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Zenit S
Soviet SLR in M39 Mount


Photographic equipments from Soviet was once famous in copying design from other European camera manufacturers (e.g. FED / Zorki copied from Leica rangefinder, Kiev copied from Contax rangefinder, Lomo Lubitel copied from Voigtlander Brillant TLR, etc). However, there was one piece made by Soviet manufacturer, Krasnogorsk (KMZ, which made Zorki), called Zenit, which was a SLR appearing in 1952, more than a decade ahead before Leitz (the target for copying rangefinder's design) released the first SLR, Leicaflex in 1964.

Zenit S was the one of the pioneers in Soviet made SLR in history (Sport was another one made earlier, around 1937). What made it special, is a product based on a hybrid body design between its line of Zorki rangefinder, and plus some new design introduced for a SLR body.

Looking closer, it just looks like a Zorki 2 rangefinder body, with addition of a reflex mirror and housing for prism, where the latter was finished elegantly in a triangular shape with round corners. On the housing of prism, you will find the translation of 'Zenit S' in Cryllic letters (note - this is not Zenit C) engraved on the nameplate, and the trapezium-prism logo of KMZ embossed on leather.

Its size is comparable to a rangefinder, and it is very compact in size, according to the standard of modern SLR. (below image showing a Zenit S body with the default lens, Industar-50, 50mm F/3.5)

Before the era of modern SLR, Zenit S maintained all the bad sides of old SLR design, i.e. no automatic diaphragm creating trouble in manually changing aperture for viewing / shooting, total blackout after shutter fired due to no self returning reflex mirror. However, it was not the end of story, and the Zenit SLR series continued to evolve, until Zenit 7 released in 1969, with automatic diaphragm stopdown.

Lens Mount & System

It is interesting to notice that M39 is a lens mount system, but not only a single system with such 'mount'.

  • Leica M39 mount rangefinder (or called Leica Screw Mount / Leica Thread Mount / LTM, you may find other thousands of brand names, producing its compatibles)
  • Chaika, a half frame 135 camera, Soviet made
  • GreatWall, SLR in 120 format, Chinese made (a copy of Pilot 6, Germany made)
  • Enlarger, where M39 mount is used for lens

You can find lens that can mount on a M39 camera, but actually that is not exactly working properly. It is because of the difference in their lens registration distance (distance between lens and film surface, designed to allow image to fall on film and in focus). I have tried to mount Jupiter 8, 50mm F/2 (a Soviet made M39 lens for Zorki, certainly can fit Leica RF as well) become a marco lens, where I can focus as close as about 6cm from subject.

About The Camera

The camera shown in this webpage is Zenit S, the second model in the Zenit series, which is the same as the first model, simply called 'Zenit' (1952), but with a synchronized shutter.

  • Shutter speed 1/30sec - 1/500sec, and B(Bulb)
  • MIR-1, 37mm F/2.8 lens, focusing range is 0.7 meter - infinity, f/stop settings are 16, 11, 8, 5.6, 4, 2,8.
  • Support interchangeable lens in M39 mount (not compatible with Leica RF lens)
  • Cable attachment for external flash
  • Attachment for standard cable release
  • Bottom film loading
  • Tripod hole (3/8 inch) at camera bottom

The above image showing a Zenit S mounted with Helios 40, 85mm F/1.5 lens (image credit - from Tony Lim).

Test shot taken by Industar-50, 50mm F/3.5

More Information

  • Reference: The design and functionality of cameras continues to evolve. Education is an important tool in the growth of photographic equipment and imagery. Moving forward in research in many fields advances this art form in ways that other forms of expression cannot be advanced. An online university is a way to move forward in study while pursuing photographic adventures. Art is inspired by knowledge and knowledge is furthered in pursuit of artistic expression.

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