Zenit 12XP – the Russian connection
Zenit 12XP – the Russian connection

Zenit 12XP – the Russian connection

Tackling the dreaded Zenit head on or fear of absent danger

Ah, Russia. Home of Swan Lake, Dostoevsky, borscht, the Master and Margarita, Laika (still the saddest story in existence), and of course, a vast array of cameras and camera lenses–Smena Symbol and 8M, Zenit-E and 12, Horizon 202, Lomo LC-A, and Helios lenses, just to name a few. I won’t get into technical details as my knowledge is limited in that regard–I just take the camera and shoot. Not to say that knowledge wouldn’t be of service in more ways than one, but I somehow manage without it. We’ll see for how long.

Of all of those soviet-era cameras, there are three in my possession (or four, if you want to get technical)–Zenit 12XP, Horizon 202, and two Smena 8Ms. And today, I’d like to focus on the Zenit 12XP, a camera I was “warned” about–it’s fully manual, and it might be flimsy. I took that as a challenge, and I’m glad I did–that “flimsy” camera worked like a charm, even without a working light meter (I did use an external one).

Zenit 12XP with Helios 44M-4 58mm f2

For that first time, I decided to load a “shorty”1 (a homemade roll of b/w film containing about 14 or 16 frames – in this case, the film in question was Kosmofoto Agent Shadow with a 400 ISO), as I didn’t want to use a whole 36-roll with a camera I don’t know is working properly. And I was scared it won’t, or at least that I won’t know how to use it or have enough patience for the external light meter, the manual focus, the whole DIY thing that comes with the fully manual cameras.

But I decided to be brave, loaded the film, and went to explore the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was flooded, due to extremely heavy rains in the days prior, and the weather was murky, so the mood was quite grim, but the camera was a delight to work with, the external light meter did its job perfectly, and the overall experience was positive enough for me to fall in love with the Zenit.

So I loaded the next film immediately. This time, it was a color one—Revolog Nebula, with an ISO of 100, which is one of those films with an effect, and Nebula is a space one, with blue and green stardust. It does look cool in the promo photos, and it looks even cooler in the photos of photographers who know what they’re doing—which in this case wasn’t me. I for the life of me cannot tell you why I didn’t research it beforehand, as it is well stated—everywhere—that the effect is best seen in the darker parts of the frame, so shooting it in bright daylight, in the quarry, or standing on a bridge above the river was not the smartest decision that day. Or in my life. Maybe I could’ve shoot it during the evening or in darker weather, but that would require a tripod, and I’m not a fan of making my life easier (you can read more about that here—coincidentally, both the Nebula and the Rollei Infrared were shot on the same day).

But as this is a post about Zenit, and not about my stubbornness, here are a few photos from Nebula, and we’ll quietly ignore that the “nebula” part in the film wasn’t nebuling a lot, so that’s 15€ down the drain.

See what I mean?

The extremely bad planing on my part aside, Zenit once again proved itself to be a fun and reliable camera, not-so-slowly becoming one of my favorites, neck-to-neck with my beloved Olympus OM10. For that reason, I decided to master them both this year.

And the Revolog Nebula will get another chance. Or, better, I will.

  1. Shorties are a great way to “test” a camera, as well as to test the developer (the liquid, not the person). ↩︎