The Zenit-E was a very popular SLR from the KMZ factory in the former USSR. It was fairly primitive compared to contemporary rivals from Japan, Germany and the US but, it was a perfectly serviceable workhorse for Soviet photographers. It was produced in huge numbers from the late 1960s until the mid 1980s and many were exported beyond the Iron Curtain under a variety of brand names.


Mine is from 1978 and is a special edition for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It has an m42 lens mount which allows a huge variety of lenses from various manufacturers to be used with the camera.

As I mentioned, it’s primitive, even for its time. While contemporary rivals had automatic exposure setting, motorised film winding and other bells and whistles, the Zenit E was all manual, all the time. It doesn’t even have a diaphragm lever to stop the lens down when the shutter release is pressed, you have to use pre-selector lenses that require you to open the aperture for focusing and then close it down to the selected f-stop before taking the shot yourself. There is a lightmeter but it’s an uncoupled one, meaning that you have to take the reading and then apply the settings to the camera manually. The lightmeter is also run from a selenium cell which negates the need for a battery but also means it has a limited lifespan. Generally selenium meters stop working reliably after 10-15 years. Mine works but only in sunlight, it won’t move under even strong studio lighting.


Despite all of that however, I thoroughly enjoy shooting with this camera. It’s relatively small and light and is a perfect second camera to carry around. The standard lens that came with it is also a gem, the Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 lens is based on a pre-war Zeiss design that is famous for the swirly bokeh effect it produces when wide open. It’s not a super sharp lens but it’s perfect for portraits and close-ups.


I have a reasonably good selection of m42 lenses that cover a variety of bases. As well as the 58mm Helios, I have a Mir 37mm lens, a 70-20mm Arsat zoom, a 300mm Tair monstrosity and a few Industar 52 or 55mm lenses. The Industar lenses are very poor optically, but as they cover the same focal length range as the Helios, there’s no reason to mount them. Some of the Takumar and Soligor lenses that I have for my Spotmatic can also be used, the lens mount is the same but the Zenit can only use automatic lenses that can be switched to manual mode due to the lack of any aperture automation.

Sample Images