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Zenit Automat

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1 673 Tue October 16, 2018
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No recommendations $25.00 2.00
Zenit Automat

Zenit Automat
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Zenit Automat
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Zenit Automat
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Zenit Automat
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Description:
The Zenit Automat was the first Soviet camera to use the Pentax K-mount and in many ways was a significant step away from previous Zenit SLR designs. While not as common as its M42 predecessors, the Automat was the first of several models that were closer to industry standards of construction and features at the time it was made than past models. The Automat is best summarized as an auto-exposure K-mount SLR featuring aperture-priority (Av mode) automation only. Made in both home market (Cyrillic script) and export versions (Latin script), The Automat was produced from 1984 through 1994 with successor models continuing until 1998.

Shutter: Electronically-controlled horizontal cloth shutter supporting speeds from 1-1/1000s (electronic) plus B (mechanical) and X (1/60s electronic)

Exposure control:
  • TTL metering (meter cell type unknown)
  • Aperture-priority exposure automation
  • ISO range: 25-1600 (Early versions use GOST film speeds)
  • +/- 2 stops exposure compensation in 1/3-stop increments
  • X flash sync at 1/60 second (both PC socket and hot shoe)

Viewfinder:
  • 95% viewfinder at near 1x magnification
  • Fresnel field with split-image focus aide at center and concentric microprism, and groundglass rings
  • LED indicators for over exposure and slow shutter speed
  • DOF Preview
  • Viewfinder blind

Battery/power:
  • S28PX or equivalent (original mercury cells no longer available)
  • Wind lever acts as power switch

Normal lens (sold with any of the below):
  • Helios 44K-4 58mm f/2.0 (6E/4G)
  • MC Helios 44K-4 58mm f/2.0 (6E/4G)
  • Helios 77K-4 50mm f/1.8 (6E/4G)
  • MC Helios 77K-4 50mm f/1.8 (6E/4G)

Physical:
  • Build -- Polycarbonate over diecast alloy
  • Dimensions -- 139x94x98mm (WxHxD, lens attached)
  • Weight -- 860gm (lens attached)
  • Tripod socket -- 1/4-20
  • Lens mount: modified Pentax-K (See fourth image above)

Other features:
  • Electronic self-timer with LED indicator
  • Fitting for (optional) wired electronic remote
  • Unique dedicated M42 adapter specific to the Automat's mount variant
  • Focal plane indicator on body top plate

About that M42 adapter:
The M42 adapter that shipped with the camera is pretty clever. When attached to a screw-mount lens, the combination may be mounted the same as a K-mount lens with the interesting feature that the adapter is retained by the regular lens retention pin rather than the complicated system of small metal stops/springs used by Pentax. The flip side is that the mount itself lacks the usual adapter retention mechanism. Unfortunately, the special M42 adapter is hard to find, so hard to find that a good photo does not appear to exist on the Web.

Strong Caution!!
As noted above, while the lenses made for the Automat are broadly compatible to other K-mount cameras, the mount on the Automat itself is NOT standard K-mount and may not play well with other than those Soviet lenses and accessories. The summary points regarding compatibility are:
  • Standard non-flanged M42 adapters should not be used on the Automat. The mount lacks the standard stop/retention parts and the adapter may over-rotate in the mount and get stuck
  • The cutout on the lower part of the mount face (used by the dedicated M42 adapter) has potential to foul or damage the contacts on KA and newer series lenses
  • The retaining pin on the mount may not engage with some lenses due to slot designs that are less generous than those on Soviet/Russian K-mount lenses
The strong implication is that even a well-preserved and working Zenit Automat may not be a safe toy to use with one's normal "quiver" of K-mount lenses. Again, the mount on the Automat is not a standard K-mount



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Otis Memorial Pentaxian

Registered: March, 2007
Location: Vancouver (USA)
Posts: 31,003
Review Date: October 16, 2018 I can recommend the Zenit Automat: No | Price: $25.00 | Rating: 2 

 
Pros: Size, balance, viewfinder, ergonomics, unexpected features
Cons: Battery door, mount compatibility, limited manual speeds, etc.

First, a disclaimer! The Automat I own, while in excellent cosmetic condition, is not capable of taking a photograph due to failure of some aspect of the camera's electronics. My impressions are based on other than actual use taking pictures.

I got my Automat as part of a "parts only" purchase where the seller indicated inability to test due to lack of compatible batteries. That was acceptable since I was primarily interested in the attached Helios 44K-4 lens that came as part of the bundle. To my complete surprise, the camera (made in 1988) came with a very sturdy never-ready* case in like-new (no marks) condition. Both the camera and lens also appear to have been seldom or never used. Woo! Hoo! It appeared that I might well have a working example as well as an excellent price on the lens. The short story is that even after supplying power (4 SR44 stacked with several U.S. 10 pieces), the best the camera could do is display the "long" exposure LED and confirm that the meter was not responsive to light.

Despite the disappointment, I did give the Automat a good going over with the intent of sharing my impressions in this review. I also did research on the Web to find an online manual and a complete tear-down video. Sadly, I found no accounts from people actually having used the camera. Enjoy!

Design/Build
I was quite surprised when I removed the packing and the case. I expected the usually hulk-like, utilitarian Zenit body. Instead I saw something that looked like a slightly taller version of a typical mid-80s Japanese-made consumer-grade SLR. Sure enough, the half-case from my quite svelte Ricoh XR7 fit nicely on the Automat. Clearly, this Zenit is a break from tradition.

A tear-down video found on the Web showed construction to be polycarbonate over diecast metal with rather clumsy-looking electronics. External examination showed a mix of both well-done design and build as well as sloppy assembly and poor design. Examples might include the plastic bottom plate that probably never fit properly and is much too lightweight for its intended task. By way of contrast, the top cover uses a thick material and appears quite sturdy. The most glaring deficiency is a very flimsy battery door located on the front of the camera doubling as a smallish front grip. In all fairness, my copy is fairly early production and the flimsiness may have been addressed in later models. In contrast, the body covering is well applied and of excellent quality. Details such as the combined film speed, exposure compensation dial are also up to contemporary standards of design and construction.

The film door latches in the usual manner and opening the back of the camera exposes the horizontal-run cloth shutter curtains as well as a conventional plastic take-up spool (no magic fingers) and sprocket drive. The film door is metal construction as is the whole of the film chamber. Film rails and pressure plate are well-finished and nicely made. I noticed that doped twine was used for film door light seals rather than the foam material common to Japanese cameras. Twine is not unusual for Soviet and Russian cameras and is also standard practice for many repair technicians when doing routine camera CLA service.

Moving to the mirror box, open-cell foam was used as the bumper for the conventionally hinged mirror. The mirror box has generous baffles and is of metal construction. The aperture actuator is similar to Japanese cameras. What is dissimilar is the aperture coupling tab used for aperture ring position signalling; the tab is thinner and less sturdy than on most K-mount bodies, is very rough in operation, and appears to not properly engage the lenses I tried such that the lens-side tab slides past the camera tab. This is not good. Again, this may have been corrected in later bodies.

As noted in the general description for the Automat, the mount is not standard Pentax-K. Instead, it features a significant cutout at bottom left intended to accommodate a special tabbed M42 adapter. The design is innovative and probably works better than the M42 adapters used with other K-mount bodies. It should be noted that later Automat variants used various modifications of this mount and that it appears to have disappeared completely from later examples. FWIW, the slot-type strap lugs, while sturdy, may eventually cut through most straps.
Handling/Ergonomics/Usage
The Automat handles surprisingly well, with all controls falling easily and logically to hand. With eyes closed, one would be hard-put to tell the difference between the Automat and any of a number of consumer-level Japanese cameras from the mid-to-late 1980s. Most controls are easily managed and feel good to the touch with definite detents and little potential for cuts or other injury. An exception might be the DOF preview lever. It is poorly placed and not easily worked. Credit is definitely given for including the feature, however.

The viewfinder deserves special attention. While the LED display is barely adequate and roughly implemented, the view itself should be called out for attention. No, it is not particularly bright by contemporary standards**, but stands out in terms of % coverage and magnification. The view is big and the focus aids generous. The split image appears to have a wide base and the microprism has the right amount of coarseness. I may yet harvest the screen for use in a FF dSLR, should I ever purchase such.

While I did not have the opportunity to actually shoot with the Automat, I did mount a few other lenses and noted very rough mount with difficult removal for a few that mount easily on my Pentax and Ricoh SLRs. I attribute those difficulties to the non-standard character of the mount, though it is possible that it might just be my copy.
Various Features of Note
While it may be tempting to dismiss the Automat as consumer-grade "junk", it includes some features that are particularly well done and/or are unusual for this type of camera. These include:
  • A very well-marked exposure compensation dial that is easily displays both purpose and current setting
  • Focal plane indicator mark on camera top plate
  • Viewfinder blind for use when shooting with the eye away from the viewfinder. This feature, while very useful for an auto-exposure camera, has never been implemented on any Pentax model and is fairly rare in the industry as a whole
  • Provision for electronic wired remote. While such a feature is of limited usefulness without a motor drive or power winder, it is still a surprising find on this camera.
  • Support for both hot shoe and PC sync
Summary
No, I cannot recommend this camera except for the accidental owner, collector, or hopeful tinkerer. My rating of "2" is not based on my copy being inoperable, but on the balance of its virtues as compared to market-equivalent models (e.g. Cosina CT-20, Chinon CA-4/4s, Pentax ME, etc.). Below are the pros and cons:

Pros:
  • Sturdy overall build, though tempered by a few weak parts
  • Fairly compact size
  • Good balance, handling, and ergonomics
  • Viewfinder performance
  • Viewfinder blind
Cons:
  • Flimsy battery door
  • Lightweight bottom plate
  • Limited manual speed options
  • Compatibility issues for this K-mount variant
A working example of this model camera would have been cool, but I have no desire to attempt a repair or to put the Automat into rotation with my other film cameras.
A Few Useful Links
Soviet Cams | Zenit Automat and Variants
Zenit Cameras | Automat Manual (Russian)
M Sylvain (YouTube) | Automat Pre-inspection for Tear-down
M Sylvain (YouTube) | Automat Teardown Part One
M Sylvain (YouTube) | Automat Teardown Part Two
M Sylvain (YouTube) | Automat Teardown Part Three

* No joking. The case design is such that it is very difficult to secure or flip the front part without a far amount of effort.

** The viewfinders found in late-1970s and 1980s Japanese SLRs are widely considered be the high point in finder performance.
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