Zenit 12S and the Photosniper


Recently, I visited a couple of friends in Blackpool. We had a wander along the front and even managed to score a table outside a pub for a cheeky half. While wandering, one of the friends said they had some film cameras I was welcome to try or even keep…interesting says I, trying to remain slightly cool. Then the word “photosniper” was dropped and I was all… HELL YESSSSS!!!!

I had only ever seen one of these in Japan being used by some bird watchers. I had never held or tried one. Goodness me it was heavy. It came in a military style box which I had to lug, along with 3 other cameras back to my car. Once I got them back to my house I had a good look at them. Maybe I should have done that before choosing them. Anyway, one of the cameras was faulty and beyond repair, the shutter was completely wrecked and the lens was full of fungus. That lens is now attached to a broken body and it finding a new life as a toy in a classroom home corner. Another, a minolta, I cleaned thoroughly and have already tried.

So, now for the photosniper which also needed a really good clean.

On first inspection, I thought the main lens was suffering from fungus too and was so disappointed. But I decided to try and clean it anyway. It turned out the glass was just caked in a thick layer of dust. I didn’t want to take anything apart to reach the back element so I just put a very damp lens cleaning cloth on a long stick. Once I moved it around a bit and then removed it, the blackness on the cloth told me all might not be lost. After a few changes of cloth and lots of wipes, everything came off and the lens was fairly clear.

But where to test it?

You don’t see people with this set up very often and I had never seen one in the UK. It did look very gun like and in your face. I asked a few friends where I could take it without being arrested and one of them suggested Barnard Castle, you can test anything there. True I though, done deal. I even got a ticket for the actual castle, which I headed to first.

The castle was my choice to start the testing as my ticket was for first thing in the morning. That meant it would probably be very quiet and enable me to build some confidence in using the photosniper and with walking around with it on show. I was met at the gate by the English Heritage warden…He was American! Why is this important? Because Americans know what guns look like or so the stereotypical image in my head said to myself. It might not be true, but TV tells me it is and I believe everything on the TV. In this case it certainly was and he proceeded to ask me about it and said, “don’t worry about using it, it definitely isn’t something that would make me nervous.”

And that was it, I used it a few times there but mainly stuck to using the other camera I took to the area. The long focal distance meant I struggled to use the camera inside the castle grounds. I decided to walk around the village, towards the river where I might see some ducks. And I did, lots of friendly ducks. Along the route I went in a few shops and the camera was always a conversation starter. I have to say, the conversations were the best thing about the sniper. I learnt the area is now much busier due to the Cummings Affair, but it was welcomed. Before the incident the area was pretty quiet, now it is often heaving with tourists. When it first happened the locals were a bit nervous and some even closed their shops. It was during the height of the corona virus . Now they have adjusted and are loving the influx of people. The actual castle has ties to Sandal castle near where I live, having the same design features. And the most popular types of fudge and ice-cream are the plain or vanilla ones. 🙂

Gosh look at all that writing and no photo examples or info about the camera.

I will rectify the first part of that right now.

For the first time using it, with slightly expired film, I didn’t do too bad. Most are in focus and exposed properly. The light meter on my example didn’t work very well and I mostly used the sunny 16 rule. I wasn’t sure if there would be a loss of light given the length of the Tair-300 lens. I ended up keeping the speed at 1/125th and aperture on f5.6 or f8 depending on the conditions. The lens has apertures from f4.5-f22. The body/lens combination was as heavy as you would expect but the ergonomics meant it wasn’t too uncomfortable to use. You focus with your left hand while supporting the lens, then literally fire it with your right. You fire it twice if you open the aperture wide with the red lever in order to focus. Once to close down, once to trigger the shutter. As I was leaving mine on f5.6, I found there was sufficient light to focus therefore I didn’t need to use the red lever for each shot. I tended not to lock the shutter open as the first use of the trigger activated a massive “recoil”, whack, and bang. It could scare even the bravest of birds. You can read another piece about the camera here.

As I much preferred to use the camera taking photos of birds, I opted to attach the camera to my Sony A37 with an M42 converter. Once attached, the camera was upside down in order to use a tripod on the lens. You do want to attach the tripod to the lens as the weight of it could damage the camera if it you use the mount on the body.

I then set the camera to speed mode and automatic ISO. The A37 has focus peaking which made it much easier to use but using it upside-down on a tripod was just too awkward. In the end I opted to use it with the aid of the neck strap and holding the focus dial to aid support. I could use it fairly easily that way. Here are some of the digital results of different birds on that rainy day.

Finally, I decided to use the Zenit 12S with the 58mm Helios-44M that came with the kit.

For this test, I took the camera to Middleton Bluebell Woods in Ilkley, then through the town to a bit of the moors. I have wanted to go to this place for a long time, but I have not lived in the UK during bluebell season for many years. I loaded the camera with Lomography 400 and set off quite early, the day after a rain storm…there was nobody else there 🙂

Though I am not overly keen on the photosniper, the helios lens and zenit is a great combination. I love a zenit and this lens gives great bokeh results.

As this camera set up is just a loaner, I will be giving it back at some point. I am not sad about that as my favourite part was the helios lens results. I have that lens and a Zenit 11 and a zenit E on which to attach it.

The photosniper was great to try, but I doubt I will ever use it again. At least now this version is nice and clean for the owner to use at some point.

Categories: Junk Camera Finds, Swaps and searched forTags: , , , , , , , ,

11 comments

  1. The Photosniper has been one of my grail cameras, but really can’y rationalize it for the type of photos i do … just WANT one!!!

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    • Me too. I would never have bought one, but so happy to have tried it.

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      • The one I had the camera was faulty. But I found if I unscrewed the 3 grub screws on the mount I could rotate it so my digital was the right way up, then retighten the screws. Which mad it a lot easier to use, that said I think it’s still practically too heavy for anything other than monopod or tripod use.
        Hiking lens it is not. Shame cos the image quality was great

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      • Wouldn’t that make it upside down on the sniper?

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  2. Yeah, it would make the sniper bit upside down. That didn’t matter to me as the camera that can with mine didn’t work.
    However if memory serves me right zenit camera bodies have the lens mount held on by just 4 screws, and it’s just a threaded metal ring. So one could just unscrew those and rotate it 180° I think then both zenit and digital would mount the right way up.

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  3. Thanks for this post; I’ve wondered for many years what that lens could produce. Based on your results, great images on digital with the help of focus-peaking. If you enjoy the Helios bokeh, you might track down the 44-2 version of the 58mm f2 Helios. Its bokeh is considered by many (including the undersigned) to be the most intriguing of all Helios family members.

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    • I have that lens. It is currently attached to a zenit 11. I am in the process of doing a post about that lens attached to the sony and with a reversing ring. It has been in my draft pile for a year…so don’t hold your breath 🙂 You are right though it is a stunning lens.

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