Zenit E: The Sturdy Metal Heart of Russian Photography


The Zenit E, one of Russia’s first and finest! The well-known Russian tank, a camera with a cold, metal heart. You have got your hands on one of these fine babies but how do you load/unload your film, what lenses do you need, or does it even work properly?! I hope most of you will know how to get along with their Russian friend after reading this guide!

I was planning on writing a review on this camera, but as time flies by, things seem to slip away. Then I got a private message with a cry for help. A girl bought a Zenit E but doesn’t know how to handle it and asked me for help because she really liked my pictures (thank you very much again)! I felt so flattered that I decided to write to review right away with enough tips and stuff to please the crowd!

My two E’s with Helios auto zoom 1:3.5 75-150mm, Helios 44-2 2/58 and an Industar 3,5/50

This Russian mean machine is at the beginning of the SLR era and forces you to put your manual skills to use. Everytime you want to take a picture you will have to reset things manually, which makes it hard to handle. But everyone that loves analog photography knows that this is were it gets interesting and very exciting. You have to get a little knowledge and experience if you want good results, what’s not to love!

It was the first SLR (single lens reflex) camera that I bought and I put it to some good use.

I shot a few rolls of wich had somewhat pretty pictures, I still have a very long way to go. Practice is necessary and you will need to get to know your camera to be able to handle it well, reading up on basics and shooting with your camera is the best way to go.

We begin at point zero and I’ll talk you through everything you need to know to get started.

The ins and outs of the Zenit E

Here is a short sort of manual with pictures that show you what is what:

1. Shutter winder (winds the film one frame at a time)
2. Film countring ( his turns with each wind and shows you how many exposures you’ve made)
3. The release (hit this baby button and the camera snaps your picture)
4. Film release (Needs to be pushed to relieve tension from the film, it will release the sprockets allowing you to rewind the film)
5. Shutter speed dial (With this you can set the shutter speed)
6. Hotshoe (This is where the flash goes)
7. Rewind knob ( push and turn so it pops out, you can rewind the film turning it like the arrow)
8: ISO/ASA dial (Used to set the ISO of your film)
9: Exposure setting ring ( Used to allign the light meter, then you can read what settings to use )
10. Flash input (You will have to use a flash with a cable, put it in here, set your film speed to 30-x and you can flash all you want!)
11. Self-timer + release
12. Lens mount
13. Light meter
14. Back lock

Before you start, an important thing to check!

My Zenit E and my other one that I got from a friend of mine had the same problem and if you don’t know it you will get alot of over-exposed film.

Due to the Zenit being an old one, the camera can develop a form of degradation; the shutter curtain will start to lose tension and things get uncanny.

So, pop open that sexy back and wind all the way, hit that release and see the magic happen! No magic? Half the magic? Sir you’ve got a little teensy weensy problem here. Luckily, it is very easy to repair. I will write a tipster on this later on!

The first roll, obviously not good at all!

Loading the film:

Pop the back open and push the film rewind up. Grab your film lead and push it on your take up spool…wait, what? Where!? I know, I didn’t see it at first either, but wind the spool on until you see a little knob and then there is a metal ring. The metal ring on the take up spool is where you want to hook that film leader on, then you pull the canister over your shutter curtain and you push the rewind knob back in its place. Wind, close, wind, and you are ready to shoot!

Note: Before you start shooting, remember that you will have to reset your film dial. Align the arrow with the little knob. When you have shot the ‘loading shots’ the counter should be at 0.

Unloading the film:

I hope this never happens to you: broken film. Yes, it does tend to happen when you try to unload film from a camera you don’t know that well. A lot of Zenit users have it with their first film.

The trick is to push that little knob next to the wind, keep it down and then pop the film rewind up by pushing and turning it, start winding and keep that film release button down! Don’t stop until you feel that the tension is off. Now, you can open the back to retrieve your film canister.

Now we get to the fun part!

Take your favorite lenses with you and head out to shoot some thirty-sixes.

An important feature on your Zenit E that you want working is the light meter. It reads the light that hits window thing on the front, and then the little white needle should move accordingly. Put it in the light and see if it moves then move it in the shade and see if it does a nice reading.

Now, you want to turn your ISO ring so that it points at the right ISO. You find a nice target, read the light meter, turn the ring so that the circle is on the needle. Then, all you have to do is to read what the ring says. You want to shoot with aperture 5.6 then read what the according shutter speed is and fix your settings!
Yes, it takes some time and you will make a lot of mistakes, but there is no better way to learn it!

The red numbers on the light meter dial are the slower shutter speeds. You will have to use a tripod or something else to get the camera steady or your shots will be blurry, a cable release is also very handy.

If your light meter died out you are obviously getting a bit of a harder time fixing the settings on your camera. You have to put the Sunny 16 Rule to the test—this is something everyone should actually know, because even a light meter can be wrong or it can suddenly stop working.

Or, for all those hip and cool people with a smartphone, use a light meter app!

Note: Never turn the shutter speed dial from B straight to 500. You should turn it all the way around from B to 30-x to 60 and so on.


If you have none, or only one lens you obviously need to buy some. The lens mount is M42 or ‘screwmount’, you screw the lenses on, hence the name…

What lenses should you buy? Well, everyone will have to try different lenses in order to know what fits them best.

