From Russia With Love
By Rob Turner
29 Jun 2007
I purchased my Zenit a month or two back as I wanted a cheap film SLR to learn how to use my other cameras more effectively. The cameras construction is absolutely indestructible, being made completely of metal, with a cast one piece body, this makes it a little heavy, but I feel this gives it an air of quality.
My Zenit was made in 1986 judging by the serial number, making it older than the author (!) But it is not starting to show its age one bit, save for the missing tripod screw and light leak (both now fixed, thanks to a friendly Flickrite). It hails from the KMZ (Krasnogorskiy Mekhanicheskiy Zavod) factory near Moscow. I found my 11 in a camera shop in leeds, for the small cost of £19.50, with a nice, sharp Helios f2/58mm lens. Which struck me as a bargain.
I quite like the limitations placed on me by the limited shutter speeds (1/30 - 1/500 seconds plus bulb mode), with them often making me more creative. This is also true of the full manual operation (well, semi-automatic, if you count the (somewhat inaccurate selenium cell meter)).
I chose to ignore the meter, as I had heard that they were inaccurately on cameras of that vintage. Instead I opted for the "sunny f16" rule. For those not in the know, this states that the correct exposure for a sunny day will use an aperture of f16, with the shutter speed being the reciprocal of the film speed (for example, ISO100 film would use 1/100). From there, I guestimate the exposure for different conditions, which seems to work well.
All the knobs and dials still miraculously work like new, as does most of the camera (with the only exception being the meter). The film rewind is slightly idiosyncratic. A small, innocuous ring around the shutter release has to be depressed with a finger nail, the shutter button is then locked down by pressing and rotating it, the film can then be wound back the same as any other 35mm camera. One of the thing I love about my Zenit is the volume of the shutter, its very loud, which makes me feel like I'm using a "real" camera.
Another great advantage of the Zenit is the low cost of second hand M42 screw-mount lenses, almost any type of lens can be obtained second-hand, very cheaply. And for the most part, are of high quality, making the Zenit a quite versatile camera too.
When I purchased this camera, I was expecting, at best mediocre photos due to the low cost, but I was pleasantly surprised. The pictures have a quite pleasant lo-fi charm to them, far removed from the sterility of digital cameras, which I absolutely love.
I bought this camera as a cheap learning tool, but it has quickly become one of my favorites, It has made me a better photographer, and makes me use my eyes more, rather than relying on a meter or display on the camera. It also takes very interesting photographs and I urge everyone to try one!