Saturday, May 04, 2019

Comrade, Can I Interest You in a Zenit?

Shooting with the Zenit 12XP


Over the years, I have owned a few Zenits.  My introduction to this line of Russian SLRs was with the Zenit E (made in the 1970s), which came in a leather never-ready case that smelled fairly awful. That was around 2001.  I probably paid less than $20 for it.  The viewfinder was a bit strange as well.  I later had a Zenit EM (made in the 1970s-80s), and then a more modern, but plasticky Zenit 122 (1990s).  That Zenit was certainly not as ruggedly built as its metal-bodied counterparts. The Zenit 12 XP that I have is now my only M42-mount camera.  I bought it at an antique store in Negaunee, MI for $20 about 5 years ago.  It came with a Helios 44M-4 58mm f/2 lens which is one of those lenses that seem to have a special endearing quality.

Feature-wise, the Zenits are certainly not innovative, by any means.  The 12XP features B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and 1/500 sec shutter speeds.  It might be the Volkswagen of 35mm SLR cameras.  It does feature a standard hot-shoe as well as a PC socket, self-timer, and a meter with diode indicators in the viewfinder.  Metering is stop-down style -- a partial press of the shutter release will activate the meter and actuate the aperture.  If the two diodes are lit simultaneously, then you probably have a correct exposure. The flash sync is at 1/30 sec!   ISO ranges are from 16 to 500.  The all-metal construction of the camera makes it tank-like, but even so, it’s easy to use. The 12XP was manufactured from 1983-1992, and over a million units were produced.


Back to the lens -- since the Helios 44M in its various incarnations was put on the Zenits, it may be the most common “normal” lens from a manufacturer out there, at least in M42 mount (made from 1958-1992).  Renowned for its interesting swirly bokeh, rugged construction and affordability, it’s a copy of the Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 lens.  Many users praise the lens for it’s buttery bokeh on closeups, and for portraiture.  At 58mm, it’s certainly less wide than a 40mm.    The close-focus of the lens is 18”, and it’s a real pleasure to use. This lens is multicoated (MC), but early versions of the lens may be uncoated or single-coated.



My take on the Zenit 12XP is that it’s a no-frills camera with a  great lens that will allow you to concentrate on your subject.  The basic controls are very basic, and with the limited shutter speed selection, it may seem a bit antiquated.  Everything is fully manual, and it also makes it a great camera to learn photography with.  Given the price of Pentax K1000s, a Zenit 12XP ought to be a bargain of you are looking for a basic SLR.  The M42 screw mount has a huge number of lenses available for it, and they usually go for far less than other mounts.

Today, the prices on eBay are all over the place.  A 12XP with the Helios 44M lens in very good condition will range from $20 - $90.  The body only for a Zenit TTL - 12 series runs from $15-$40. All excluding shipping, of course. I figure that I did well for what I paid! Since it was made in Russia, it's going to be a more common camera in Europe than the USA.  Some Zenit Es were re-badged under the Kalimar label as the Kalimar SR200.

ZENIT Resources:

Images!  I really do like the results from this camera and lens combination.

Polypan 50

Polypan 50


Polypan 50

Polypan 50

Fuji 200 color

Fuji 200 color

Fuji 200 color


Svema 125 color

Svema 125 Color

Svema 125 Color

Svema 125 Color 
Svema 125 Color






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