Zenit E: A Beast from the East

2012-06-08 4

The Zenit E is a mass produced, USSR-made 35mm SLR camera. Big, cumbersome, and built like a tank, this Zenit has a huge array of lenses and accessories and can be used for any kind of photography, even street photography, despite the thunderous shutter sound.

As part of my Soviet camera collection, I need to have an SLR, and well, there could only be one camera: the legendary Zenit E.

Most of you probably know something about this camera and are aware of how good and flexible it is. Though SLRs are not my favourite cameras, the Zenit is one I massively enjoy using and can always reach for and grab some lenses and head out.

I bought my Zenit off ebay, and they sell generally for about £10, making it probably the cheapest option for a 35mm SLR. The camera has a M42 mount, meaning there are a massive amount of lenses out there that are available for cheap. My personal favourites are actually the lenses that this camera could come with: the legendary Helios 44-2 and the small yet amazing Industar 50.

As soon as the camra arrived, I was planned where and when I could next use it. As you may know from my Cosmic 35 (Smena 8) review, I went out with that camera and shot a roll of ilford FP4+ for a group I participate in on Flickr. I actually shot half the roll in the Cosmic 35 and decided to shoot the other half in the Zenit E.

Here are the specs of the Zenit E:

Lens: Helios-44-2 58mm f/2.8, M42 screw mount, filter thread: 44mm
This is the standard lens, the other standard lens was Industar-50-2 3.5/50
The lens mount was KMZ M39 screw type before 1968 and there after M42
Aperture: up to f/16
Focus range: 0.5-20m +inf
Focusing: Fresnel matte glass screen; ring, distance scale and DOF scale on the lens
Shutter: Horizontally traveling, cloth focal-plane shutter, speeds 1/30 – 1/500 +B,
Frame counter: on the winding knob, additive type, manual reset
Viewfinder: SLR pentaprism
Exposure meter: Selenium cell meter ASA 16-500
Flash PC socket: on front of the top-plate, X sync 1/30
Body: metal; Weight: 916g

Anyway, on May 19, I got on the train to the nearest town for some street photography. After I used half the roll of ilford FP4+ in my Cosmic 35, I put it in the Zenit E to finish. Carrying the camera around, you get some intrigued looks and some compliments. Anyway, I had with me 5 lenses: the Helios, the Industar, a 24mm, a 135mm, and a 180mm. The camera performs brilliantly with each lens and is very easy to use. It is also surprisingly good for street photography, especially when equipped with the tiny Industar 50.

I shot away just capturing my day and the people I saw around town, and here are some results:

As you can see, the images are very sharp, have lovely tones and contrast, and have great detail. The camera was a joy to use and is one of my favourite 35mm SLRs. It handles very well and I think it has a good weight that reduces camera shake, which is important when shooting with a telephoto lens (such as the 180mm Soligor I was using for some of the images). I also find the viewfinder great and makes focusing very very easy. The only slight annoyance is the fact that the light meter isn’t accurate; however, that isn’t a problem for me as I carry a light meter whenever I’m out with one of my cameras.

Overall, the Zenit E is a fantastic camera and one you have no excuse not to own at £10. The standard lenses are great and also M42 lenses are cheap and very good. I particularly like my Soligor 180mm 3.5. There were millions made so they are easy to find; and don’t let anyone tell you they are rare as they are the opposite.

Thanks for reading, keep shooting!

written by brandkow93 on 2012-06-08 #gear #monochrome #review #zenit-e #street-photography #zenit #bokeh #ilford-fp4 #camera-review #sharp #lomography #user-review #helios-44-2 #industar-50


  1. alex34
    alex34 ·

    I have the Zenit B, same camera but without the light meter. Solid as a rock, but I just don't like the bulbous TV-screen style fresnel focusing screen. Zenit 12sd is better in this regard IMHO, and Prakticas are better again when it comes to positioning of shutter button and general manageability.

  2. brandkow93
    brandkow93 ·

    @alex34 i've had 2 B's they both died, i prefer the look of them if im honest. i agree i much prefer focusing on the later models. I agree Prakticas are better technically and ergonically but there is something about zenits i love.

  3. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    And here I thought my Zenit 412 was large in heavy. It is nothing compared to this...

  4. lomaugustry
    lomaugustry ·

    Try shooting with a minolta SR-T. Technically a tiny bit lighter but even my 30 and 50mm mc rokkor lenses add about half a pound to that. The zenit industar 50 seems a happy middle ground. i'm planning on bringing it with me to central america next time I go. I would never bring my minolta all that glass in the rokkor lenses. The industar is sharp and durable and small enough to balance out the cameras weight.

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