Tag Archives: Zenit

CCR Review 60 – KMZ Zenit E

Soviet cameras and I have had a rocky relationship. There’s only a handful out there that I like, and then there’s the Zenit E. This is a beautiful camera that is probably the pick of the litter from the Zenit line. One of my first SLRs was a Zenit B, the non-metered version of the E. And despite never getting a single frame from the camera. Because I had no clue what I was doing at the time, finding myself instantly familiar with the workings of the Zenit E and it certainly makes for a much better Soviet SLR than the other’s I’ve worked with in the past. Special thanks to James Lee for loaning out this camera for a review.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Dirt

  • Make: KMZ
  • Model: Zenit E
  • Type: Single Lens Reflex
  • Format: 135 (35mm), 36×24
  • Len: Interchangeable, M42 Screw Mount
  • Year of Manufacture: 1965-1968

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Good
There is nothing complicated about this camera. The operation, layout and general use of the camera make it easy for anyone to pickup and use. The only feature that this camera has is the uncoupled light meter, but more on that later. Despite the weight of the camera, it doesn’t detract from its use, although a nice heavy duty padded strap would be a good idea. A carbine style cross strap would be best. The M42 mount gives you a wide range of lenses to use on the camera both German and Soviet optics can easily mount on the camera. And as a bonus, most Soviet optics are direct copies of their German counterparts and often have their unique features that you don’t find in other lenses. Even though there is no automatic aperture on the camera that doesn’t detract from the operation, as you can easily set the aperture then open and close it with a simple twist ring that will stop at the correct aperture. The one thing to watch out for is the shutter speed dial; you can only set your shutter speed once the film has been advanced and shutter cocked, much like the rangefinders from the FED and Zorki line. Finally, there’s the sound of the camera, the noise the shutter and mirror make when in operation is substantial and pleasing, there’s no mistaking when you’ve fired a shot.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Bad
Usually, if a camera has a selenium meter that tends to be a positive feature to a camera, no batteries needed, and usually still operates. In this case, however, the meter isn’t a handy thing to have on this camera. First, off the meter is uncoupled, this means that no matter how you adjust the camera settings the meter doesn’t react, there’s a second dial that you set to give you the camera settings based on the meter reading. Add to that the meter read out is on the top of the camera body only. It would be better to stick with Sunny-16 or an external meter. In addition to this, you’ll have a hard time ensure the correct film speed setting as the camera is calibrated more towards the old GOST scale with corresponding DIN numbers. Sadly these film speeds do not line up with most modern films, you do have options like GOST-130, but I’ve never seen that sort of film. There is also the matter of the long film advance crank, while a minor nuisance does make it difficult to fire off several shots in succession. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Soviet Bloc did not have the best quality control so there is a chance that these cameras can break easily or purchased in a broken state. At least there’s a high chance with the right tools and manual you can do the repair yourself.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Lowdown
Out of all the Soviet cameras I’ve reviewed to date, the Zenit E is only one of two that I would recommend picking up, but I would lean someone more towards a Zenit B, the non-metered version. Both are strong mechanical cameras that have a nice look and feel to take out on International Communist Camera day and are better than most of the later model Zenit cameras. But there is one thing that you should look for if you are thinking of getting one and that’s the lens. Most of these cameras shipped with and still come with a Helios 44-2 lens, this 58mm f/2 is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar. It has also become somewhat of a cult lens in the portrait market even I have one that I use with my Sony a6000. The reason is that when you shoot a subject at about 5 feet away with the lens opened to f/2 you get a classic Petzval style swirl. So even if you get a broken Zenit, you still get an amazing lens to add to your collection.

All Photos Taken in Hamilton, Ontario
KMZ Zenit E – KMZ Helios 44-2 2/58 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak D-23 (Stock) 9:30 @ 20C

CCR Review 27 – Zenit 122K

When it comes to bare-bones Mechanical SLRs, the Zenit 122K is as bare-bones as they come. This mostly plastic camera comes from the rather odd times right near the end of the Cold War and Soviet rule in Russia. I mean it’s pretty basic even for someone who just wants to learn how to use an all manual camera. But oddly enough the camera still looks cool, in fact at forty yards you might think it a Contax RTS III or similar camera with a squat prism and all black with white lettering, but don’t be fooled this camera is no Contax…not by a long shot.

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

The Dirt
Make: Zenit
Model: 122K
Type: Single Lens Reflex
Format: 35mm, 35x24mm
Lens: Interchangable, K-Mount
Year of Manufacture: 1990

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

The Good
There are two redeeming features about this camera, and even finding two things I was pretty surprised. First and foremost is the lens mount. Unlike earlier Zenit cameras that used either an M39 (Leica Thread Mount) or M42 (Praktina) mount this camera used the Pentax K mount which immediately opens up many possibilities for using the plentiful and fantastic Pentax and Ricoh glass out there, not to mention all the clone lenses out there. On the flip side if the camera comes DOA or kicks the bucket in your care, you have a fun Russian lens to use with your good K-Mount cameras. I just have the Zenitar 50mm f/2 lens but they also had a Helios lens in K-Mount as well. The second good thing about the camera is that it’s mechanical, pretty sturdy construction, and being all mechanical even if the battery dies or light meter kicks it, you can still use the camera with an external meter or sunny-16 which may be best anyways.

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

The Bad
Probably my least favourite part of the camera is the build. The camera certainly looks cool, but it’s really hard to hold with ease, often times bits and pieces will stick in my hands and it really gets annoying even after holding the camera for even a short time. Add to that a really long throw on the film advance and a heavy shutter release, it’s not the most user friendly camera. This leads up to the second issue, the light meter. First off I think that the meter in my copy does work, as I’ve compared it to known working external meters and just can’t get a proper reading off the camera, or I’m reading the lights wrong. And that’s the kicker, the over/under/proper display inside the view finder is a couple red LEDs, later models had a green middle one but mine just has the two. And finally the operation of the meter is such that you have to drop the camera to adjust the settings as the meter is stop down only and with no setting indicators in the viewfinder makes it pretty hard to operate this camera quickly.

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

CCR Review 27 - Zenit 122K

The Lowdown
This isn’t a bad camera, it really isn’t. It is however a victim of the era in which it was made. The USSR was close to collapse, things from the west were starting to creep in and the people wanted things similar to what everyone else had. But there was no real control over quality. So the 122K is a camera I wanted to dislike, and I do stand by that it’s not a comfortable camera to hold and the meter is pretty shoddy, but it’s still a good camera, solid optics, and does take excellent photos as a result. But it wouldn’t be one I’d be quick to recommend to someone and you really do need to know what you’re doing to be able to work around the limitations of the camera itself.

All photos taken in Oakville, Ontario
Zenit 122K – Zenit MC Zenitar-K2 2/50 (Yellow) – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-125 – Kodak DK-50 (1+1) 6:00 @ 20C