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Despite what some people may tell You, actually it is fun and easy to shoot with Zenit camera. In this quick walk-through we will introduce you to the very basics of taking pictures with Zenit.

This camera in the picture above is Zenit-E. The actual Zenit camera was owned buy our parents and has been twice to the top of Mt Elbrus, also Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Kazakhstan and Armenia, was swimming twice in the river Gauja in Latvia and has survived many accidents and mishaps. It may look quite beaten up, but actually it is still working and takes nice pictures.

Some history and introduction

Zenit, or sometimes spelled Zenith, cameras were mass produced in Soviet union from 1950ies to the very collapse of USSR. Nowadays Zenit cameras are still produced in factories in Belarus and Russia. Some authors say that Zenit cameras are the most popular mass produced SLR cameras in the world. Still, even in digital era, Zenit cameras are used buy many photo enthusiasts around the world and especialy in Eastern Europe, where You can still find good quality Zenit cameras in flee markets and vintage shops for a good price. Zenit is not only for lomographers – if properly used, with good quality Soviet optics, You can get pictures that match up with Canon or Nikon SLRs film cameras. Let us get ready to shoot.

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

Before anything, remember what is Your films ISO value. You should be able to read the ISO value on the film package, it is usually in values like 100, 200, 400, 600 etc.

Loading the film in Zenit camera is quite easy, thanks to a movie on Youtube, we can quickly get us ready for shooting:

how to Load and Unload film from Zenit 11

Once the film is loaded, we need to set up the camera to be ready to shoot – just follow the pictures bellow to adjust the dials on camera for proper exposure and diaphragm values.

Exposure time on the dial is shown as a fraction of second. In the picture above the exposure time is set to 1/250s. We typically choose exposure number values that are close to the film ISO – so in this case we have an ISO200 film and we set exposure time to 1/250s.

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

On many Zenit cameras there are built in exposimeters, so we do not have to guess exposure values. To use exposimeter, we need to set it up to our films ISO – so if our film is ISO200, we set the exposimeter to value 200. To set the ISO value, turn the inside ring of the thumb-dial until You can see correct value in the GOST-ASA indicator.

There comes a small quirk – in USSR region there was a different system used to indicate film light sensitivity called GOST, which does not exactly match ISO film speed values – there we have a small conversion table for you to help You set up your Zenit camera correctly:



So for our ISO200 film we would set GOST value to around 180. Next comes reading of the actual light level:

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

Turn the camera to the general direction You want to take the picture. Notice that there is a small arched glass indicator window and an indicator needle inside of it and also exposure dial circle too. Depending of the light amount, that is reaching the camera, the needle is moving left or right.

To get the correct exposure values, move the outside ring of the thumb-dial, until the exposure dial circle is over the exposure needle, as shown in the picture above.

To read the exposure value for the diaphragm, see picture below:

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

We remember, that we set the film exposure time to 1/250s, so we now search for the value 250 on the outside ring of the thumb-dial.
In the picture above we can see that to value 250 matches value 4 on the inside ring. This value 4 is the diaphragm aperture we need to set on the lens. Lets look at the picture below:

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

On INDUSTAR-50-2 lenses, aperture values are set using the front ring, on other  Zenit camera lenses this may be different, but you will always find aperture ring – it usually has values on it like 3.5-4-5.6-8-11 etc.
We remember that the exposimeter reading had value 4 – so we set this value 4 on the aperture ring – match the dot on the ring to number 4 – as in the picture above.

How to use a zenit camera: About


Zenit SLR film camera

Now look through the viewfinder and turn the focusing ring on the lens back and forth, until the object you want to photograph is in focus – it is sharp and you can see all the details.

To take the picture, just press the shutter release button that is on the right side of the camera. To get sharper images, do not jam or slam the button – push it slightly until You can feel some resistance, then just apply a bit more force until You can hear the shutter go. If You can not hear the shutter, make sure it is winded.


This all may seem confusing and complex in the beginning, but actually You will discover that shooting with analog Zenit cameras gives more fun, surprise and enjoyment than the digital hassle. To sum up all the operations, there we have some quick lists to help You out.

To prepare Your Zenit for shooting:

  1. load the film – remember or write down films ISO speed

  2. set film ISO value on the exposimeter

  3. choose exposure time

Once the film is loaded:

  1. wind the shutter

  2. change exposure time if needed

  3. read exposure values from the indicator

  4. set diaphragm aperture

  5. get image in focus

  6. shoot!

How to use a zenit camera: About
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