Posted on

Zenitology: lost chapters

Yes, you're cute
Yes, you’re cute

It looks like Baron I, as enthusiastic as he was about telling you everything about the Zenit 3M, missed one key link in the Zenit ¿evolutionary? line.

For, behold, here’s the Zenit 3, without an M, only 3. I simply assume that the Zenit C, being nothing else than the original Zenit with a flash synch socket (hence the C, which is cyryllic for ‘s’, which in turn stands for synchronised), is the Zenit mark 2, since, AFAIK, there is, officially, no Zenit 2, not even at blueprint stage.  

The Zenit 3 is, again,  arguably one of the most beautiful SLRs ever made. I like it even more than the previous Zenit models: it is, design-wise, a more conventional camera than the Ur-Zenit, with a raised chrome top plate instead of the more Leica II-ish top panel of the first model. SLR evolution in design and function began, in the 50s and 60s, taking a very definite path led by Nikon, which in turn took inspiration from the Contax S. The Zenit 3 constitutes a timid departure from Leica design into something more converging into this mainstream. We could say that the Zenit 3 was a Leica II with a prism on it trying to look more like a Contax S than the Ur-Zenit did.

Just it was made in Red Russia. Hey, don’t take me wrong: the 60s were the total apex of design and workmanship in the good ol’ USSR, and this camera is a good example of it. It feels right on your hands, pretty much like the real deal, even more than its predecessors. We still have sculpted metal instead of a vulcanite rubber cover, but in this model the black glossy paint was replaced by a more dull, rubberized dark gray paint that provides a better grip and looks. It’s still not leather, but it’s way better than black glossy paint on the Zenit C.

It was still a bottom loader, which is cognate with ‘pain in the ass’. Them boys at Zagorsk dropped bottom loading in the next model, the Zenit 3m, and never looked back. Them Russkies, not exactly famous for being most innovative boys in the hood, were smarter than Leitz. Gee, it doesn’t work: cut it. Was it so difficult to understand, Leica M?

When we iconomecanophiles feel like bashing Leica in general and the Leica R line in particular, sometimes say that the Zenit 3 was more Leica than the Leicaflex itself. Because, let’s admit it: it looks like the Ur-Leica way, WAY, more than the Leicaflex does. If it looks like the culmination of a process in which the Barnack dream machine evolved into a SLR camera, it is because this is exactly what it is. The Leicaflex was, instead an idea from scratch, and this was perhaps, its strongest feature, because the result of transforming the old trusted and true Leica Standard body into an SLR was perhaps more beautiful design-wise, but now, fifty years into the future, it is plain apparent that sticking so much to a design from the 1920’s was what made the Zenits obsolete. Meanwhile the Leica SLR line, with three major reimaginings in its history, played in the same league as the major (Japanese) players well until the 1990s.    

But Baron I is just digressing, meandering, rambling. Divagating. Let’s go back to the essentials: for us photo amateurs it makes sense to want to use such a beautiful machine. A jewel that looked retro even at the time it was being made, in the space era. And it has chrome. Loads of it. It’s even more chrome and shiny than a Contax II.

If you think I’m becoming oblivious by not inserting any links to my ebay store in this text, maybe you’re right. Or maybe I’m getting more subtle. Or you could try reading the whole post backwards and be surprised at how I inserted paragraphs of The Catcher in the Rye in the text…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *