Zenit-E & Argus cameras... Any good?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by oliver_elmes, Oct 7, 2009.

  1. I work in a school and I've just come across 2 old cameras. One is a Zenit-E and the other is a Argus. They seem to be in working order. I'm not sure if they'll be any good for students though as they have no light meters. Also, the Zenit E has the aperture dial at the end of the lens which seems very strange.
    How were these cameras intented to be used without light meters? Or is that just it, I need light meters.
    Are they worth using?
  2. I don't know about the Zenit-E.
    Argus was a major camera maker, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Argus C3 / Brick was one of the most prolific cameras ever made, uses 35mm film, very simple, and takes great photos.
    Regarding exposure - you need to set the exposure yourself. So you either need light meters, or you need to read the exposure reccomendations on the film box, or you need to know in some manner, how to set the exposure. Folks who use manual cameras frequently, often manage to get the exposure correct just from experience.
  3. Oliver,
    The Zenit is a Russian made (FSU) camera. The bodies are usually built like tanks. Very few, if any "modern" features, but the lenses are usually very good. They are capable of some very fine photographic results. As for exposure, do a web search on Sunny 16 rule. It is a good thing to know, especially for students. You didn't mention the model Argus, but they made a range of competent cameras, and once again, for a student they take away the reliance on automatics, and build a sense of what film will do in differing situations. You might give them a try yourself, heck, we are never too old to learn.
  4. Thanks for the response.
    The Argus camera certainly is a brick. It weighs a ton! I can't see the model number on it but it's very simple.
    I would be confident about making my own light meter readings but not about the students! Think i'll buy a light meter or 2.
    Love your panoramic photos by the way
    Take a look at mine if you get the chance!
  5. You could download, print and stick together the 'Exposure Mat' light meter for your pocket. This is a very easy to use/read slide-ruler that tells you what settings can be used in particular light situations.
    I usually give these to people who come to me with questions about using a manual camera.
    I don't use my Argus C-3 very often, but it is a reliable camera with a nice lens. I believe you can find the serial number if you open the back of the camera.
  6. SCL


    With the Argus C-3, which I believe was the most popular of the C series, the natural assumption was that you either bought a light meter to use with it, or you followed the manufacturer's instructions for exposure on the film box, which essentially were the "sunny 16 rule". The Cintar lenses took very good pictures for their time, mostly of which were transparencies, which require exacting exposure. Below is a picture taken on Kodachrome in the late 1930s of my grandfather, with an Argus C3.
  7. The Argus Collectors Group has a website, with reference photos, that can help you identify exactly which Argus model you have.
    As you say it weighs a ton, it is very likely a C-series camera. There were several versions, beginning with the model C in the 1930's and ending with the C-3 Matchmatic in 1966. All the C-series cameras look similar, and do resemble a brick, hence the nickname. They are very rectangular, with a coupled rangefinder (except the model C), shutter speed dial and shutter cocking lever on the front. On top, there is a film advance winder, an exposure counter and, on some versions, an accessory shoe.
    Is it useable? Yes, as long as all the functions work. The 50mm, f/3.5 Cintar lens is surprisingly sharp and there is still an active group that enjoys using the C-3 and other Argus models.
    The Argus brand name is still around, but it has degenerated into selling cheap imported digital cameras and accessories. They stopped making their own cameras in Ann Arbor in 1966.
    Zenit was, I believe, a Soviet-made camera. I don't know the history, but I do know that there are still collectors around who love them and use them. As I understand it, the quality was a little spotty, but, if you have one that works, they can be nice cameras, with pretty good lenses.
    Paul Noble
  8. The Zenit-E is a good camera. That lens screws off, and is interchangeable with thousands of lenses in the M42 (aka Pentax) screw mount. Most likely yours is a Helios 44 which is a fine Soviet lens despite the unconventional operation.
    It actually does have a light meter; on the front of the prism housing you'll see a rectangular window type thing, which is a selenium light sensor. The chances that it still responds accurately are not very good, but it might. On the top of the camera you'll see a curving rectangular window that has a ring and a needle visible through it. Point the camera at a strongly lit subject and see if the needle moves. If it does, the exposure can be determined by rotating the dial next to the window so the ring aligns with the needle. That doesn't actually set the camera, it's only a meter; you then have to set the lens aperture and camera shutter speed to match the values indicated by the meter dial.
