The Zenit 12 XP was a single-lens reflex camera released in the Soviet Union before the Model 122. It was produced between 1983 and 1994, so it’s quite easy to find it at secondhand shops. I’ve inherited this unit from my father and I remember perfectly the first pictures with it.
There was a previous model named the 12 SD and the updated XP version had a meter that had two working LEDs: one for indicating exposure and the other for underexposure. When both LEDs are lit, it meant that the aperture and speed have been properly set and the camera is ready to take a shot.
Being an older model with a 42 mount, the XP was relatively easier to fit with a wide variety of lenses compared to its other competitors. And best of all, those lenses are very cheap (you can find a lens from anywhere between €15-30). Typically, it’s normal to find the Helios 58 mm f2 lens in the market. Additionally, if you find a model past 1983 or close to 1994, you can find the same lens but with a better build quality. For example, it’s easy to see lenses with the letters MC or M (multi-coated) and it’s actually better than those lenses that don’t have the marking such as Helios 44-1, 44-2, 44-3, 44-4, 44-5, 44-6, 44-7, and up. In my case, I have a Helios 44M-4 1988.
Note: the first digit of the serial number will indicate the year it was made. And if you’re lucky enough to find one with a double 0, those are said to be special versions for party members only.
The lens can give you very good image quality with bokeh that you will fall in love with. The Helios was based on the legendary Biotar Zeiss 58 mm f/2.0 (which is considered as the most expensive of the series). The crisp and clear images and the ability to create bokeh shots are the lenses’ best qualities.
Lastly, it was called a Russian tank because when you have one in your hands, you’ll definitely think that it could be heavier than a bus, if not equal to one. The fact that it weighs almost one kilogram contributed to its nickname.
Model: 12 XP
Format: 35 mm
ISO: ISO 16 to 500
Speed: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and Bulb mode
Lens Series: Helios 58 mm f/2.0
Weight: 0.95 kg
If you manage to get your hands on one, you can see that you can go with it everywhere and use all kinds of films like color negative, slide, b&w. You can also take stunning photos with blurred backgrounds or landscapes while absolutely everything else is in focus. You can put a flash and play with it at night or you can set the self-timer… the possibilities are endless!