Zenit-S - Зенит-C, VEB Leitz?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Dec 18, 2013.

  1. Zenit S ( ?????-C )
    An early “Leica” SLR


    Kadlubek Kamera-Katalog Nr. KRA0500

    Type: PM3235.
    “Very common version of Zenit-C with new standardized shutter sequence: 1/30s, 1/60s, 1/125s, 1/250s, 1/500s + B.”
    ( http://www.sovietcams.com/index.php?568663372 )

    Mine is serial No. 599580xx (which is said to mean it’s from 1959)

    Industar-50 3.5/5cm Russian Tessar Lens for M39 Zenit N580633xx
    Kadlubek Nr. RUS3460

    Since I had gone to the trouble to get a Zenit-M39 lens to adapt to my Start SLR ( http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00c7Ga ), the temptation to acquire an early Soviet Zenit camera, became, well, you know.

    I found both the lens and a Zenit-S (?????-C in Cyrillic). The camera is often called a Zenit-C, but the “C” here is “S” for synchronization.

    The early Zenits are especially interesting since they are very heavily based on the rangefinder Zorki camera, which itself is essentially identical to the earlier Leica rangefinders.

    I hardly need to go into vast detail on the camera in this regard, since it is so well covered in a number of posts.

    Among the most interesting of these is our own Rick Oleson’s essay at

    This might have been what Leitz would have done, had they decided to make their own SLR in 1955 or so. So the Zenit is kind of an “alternate history” camera, as Oleson points out.

    Other discussions can be found at


    Manuals are available at several sites, including

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  2. The basic specs (from the Camerapedia site) are

    Lens: Industar-22 (ИНДУСТАР) 50mm f/3.5 or Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 (on the camera used here)
    Mount: KMZ's ZM39 screw mount.
    Lens release: simply screw counterclockwise
    Aperture: f/3.5-f/16; setting: ring and scale on the lens
    Focus range: 1-20m +inf
    Focusing: ground-glass screen, ring and scale w/DOF scale on the lens
    Shutter: rubberized silk double cloth curtain, horizontal focal plane
    Before 1959: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500 +B
    Since 1959: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 +B
    Shutter release: on the top-plate
    Cocking knob: also winds the film, on the right of the top plate
    Frame counter: manual setting, on the cocking knob
    Viewfinder: SLR pentaprism
    Mirror: no instant return
    Film Loading: bottom loading, removable special take up spool
    Bottom plate opens by a folding lever on it
    Engravings around the opening ring: ЗAКР - ОTKP (Zakr- Otkr = Close - Open). ОTKP is an abbreviation for ОТКРЫТЫЙ

    Mine had some unusual features. For the second time with an old USSR SLR (the other was the Start), the camera was “bugged”. That is there was literally a tiny bug in the prism/viewfinder. Unlike the Start (with a removable prism) I was not able to ‘debug’ it, but my efforts to make a photograph of the bug were unavailing. However, one of the pictures showed another ‘feature’ (not a bug), that the viewfinder and the film transport are tilted about 1º to the right. Given its provenence, I would have expected a bias toward the left, but perhaps someone on the assembly line at Krasnagorsk was a right deviationist (in-joke for historical materialists).
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  3. After all the bad weather and all we’ve had (still snow on the ground after 2 weeks - happens about once every 25 years here), I got some film in the Zenit-S and out to the campus lake, yet again. Sorry, no water tower in this batch, maybe next time.
    All of these pictures are taken with the Industar-50 on the Zenit-S on Fuji 200 film. The tilt is corrected here, but shows up on the negatives.

    Here is a view of the under-development replacement for the former swimming beach. Will be a sort of ‘earthworks’ art, although I’m sure Stan Herd ( http://www.millermeiers.com/stanherd/ ) is not involved .
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  4. I really appreciate having this less than a mile from my house, and it’s very pleasing to stroll through, regardless of the season.

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  5. The whole course around the lake is about 2 miles, with stations for exercises at intervals.
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  6. We’re far enough south to have cypress, and here are some cypress knees; but we are far enough north that the cypress trees shed their leaves every winter.
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  7. Here is a tree trunk indicating the typical “Tessar” characteristics of the Industar-50 5cm f/3,5 stop-down lens at 1/250 at f/16.

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  8. When I had finished shooting the 24-exposure roll, I started to rewind, but even though I had turned the rewind collar, it jammed momentarily, and the film tore. When I took it in to the camera store, I explained to my friend what had happened, but he didn’t quite absorb it all, so he initially just got the empty cassette out, and left the film on the take-up spool. Fortunately, I guess, since this is like the early Leicas in being a “bottom loader” there were only a few minimal light streaks on the later pictures.

    A few words on shooting with the camera. The tilt was obvious in the viewfinder and made the hard-enough-anyway business of getting the horizon level even harder. The bad side of this was that the lens had to be stopped down to shoot, and thus the viewfinder was dark. The good side of the situation was that this camera has the brightest viewfinder even stopped down to f/22 and f/16 of any of these early cameras I’ve shot. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the actual amount of the picture seen in the viewfinder is rather less than turns up on the film (seems to be about 80% vertical and 77% horizontal). Eyepiece magnification is said to be “5” to a superscript x, whatever that means. The image looks large - close to the same size as the eye sees with the 5cm lens.

