Any one of a number of Russian SLR
cameras made during the Cold War and today by KMZ, a camera plant based in the dramatic-sounding Krasnogorsk
. In cyrillic, 'Zenit' is spelled '3EHNT', although the N is backwards.
Zenits can be found on eBay and elsewhere for pocket change (less than twenty pounds plus lens), and are popular as a first SLR, being slightly cheaper than the similar but better-made Praktica range. They have a certain brutal charm and, although crude, heavy and clunky, there's nothing actually wrong with them, although they have a severely limited range of shutter speeds (1/30 to 1/500, plus B). Apart from the cost, the other plank of their appeal nowadays is that they have an M42 screw mount, allowing access to a huge range of cheap 70s lenses produced by a wide range of manufacturers, some of which are of very high quality. Zenits were also sold under the names 'Revueflex' and 'Prinzflex'. The shutter and return mirror are very famous for having an alarmingly loud and 'clacky' action.
The Zenit name dates back to the early 1950s and encompasses a wide range of models, but the most popular and widespread model is the Zenit E from 1965, released just in time for Czechoslokians to experience another Russian product, the T-55 Main Battle Tank. Millions were sold, more than any other SLR; it was the AK-47 of the SLR world.
The E was in production until 1982, with a special run in 1980 to commemorate the Moscow Olympics. However, KMZ's subsequent cameras (the 'TTL' and '12xp' range, for example) are essentially modernised revisions of the E in plastic cases.
Physically, Zenits are very heavy and bluff-looking, although deceptively compact; until the 1980s they were made out a solid chunk of aluminium and were physically indestructible, although the mechanical innards - supposed cloned from a pre-war Leica, although this must have been by goblins - are not nearly so robust. On a technical level, post-'E' Zenits have a built-in CDS lightmeter, a self-timer, controls for shutter speed and aperture (on the EM and subsequent models), as well as the usual film transport controls.
The viewfinder on the E produces an image which resembles the view through the bottom of a glass bottle; the viewfinders on other Zenits (starting with the EM in 1974) are much improved. Other interesting models include the Zenit 19, which is a professional model resembling a contemporary Praktica in terms of features, and the Photosnaiper (sic), which really deserves a separate writeup; briefly, it was a range of modified Zenits mated to a 300mm lens and a stock, resembling a futuristic sniper rifle, complete with a working 'trigger' to release the shutter!