- This article is about the Russian camera and photographic equipment brand. For the astronomic or geodetic instruments directed to the zenith, see Zenith camera.
- For other uses, see Zenit (disambiguation).
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Zenit (Russian: Зени́т) is a Russian (and formerly Soviet) camera brand manufactured by KMZ in the town of Krasnogorsk near Moscow since 1952 and by BelOMO in Belarus since the 1970s. The Zenit trademark is associated with 35mm SLR cameras. Among related brands are Zorki for 35mm rangefinder cameras, Moskva (Moscow) and Iskra for medium-format folding cameras and Horizon for panoramic cameras. In the 1960s and 1970s, they were exported by Mashpriborintorg to 74 countries.
The name is sometimes spelled Zenith in English, such as the manuals published by the UK Zenit-importer TOE. However, TOE's imported camera bodies as from 1963 retained the "Zenit" badges. The early Zorki-based models before that time were labelled "Zenith" in a handwritten style of script. While frail and a technical improvisation they were the cheapest Pentaprism-SLRs in the UK at the time and are highly desirable collector's items today.
The above Zenit was based on the Zorki rangefinder camera (a copy of the Leica II). In transforming the Zorki into an SLR, the simplest approach was taken: the rangefinder housing was removed from the top and replaced by a plain ground-glass screen and prism; a mirror was added below, with a rope-and-pulley setting system and the M39×1 thread mount was pushed forward to make room for the mirror inside.
During the first years of production (until the Zenit-E of 1967) Zenit camera development coincided with that of the Zorki cameras. The Zenit-S had PC-synchro for external flash units (almost like the Zorki-S) and the Zenit-3M also had an RF-sibling, the Zorki-6. For an SLR, the Pentaprism of all classical Zenits was undersize, with the viewfinder showing about two-thirds of the actual frame-size.
Zenit-E and its successors
During 1967 through 1969 KMZ built an automatic die-cast moulding line, allowing mass camera production. Camera production switched to the M42×1 thread (also known as Praktica thread) and an instant-return mirror was also developed. This led to one of the most famous Zenits — Zenit-E which saw (including its subtypes) over 12 million produced. A heavy and tough camera with a mechanism that was exceedingly simple designed under the aspect of "what isn't there, can't go wrong". In contrast to other SLRs that had a spring-loaded mechanism that would additionally "fire" the iris closure (as required for later Zenits) with a light touch on the release, the Zenit release was directly connected to the mirror by a leverage to raise and lower it. This meant a coarse, hard, long and unpredictable mechanism leading to camera shake and hard wear on any cable release, worse on subsequent Zenits which required additional pressure for the non-power-assisted aperture closure. Production included both M39×1 and M42×1 mounts for the Zenit E and Zenit B models. Later models were only produced in the M42×1 with the Pentax K mount available for the latest models.
Towards the end of the 20th century, the Zenit-E heritage became an obstacle to the development of more modern Zenit models. This was because almost all low-end Zenits until the recent 412DX have been based around the Zenit-E die-cast chassis, complying with the local philosophy that a crude but affordable camera was better than no camera. The major events of the further development of Zenit-E line was:
- Introduction of an automatic 'jumping' diaphragm on the Zenit-EM
- TTL metering system (instead of a non-coupled Selenium-cell lightmeter) on the Zenit-TTL
- Switching to the Pentax K mount — Zenit-122K
- DX-code introduction (instead of manual ISO-speed switch) — Zenit-412DX
Zenit-E was sold also with the Moscow 1980 olympic games symbolics.
The first attempt to make high-end professional camera by KMZ was the Start in 1958. This camera had a full set of shutter speeds (from 1 sec to 1/1000), a lens with an automatic diaphragm in a unique breech-lock mount, and even a knife for cutting-off part of the unexposed film. The photographer could choose between a pentaprism and waist-level finders. The grave disadvantage of the Start is blamed on lack of lenses; only one lens (the Helios-44 f2/58) was ever made for the proprietary Start mount directly.
With the success of the Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex of the mid-50's and its follow-ups in form of the Bessamatic, Retina- and Paxette-reflex, Zenit's next attempt was the Zenit-4 (1964), -5 and -6 cameras. These were based on a Voigtländer Bessamatic-type mount with Compur-type iris-shutter near the lens elements. The poor durability and high manufacturing cost of this concept in contrast to the classical barebone Zenit design based on ultimate simplicity showed KMZ to have taken a wrong track: Nevertheless, the Zenit-5 was the first Soviet motor-driven SLR camera, and the first Soviet zoom lens (Rubin-1c 2.8/37–80, based on Voigtländer Zoomar design) featured in the Zenit-6.
