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★★★★☆

“I had a Zenit 12XP from May 1985 to August 1987 and it...”

Written on: 13/07/2009

I had a Zenit 12XP from May 1985 to August 1987 and it was very much of a curate's egg - good in parts. To be fair, I only used the standard Helios lens and so I can only really speak for the camera itself, not its supplementary M42 screw thread lenses (although I would avoid the Helios teleconverters as the resultant lens flare just has to be seen to be believed). OK, it's not particularly reliable, but the fact that it is so very slow to operate certainly makes for a more considered, thoughtful approach to SLR photography.

It also demands that you take the initiative as a photographer - it won't do the work for you. Very good for those who want to learn how to use a real 35mm SLR. Leather case supplied. Standard lens OK, but no more than that. Tough as old boots, though - I accidentally dropped mine on the platform at Sheffield station once and it actually bounced, leaving a dent in the platform! Interchangeable lenses - it is a real SLR, after all - and accepts good quality (if now rather elderly) Praktica or Pentax M42 lenses.

Mine failed on me no less than four times in the two years I persevered with the camera. In fact, I had to return the first one to the store after just a few days as the viewfinder LEDs were inoperative; the remaining three breakdowns were all because of the same fault, i.e. the mirror locked itself in the up position and thereby blacked out the viewfinder. On two of these occasions, the failures occurred when I was actually on location in Scotland and that was particularly irksome I have to say. It was slow, unnecessarily heavy (construction was of brass to keep costs down), with a very limiting flash sync of 1/30 and a very modest shutter speed range of just 1/30-1/500 sec. The standard Helios 44M-4 58mm f2 lens was reasonable in terms of sharpness and just about acceptable as regards image contrast, although it tended towards the soft side and was very prone to flare. My friend's Helios actually had an air bubble in it, such was the quality control at the Zenit factory! Lens changes slow and cumbersome on account of the old M42 screw thread mount.