Zenit-E, The Classic SLR.

or, Zenit-E, a history, and fan page.

Zenit-E history and variations.

The Zenit-E is one of the most produced SLR's. It was a direct decendant from the Zenit 3M and The Zenit Kristall. They share the same shutter and the same type of rewind. There is another story behind this. But for now lets look at the Zenit-E, one of the Classic SLR cameras.

The Zenit-E appeared for the first time in 1965 and just like the 3M it had a zm39 mount but the switch was later made to m42 mount. Another major difference with the 3M was the redesigned topplate which now had an uncoupled selenium cell lightmeter. The name Zenit was engraved on the early models untill about 1967. After that all the names were just painted on. The zm39 mount disappeared also. Only in the first few years of production E types were made with this mount.

The Zenit-E's were designed and made at Krasnogorsk Mechanical Factory (Krasnogorski Mechanicheskii Zavod ) which is a city nearby Moscow. Production was later also done at the Belorussia Optico-Mechanical Factory Which was a union of MMZ (Minsk Mechanicheskii Zavod ) and factory of Vilieka. MMZ joined up with Vilieka and formed Belomo. Quality wise the KMZ Zenits tend to be better than the Belomo ones. Belomo also produced different Zenits than KMZ, like the Zenit 12 Pro, Zenit 12XS, Zenit 15 and 15M (NOT like the KMZ Zenit 15),

The production started in 1965 and the production of the Zenit-E stopped in 1981.
In that time KMZ produced, approximatly 3.334.540 Zenit-E's.
Another 5.000.000 (and more) were built at the MMZ (during 1973-1986).
If we also take in account the Zenit-ES, Zenit-EM, Zenit-ET and Zenit-11, which are all based on the Zenit-E, we get a production of more than 12 million Zenit-E types and E subtypes built.

This makes the Zenit-E Series the most produced SLR camera in the world.

Why do I call the ES, EM, ET and the 11, E subtypes?

To explain that I've made this list, please note that this list is not complete and that other subtypes may exist.

  • Zenit-E, came in chromium black, a black version exists, there is also a variation with the Olympic symbol (1980 olympics). The Black E is a less common variation, but not rare. There is a rumoured all chrome E-type. Early, hard to find E-types had the ZM39 mount. Zenit-E engraved on the camera until 1967/1968. After that all versions were had their text painted on. Several minor modifications mostly the place of serial number and the KMZ logo. Latin and Cyrillic versions exist. Also sold under different names, Kalimar SR200 and SR300, Revueflex-E, Phokina, Phokina XE, Prinzflex and Spiraflex. Also a no name version exists without a name, made by BelOMO (a union between MMZ and Vilieka). Came with either the Helios 44(early models), 44-2 or Industar 50-2. Both Latin and cyrillic versions exist.

    Units produced by KMZ; more than 3.334.540
    Units produced by Belomo; more than 5.000.000

  • Zenit-ES, modification of the Zenit-E for the FS-3 FotoSnaiper one extra shutterbutton on the bottom. Chromium black for both the grey and the black FS-3's. There is a rumoured all black ES, but this one is considered to be fake. Came with, Tair 300/4.5 mm, Helios 44-2 or Industar 50-2, gunstock, filters, cartridges, screwdrivers in a metal carrying box. Both Latin and cyrillic versions exist.

    Units produced by KMZ; more than 97.000

  • Zenit-EM, upgraded Zenit-E, lever for autoaperture. Selenium cell uncoupled meter.
    E-type rewind. Chromium black, all black EM's do exist also EM's with the Olympic symbol. Bronze Black Zenit EM, seems to have existed but hard to find. Latin and Cyrillic versions exist. Came with Helios 44M.

    Units produced by KMZ; 979.269

  • Zenit-10, less common odd serie with a lot of variations, came with or without meter little info available on variations, seems like the 10 has been made with left over topplates and parts. All models came in chromium black. New speed dail, that doesn't have to be lifted for setting the speed. Two possible kinds of rewind. Latin and Cyrillic versions exist. Came with Helios 44-2 or 44-4.

