Zenit-E

  • Year : 1965
  • Dimensions : 138 x 93 x 100 mm
  • Weight : 920 g
  • Shutter speed : from 1/30 s. to 1/500 s. +B 
  • Lens : Helios – 44-2 – 55mm – f/2 to – f/16
  • Focal Range : 0.5m to inf 

The Zenit-E is one of the most popular soviet cameras. It was massively produced in the USSR between 1965 to 1986 with more than 3 300 000 units made. 

The body of the Zenit-E is a basic reflex camera. Nothing noticeable about the advance lever, shutter, flash hot shoe, timer, etc. It’s strength is the selenium cell. No battery is required and exposure is calculated by aligning the two needles in a little window by turning the dial on the left hand side of the camera. This allows you to read what aperture/speed you need to shoot with. The viewfinder is simple and minimal, no line, or dot to indicate the center, just a plain window. 

The shutter speed dial is a bit peculiar. It needs to be lifted up in order to change speed. When the film is advanced using the lever, the speed dial turns and then goes back in place when shooting. Sadly this camera has a very limited range of speeds; only 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 of a second. 

But aside from the camera body what is interesting is the lens. My Zenit-E came with a Helios 44-2 lens, known to have a “swirling bokeh” effect (the Helios 40 also does). What was originally a fault in the lens construction can add a very interesting effect on your images. The background blur on images shot with this lens gives a very peculiar swirling look. In addition the aperture dial on this lens has no special stops – it goes smoothly from f/2 to f/16. The classic values are indicated on the lens, but you can choose to shoot in between those values with an approximate aperture of any value. But one downside to this however is that when shooting in low light conditions with a high aperture, the viewfinder is practically black. Therefore the focus needs to be done with a low aperture and adjustments made afterwards. 

The pictures I took with this Zenit-E came out great with a unique look even if I did not have much of the “swirling bokeh” effect. Even though a bit heavy, it is a camera and lens I’ll consider shooting with again.

I found this Zenit-E at a flee market in Villeurbanne for 35€ in 2019 and here are some shots taken with it in Lyon in 2019 on Agfa vista plus 200 :