- Produced 1983-? (1985) KMZ, Krasnogorsk (Moscow), Russia
- Film type 135 (35mm)
- Picture size 24 x 36mm
- Weight 23.4oz (663.4g) body only; with Helios lens 2.0Lbs (907.2g)
- Lens M42 Helios-44M-4 58mm 1:2-16 (Valdai copy of Zeiss Biotar)
- Filter size 52mm threaded, 55mm slip-on
- Shutter cloth
- Shutter speeds B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 (sync at 1/30)
- Viewfinder SLR
- Exposure meter TTL CdS w/LED hi-lo indicator
- GOST/ASA settings 16/32/65/130/250/500
- Battery 2 x 356 1.5v
- Hotshoe and PC Sync
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….
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.