A Camera Built Like A Tank – Project Zenit ET
“Built like a tank” – something that is strong, solid, virtually unbreakable.
There is something about the solid mechanical “thuuunk” of the shutter firing on my old Zenit ET camera that says “I’m built like a tank!” And the weight of the beast with it’s solid metal construction also says “I’m built like a tank!”. After all it weighs just under 1kg with the lens. Maybe it could even be built from the metal from old scrapped tanks for all I know.
After all, this is my 1984 Zenit ET SLR camera with Helios 58mm f2.0 lens. The camera itself was built in the old Soviet Union in Vileyka near Minsk, in what is now Belarus. The serial number starts with 84 – so that tells me the year it was made, and the logo on the base identifies the factory it was made in.
I don’t think the lens however is original as it has an Auto/Manual aperture mode switch at the rear of the housing but the camera body does not have the aperture auto-stop down mechanism. Judging by the serial number I suspect it was made in 1981, and the logo tells me it was made in the Valdai factory about 400km north east of Moscow.
As you read this bear in mind this was never intended to be a review of this old time combination. When I buy old film cameras I do so because I want the pleasure of taking photographs with them. If they don’t work, or if I think I can’t fix them, then I don’t buy them. As it happens the Zenit was working fine when I received it, and just needed a cosmetic tidy up.
Inevitably though by expressing my opinion here after shooting my first roll of film in the Zenit it does become a sort of review – albeit a non-specification based review.
Since I got back into film photography a couple of years ago I had a yearning to add a Russian camera to my small collection. I’m not really sure why exactly. I think maybe it was because I had heard so many stories about how basic and rugged they are and wanted to see for myself. I had considered buying a Zorki, a Kiev or Fed off eBay but they were all quite expensive compared with the Zenit ET I ended up purchasing locally on TradeMe.
Before I had even unwrapped the package I was impressed by the weight of the camera and therefore, I thought, it’s solidity. On completely unwrapping it was confirmed – yes, it is solid – built like a tank! and I was impressed by its overall condition. Certainly not mint – but well used with a certain patina that goes with old age and use. Unlike the Canon EOS1000F that I resuscitated some time ago I didn’t even have to go and buy a battery. The Zenit ET uses totally mechanical inner workings, apart from the uncoupled light meter that uses – like the Oly Trip 35 – “solar power”.
It took a while for me to pluck up the courage to put a film in – and then even longer to work my way through the 36 exposures of Fujifilm C200.
This was the first time I had used a fully manual camera since I owned a Praktica back in the early ’70s, so my first few shots were not without some worry.
Was the meter system accurate enough to give me correct – or at least satisfactory – exposure. I used my understanding of the Sunny 16 rule to double check at first, then as I got further through the roll I decided to trust the metering and not second guess the outcome. It turns out that, given that the film I was using seemed to have a decent exposure latitude, most shots came out better than just okay.
The biggest problem I had was of my own making. I’d meter a subject, set the shutter speed, and then forget to manually set the aperture to the correct f-stop. Of course focusing fits into that sequence too. Or I’d discover I had inadvertently knocked the M/A aperture switch to the A position.
I struck only two other minor issues. At time I found it difficult to focus the manual lens – even at the widest aperture as is the norm. The viewfinder always seemed bright enough so whether it is just a case of getting used to the ground glass focus screen, or whether it is because I wear glasses and the viewfinder has no dioptre adjustment, I’m sot sure.
And the final wee problem I struck was that I struggled to get the film to rewind and had to consult Mr Google before I found out about the about the knurled locking ring around the shutter button. (I should have read the user manual that I found on the ‘net…). Even after checking it out on line I still struggled to get the rewind system unlocked – but that is something that I couldn’t practise without a film in the camera.
So to the results. Here is a selection of images from the 35 useable, but not all “keeper”, photos I ended up with.
My favourite photo is the Poppies In The Park shot.
Apart from resizing and conversion to jpeg for use here all of these photos are unedited – straight out of the camera. The film was processed in a local retail lab and scanned to TIFF format.
Your feedback is most welcome.