Zenit-E 35mm Camera

When I first returned to film photography, it was with my grandfather's Zenit-E which had been sitting in my attic since he died in 1989. It's a Soviet camera built in what was the U.S.S.R and, like most Soviet cameras, was made as cheaply as possible and yet was hugely popular.


It came with the Helios 44 58mm f2 lens, an imitation of the Carl Zeiss Biotar. The Soviet way of thinking when it came to cameras was to take what others had refined, strip it down, and copy it. That said, they are not to be ignored - they were cheap and flawed but in that lay their charm. My camera has a unique sounds as the shutter fires - it's almost a chirp as the shutter curtain releases and the mirror rises.

The lens is super sharp, but at a shallow depth of field there is a captivating swirling effect that occurs around the edges that I fell in love with from the moment I noticed it. Instead of an aperture preview button or auto-stop down when the shutter is fired - you have to do this manually on the lens.


When I first looked out the Zenit from the attic in 2010, I opened the back to find a roll of film loaded. I slammed it shut and tried to rewind it but nothing - the metal teeth that help advance the film had ripped it out the cassette and destroyed the sprocket holes too. I managed to fish the film out the camera in the bathroom, put it in an empty film canister, and get it developed. I wasn't hopeful, but When I got it back I was so surprised to, not only get viewable negatives (albeit some fogged), but prints too. They were photos I had taken at a VW show in 1997 - apparently I had used this camera before. They were all overexposed and I know this was down to forgetting to manually close down the aperture before taking a picture.

 "Iain" by Matthew Deary

 "Iain" by Matthew Deary

Soon after seeing the VW show photos, I took it on holiday to the Cotswolds and used some Fujifilm Superia 200. It was a cheap film and would let me re-familiarise myself with a manual camera. When we got back I put the films in for developing and got scans and prints...they were good and I was happy. Only when I bought a film scanner later that year and went to rescan the negatives, did I realise that the negatives were almost black. Yet again, 13 years later, I was still forgetting to close down the aperture before firing the shutter.

Despite all this, these Cotswold photos remain some of my most popular on Flickr and are reblogged every day on Tumblr. Only this week did one get viewed on Flickr over 3,000 times. So, since everyone else is sharing them, I thought I would share them myself.


The Zenit-E holds a firm place in my collection. Not just because it was my grandfather's but because it's quirks and flaws make this a great camera to use, which is a rare occurrence in today's World of perfection. I just wish I used it more.