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Zenit E

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This is a very common Russian Zenit E
SLR camera from the 1970's. The lens shown however is the less common 37mm F2.8 Mir-1 lens in a special 1958 Brussels Grand Prix edition. The standard lens for this particular Zenit E is the Helios 44-2, although they were also shipped with the almost identical Helios-44 and possibly the Industar-50/50-2. The Mir-1 was only one of many other lenses available as extras.

Photo of Zenit E SLR
This picture was taken with an Epson PhotoPC650 camera.

The Zenit E was actually in production from about 1965 to 1982. Whilst some early examples of the Zenit E had the M39 mount, the majority (certainly every one I've seen) had the much more common M42 one. This opened the camera up to a vast number of non Russian/Soviet lenses. Also some early examples apparently did not have the instant return mirror which was also the case with the Zenit 3M. I've not seen a Zenit E without an instant return mirror as they probably weren’t exported. All together around 5 million Zenit E cameras were made which explains why it is very common - at least in the UK where it was a popular budget choice in the 1970’s.

Zenit E cameras are good solid cameras - but unfortunately they were made in such large numbers that there are still many around. I have seen this type of camera retail at around 20 - but a more realistic value is 5-15.

Lens Specifications

Focal Length 

No. of Elements 

Angle of View 

Maximum Aperture 




60 deg





40 deg





45 deg


Using the light meter on the Zenit E

One of the biggest selling points of the Zenit E was the built in light meter. This sits on the left hand side of the top plate - when looking from the back. Its an entirely uncoupled meter and relies on the user transferring the readings from it  to the shutter and aperture controls on the rest of the camera. Zenit-E light meters tend to be broken or inaccurate nowadays - however you may get lucky with your one. Here are some basic notes on its use:

First you need to set the film speed. Its printed on the box when you buy it. I tend to use 200 but 100 and 400 speed are also very common. The bigger the number the more sensitive the film is to light. On the Zenit E - these number are referred to as ASA. Looking from the back of the camera the film speed dial has a couple of windows with numbers underneath. The ones on the left go 16,32,65,130,250,500. These are the ones you need - so for 200 speed film - set between 130 and 250.

Now when you are out taking a photo - you need to take a light reading. Hold the camera in one hand and point it at the subject (be careful not to point it up to the sky, down is better than up if in doubt). You should see the the needle  is sitting somewhere in the ')' shaped window. Rotate the outer ring and set the circle over the line. Then you can read off pairs of numbers from the outer 2 rings. Eg:


Each pair of numbers represent the amount of light available - described as a combination of shutter speed and aperture. Which pair is right for your photo will depend on what photographic effect you want. Eg for fast action a high shutter speed is needed - whilst for maximum depth of field you would want to close the aperture down as much as possible (eg F22)..

The first number (the one marked on the outer ring) is the shutter speed marked as a fraction of a second. Eg 60 = 1/60th of a second. Set this on the shutter speed ring on the right hand side of the camera (lift and rotate - don't force). The other number is the aperture known as the F stop. Set this on the aperture ring on the lens - see next section below.

You can't have in-between shutter speeds - but if the 2 sets of numbers don't line up completely - just pick a shutter speed and set the aperture on the lens mid way between the 2 aperture numbers specified on the light meter.


Setting the aperture on a Helios-44 type lens

People are often confused by the aperture setting on a Helios-44 type lens.

On this lens the very front ring is the aperture ring. This is marked in F  stops and has click positions. The ring directly behind it is the stop down ring. This actually opens and closes the diaphragm.

To set the aperture - line up the red dot on the stop down ring to the red  dot on the very front of the lens. Then set the aperture required on the  aperture ring.

The diaphragm won't close down at this point as it needs to be wide open  (F2) to allow easy focusing. Once the picture is focused then rotate the  stop down ring to the right (assuming you are holding the camera from  behind) until it stops. At this point the diaphragm will have closed down  to the pre-set aperture setting and you can take the picture. By rotating  the stop down ring you should see the picture darken in the viewfinder.

After taking the picture rotate it back to the left so you can focus  and/or set a new aperture.


Using flash with the Zenit E

Another question often asked is how to use a flash. The Zenit E is able to use either electronic flash or old fashioned single use bulb flash. These instructions are more aimed at electronic flash.

First connect up a flash gun. Any electronic flash gun will probably do - as long as it has a flash sync lead. The Zenit E does not have a hot shoe - so you need to connect the lead to the socket next to where 'ZENIT E' is written on the front of the top plate.

Secondly, set the shutter speed to 30-X. You can use speeds slower than 1/30 - but not faster.

Thirdly, swing the lever underneath the shutter dial around until the handle covers the X. (The M setting is for single use disposable flash bulbs).

Once all this is done you should be able to take flash pictures fine. Obviously you also need to understand how to use a manual flash gun. Usually they have some sort of chart/dial on the back with indicates the aperture to use for the distance you are away from the subject. The slightly more complicated 'computer' flash units let you set a fixed aperture and the flash measures the distance itself and adjusts its power accordingly.

HERE for a Zenit E manual.

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All text and images Copyright © 2000-2011 Roland Givan, unless otherwise stated. All Rights Reserved.

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