The Zenit E : Film Star or Russian Brick?

The Zenit E : Film Star or Russian Brick?

Written 10 years ago by Mark Evans

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Brianslade20  10 years ago

I started taking pictures as a teenager in about 1978, (yes I have to accept thats me in the bathroom mirror) I had an F3 (Aperture Priority and Manual) I was able then to produce images I was proud of. Then came along life and work and photgraphy faded into the back ground.
Now have digital but find the new technology a hindrance to getting the fundamentals right. I was pressing so many buttons, menus and worst of all checking each shot in the lcd. So i have recently purchased ,on ebay, a Nikon FM. Fully manual. Using the FM has slowed me down, and given me some great shots. Reminded me to look for the light. When , now, I pick up my digital I can concentrate on the image and can slowly work my way through the endless menus at a slower pace.
I recommend buying a manual camera, good for the soul and good for your photography.

George Bunea  10 years ago


I would like to let you know that the Zenit E is a very good camera, if used by someone which cares about it and knows how to handle it. It was designed and made in a time when the people didn’t use so often the words: “intuitive”, “grip” , “brick” , “bokeh”, etc.

The olympic logo is stamped on it only to remember about the Moscow Olympic Games, otherwise the camera had no other technical or mechanical improvement generated by this event.

“Old rolls” of 50 ISO film never help anyone to realize if a certain camera is good or bad. And if the “old roll of film” is processed in a lab located at a street corner and operated by careless operators, a Zenit owner will have no chance to realize that in fact he owns a very good camera.

After picking the camera from the garden shed where it was left unattended for years, one can check very simply if there is a film inside by covering it with a black/dark colored cloth(pullover, etc) , then slightly opening the back cover and touching the left side to see if there is a film cassette inside.

I wonder how many cameras of the ’80 had film presence indicators or windows…

Loading a film into a Zenit takes only a few seconds, as the “tight fitting curved plate” is there for no other purpose and can be seen very clearly.

The “archaic yet ingenious piece of camera technology” is in fact inherited by the Zenit from two great German cameras, i.e.: pre-war and post-war Leica and Contax. The same thing is valid for the optical glass of their lenses.

As about the built in light meter, you are right: if the camera is used all the time only in it’s “half-case” and kept with the selenium light meter pointing to the sun it will die fast ! Otherwise it will last a lot more than anyone can believe, if kept it in it’s complete leather case when it is not used. Or you can take a piece of black, plastic, sticky tape and cover the selenium meter with it when you don’t use it.

Please do not look at or use a Zenit when having in your mind a 5D or any other modern, digital camera! There is no connection between them at all. And yes, please feel free to call the Zenit a “brick”. As only this brick is the camera that will never let anyone down in a tough climate(snow, rain deep cold or high desert temperature) and in areas far from civilization like the ones in the Siberian North or far North covered by everlasting snow, with temperatures below 35-45 degrees C or in the south part of the ex-USSR which is covered by desert sands.

That is why this camera is made like that, as they had to take into account the Russian climate first of all!

Please allow me to recommend something: take a Zenit lens(a Helios), buy an adaptor ring(if need be), put them on your digital camera, take pictures and then see the results. I’m sure that you will like what you see!

And no, I am neither Russian nor a defender of the Russian cameras or products. But long ago, I bought such camera brand new, from a camera shop ) .I still have it and continue to use it. The Zenit doesn’t deserve it’s bad reputation if purchased from reliable source and used with care and attention after reading the user manual.

I had my own darkroom, developed my films and printed my photos by myself. I sold it in 1993. Bad idea, as now I know very well the difference between a film and photo processed by myself, and the ones I get from the street corner lab!



PS: I would like to thank you for you time and please feel free to delete the whole text if you do not like it.

Mark Evans  10 years ago

Thanks for your comments George. You no doubt have a passion for these cameras, and its good to see someone still has a keen interest and knowledge of these cameras.

vianney pereira  9 years ago

I just purchased one and I know the shutter does not work, but got it cause to me it looked beautiful with all the knobs and dials. It has a Industar 50 mm lens and came with a clean case. waiting to see how it does when i go home

Laszlo  9 years ago

I just started using a mint condition Zenit and it works excellent. Its one of the all black versions with the Helios lens. Very nostalgic!

Erin  9 years ago

What a ridiculous article. “I had to remember to check all settings before taking a picture,” of course you did, using your brain before taking a photo is not a crime.

Michael J Nicholls  9 years ago

The Zenit E has a build quality that you won’t get on a modern camera for less than about £500. Used in conjunction with the most powerful computer of all – the human brain – wonderful pictures can be taken with such a basic, robust piece of kit. I would not be without my Russian cameras.

Mike Nicholls  9 years ago

Russian cameras are not only very collectable, but they are also fine tools with which to learn the craft of photography. Once the photgrapher can master the releationship between shutter speed and aperture, the will have at their disposal all the tools needed to cope with any photographic situation.

Now, it is true that I have taken some very pleasing pictures with digital equipment…but I always find that there is something ‘missing’ from them. Film has a quality that will never be replicated by digital equipment.

The bottom line is, Russian cameras were always far better than a lot of photographers would have you belive.

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