The End of the Line!

Those of you that know me will recognise that I have a passion for vintage cameras. My understanding is that ”vintage’ refers to something that is at least twenty years old and so I guess that today’s ramblings are a bit of a mystery as they relate to a camera released in 2004. I will attempt to explain.

In the dim and distant 1960s I bought my first single lens reflex camera (SLR)- A ‘Zenith E’. Note that it was a ‘Zenith’, not a ‘Zenit’ and was an import by TOE. I was not alone as it proved to be an extremely popular camera in the UK and indeed, worldwide. I sometimes wonder how many cut their teeth on the ‘Zenit/Zenith E’. Millions, I imagine. I still have it and despite a lazy shutter, it still works.

Now, fast forward to 2004 when the last SLR rolled off the the production line of Kraznagorsky Zavod in the Russian Federation. This was the Zenit KM Plus which was the new, improved version of the Zenit KM, which by all accounts suffered from a variety of problems. Thinking that I was unlikely to buy or otherwise acquire any of the Zenit SLRs produced in the intervening years, I set out looking for one. I viewed it as the end of a journey, or should I say, ‘The end of the line’.

I found this camera online with EBay with a ‘Buy it now’ price of $99 from a Russian Federation dealer. It was boxed complete with carry case and shoulder strap along with the instruction manual (in Russian) and associated paperwork stating that it was checked and shipped from the factory on 16/9/2004.

A couple of weeks later, I discovered that this seller had updated his advert, stating that the camera ‘has acquired collectible value, since only one new condition from the factory remains in the warehouse’. The price has been updated …. to $428! Did I get a good deal or is this profiteering? I like to think that I got a good deal!

It sports an ‘MC Zenitar-K 2’ 50mm/f2 lens with a Pentax K2 mount;
It is manual focusing with a split image viewfinder with a 4x display. The viewfinder displays 92% of the frame area;
Metering is through the lens (TTL) and offers manual, automatic and semi automatic exposure control;
It has shutter speeds of 16sec. – 1/2000th sec in automatic mode;
1 sec – 1/2000th sec + B in manual mode;
It is synchronised for flash at 1/125th sec.;
There is an electronic self timer with a 15 second delay;
Film sensitivity is set automatically using DX Coding from ISO 50 – 3200;
There is automatic film loading and the camera is capable of shooting at 2 frames/sec.;
The power supply is from four AA batteries;The weight without batteries is 580g.

First Impression
The camera is very much a plastic affair and if I am honest, the build quality is not spectacular. If FED 2s were supposed to be copies of Leica IIs, I have no idea what this camera is meant to copy! A newcomer to analogue photography would be better advised to look for something like a Minolta 800Si which was produced in 1997; has a far better build quality and a specification that would make you cry!

I may be being a little harsh! I have only put one roll of film through it and I suspect that like a new car, it may need to be run in! For starters, the shutter release is not silky smooth and the film loading took me three attempts to get it working. This was probably down to me. Upon reflection, I am wondering whether a few years confined to a Russian warehouse may have made electrical connections a bit suspect.

I feel that I should now say something nice about the KM Plus!

The lens is not one that I am familiar with but it appear to function well. The controls are smooth to operate;

The viewfinder is spectacularly large and bright even for a spectacle wearer. The metering is clearly displayed in the viewfinder and if I am honest, was a joy to use!

The metering appears accurate in fully automatic, semi automatic and manual modes.

From my test roll of Delta 100 it appears that the automatic DX Coding works as expected. I would have like an easy means of over-riding the coding because I could then have run a test roll of film drawn from my bulk supply. I have yet to discover what ISO the camera defaults to if non DX coded cartridges are used if indeed it does.

I had a bit of a drama rewinding the film. I must confess that this may have been my own fault. I allowed it to take a 37th frame before pressing and holding the rewind button down. The bottom line was that it didn’t fully rewind the film. You can guess what happened when I opened the back. (apart from the ripe cursing!) I finished the operation in my darkroom. (That sounds posh! I mean our basement. I lost five frames). 🙁

I have seen a YouTube video where the esteemed presenter was going through what he considered his top ten Minolta cameras. He pointed out that he had taken one of his favourites on a trip where he ended up with a Russian colleague in Siberia. His electronic Minolta simply would not work in those temperatures, whereas his colleague’s Zenit continued to work flawlessly. I doubt that the KM Plus would emulate this. Indeed, with the temperatures that we have been experiencing in Greece, (35C – 40C) I am amazed that it worked here!

I do not regret buying this camera despite some of my criticisms. I will run some more film through it to see if things become smoother. It certainly does what it says on the box which, if I am honest is not a spectacular specification.

Once the film has been loaded, it is a simple camera to operate and you should expect good results. I will keep an eye on the prices. Maybe I will be able to sell it and buy a Hasselblad. Somehow, I don’t think that likely!

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