Zenit E: All it's Cracked Up to Be


The Zenit E with the standard Helios lens lives up to it's reputation as not only a great camera, but also a technical nightmare.

After acquiring 5 new cameras in the past few weeks I’ve been eager to try them out and it was no question which one I was going to test drive first. I’ve been coveting the Zenit-E for months but just couldn’t bear to pay outrageous prices. It just didn’t seem worth it for a camera that has such an inconsistent reputation in the durability department. After all, there aren’t very many Russian camera repair guys in my neck of the woods. Imagine my shock and surprise to find a well-preserved specimen at a local flea market for just 15 measly American dollars!! I loaded it with a roll of Fuji portrait film 400 iso and took a trip to my backyard—the test subject for most of my cameras.

The Zenit-E is not a lightweight camera. It’s metal body is sturdy, the knobs and buttons substantial and smooth-moving. The choice of the standard Helios lens is a fine complement to the Zenit for it too is well-made. Nothing on this camera feels cheap. If you’re familiar at all with vintage Lomo cameras then you’ll feel right at home when you go to shoot film. There’s the manual film counter that you reset to zero at the beginning of every roll (much like the Fed series cams), the shutter speed knob which you pull up, rotate and drop into placed (but only with the shutter already cocked so as not to screw up the works) and the relatively slim body.

However, there were a few features that were new to me that I had to figure out on my own. The film rewind knob? Couldn’t find it to save my darn life. I went online to rugift.com and checked out their translated manual to see what I was doing wrong. The directions were a bit confusing, even with the accompanying illustrations. You’re supposed to disengage the shutter, push the little button beside it and move the knob counter-clockwise. Not realizing that the knob I needed to be rotating was on the left side of the camera and needed to be pulled up, I inadvertently kept turning the film advance knob counter-clockwise causing that entire knob to loosen (I’m still trying to decide how to fix it). When I finally found the knob I pulled it all the way up to try and rewind the film which didn’t work because the spool is not engaged at that point. This is what you do when you want to take the film canister out of the camera. Pulling it up half-way should do the trick next time and hopefully I won’t have to sacrifice a few frames of film in the process. The light meter is also a new feature. It does seem to work although I’m so unused to having this feature in a vintage camera that I haven’t really paid it any mind. The only feature that doesn’t work on my camera is the self-timer. It’s missing on my model but I don’t really use it that much so it’s not really a concern.

Looking through the viewfinder is quite easy. It seems really roomy in there (if that makes any sense). I don’t feel like I’m missing things in the periphery of the frame. The viewfinder opening itself is probably the largest I’ve ever seen on a camera—the size of a dime. After squinting through tiny range-finders and other assorted cameras this is a welcome treat.

As far as pictures go, I was blown away. Really and truly. Russian glass is so freakin’ great. The Helios-44-2 lens has f/16-2 which gave me remarkable depth of field. It’s tough to find a lens nowadays that goes to f/2 that doesn’t cost a-gazillion dollars so I feel like I hit the jackpot with this lens! It’s got to be one of the best lenses I’ve ever found in a cheap, vintage camera. The pictures really do speak for themselves.

Like the title says, the Zenit-E really is all it’s cracked up to be: a great little SLR that takes amazing pictures and at the same time is technically challenged. As far as repairs go, I’ll try the DIY method until things get super-complicated or until the shutter dies, whichever comes first. Then I’ll probably go right out and buy another one because it’s well worth spending the money for this Russian workhorse.

Update: After trying in vain to tighten the film advance/film counter mechanism I’ve decided to purchase a Zenit body on eBay. It only costs $9 and I’ve already got the most important part of the camera—the Helios lens.

written by ipdegirl on 2009-11-09 in #reviews


  1. stouf
    stouf ·

    Yeah 15$ for a f/2 is a great deal ! The shots are gorgeous ! I'm sure someone in the community knows how to make it work properly...

  2. adi_totp
    adi_totp ·

    i love the chair

  3. panelomo
    panelomo ·

    i think i'm going to win this - in the lomography wish and win contest. ;)

  4. sbonkov
    sbonkov ·

    Nice pictures!
    Zenit E is a good camera! Don't buy ZENIT ET/Зенит ET is a poor quality camera :)

  5. moochie_lomo
    moochie_lomo ·

    Great review! I've been wanting a Zenit E for a while now.

  6. ipdegirl
    ipdegirl ·

    thanks for all the comments. i so love this camera. i still have to figure out how to rewind the film correctly but that's ok. it takes fantastic shots!! get one today!

  7. sbonkov
    sbonkov ·

    Take a look this
    ZENIT- E

    1. Press the film rewind knob and rotate it contrary to the direction shown by the indicating pointer.
    2. Disengage the shutter mechanism. For this aim press the film rewind release button and, holding it in this position, rotate the film rewind knob in the direction, shown by the indicating pointer, until you feel by the applied force that the end of the film left the spring of the take-up spool.
    3. Open the back cover of the camera.
    4. Pull the film rewind knob upwards and remove the film cassette out of the camera.
    Note. For further photographing cock the shutter and, holding the sprocket, make sure that it rotates.

  8. radi0j0hn
    radi0j0hn ·

    I've been using "E's" on and off since 1971 when I found my first "Kalimar 500," a rebranded E.

    Today, i have several, including a very weird one-off model with a TURRET that holds TWO LENSES so you can quickly switch from one to another. Looks like someone with a machine shop did the job, very well finished.

    I use the f/2 Helios on an Olympus SLR via a thread mount adapter. It acts like a 100mm f/2 on the Olys. On a Canon it would be more like a 75mm. Nice lens, copy of the old Zeiss Biotar.

  9. jaimemilne
    jaimemilne ·

    I bought one online about a year ago and it's all I use (mainly because I can't afford a Lomo LC A+ at the moment!!). It cost me £5 and I absolutely love it. I bought a Carl Zeiss jena f3.5 lens and the Zenitar fish-eye lens for it, both pretty cheap from Ebay.

    One thing I cannot master with the Zenit E is DOUBLE EXPOSURES...is there any methodical way to do this that doesn't involve guesswork? I have taken a couple by accident when I have reached the end of a roll before but I I have never managed it purposely. Could anyone help please?

  10. kalamakia
    kalamakia ·

    Just got one and can't wait to try it!

  11. davidpowell
    davidpowell ·

    I just bought one of these, with a helios lens. Can't wait to get out and give it a try. It seems that the light meter is usually one of the first things to go but mine seems to be working fine. Only problem with mine is that the hot shoe won't fire my flash (even in X-mode and set to 1/30s) but hey ho, i could always try to manually fire the flash...Results to follow!

  12. radi0j0hn
    radi0j0hn ·

    After years of procrastinating, I finally have scanned the ultra-rare British repair and modification manual from (now gone) Technical & Optical Equipment. This 1975 guide was for internal use, but they sent me a copy when i wrote an article about USSR cameras for Modern Photography Magazine. I've scanned it and laser printed it. As of March 11 it is on eBay so you can easily find it by searching for Zenit E. This is not a big profit -maker for me, but it is the best way to make it available to the word of Zenit users.

  13. phantomphoenixphotos
    phantomphoenixphotos ·

    @sbonkov How come? What's with the Zenit ET?

  14. schemerel
    schemerel ·

    does anyone know if you can put a zenit 122 lens on a zenit E ?

  15. patientedd
    patientedd ·

    I have just brought one of these, wanted to see how much I really know about photography, can't wait to get my hands on it.

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