Zenit E

The first proper camera I owned was the Zenit E.  Here is how I learned about photography.

A Single Lens

The Zenit E was a proper Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, where you view the scene, take aim, correct the focus and take the shot all through a Single Lens. I had been frustrated with the lack of control I had over pictures taken with my Instamatic, but had quite a lot of learning to do.

There was a lot more to taking a picture than just framing the scene in the viewfinder and pressing the shutter.  That said, by far the greatest thing about an SLR was that the real view through the actual lens showed me what the pictures would look like!

The first thing I learned was that loading 35mm film was a bit more involved than putting in a film cartridge. I also learned the hard way that the film is not protected inside the camera so the back of the camera needs to stay closed until the film is all exposed and then rewound safely back inside its canister.

I learned about Exposure, Shutter Speeds and Lens Apertures. These are the most important things you learn about in photography, so I’ll explain each of them, but won’t go into too much detail as there are plenty of beginner’s guides around if you want to find out more.


Pretty much all cameras work by allowing light into them through the lens and onto either a film or a sensor – the amount of light hitting that area controls the exposure of the photograph. Not enough light and a picture can be under-exposed which appears as mostly black shadows, too much light and it can be over-exposed which looks washed out with bright white.

The main factor which determines how much gets in is how much light there is in the first place – on a sunny day there is lots of light, but in a dark basement there is hardly any light. Cameras like the Zenit give you control over how much light you let into the camera to compensate for these differences. Or course you can always do a bit of compensation yourself by finding some shade on a sunny day or by using a flash indoors.

Shutter Speed

The Shutter Speed simply controls how long that light is allowed to enter. The longer the time, the more light gets in, simple. So – sunny day: short time, dark basement: a long time.

The problem is that the longer the time the shutter is open, the longer the time you have to hold the camera completely still to avoid getting a blurry picture. If you have a shutter speed or 1/60th of a second or slower it might be better to rest the camera on something, or use a tripod. There are ways around having a slow shutter speed, but they each have their own disadvantages.

Lens Aperture

The Lens Aperture is controlled inside the lens in exactly the same way the iris works in your eye – it widens and narrows allowing more or less light in at once. So this works as a second method to control exposure – wide apertures work with less light, whereas narrow apertures stop too much bright light getting in, but each can have their own disadvantages.

Very narrow apertures can produce softer, less sharp images which can be a problem when you are trying to capture detail. Wide apertures on the other hand suffer from a limited depth of field – where only the thing you are focusing on looks sharp and everything else in front or behind is blurry – this can be a desirable effect if you are trying to draw attention to a particular thing, but is a problem if you want to capture a large object some of which is closer or further away from you.

Pics from the past

Here’s a selection of pics I took with that original Zenit E.

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