    Units produced by KMZ; 19.865

  • Zenit-ET, this serie has a lot of variations. Some have a new speed dail, that doesn't have to be lifted for setting the speed. Two possible kinds of rewind. Latin and Cyrillic versions exist. Produced mainly by MMZ (Belomo/Valdai/Vilenika) the ET knows several variations. Later versions have plastic tops. Came with Helios 44-4, 44M, 44-3, 44-5, 44-6, 44-7.

    Units produced by KMZ; 61.069 (all chromium black?)
    Units produced by Belomo/Valdai/Vilenika; more than 3.000.000

    ET colorschemes
    • Chromium/black (KMZ and early Belomo/vilenika/MMZ)
    • All black
    • matt black top
    • antraciet/graphite grey top (with flecks or speckles)
    • Green top (with flecks or speckles)

    And offcourse the most important variants (applicable to all colors)

    - with or without autoaperture lever.

    and there also is the odd variant that did not have a meter but weather symbols on the calculatorring....

  • Zenit-11, upgraded Zenit-EM, all black model Zenit in white letters on the prism. New speed dail, that doesn't have to be lifted for setting the speed. This is the last and final E-type. Hidden film release for rewind like on the 12. Latin and Cyrillic versions exist. Came with Helios 44-4.

    Units produced by KMZ; 1.300.000
    Units produced by Belomo; unknown

So much for history, the Zenit-E is a Classic SLR. But even though produced in vast numbers it's not one of the most popular ones. Some E-types have a bad reputation. The lightmeter has the nasty habit of stopping after a number of years. And the camera can lock up. Either after years of neglect and non-use, this is when the grease stiffens and locks up the shutter. Or if someone turns the speeddail wrongly. The E-type will just lock up and just stop working. The viewfinder is odd too, some are very clear, nice and bright, others are dark and gloomy.
But if properly cared for it is a real workhorse, esspecially with the Helios 44-2 58/2 mm lens. This lens was and still is considered a classic among lenses. Allthough this is a good lens it has its quirks. It has a "auto" aperture setting. With the first ring on the lens you set the aperture. With the ring behind it you can open up the aperture, then focus with the big focus ring and close the aperture down again to your preset value. It takes some getting used to but still better than working with the Industar 50-2, the cheap lens the E sometimes came with. The lightmeter, which I mentioned before, has a life-expectancy of about 15 years. It depends how much it was used. Some just stop, other just slow down. When you do get an E-type first thng to do is to test the meter against another camera or handheld meter. Some can be off by several stops.

Still the legacy of the E type lives on, not only in a handfull of enthousiastic users but also in the later models, the Zenit 12 series, Zenit-122, Zenit 312 and Zenit 412, still have the same layout under their plastic skin. They still have the same speeds. The only difference is that they have TTL metering. It is not a big stretch to see the 122, 312 and the 412 as improved model 12's. And the TTL and 12 models are in fact E types but with TTL metering.

But to say that out of the E type the TTL models evolved would be wrong.

Here is the real story......

The TTL came out of a different corner. The E has a little brother called the B. The B is an E without the lightmeter and except for the lightmeter the E and B are fully identical. The story goes that one day an engineer at KMZ rebuilt a B with TTL metering. He showed it to his boss who showed it to a director of KMZ and they liked it so much that they put it into production. The Zenit-TTL was born. Out of the TTL came the Zenit-12 series, then the 122 ect..... But they all have the same innards as the E. Except for the selenium meter....

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Handling the Zenit... A personal opinion.

The Zenit-E is a very basic SLR. It has limited speeds, but does have a B setting and a flash sync (1/30th). Which is nice if it has the flashadaptersocket, some cameras came without this handy little thingy.
Handling can be easy for the veteran photographer and very difficult for the beginner. But if you really want to get to know photography at the basic level then this is the best way to learn. Shown in the these shots are some Zenits I own.

Zenit Zenit

On the left Zenit-E (being the absolute classic SLR) in its ever ready case. On the right a special shot. The Normal E (1967 M42 engraved version) next to a less common, though not rare, Black E. Also in the right shot a number of preset lenses used by the E-type, in the back, the uncommon and hard to find Tair 2.8/133mm (Yes really 133mm) an uncommon telephotolens of very good quality. On the far left a 2/85 mm Jupiter 9 telephoto lens of very good quality. A must for portretphotography. Next to it a Mir 1b 2.8/37 mm wide angle lens, alos of very good quality. All of these lenses use the same depht of field preview method the helios 44-2 2/58 mm does. And last but not least, way in front a set of M42 macro rings, cheap and capable of excellent macros with these lenses.