Following this, there were two more attempts to make high-end protographic equipment, namely the Zenit-7 (1968) and Zenit-D (1969). Both were based on the completely new cloth-curtain shutter construction. The Zenit-D had automatic exposure mode. Its shutter was sped up to achieve X-sync at 1/125. Each of these had its own bayonet mount ("mount 7" and "mount D" respectively) which helped to utilize the camera's most advanced features. There were plans to develop a full line of optics for these cameras but the new shutter was too complicated and unreliable. Production was cancelled shortly after, and the only lens made for new mounts were the standard types. Ironically, the Start, Zenit-7 and Zenit-D utilized the same normal lens — a Helios-44 2/58. The Zenit-D is one of the rarest Zenit cameras — only 63 cameras were produced.
After one more unsuccessful camera (Zenit-16) which was produced in very small quantities, in 1979 production of the Zenit-19 began. This was a camera with an original electromagnet-driven focal-plane shutter, M42 lens mount, and shutter speeds from 1 sec to 1/1000. X-sync at 1/60 or 1/125 (camera was modified during production). The camera has only manual shooting mode (with a TTL-meter and a needle indicator of the proper exposition in the viewfinder). The Zenit-19 was, perhaps, the top-of-the-line Soviet M42 lens mount camera.
Pentax-K mount series
In 1984 the Zenit-automat entered production. This had a Pentax K mount (which was proposed as an open standard by Pentax and distributed freely) and a focal shutter with horizontal-travel cloth curtains. The only operation mode was aperture-priority. The camera was modified in 1988, to include shutter FZL-84 with vertical-travel metal curtains, and was reissued as the Zenit-AM. The Zenit-AM2 was a cheaper version of the AM without the self-timer.
Next in line was the Zenit-APK. Its distinguishing feature was the introduction of a manual shutter mode in addition to aperture-priority. The original FZL-84 shutter was also changed to a licensed 'Copal Square' shutter.
The most recent model is the Zenit-KM of 2001. This is the second microprocessor-controlled camera in the Zenit range (the first one was the second variant of the Zenit-automat camera), and the second (after the Zenit-5) motor-driven SLR camera built by KMZ. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 1 sec (and up to 16 sec in Auto mode). X-sync is 1/125 sec, and the camera includes both manual shutter and aperture-priority modes as well as DX-coding from 50 to 3200 ISO. In 2004, the KM received some improvements and was renamed to the Zenit-KM Plus
The Zenit-KM Plus was the final Zenit camera to be produced; as of 2005[update] all SLR camera production at the Krasnogorsk factory ceased. These highly interesting ultimate Zeniths would have been major sellers on Western markets during the "SLR-decade" of the 1970s.[according to whom?] However, they appeared at a time when their market-segment was saturated with second-hand equipment, so no major importer looked at them. One of the characteristics of Soviet camera manufacture was that the capability of its designers was well ahead of that of its policy-makers. The 20-year overdue replacement of the external selenium cell of the Zenit E by TTL-metering is said to be the work of an employee who made a conversion on his own accord.
Soviet Export Policy
In the West, the success of the Zenith line can be focused on the United Kingdom, firstly due to the marketing activity and service of TOE, and secondly the originally heavy UK tax-load of up to two-thirds on imported precision cameras. Substantial quantities were later sold by German discounters like Foto-Quelle and Neckermann. The main criticism of the USSR exporters at the time was that they could only supply hopelessly outdated equipment like the Zenit E that they had been directed to produce in quantity, despite having the capacity to produce more technically advanced products that might have been attractive to Western buyers. TOE were fighting a constant battle with their USSR-suppliers in this direction, having to fill the gap left by the excellent but non-for-export Soviet lenses that would have been a major selling-point, by a hodge-podge selection of second-rate mass-market optics from Japan, albeit under the "Helios" label.
