbed back down again. I finished the roll lower down the valley. Out of the wind.

It was windy higher up.
It was windy higher up.
Scrub on the Horizon.
Scrub on the Horizon.
Slag Heap Textures.
Slag Heap Textures.
The Sugar Loaf Mountain
The Sugar Loaf Mountain
Looking down the valley side, slag eroded by water.
Looking down the valley side, slag eroded by water.

I actually enjoyed the challenge this camera offered me, and plan on using it more in the future. Although losing the last 4 or 5 frames as I rewound was a bit of a gutter. Those lost frames were fantastic. The Zenit proved that it’s rep for being a rough old dog was deserved. But I feel like I have a chance to coax some pleasantries out of the old ripper.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts on the Zenit TTL then contact me on Twitter or Instagram – I’d love to hear them.

Toby Van de Velde


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9 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Zenit TTL on the top of a Welsh Valley in -5 Degrees C – By Toby Van De Velde”

  1. Commiserations on the lost frames. One of the hazards of older cameras does seem to be their penchant for shredding film – I had an unfortunate experience recently with a Paxette that turned out to be a machine for producing celluloid confetti rather than taking photographs.

    Glad to hear that you are planning a second film – the Helios 58 has some big fans..

    1. Paxette celluloid confetti? Image if you could get those shreds processed…..

      I am lining up a second film as we speak. And yes, that lens’s fan club is well known to me.
      Thank you for commenting.

  2. Interesting post, Toby.
    Personally, I find trying to squeeze at least a couple of decent images out of an iffy old camera extremely satisfying.
    Well done for intending to go for a second film
    The Helios 58mm can be a very decent lens. My two copies both seem to perform best at mid focus range.

    1. Thank you Peter.
      I find it a point of pride to coax images out of my older cameras. And I can’t not go for a second. And I don’t doubt a third as well.
      I’ll see what I can find mid focus, thanks for the tip.

  3. The edge of the accessory shoe on my TTL was so sharp it could draw blood.
    I am literally scarred for life by that camera.

  4. Upon reading your article, I’m a bit confused. When you say you rated the Kentmere 400 at +1, what exactly does this mean? To me, rating the film at +1 suggests you were shooting at ISO 200, overexposing by one stop. However, I could easily see how shooting the film at ISO 800 might result in underexposed shots, like what you have here. Perhaps the stop-down metering of your Zenit TTL was not working properly, pushing you to use f/8 and f/11 when you did not want to.

    Also I think the Helios 44-M is an automatic aperture lens, allowing you to focus and compose wide open, but then use the camera stop down feature to meter for your exposure. I don’t know what problems you were having with lens stopping-down unless you were trying to focus while stopped-down to f/8 or f/11. A little bit more info might help us help you.

    1. I was always under the impression that +1 meant uprating a film by one stop. I rated the light meter and developed the film at 800ISO.
      Do you push or pull film often? I don’t do it in b/w photography very often.
      As for the lens? I am not sure of it’s status in terms of repair. It worked for me fine in manual, I’ll have another look at it and see if there’s any indication of an auto function.
      I focused stopped down as I was afraid I’d move the focus ring if I did it as a secondary action.
      Let me have another look and I’ll get back to you. Cheers!

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