I was thinking about how things began for me as a photographer and decided to write a post about my 1st camera, the Zenit-E.
My Grandpa bought it new for around £5 in the late ’60s. He was a very keen photographer himself and would have pursued it as a career had it been up to him. At some point in the ’70s, he decided to upgrade to a Pentax, which I’ve since passed on to my niece. He gave me and my brothers his old camera when I was around 14 years old, and I thought nothing of it at first.
At some point, after I’d turned 15, a school friend who was getting into photography suggested we go to a dump full of rotting old vehicles and take photos of them. That’s when I picked up the camera and was transfixed by the magic of taking photos from that day on. As you can see below, the photos I took were nothing earth-shattering, but the act of taking these awoke something in me.
One of the things my Grandpa said to me was that the only thing that matters when photographing something is that you do it your own way. Any subject can be photographed well given the lighting conditions, if you have the skill and imagination, you can do it well.
First foray with a Zenit-E
The Zenit-E was the perfect tool for learning my craft. It had no batteries, fully manual, mechanical shutter and a simple uncoupled selenium light meter with match-needle display. It’s a heavy machine that was built to last in Russia, the fact that it still works today is testament to that. I only ever had 1 lens for it, the one you see in the featured image – 58mm f2 with a screw mount.
I like to think it taught me a lot about the photographic process, as it did nothing automatically and was very unforgiving. It was replaced pretty quickly as I was learning fast and realised its limitations. The old beast will always hold a place in my heart though and on my display shelf! Some of my older personal work was taken with it, and you can read more about its specifications here.
I worked with manual focus, mechanical cameras right up until the advent of digital photography in the early 2000s. Since then, it’s become very difficult to compete professionally whilst shooting film unless you work in a niche industry. Although this is true, amazing photos can still be made with cameras such as the humble Zenit-E!