KMZ Zenit B / Zenit E
KMZ Zenit B / Zenit B Global / Kalimar SR100 – US / Revueflex-B / Prinzflex-500 / Meprozenit Pro
In 1980 I was posted to Lagos, Nigeria, the chaotic commercial capital of West Africa, perhaps all of Africa. Saying West, This place is as remote from the Western world concept as it could be. To emphasise on the gap between the two cultures, we used to fly Swissair (RIP) from Zurich, being the most organized, prim, proper and orderly city on earth, to Lagos which was anything but.
One aspect of life in Lagos was traffic and road infrastructure. Just imagine shuffling domino bricks on a table, where bricks fall everywhere, facing any direction. This is a road in Lagos at any given day save for Sunday. The ever traffic jams have a term – ‘go-slow’, pronounced ‘goslo’. Driving to office I used to leave my car some two kilometres away and walk the distance, where the driver got to the office an hour later. Lagos economy was booming, but hard infrastructure lagged generations behind; be it water, electricity, sewage and in this case roads. All of that was non-existent. At home, we relied upon water tanker to fill our reservoir, a generator for power and the swage run along the street in an open gutter. All that on an island where the expatriates and the affluent rich lived. The government had spent enormous fortunes on remedying all that, but once the allotted funds were sieved through all hungry hands on the way to completion, there was nothing left to show for it but a thin veneer of sort of results. For fairness, Lagos population continuously swelled by rural population moving to town, which lacked the basics to accept them, as well as opportunity.
The roads were a collection of potholes connected with strips of asphalt. Driving in a straight line was out of the question, much contributing to confuse the traffic. Sidewalks were fair game for motorists. Being mud, cars were slipping to any which direction. This is in the dry season. When it rained the roads were so flooded, so a truck or bus passing by your car would create a wake wave that would lift the car and send it sailing.
All that required a different breed of motorcars. The most popular passenger car at that time was the Peugeot 504. An exceptionally ugly car, modified for West Africa with a raised suspension. It was locally made, with one configuration to choose from. There were other saloon cars, but none could negotiate the roads as good as the 504. Spare parts were abounding, unlike imported cars that were dependant on foreign exchange and import permits being available. However, all that over the tarred roads network.
Where the asphalt road ended, the bush roads were just that. An all-wheel drive would save the driver from the need to be pushed out of the mud. Considering the era, being the ’80s, there were no SUVs as we have them today. There was indeed beasts like the Range Rover, Range Rover and Land Cruiser. Other than that one needed a rugged pickup truck to survive such roads. Common to all these vehicles was that parts were scarce and expensive, and due to their heft, they got joyfully stuck in the first mud they met.
Also, there was the Niva.
The Lada Niva, a humble and apologetic four-wheel-drive box, looked like a car, sounded like one, was made of a collection of parts left behind from various experiments in USSR car making ventures. Made of a bit of Renault, some Fiat and the rest from the Soviet legendary unfortunate motor industry. If a feature or a part deemed not imperative for making it move, it was excluded. Trim was falling off like leaves in fall, with the parts still hanging to rust. Powered by a four-cylinder gas engine producing 70 HP, the car could make 0-100. Sometimes. Repair required a monkey wrench, a cold chisel and a hammer. It was not fussy about parts. Due to its simple build, it could take any part that resembled the original. Best of all, it would negotiate mud and deep water like a duck, and going over rocks like a mountain goat. If sunk too deep which was rare, it was light enough to pull out. Best of all, it was cheap. The mighty Soviet economy, starving for hard currency would sell it competitively priced against any other vehicle.
And that brings me to the Zenit B. The Niva of cameras.