Here a sort explanation on the lenses:

  • 50mm = standard, it’s near human perspective, nice for portraits.
  • Tele lenses – longer focal length, you have fixed lenses and zoom lenses. I personally prefer zoom lenses, that is because you have a more variable lens that you can adjust to the scene. The fixed focal length lenses are more likely to be light strong though.
  • Below 50mm you will get the wide angle lenses.
  • There is also the fisheye – these are most likely more expensive.
  • There is macro – You could buy a macro lens, you can also buy bellows or macro-rings. The bellows and rings are less expensive, and they simply increase the lenght between lens and camera, getting you closer to your target and it gives you nice macropics. Quite nice I say!

Lenses have a maximum opening (F-stop), that means that it is the maximum light it will let through. Light strong lenses are good and expensive. For example there is the (used) Leica summicron-R 50mm F/2.0 for about 500 Euros that is pretty darn good already. But, there also is the (used) Summilux-R 50mm F/1.4 that goes for at least 1300 euro’s.

Now, that is a lot of money! Luckily, a Zenit E user will find that the prices are below 100 for most of the gear they buy. Just try to find some good lenses and start out with those.

Here are a few example shots, most of them from my recent trip to the Rotterdam Zoo (article coming up!)

To end today’s lesson, here are a few tips:

Get a tripod. Man, those things are handy! Getting camera steady means you can get slower shutter speeds wich means you can also get sharper and more vivid pictures. Use a cable release so you don’t have to put pressure on the camera to make it snap and you will have a solid shot.

A good tip is the Manfrotto pocket series, for bigger tripods you can search ebay. Just make sure it can bear the weight of your gear. You don’t want to see your tripod tilt and fall on the ground lens first, autschj! There goes your money!

I know, I know, don’t think before you shoot!

But hey sometimes it is worth it to take your time before crash landing that finger on the release. Frame your subject as nice as possible and use the focus to draw the attention to the subject, colors and lines will give the shot ease or they will make the picture more eye catching, play with it.

Buy magazines! Even if they are for digital users, they are full of tips! Digital users let their camera’s do the focussing work and stuff but analog is the basics and they can’t do anything without it! Manual control and shooting tips are to be found in those magazines!

A good place to find your gear is ebay, but a better place is local markets like a flea market, garage sale. Drop by you granny and grandpa sometimes they still have their camera.

I found a lot of great deals already, bought 6 brand spanking new lenses for 35 bucks on a flea market and a set of 30 camera bodies with 20 flashes, cleaning stuff, like 8 cable releases and mucho mucho more for a mere 50 euro’s!

As the gear is old the dust settles inside, get some stuff to keep it clean! Blow the camera out with the duster thingy, do not ever touch anything inside! Clean your lenses with the cleaning cloth, if it is really smeary use the cleaning liquid and the soft cleaning cloth, put a little drop on and rub clockwise.

Now if there are more questions feel free to ask, I don’t know everything but I keep learning everyday and so should you!

Read my blog, from time to time things will pop up on there, keep a look out for new albums full of pictures they will get more serious, some articles will follow and of course more in-depth reviews on cameras!

Thank you for reading and have fun!

written by reminator on 2012-07-05 #gear #people #review #russian-camera #zenit-e #zenit #35mm-film #camera-review #lomography #user-review #shooting-tips #minor-camera-repairs

Mentioned Product

Zenit E

Zenit E

A solid Russian SLR issued as a commemorative model for the 1980 Olympic Games.

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  1. alex34
    alex34 ·

    Really thorough review. More reviews should be like it.

  2. brandkow93
    brandkow93 ·

    very nice review, I gave up with zenits and 35mm SLRs overall, sold them all and moved over to a Kiev 60 (Medium format SLR), best photographic decision ive made yet.

  3. reminator
    reminator ·

    Thank you very much to both of you! @Alex34 that's what I thought, and there will be more reviews like this in the future. I've got a big mountain of camera's ready to be tested ;)
    @brandkow93: It's a matter of choice and most of my growing collection is screwmount 35mm and I play around with those. I invested in a Leica R5 for more serious work in the future. And ofc I totally love this camera!

  4. brandkow93
    brandkow93 ·

    @reminator yeah definetily, i used to shoot alot with zenits and other 35mm slrs, but they werent right for me though i am a massive fan of the helios and industar lenses the zenit came with in fact they were the only reason i kept them, for 35mm rangefinders are for me but for 120 i like SLRs, all a matter of preference. you should definetily review the R5!!

  5. reminator
    reminator ·

    I am currently on vacation in Barcelona/Sitges packed with my Leica R5, minizoom and horizon S3 pro. Got about 20 rolls with me so I can totally review those 3 in about 2 weeks from now.

  6. ejsimonds
    ejsimonds ·

    What a great review! I'm 15 and bought a Zenit E about 3 months ago. At the time I was really confused and so had to learn it all the hard way. This article is everything you could need to know to start you off. Fantastic!

  7. -walsh-
    -walsh- ·

    now thats what I call a review!!

  8. reminator
    reminator ·

    Thanks guys! I really appreciate all the likes and comments. Can't wait to publish another review!

  9. reminator
    reminator ·

    The tipster on repairing the shutter curtain is also up, you can find it here : www.lomography.com/magazine/tipster/2012/07/20/zenit-e-shut…

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