Standard Zenit Lenses
The original Zenit came with the sturdy click-stop four-element 3.5/50mm Zeiss Tessar copy under the "Industar" designation. This was if anything a sharper lens than the 2.8/50 Tessar on the West-Zeiss Contaflex, let alone the latter's 3-element Pantar. Early variants made in several different bodies were finely blue-coated, whereas the later mass-produced version seemed at best partially coated with no visible colour on the glass. At less than 70g weight it might have made an ideal "pancake" lens for DSLRs if it were not for the fact that focus and iris rings rotate together, which makes stopping down after focussing impossible. Optically, it is a fine performer for static and macro photography. The most prominent and allround best lens is the 6-element 2.0/58mm "Helios" based on the pre-war Zeiss Biotar (US Patent 1,786,916 (W.Merté, 1930). Actualized several times regarding bodies, optical formulae and coating it is probably the commonest and certainly the best performance-to-cost (D)SLR-Lens ever made. The ultimate Zenit lens was the compact, close focussing 6-element 2.0/50 Zenitar with a plastic body of attractive utilitarian design, albeit a choppy non-precision focus and aperture adjustment. Its full-aperture performance, veiled with flare, is grossly inferior to that of any 58mm Helios. Zenit also manufactures several Tair lenses in different focal lengths. In general, these lenses are well-regarded and have fine optical performance.
- Zenit (1953–56)
- Zenit-S (S stands for flash sync, 1955–61)
- Zenit-3 (1960–62)
- Kristall/Crystal (1961–62)
- Zenit-3M (1962–70)
Zenit-4 line semiautomatic cameras
Models with a Selenium cell lightmeter
- Zenit-EM, Produced between 1972-1984 by KMZ.
Models without a Selenium lightmeter
- Zenit-V, also known as Zenit-B (identical to the E but to lightmeter)
- Zenit-VM, also known as Zenit-BM (identical to the EM but no lightmeter)
Cameras with TTL-metering and M42 thread mount
- Zenit-12xp, Zenit-12sd
- Zenit-122V, also known as Zenit-122B
Cameras with TTL-metering and Pentax K mount
Cameras with non-standard mounts
M42 semi-automatic cameras
- Zenit-MT-1 Surprise (half frame Zenit-19 variant)
Zenit-Ax line (Pentax K mount cameras)
- Zenit-Automat, also known as Zenit-Auto
- Zenit-KM plus
One oddity of the Zenit camera range is the so-called FotoSnaiper (or Photosniper) kit, which consists of a case (either leather or metal) a gunstock and shoulderstock, filters, a 300 mm f4.5 Tair-3 lens, a normal lens and a Zenit adapted for the gunstock (recognizable by the s designation, Zenit-ES, 122s etc.). The camera is actually held in the same manner as a rifle; hence the name "Photosniper".
- FS-2 (FED RF based)
- FS-3 (Zenit-E based)
- FS-12 (Zenit-12, Zenit-TTL based)
- FS-12-3 (Zenit-12xp based)
- FS-122 (Zenit-122 based)
- FS-412 (Zenit-412DX based)
Low Production and Prototype only
Zenit manufactured a large range of enlargers as well. Some of the best known are the models UPA-5 and UPA-6. UPA-5 is a portable model which folds into a small suitcase. UPA-6 is a more sophisticated enlarger for producing color photo prints.
Misuse of the name Zenit
Officially the Zenit trademark was (and is) the property of the KMZ factory. However, this factory was owned by the Soviet Ministry of the Defensive Industry, who freely used the Zenit brand whilst exporting cameras made by the other factories they also owned to the West.
Perhaps the first was the Salut medium-format camera, made in Kiev, which was exported as the Zenith-80. (Note the 'h' spelling of the name). Later on, some models of the LOMO-compact camera were sold as Zenit LC-A.
The BELOMO factory in Belarus produced millions of Zenit cameras, but since 1991 they have had no rights to use Zenit name. However, some cameras in production (as of March 2006[update]) still bear this logo.
The mark is still used without permission by other 'noname companies'. There are known to be a few such SLRs and even a digital compact camera with the Zenit logo on it.
Website at zenitcamera.com shows cameras and lenses which bear the Zenit, Helios and Horizon logos despite being produced by other factories. The text is in Russian, so here is a brief commentary on the pictures. In the first part of the page you can see cameras made by the other factories owned by the Ministry of the Defensive Industry. The second part is about equipment produced by the BelOMO factory. The third part shows 'fake' Zenit and Horizon cameras and Helios lenses. And the last section is dedicated to the other companies which sold photographic equipment under Zenith mark at the end of the 20th century.
Finally, during the mid-1990s, the KMZ issued a series of compact film cameras badged with the Zenit name (Zenits from -501 to -620). These cameras were actually made in China and merely packed by the KMZ factory. These rebadged cameras were never exported outside Russia.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Zenit cameras|
- Homepage of KMZ
- Complete KMZ cameras list
- Review of first Zenit by Rick Oleson
- Soviet Start SLR Professional camera 1958-64 by Stephen Rothery
- USSRPhoto.com wiki catalog listing of all Zenit models