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Zenit-3M camera (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
The Zenit-3M marks the point where KMZ’s SLRs broke away from the pre-war-Leica template (Pic: Stephen Dowling)

In the years following World War II, the giant optical and camera plant KMZ (Красногорский механический завод) cemented their reputation as the Soviet Union’s most important camera maker.

KMZ had, before World War II, already created a Leica-like called the Zorki, Russian for “hawkeye”. As the Zorki range expanded, KMZ engineers used it as a basis for a new line of 35mm SLRs named Zenit.

The first Zenits were essentially a Leica II copy with a pentaprism attached – you loaded the film in the same fiddly manner you would in a vintage Leica – but in the early 1960s they turned to their most modern design to create something different.

Taking the hinge-backed Zorki-6 as inspiration, KMZ released the Zenit-3M in 1962. Compared to the squarer, boxier Zenit-B and E which followed a few years later, the Zenit-3M looks much more refined, a simple SLR with a modified Leica mount which was short on frills but capable of great images thanks to its accompanying lenses, some of which are nothing less than superb.

The Zenit-3M has been somewhat overshadowed by the Zenit-E, which was so popular than an entirely new production line has to be built in Minsk to keep up with demand. With no meter and a fastest shutter. Speed of only 1/500, the Zenit is essentially a 1930s camera, albeit with some Atomic Age styling. While the camera may be seen as something of a footnote now in Soviet camera design, it was exported around the world: more than 700,000 were made before production ended in 1970.

In this video, Kosmo Foto looks at this stylish, affordable little camera and what it’s like to shoot with.

You can also read a full review of the Zenit-3M here.

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Stephen Dowling
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