A plain, utilitarian camera, which looks every bit the part of USSR product, in case you missed the writing on the bottom. No frills, the only luxury indulgence is the self-timer. On the heavy side but in line with other similar SLRs of the time. As with most Soviet cameras, the first two digits of the serial number represent the year the specific one was made, in this case, ’71. Another Soviet peculiarity – the speed selector circulates an almost full turn with the winding lever. Said almost, as it returns to a different position each time. A by-product of that is that there is no marking on the body as to where to position the speed marking on the selector, making the setting less than intuitive. Actually confusing. The lever travels longer than a typical SLR, think about double stroke instead. Large and clear viewer, but lacks a split-screen or focusing circle so one needs to focus over the entire screen. Self timer is activated by pressing the button above the lever. The camera is fully manual, just look at the sky and set speed and F. Rewind release button also triggers the shutter. Guess for good measure. Flash sync is a dial. In the manual, there is an odd note which is unclear. manual says that speed selection can be set either before or after cocking the shutter. It may be correct, but judging by the Zorki like mechanism and by my own experience, it is better to select speed with a cocked mechanism. The camera I have fired perfectly till I changed speed after a spent fire. Now it stammers.
Zenit E / Revueflex-E / Phokina/ Phokina-XE / Kalimar SR200 / Prinzflex-500E / Spiraflex / Delta 1 / Meprozenit-E / Diramic-RF100
A sister camera to the Zenit B, the Zenit E added a light meter. It is humbly set at the top of the bulge where the camera name was posted at rebranded models. Produced at about the same period as the B.
Other than the meter the only difference between the sisters is around the rewind dial. A curved window shows a needle and a circle – a lollipop. The lollipop is where the settings are and the needle where it should be. From here it gets complex. The dial next to it, used in peace times as a film speed memo, doubles here as a setting calculator.
Film speed is marked in two common scales – DIN and ASA. Deutsche Institut für Normung / Deutsche Industrie Norm has its roots in Germany and now is accepted at the EU as well as most of the world. American Standards Association is accepted in the US. In photography the DIN scale increments by a value of three, each rung doubles the sensitivity. In ASA, double the value means double the sensitivity. DIN 18 = ASA 100, 21 = 200, 24 = 400 and so on. So are the scales: DIN goes 15 – 18 – 21 – 24 – 27 and so forth, and ASA is 50 – 100 – 200- 400 – 800 and so on.
To confuse the west, the Soviets confused the scales in two ways. Here the DIN scale is 13 – 16 – 19 – 22 – 25. Same increments, but other numerical values. One could live with it, but when it comes to ASA, they added a different flavour – the GOST. Here there is no exact correlation with the ASA. ASA 100 – GOST 90, 200 – 180, 400 – 350, 800 – 700 respectively.
In practicality, select the film speed via the inner dial, select the speed by matching the outer dial, this will position the lollipop somewhere in the curved window. These are the recommended settings. Now fiddle with the speed and aperture dials till te needle agrees with the lollipop.
To get to the film rewind knob push the middle circle and it will pop out.
A note about notes Dpt.:
- Writing about cameras is both fun and educating. Writing about cameras in English is challenging. The keen-eyed reader had long noticed that English is my second language. As such, I derive great comfort from reading about Soviet and German cameras, where the writers share the same linguistic challenges as I do.
- A fellow reviewer, Alfred Klomp, had written a sterling article about the Zenit line. Any attempt to add to that would be futile. However, reading it is on the hard side. Maybe it is my old age or it is just the minuscule fonts used. I took the liberty of copying it in an easier to read format. All rights and thanks reserved to Alfred Komp.
Common with all USSR cameras, machining is rough, a far cry from the delicate machining lines of the Japanese. The East Germans shared this trait with the Russian, saved on sharpening their cutting tools.
In the height of the cold war, the Soviets did not hesitate to reach out to the capitalist west and rebrand this and other cameras to any interested party. It had been sold in the US under Kalimar as shown on the attached images, and in West Germany under Foto Quelle and in the UK by Dixon’s. The same camera under different brand gets varying values, see below.
To the manufacturer’s benefit, I should add that after some 50 years most of their cameras, at least the simple ones, still happily click. Servicing is simple, the same as the beloved Niva.
|Model||Zenit B||Zenit E|
|AKA||See below||See below|
|Weight||670 gr, Body only||710 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||580 gr, Body only|
|shutter||Focal plane cloth horizontal|
|Light meter||None||Selenium, external|
Current prices of the Zenit B and rebrands
Current prices of the Zenit B and rebrands