    Be that as it may, If one shades ones eye and the viewfinder, you can actually see well enough to keep the composition even stopped down.

    Page from manual giving the viewfinder information.

  9. So, to sum up, it’s a camera from an alternate history where the USSR-occupied Wetzlar decided to build an SLR based on the early RF Leicas. VEB Leitz, perhaps?

    There is a decent choice of Zenit-flange distance M39 screw-thread lenses for this camera, which have the added advantage of being easily adapted to the rather more sophisticated Start SLR. The Zenit-S has it hands down for "cuteness", I think.

    For anyone buying Soviet M39 screw (LTM) lenses, it’s always a good idea to confirm that the flange distance is the one you want. The rangefinder lenses for the Zorkii and FED cameras are roughly the same as the Leicas at 28,8mm. The Zenit flange-focus distance is 45,2mm.

    This is an interesting enough camera that I will probably later on do some pictures with it with the two other ZLTM/ZM39 lenses I have, a MTO 500mm mirror lens and the Jupiter-11 135mm f/4 I recently shot on the Start body. For now, I just wanted to check that it was operable so I could post feedback on it on eBay for the Russian Federation vendor.

    /All for now
  10. "The rangefinder lenses for the Zorkii and FED cameras are roughly the same as the Leicas at 28,8mm. The Zenit flange-focus distance is 45,2mm"

    Does that mean you could use RF lenses with a short extension tube?
  11. Sorry; what was I thinking? I got it backwards; of course you couldn't use RF lenses on this camera. You COULD use Zenit S lenses on a RF LTM camera, but without rangefinder coupling it would be kind of pointless.
  12. Excellent, another comprehensive post. One learns more on this site than at University! The colour photos look particularly crisp, and I'm in no doubt that it was!
    I always feel chuffed when an early FSU camera works, let alone works well. Robert, you can use LTM lenses on the 3C, but just for macro work. I have used my Canon 85mm 1.9 on the 3C.
    JDM, of course bugging was very much a feature of the Cold War :)
  13. Experimenting with various length LTM extension tubes allows use of many LTM "orphan" lenses that normally do not share the film register of Leica thread cameras. These what I refer to as "orphan" lenses came with Dejur leafshutter cameras as well as Braun and of course the lenses found on the Zenit-S, the subject of this thread. I would use these on FD Canon SLR with Canon adapter A.
  14. Interesting post and nice pictures JDM. Kind of a funky looking camera, but it does have a certain charm to it. Glad not all classic camera users are as loathe to get out in the cold as I am. :) Little idiosyncrasies like bugs and crooked viewfinders are part of the fun of using these old cameras, my opinion. Thanks for sharing.
  15. Congrats on your new acquisition . This has been on my wish list fro awhile as I too find it attractive and interesting. What pulled you over the edge is what's holding me back. The registration. Since the standard LEica mount lenses won't work or at least won'T work correctly, I fear buying one with a lens that doesn't work. Apropos work.. you did a good job considering the challenges. You have compensated well. The results are good and the Tessar demo is just that! Since you have a good match between these FSU models I wish you more fun using them!!
  16. Although I did buy the lens and body from the same vendor, they were offered separately. The more established Russian and Ukrainian sellers are well aware of the Z M39 and RF M39 flange distances and will get you to the right combination.
    Postage from the former Soviet territories is not so expensive as western Europe, and is usually faster. In this case, I paid a little more directly for the items, but postage was "free".
    The later Zenits, of course, went to a M42 mount. They all are usually built on the same principle as the T-34 tank - heavy, well-made where they need to be, fairly rough where they don't need to be finished.
    On both the Leica and Contax copies that were made by the Soviet factories, consider that the originals were essentially bench-built in their origins and made in relatively small numbers. The Soviet copies were MASS-produced in huge numbers in an environment where quantity trumped quality. And yet they work and keep on working.
    Remember too, that the more-or-less contemporary American-made cameras like the late Perfex, etc., are very difficult to find still working. Cameras like the Signet 35 have control systems that make the Zenit and all stand out as models of modernity in comparison.
    Am I grateful for autofocus, automatic diaphragms, and all the rest? Of course, but sometimes it's fun to step back - it's the only form of time travel that I know of.
  17. Great stuff, JDM, an excellent treatise on an interesting camera. I go back as far as the similar 3M ,but I've never seen a "S" in the flesh. I'm always pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images from the Industar 50 and you've demonstrated this well, though it's best used with the sun over the photographer's shoulder... Thanks for a very informative and readable post.
  18. They're fanastic looking cameras... I bought one a few years back but haven't managed to put a roll through it yet... think this will have to be one of my photo resolutions for 2014.
  19. Great. I do not have Zenits almost at all. My recollection of Zenit-C is the difficulties of loading film and the mirror that does not return back. But it is cute little camera.
  20. Yes, I know this is an old post. I can, however, explain the tilt in the viewfinder of the Zenit-S. Pushed over the inside of the viewfinder lens, is a rectangular mask on the front of a short tube. There is nothing stopping this from moving, apart from the mask resting on the back of the prism.

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