11:6:12 My New Russian Camera

About six years ago, I took up photography seriously as a hobby when faced with a choice: Do I buy a digital camera or not? I ultimately decided to buck the herd and instead take up traditional film photography.

I jumped in with both feet, buying a Yashicamat 124 medium format twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera and signing up for a darkroom class at the local community college. Before long, I was making prints as large as 16" by 20" and sold some in a local coffee shop.

In those first years, I found the "equipment" side (cameras) interesting because of the mismatch between the supply of used equipment and a diminishing demand for same. I probably bought, used, and resold a dozen cameras on eBay in the name of "exploring" cameras: medium format TLRs, 35mm rangefinders and SLRs, and one lovable medium format "folder."

[zenit 122]

That brings us to today. I'm largely over my used camera bug. I realized a "new" camera would be hard, however, to resist. The problem is nobody makes affordable film cameras these days, at least not at the prices I was paying for quality used cameras.

Then I found out about new old stock (NOS) as in a Russian Zenit 122 35mm SLR for $75 (plus $25 for shipping from Moscow). I found it hard to resist. The camera itself was manufactured nearly 20 years ago in 1994. Obviously, too many were made for demand and it sat on a shelf for all these years waiting for some photographic retro-head like yours truly to snap it up.

I love this camera. The built-in TTL (through-the-lens) lightmeter (two red LEDs and one OK green one) seems about as accurate as my handheld Sekonic, judging exposures on the half-dozen rolls of film I've shot and developed so far.

Some might mark down this camera for its plastic-body, including the lens housing, but I'd argue plastic is light and durable. What really matters is the Zenit's rugged mechanicals. The shutter curtain goes back to Leica and FED designs from the 1930s. It's well-proven technology (just don't change shutter speeds until you cock the shutter!) and like many Russian consumer goods, it lends itself to DIY repairs.

But ultimately a camera's virtue is the lens.

This is an example of the 50mm f2.0 multicoated Zenitar's sharpness: how it photographs my cat!

So at last I have a new camera, even if it waited on the shelf for me for nearly two decades. The blame for any future problems with this camera rests largely with me, not, as is true of used cameras on eBay, some unknown previous owner, neglectful or worse.



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The Cat at Light's End

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