Using the Zenit TTL

Zenit TTL, Helios 44M 58mm f/2, Kodak Portra 160

So far I am greatly enjoying using the Zenit TTL. I love it’s design which I find to be rugged and simple.

The Zenit TTL is a 35mm SLR from the early 1980’s with a M42 (aka Pentax aka Praktica) lens screw mount. As it’s name would imply it features through-the-lens metering including automatic aperture stop down with newer M42 lenses.

It’s metering is built into the shutter release. Partially pressing it down engaged the meter as well as stops down the lens aperture, and then pressing futher releases the shutter.

This is different than say the Pentax Spotmatic SP which has a separate lever to engage the aperture and metering. Either method works fine, though in practice I don’t check or change exposure every shot and therefore find the Pentax a bit less disruptive.

The metering itself is a bit suspect. I believe it averages light across the whole frame and seems to key off of any bright spots. It also engages at a slightly different point than the aperture stop-down.

I haven’t had any problems getting good exposures from it, but I have had to double- or triple-check many shots just to be sure I knew what it was thinking.

Spotmatic Overview

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The majority of Spotmatic controls are right here

After a few weeks
playing with my Pentax Spotmatic camera I find shooting it a blast.

It is a fully manual SLR
with typical layout of the controls.  You won't find much more on this
camera than shutter speed dial & release, film advance level and a
self-timer.  Aperture and focus is of course controlled via the lens.

The Spotmatic has
through the lens (TTL) metering, but unlike newer cameras there is a switch
near the lens mount to enable the meter.  This engages an automatic
diaphragm release on newer M42 lenses to stop the aperture down for metering.

The documented usage
model is to first compose and focus with the aperture wide open and then engage
the meter and adjust exposure as needed.  The image through the viewfinder
darkens during metering as the lens stops down to the chosen aperture.

Personally I found
myself metering first and then disengaging the switch to perform final
focusing; either method works fine.

The only quirks I have
encountered are

  • It required an PX-400 mercury battery, but I used the
    replacement WeinCell instead
  • The battery chamber prong had to be pried up a bit to
    get the meter working
  • The fresnel focusing screen in the viewfinder requires your eye to be dead center to work

Taking a Spin with a Spotmatic

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While I use a variety of film cameras, my SLRs and interchangeable
lenses so far have been mostly Nikon.

I wanted to branch out and try an older interchangeable lens
system and decided on the M42 mount.  There
is some pretty nice M42 glass with unique aesthetics, often available at affordable

M42 is a thread mount where you literally screw the threaded rear
end of the lens into the camera body.  M42
is sometimes known as the Praktica or Pentax thread mounts as those were two of
the most prolific camera makes to use it.

After some research it seemed that the original Pentax Spotmatic was
one of the best camera bodies made to use M42 lenses.  It has TTL metering, a reputation for quality,
and a pleasing design.

It has a few quirks for those used to more modern SLRs; primarily
that you often have to focus and meter as separate steps. But now that I have put a few rolls through one it has a certain
charm to it that I find hard to resist.