The Zenit-E was such a unique experience for me that I wrote this article in a few different formats. In the end, I found my review too technical – and besides, it has already been reviewed for 35mmc here. For me, the thing with this camera is that it can pretty much speak for itself, although you may need to learn its language.
If you’re a newbie to film photography, and especially if you are coming from digital, this is a camera to avoid. Not that it is a bad camera, it is probably one of my favorites, but it is a finicky beast. It was just the perfect hunk of metal for me to return to film. The Zenit-E is basic, but also basically annoying depending on what you are trying to get from it. Everything is manual here.
Without getting too much into specs, it sports only six shutter speeds (30, 60, 125, 250, 500, and Bulb), that are controlled by a knob on the top, which can break if you don’t advance the film first. There is a selenium cell light meter, which is essentially light powered so no battery needed, giving you a reading in a little window. As you adjust your settings, you try to get a needle to align with a little loop in the meter window. The gem though, is the Helios 44-2, a 58mm f2 lens that came partnered with most Zenit-E cameras.
I had been wanting a Soviet Era camera for quite some time after watching an episode of Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography on YouTube. This had led to me learning about Kiev, FED, and Zorki. I had a decision to make and on eBay were hundreds of choices.
One evening, while browsing online, my wife-to-be chilling behind me, watching TV, I found the Zenit E. I started reading more about it and researched more about other Soviet Era camera companies. Up until then, I had only ever researched the Kiev models deeply. I was not too keen on trying out rangefinders just yet as they seemed to be a pain to use. A little voice told me to sleep on it before making the eBay purchase.
The next day, we headed out to an antique store that we had spotted off the highway on the four hour drive to Quebec City the weekend before. They had a couple of cameras here and there, mostly folder cameras that either took 120 or 620 film. I was disappointed with their selection, but there were at least two other shops to visit on the way. As we were about to leave the shop, Annabel had to pee, so I perused the many wares, although nothing was of interest. On her way out of the bathroom, Annabel saw something on a cluttered and mostly mundane shelf: A Zenit-E with a working light meter!
My first adventure with this tank from the USSR was at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. I had two rolls of familiar Kodak Gold 400 and a roll of Ektar 100, a film that I had been wanting to try. It was a very bright sunny day with harsh light. Little warning: my copy of this lens is not super clean as it had been on the antique store shelf for quite some time. It still has its charm though!
None of these pics were edited, although maybe slightly adjusted by the lab.
Was this camera what I hoped it would be when I started my quest for a Soviet Era camera? Absolutely! Is it an annoying, fussy lump of metal and glass? Yes it is. There is no doubt that I love it though. I have run quite a few rolls though it and I’ll be giving it more attention shortly.