    I have a Zenit-E which I used briefly but never got to finish a roll of film because a shutter curtain ribbon failed half way through. Apart from that, though, I was impressed with its operation and build quality. At the very least, keep the lens. You can use that with a lot of great, and less funky, M42 cameras by Pentax, Yashica, or many others.
  9. Looks like the Zenit takes great photos. Love the portrait of the boy with ice cream.
    I will test the light meter on the Zenit. I did see it but could not get it to respond to light.
    That exposure mat is also great. A brilliant way to learn about exposure settings.
    I've e mailed the argus people with the serial number. I couldn't find a seven digit serial number on their site.
    Thanks folks
  10. Supposedly the Argus Cintar lens had the same design as one of the Leica lenses (the Elmar I think). However, the Argus quality control on the lenses wasn't nearly as good as that of Leica (Leitz). I have a couple of the Argus C-3's, including one very early one from the 1939-1941 period. I believe both have uncoated lenses. They're both decent picture takers, but give nowhere near the picture quality of my much later Leica IIIc with a coated Summitar.
  11. The C-3 can be a pretty decent camera. Of course, it's not in the same class as a Leica -- it was something that was affordable to a middle-class hobbyist. The photographer Duane Michaels got started with a C-3. I don't use the ones that i have often enough, but when I have shot with them, I have never been disappointed:
  12. The Zenits have the occasional QC issues, but they are so cheap that you just keep buying them until a good one comes along!
    They are very solid, and the Helios lenses are also good, especially like the look they give at wider apertures. I think that a Zenit will give you the best bang-for-your-buck of any camera at the moment.
  13. There is a chance that your Zenit is a good camera. The aperture is a preset dial on the front of the lens, and what it means is that you pick your exposure combination, open the aperture up to the maxmum, set your focus, and then turn the actuator ring back down until it comes to a stop. Then you shoot. As far as metering, the Zenit E has a selenium meter on the front. If it doesn't work it's no real problem. If you google "Sunny 16" there's a site at Fred Parker Photography that does an excellent job at giving you an idea about exposures without a meter. I very rarely use one. The same goes for the brick. No meter there either, but exposure rules are universal. It doesn't matter whether you're using a Zenit or a Nikon.
  14. These, if they are working right, are really quite decent cameras, for what and where they were. Pictures were taken long before there were light meters, and this is especially true for negative film which is much more tolerant of over and under exposure than is slide film.
    Sunny-16 is one way to go (don't type in "sweet 16" or you'll come up with rather different kinds of exposures.)
    Of course, another way to go is to buy an external lightmeter. They're handy to have even with automatic cameras.
    Here is a sample of the kind of thing that used to be in the Kodak film boxes:
  15. Great! Can't wait to see the results of the Zenit and Argus. I'm going to print off and laminate some of these exposure guides and leave them in the cases for the students to use. Hopefully they won't be daunted!
    Thanks again!
  16. Hi, Oliver I think you'll be very impressed with the results from your Zenit E, even if the meter is RS. Reputedly the E's selenium meter wasn't very accurate even when working, which is why I bought a meterless Zenit B back in the late 60s and used it through to the late 70s I favoured either the 'Sunny-16' system or occasionally took along my Weston Master V if the exposures were going to be difficult say with a lot of confusing shadows.
    The Zenit's limited shutter speed range is an occasional nuisance and the VF image is smaller than the real thing, but you learn to get along with those. What I never got fully accustomed to, was that d****d preselection aperture ring right at the front of the lens. So about two or three shots out of a 36-exp film would be over-exposed, due my forgetting to turn it to the appropriate point before hitting the shutter. However, as other folks have commented, the optical qualities of the Helios-44 58mm F2 lens are excellent, even down to max aperture. It even has a fair degree of built-in 'lens hood' effect with the front elements recessed, so I never bothered with screwing in a lens hood. Then again, the Helios-44 is an optical clone of the famed Zeiss Biotar, which Zeiss dropped in the early 60s in favour of the Pancolar, so it has some worthy heritage. Good luck with yours! (PN)
  17. Thanks PN
    Well, i've loaded a couple of Ilford 100 films in each camera and I'm going to test them out this weekend, armed with various exposure guides!
    Can I upload the results without being a paying member?
  18. Yes. There's a limit on what you put in your gallery though.
  19. In the circles I traveled in, the Zenits were notorious for sudden and unpredictable failure. If you were making cameras, and they paid you in non-covertible funny money, and there was nothing in the stores to buy with it, would you work hard to make the best possible camera? Nope. You just made lots of them to meet the latest five year plan.
