Zenit 12cd

Zenit 12cd

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Utilitarian styling and strong construction are hallmarks of the mighty Zenit line. Spanning many variants and built by the million in two seperate factories (KMZ and BeLOMO), they are a cornerstone of eastern European photography. The classic classic is the Zenit E or EM which I avoided at first as they simply look a little naked to me.

This is very much like (identical to?) the Zenit TTL but has LED indicator instead of match needle, and apparently a brighter fresnel viewfinder (if that’s true I’d hate to see the older one). The export (12xp) version is somewhat easier to come by in the US. I think the only difference between them is english vs cyrillic wording (though this says ‘Made in USSR’ in English on the soleplate). I just thought it would be cooler to have one that said 3ENHT. Here’s the formula as I understand it:
Zenit E – selenium meter + CdS meter = Zenit TTL
Zenit TTL – match needle + LED = Zenit 12
Zenit 12 export = 12xp otherwise 12cd
Could be wrong…

Looking inside it reminds me a lot of the Praktica Super TL. Same string and felt lightseals, similar-looking shutter. It’s a pretty basic no-frills camera — you need to reset the frame counter manually, for instance, and there are no speeds below 1/30. Frankly, for the money I would take a Praktica over the Zenit, though not necessarily the Super TL. Something in the LTL or MTL series: the MTL3 or MTL5 can be had for a similar price online, and they seem to be better cameras. Note, I said for the money. This is definitely a solid user and would make a nice starter or student camera. There is a newer version with a molded-grip polycarbonate-body called the Zenit 122 which you can get brand new and often with a sharp, fast Zenitar lens for not much more $. I’ve heard some bad things about quality control on the 122 though, specifically about light seals and such so if you want a sturdy Zenit, you’re probably better off sticking to a classic metal-bodied version like the CD/TTL, E or B.

You know, the funniest thing is that for some reason I expected it to be BIGGER. The pictures I’ve seen of Zenits make them look so chunky and unwieldy that I expected it to be oversized. It’s not, it’s a very nice size, slightly smaller than the classic K1000. It is a bit unwieldy though; I find its shape a little awkward to hold comfortably.


It’s as nice as a one-owner camera, no complaints!

Tips & Tricks

Aperture preview is set by pushing the shutter release halfway (noticeable resistance is felt, it’s easy to stop at the right spot). The LED is like Goldilocks: red on top when too hot, red on bottom when too cold, both lit (or off) when just right. I personally prefer match needle to LEDs, I find them more intuitive. Flash syncs at a very slow speed (1/30), so brace yourself when shooting, the mirror is klunky like K1000 or Super TL.

Special note: the release to rewind the film is in a very strange spot – it’s a push-down collar on the shutter release button. Push it down till it locks, rewind, and it resets itself when you close the door again. Took me a while to find it. (Manual? What manual?)

The nice Helios lens (Biotar formula) is a 58mm not 50mm so it’s actually noticeably narrower when viewing vs what you expect to see out a 50mm lens. It’s also just noticeably softer than the Pentacon on my MTL3, though I’ve heard that the later 44-M-5 and 44-M-6 are sharper. The good news is that the Zenit takes Pentax / Praktica M42 screw mount lenses, available pretty much everywhere – in fact I have a collection now, you may have noticed the trend….

Lens followup:

I’ve since had the opportunity to test another 12cd with a newer MC version of the Helios lens and it was noticeably better. I tested it against an Industar 61 L/Z and can only really tell the difference between the photos in the out of focus areas, which are slightly more pleasant with the Industar. Both have 6 aperture blades but the ones on the I-61 L/Z have an inward curve, making the aperture a little more of a star than a hexagon, I don’t know how optically that affects the out of focus areas but I’m guessing it does. Still, the I-61 is so much less convenient to use since it doesn’t have auto-aperture that I’d give it a miss. Yes, even though it’s self-shading (deeply recessed lens) and sharp. So of the two I much prefer the MC Helios 44-M-4 as a user….

Truth in Advertising

I’ve since sold this camera to a Zenit fan who hopefully uses it more than I did, it’s a decent and sturdy camera but I much prefer my Japanese SLRs, or even my Prakticas.

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