Apparently there is an entire subculture on the internet applauding old russian cameras. While I am not one in the choir there are two russians in my collection. One is the early 1960’s half-frame Chaika and the other is a Zenit-E with a 1984 serial number.
The Zenit was a gift and, while slow on the 1/30s at first, it soon picked up pace and actually worked – with a russian “tank like”-feel as expected. There are lots of mechanical sounds when winding it and when the curtains are activated. The curtains are made of cloth and not out of iron as one may have assumed (yes, pun was intended).
The lens is an Helios-44-2, a 58 mm lens at f/2. As you may have gathered if you read my ramblings I strongly prefer 40 mm lenses so this is way too narrow for my taste. It does work however once you get to understand how to set the aperture! It is incredibly backwards, but given that there is no way for the camera to signal “set aperture, picture’s coming”, the only reasonable thing to do.
The method is: You set the preferred aperture with the outer numbered ring. It is notched at 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16. But that does not mean you are ready to take the picture. Now you turn the second outmost ring to the left to open the lens to f/2, to be able to get enough light to compose and then turn said ring as far right as is possible again. This final action sets the aperture you selected by number previously (remember that, it was some time ago…) and now you may take the picture. It is easy to forget this and I am quite surprised that russian 1980’s technology lagged so much, heck, my 1960’s Yashica J-7 does this!
A film or two have been run through the camera and as long as the aperture-fiddlings are remembered there is nothing wrong with the lens. The opposite in fact, I quite like the results.
The light meter of the camera only reacted now and then, so today I took the camera apart for investigation.
Todays workplace. Note the brush to the right, mucho sando was liberated with it. In the top two small jars contain bits and pieces going to the ultrasound washer.
It turned out that the coil/magnet-assembly was ajar by the tiniest amount. With a small screwdriver and a slight push it was free again and seems to react to light all long its deflection range.
The meter assembly. Around the center magnet the coil shall move freely. However in this case the entire magnet-coil unit was tilted in the outer cylinder causing it to jar ever so lightly against the cylinder’s inside. Some slight prodding moved it in place again and then it worked! Also in the picture is a 15k potentiometer for calibrating the light meter. This potentiometer can be accessed from outside via a screw covered hole as seen below:
With a small screwdriver the light meter can finally be calibrated. Of course the potentiometer is not exactly behind the lid but a bit lower. Oh well…
Getting it back together was quite a normal experience with the exception of the spring loaded film advance mechanism. Here I needed three hands but managed in the the end with some tactical use of the smallest screwdrivers. Phew!
While having it in parts each detail took a swim in the ultrasound wash too. That was a very much needed cleaning:
Plain old dirt and crud scraped off the zenith’s mechanism. The ultrasound bath is hot tap water, some hand-wash dish detergent and denaturated spirit, all heated to what the tap delivers.
I have never seen a camera with so much sand in it. It took me quite a while to brush off the sand from literally everywhere. Now the mechanism runs a bit smoother and definitely less crunchy than before. It is also a tad more shiny:
A fully functional washed and cleaned Zenit!