This is my first Russian camera! I bought a Pentax Spotmatic from a guy who kindly offered to include the Zenit-E for free! I gladly accepted. The Zenit-E was manufactured in the USSR from 1965 to 1982 with a total production of something like 3.3 million units. According to the serial number mine was made in 1973, when I was in the sixth grade. In fact I traveled through the USSR with my parents and sisters in the summer of 1973 on our way back to the U.S. The design of this camera has a very blue collar feel to it; a tool, not a jewel. The mechanics of this camera are significantly different from any other camera I own. I guess it just goes to show that the USSR was marching to the beat of its own drummer in those days.
The most unique feature is the selenium cell meter. Most metered cameras require some sort of battery as a power source. This one doesn’t because the meter is selenium. The freedom of never worrying about batteries running out and the convenience of a light meter put this camera in a special class. The only other similar cameras that I own are two Olympus Pen half frame cameras.
To operate the meter you first use the dial on the top left to set your film speed. As you can see in the photo above there are two windows on the top face of the dial displaying ASA and DIN values respectively. If you look closely you’ll notice that the ASA values visible in this photo are 250 and 500. I was shooting ISO400 film so I had to pick a spot in between the two but closer to the 500. Next you point the camera at your subject and make sure your finger isn’t right in front of the meter. The curved narrow window near the dial on the top left contains two items, an eyelet and a needle. In dark settings the needle is on the extreme right end of the window. When the meter senses light the needle moves toward the left. Rotating the outside of the dial moves the eyelet so you adjust it until the eyelet coincides with the needle. Now you look at the numbers on the dial. The inner set of numbers represent aperture settings. The numbers on the outer edge of the dial represent shutter speed. Take note of which apertures line up with which shutter speeds and then adjust the camera accordingly. The shutter speed dial is on the top, just to the right of the prism. It is somewhat unusual because there are only five shutter speeds and a bulb setting. The slowest normal shutter speed is 1/30s.
The timer on the front of the body is a standard design and the frame counter is fairly normal too. But the process for rewinding film is quite unique and I won’t take the time to explain it here, but if you are looking for that information there are youtube videos describing it.
Everything seems to work on this camera although the shutter intermittently makes a squealing sound. I’m not sure if there is an English phrase to describe it but in Japan it’s called シャッター鳴き which literally translates as “singing shutter”, but the word for “singing” actually refers to any sound that a bird, insect or even mammal makes naturally. Most of the shots on my first roll with this camera came out fine but several appeared to have some sort of light leak near the top of the frame and I’m wondering if it’s connected to the weird sound the shutter makes. Also I think the spring on the take up spool is missing so getting the film engaged is a bit tricky.
All in all I’d say I got a great deal considering the price I paid!
Here are some photos I’ve taken with the Zenit-E.