The Ultimate Zenit ?

Zenit-19, the ultimate Zenit Tank. Big and heavy and a totally new design. This one is not influenced by the infamous E-type, well, okay pherhaps only the body... a bit. I was very happy to see this big package. I was looking for this camera. The Russian "Pro" Zenit.


There is a lot to tell about the Zenit 19. The first things that I noticed were the size of the prism and the weight, I expected it to be a lot heavier. But it actually weighs little more than the Zenit-12XP. The quality of the leather, way more better than on the Zenit-E or Zenit-12. It is a nice black supple kind of leather. Not the stiff leather of the E type. It has an electronicly controlled metal shutter. And it has way more speeds, from 1 to 1/1000, M42 mount and has depth of field preview button. Which activates the TTL meter. The Zenit-19 has a simple but accurate needle meter. The iso setting is done on the bottom of the camera, the 12 and all other zenits I know have it on the top.

And then there is the way that KMZ increased the height of the camera for the enormous battery compartment. The filmadvance, that one was a suprise for me. It has a smaller arc. The E and the 12 make an almost 270 degree turn this one does not, it is only about 150 degrees. At first I thought it advanced only 1/2 a frame but after checking it does advance fully. Which means it uses a different filmadvance than the 12 or the E. Also I thought it was broken. The filmadvance stuck out and could be pushed back with the hand. This is actually mentioned in the manual. It has a provision for shooting in very small intervals. The actual advance starts with the lever partially extended so you can keep it extended when you have the camera in use and only fold it back when you just carry it around. Then there is the viewfinder, when I looked at the mirror I thought, "mmmm big mirror, bigger than an E or 12." It is bigger. The field of view through the viewfinder must be 95 percent maybe higher. Which is great, a major improvement.

Variations of the Zenit-19

Allthough there are two main variations the Model A and Model B there are some minor variations which seem to apply to both models. Total production by KMZ 121.993 units Pricerange anywhere between 60 to 100 dollars.
  • Flashsync at 1/60 (Model A)
  • Flashsync at 1/125 (Model B)
  • In an attachecase with lenses and accesoires
  • Latin version
  • with databack
  • no straplugs
  • with or without removable back (old ones have no removable back)
  • came with either the Zenitar-M 1.7/50 mm, Helios-44M 2/58mm or the
    Helios 77 1.8/50mm
  • E-type style filmback lock
KMZ also seems to have experimented with the fresnell screens (groundglass) According to a friend of mine there could be as many as 5 or even 6 different fresnells in the 19 ! This info I found on the web also, unfortunatly I lost the url. Which is bad, but I jotted down the info which is good. KMZ did this again with the Zenit Automat. A friend of mine in Poland told me this. But these fresnells or groundglass variations were not marketed. In the Zenit-19 they seem to have been modifications. Nevertheless, here are all the variations I know off.

Fresnel variations (groundglass)

  • a dark one (with microraster)
  • a fine microraster with fresnell "waves" these waves disappear when focus is good
  • a splitscreen focus like the Zenit 122
  • a fine microraster no "waves"
  • a coarse microraster (not fine but more like the spotmatic)
  • a bright one without any microrasters (possible repair or custom job)

Here it is next to the Zenit-12xp. Bigger, better and heavier. The Zenit-19 is certainly not light. Russias Finest.
My personal experience with the Zenit 19 is a good one. It is a good handler. But I had to get used to the DOF button to use the meter. Though it is in a logical place it takes some getting used too. I'm still in the middle of testing but sofar it all is good. Next to the Zenit-12 and the Pentax Spotmatic F this is one of the finest usercams there is. Certainly it is one of the best in the Zenit Range. Please note that I am talking about the MANUAL cameras here. Best combination sofar is the Mir 20 mm ultrawide angle combined with the Zenit-19 the bigger viewfinder and the speeds together with ultrawide just gives you an awsome combination to get close on your subject.

Which brings me to a few Zenit 19 Shots.

Cat and wooden shoe Roses berenklauw Catroof

Charlie the cat dozing away next to a wooden shoe, can't get more dutch than that...
Shot was made with the standard Zenitar 1.7/50mm, 1/250 aperture 4 I think.
Roses, this shot was made with an 550mm MTO mirror lens, aperture 8.5 speed 1/250.
"Berenklauw" again made with the MTO 8.5/550 mm, aperture 8.5 speed 1/250.
Charlie again, from the roof of the gardenshed, Zenitar lens.

But don't just take my word or photos for it. Here are a few shots from Wojciech 'Jonny' Sawicki. Three shots made in Poland with the Zenit-19.
(Photos displayed here with permission from Wojciech 'Jonny' Sawicki)

Plane Plane Castle

The first shot was made with a Helios 77 (1.8/50mm). The second was made with a Tair 3S from a Photosniper set. And the third one was made with the Helios 77.

Volna Volna Industar61 Industar61

Another 4 shots made with the Zenit-19. They are from my Volna 9 vs Industar 61 L/Z article but demonstrate the versatility of the Mighty 19 well.... IMHO anyway.

The Zenit-19 has a brother the Zenit-18. Allthough the bodies are almost exactly alike there are some major differences. Its major difference is the aperture priority program. This only seems to work with the Zenitar-ME1 lens (E probably stands for elektro).
This camera is rare and hard to find. Only 7001 were made. It seems that is shares only the chassis of the Zenit-19 the electronics and viewfinder are different (same size viewfinder but new layout). Price? very hard to say.... I've seen them go for around 100 dollars and in one case (mint that is) 150 dollars. But I've only seen it twice on Ebay and I don't expect to see it again any time soon.

The Zenit-18 differences

  • DOF button is gone
  • with microraster in the fresnell
  • with splitscreen focus (this is a rumour might have been a repair)
  • aperture priority program
  • came with the Zenitar-ME1 1.7/50
  • iso settings on topcover again, on the filmrewind collar.

Conclusion and my personal opinion

I call it the Mighty 19. The camera is a delight to use, where the other Zenitlines were mainly limited in speed the 19 is not. It has both slow and fast speeds, ranging from B, 1 up to 1/1000. The Dof button in front, allthough it does takes a bit of getting used too is very handy. The Zenit-19 is the best Zenit I've seen in the full manual range. The only disadvantage I could find is that it is big. But it is a lot easier to repair than any other E type. There is a certain modularity about the Zenit-19. Another problem is that when a 19 is broken, spareparts are impossible to get. Finding a good working 19 is hard but finding a broken 19 is even harder! Personally I think it is because people don't want to part with the Mighty 19. It is just too good a camera to give up. I have a spare body for it which is broken and I ended up restoring that broken body! Why? because I like the 19. This is a camera that grows on you. Okay it is big but it is a very good camera. Compared to my Pentax spotmatic, the spotmatic looses. Why? because my spotmatic has problems mounting certain lenses (very hard to mount the Mir 20mm). The Mighty 19 does not. It just takes ALL M42 lenses. If you want a big, kickass Soviet Camera that just ROCKS! You can't do better than the Mighty Zenit-19. As manual cameras go.... it is in a league of its own.