This is my go-to camera when I need an extra bit of control. This SLR is heavy as a brick, clunky, and oddly comforting to hold. A bit of a tank. On the outside it looks much like it's older Zenit siblings, but it's the inside that counts.
image from g-st.ch
Zenit TTL is Zenit E’s younger sibling, and the two are very similar, but with one major difference: through the lens metering. Built in Russia by KMZ from 1977-85, Zenit TTL looks very much like its predecessors: wonderfully retro.
SLRs have two major things going for them: 1) Control. When you look through the viewfinder, you’re looking through the lens, so you see exactly what the camera sees. 2) Interchangeability. You choose the lens.
The Zenit has an M42 lens mount, which gives you access to a lot of fairly cheap lenses. The stock lens on most of the Zenits was a Helios 44M. And what’s so special about that? Bokeh, bokeh, bokeh! Bokeh is the blurry, out-of-focus areas you get when you use shallow depth of field. If you get it just right with the Helios 44M, you’ll see this swirly effect in the bokeh, which is great fun to play with. The Biotar lens by Carl Zeiss Jena produces the same effect, but the Helios is much, MUCH cheaper. In fact, the Helios 44M a pretty good buy whether you have a Zenit, another M42 mount camera, or a different camera altogether (using an adapter). It’s a reasonably priced lens that’s great fun to play around with.
Because I’m such a sucker for the swirly bokeh, I try to open up the aperture as much as possible and often end up overexposing my shots. Coupled with the expired film I usually have loaded, it produces these pale, soft, low contrast images, that I’ve quite fallen in love with.
I wanted something a bit faster as well, so I picked up this beautiful Porst lens for around $80. It’s an East German 1:1.4/55mm, and it’s perfect for low light situations.
The Battery Issue: The light meter needs a mercury battery that is no longer produced. The easy solution is to forget about the light meter entirely and use Sunny 16 or a calculator like the Exposure Mat. An alternative is zinc air hearing aid batteries, they are the correct size and voltage, but they have a short lifespan. They corrode easily, so don’t let one sit in your camera!
I’ve been getting along fine with Sunny 16 for daytime shots, but I find it difficult to judge the lighting at night and in artificial light, so I just recently caved and sprung for a zinc air battery. Results are yet to be seen!