How does the Zenit-E handle? Fine, in a retro kind of way. Speeds are easy to set and it is not a hard camera to master. If you got it with the Helios 44-2 58/2 mm then you just have to watch that special "auto" aperture ring.
The other lens the E came with was the Industar 50/3.5 mm (I50-2) which allthough not fast is a sharp lens. Lenses for the Zenit (M42 universal mount) are cheap and most of them are of reasonable or good optical quality. Did I mention they are cheap nowadays? I'm sure I did.
Offcourse there are some problems with the good old Zenit-E. For instance, Zenit uses M42 thread which means you have to screw and unscrew the lenses.
(authors note, there's nothing wrong with screwing).
The Industar looks terrible on the E. The Helios looks absolutely great on the E. You have to set the speed and apeture according to your lightmeter. So it means that you have to check the lightconditions every now and again. Holding the Zenit can be difficult. The best thing is to use the Zenit with its great leather ever ready case. It improves the hold on your camera significantly and has a delightfull leather smell. It also improves the overal look of the camera, esspecially with the Helios 44-2!
I've been called a professional photographer on more than one occasion with this camera around my neck. This offcourse in the above mentioned configuration, leather case, helios lens with UV filter and to top it all off a mighty lenshood. Yes, the Zenit has a way to impress people.


So ? Why do you use it? It's heavy, it has a screwmount, is fully manual and the lightmeter is poor. No ergonomic grip thingy.

Well, it's fun! Because the Zenit is a manual camera it forces me to use my head and I have to think how to make a shot. There is no auto program to faul up the creative process. If I want a blurred background but a sharp object I have to figure it all out for myself. And I've learned how to repair the Zenit-E and B and it gives me a whole new and better insight in cameras and photography. The Zenit-E has become one of my favourite "workhorse" cameras. It's a camera you pick up and load and you don't have to worry about batteries. It is built like a Tank, has proven that it can be very reliable and it's completly mechanical.
I won't say that I shot my best shots with a Zenit, but I will say that I shot some of my best shots with a Zenit.

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  1. - heavy
  2. - no auto settings
  3. - no auto focus
  4. - lightmeter problems
  5. - cumbersome to load film
  6. - screwmount
  7. - quality problems on some cameras
  8. - no built in flash (some cameras even miss the flash hotshoe)
  1. - built like a Tank
  2. - cheap Lenses fixed or Zoom (reasonable to GOOD)
  3. - cheap overal SLR System
  4. - very reliable
  5. - PhotoSniper

Zenit-E Specs;

Fixed pentaprism

Shutter: 1/30-1/500, B (cloth, horizontal)
(B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500)

Flash: switchable X/F sync, hot shoe, sync at 1/30

Metering: built in uncoupled selenium meter

Finder: Fixed pentaprism with ground glass screen.

Battery: none

Screwmount: M42

Instant return mirror

Self timer

Toms Upgraded Zenit-E (2000/2001 version)

Fixed pentaprism

Shutter: 1/30-1/500, B (cloth, horizontal)
(B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500)

Flash: switchable X/F sync, hot shoe, sync at 1/30

Metering: built in uncoupled Solarcell (panasonic) meter

Finder: Fixed pentaprism with split screen focussing ground glass screen.

Battery: none

Screwmount: M42

Instant return mirror

Self timer

Teflon treated Gears

New foam

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I would like to thank,

Jean Loup Princelle for his fantastic book "The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras ". Also referred to as " The Soviet Camera Collectors Bibel ".

"Russian and Soviet Cameras (1840-1991)" a catologue by Yuri Ryshkov.

Isaak S. Maizenberg "All You Need to Know About Design and Repair of Russian Cameras, A Collector's and Repairman's Handbook"

Allthough Maizenberg does not mention the E-type he does covers the Zenit Krystall and the Zenit 3M. Which were the E-types predecessors.
This book is a MUST for everyone who wants to repair their Russian cameras. It covers the first SLR's, rangefinders and has full info on calibration of rangefinders and lenses.
Unfortunatly it is a rare and hard book to find.

Without them this article would not be here.

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Copyright Tom A.H. Piel

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