    The Argus "brick" is a tank, very reliable. Avoid the widest apertures and the lens is plenty sharp.
  20. I was thinking of using a red filter on the argus for some nice cloud contrast. How does that effect my exposure mat if at all?
  21. If you have the Waltz screw-in filter set for the Argus C-3 (and Leica Elmar lenses), I think you have to give the film two more stops of exposure for the red filter, if I recall correctly. Set the slide 2 EV-numbers lower then the existing light conditions to give you the correct combinations of aperture and shutter speeds.
  22. The Zenit E (and all Zenit models with the meter window to the right of the rewind knob) suffer a strange light leak issue. The side of the pentaprism was sealed with a foam which by now is probably gone. This allows light to wash in and into the lens chamber. You can wind up with some weird overexposed pictures and if you don't understand what is happening, those can be hard to find. Here is a sequence of images I made several years ago showing what I mean:
    <img src="http://usera.ImageCave.com/JonGoodman/Zenitleak.jpg">
    First image is me shining a light into the lens opening. You will see a faint line in the side of the meter window. Second image is the top removed and the same light coming through the lens opening...to let you see how bad this leak might be. Third image--I've removed old foam and sealed the entire opening. Doing this will improve the Zenit greatly in most cases.
  23. Just finished a roll of film with the Argus with the red filter. Fingers crossed they come out ok. I accounted for the filter with a wider aperture - Thanks for that!
    I've also finished a film with the Zenit E. I found the winding mechanism was a little awkward, in as much that you had to be certain you complete the motion entirely or it obviously won't take your next frame. The frame counter is also unusual as it counts down and finished on 20, which makes me think you have to set it before you put the film in, but you can only do that by physically turning the winder! The lens I was using has a 3rd dial controlling the light (but it wasn't the aperture) which I only discovered half way through the film, so the results could be interesting!
    Thanks for the link of your Zenit Jon, mine seems to be in good nick but i suppose I'll know once I develop the film.
    Watch this space!
  24. Good luck with it, Oliver. In case you need some repair pages, I heartily suggest Tom Tiger's site. Tom Piel has done a super job of explaining most of what the Zenit owner needs to know there. Please let me know if you can't find a link (Google should take you there). Another nice Zenit is the 3M. Limited in lenses, but a neat one nonetheless. The lack of instant return mirror makes the camera much quieter and smoother than most. Actually it is a very smooth SLR.
    I'll tell a story on myself now...about 10 years ago, I converted a 3M to instant return status. Took a bit of work, but not too bad. Then...and only after this had been done...did I realize there were no 39mm automatic aperture lenses. I should have spent my time adding a light meter instead, eh?
  25. Yes, with the Zenit you have to reset the counter manually. I ran a roll of film through a Zenit B once with an Industar 50 lens on it, and I was pleased with the results. My first experience with a Zenit was a Zenit TTL with a Helios 44 lens. It was my first try at SLR's and it got me hooked. I currently have and occasionally use a Zenit 3 (M39) and Helios 44.
  26. Well, it's been a few weeks and i've used both the Zenit E and the Argus and found them to be both great cameras.
    I used the exposure mat and would say I got most of the readings spot on, although there was an occasion where I forgot to take a red filter off and used it in low light conditions, which was a brilliant idea. The Zenit E was particularly good with the Helios lens with a wide aperture for portraits. I shot 2 rolls on the Zenit E. The first was fine (B&W ilford 100) the second (out of date colourslide, fujifilm 100) had some photos with black coming in from the left hand side, as if having been exposed to light. Now, I did have trouble winding the film back as it is quite fiddley, and i exposed a few frames at the start of the roll, but this shouldn't of caused photos to be exposed randomly throughout the film, should it? Maybe light is getting in as John Goodman mentions above. Strange though, as this wasn't the case with the first roll. The only difference was the lens.
    I've uploaded one of the pictures to my website taken with the Zenit E. It's the one of the baby doll (first picture on the third row). www.oliverelmes.mfbiz.com. The colours don't do it justice online. They are a lot fuller on my computer.
    I would love to upload more to this website but I just can't afford the subscription at the moment. If anyone's interested, I can e mail contact sheets etc...
    The Argus, was great too. So simple and user friendly, unlike the Zenit E which has it's strange quarks.
  27. Ok, I've just realised I can upload some photos as a non subscriber!
    Here are some more....
    Mmm, doesn't seem to be an option anymore

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