These are descriptions of my growing collection of old film cameras together with my experience of using them. The descriptions are entirely based on a particular camera that I have before me rather than just on Interweb research.
The Zorki 4 camera was made by KMZ ( Krasnogorsk Mechanical Factory) – the same factory that made the Zenit cameras – in the former USSR near Moscow. The name ‘Zorki’ means ‘sharp sighted’ in English. Over 1,700,000 Zorki 4 cameras were made in total. The original Zorki was a direct copy of a Leica II camera but the camera underwent many alterations and improvements and the Zorki 4 was an entirely Russian design. Zorki cameras were originally supplied with an Industar-22 lens (a copy of a Carl Zeiss Tessar) but the Zorki 4 was supplied with a Jupiter-8 lens which is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar lens. Zorki cameras were made between 1956 and 1973. The Soviet Union made other Leica copies – the Fed range. The Fed 2 is very similar to this Zorki.
The controls are as you would expect and hold no surprises. On the far right is the film advance. This is a knob – rather antiquated for 1973 (when this camera was made) – which I rather like. I certainly do not miss having a film advance lever, the winding action of the knob allowing a valuable pause for thought. Set into the top of the film advance knob is the frame counter. Next to the film advance knob is a central raised section. On the right of this section is the shutter release button. This is towards the back of the camera which I find a little awkward but it is quite usable. It is threaded for a standard cable release. Around the shutter release button is a knurled collar which you turn clockwise to release the mechanism for rewinding the film.
Next to this is the shutter speed selector. The standard advice for Soviet cameras applies here – always advance the film before changing the shutter speed or risk damaging the selector mechanism. This is important enough for the original retailer of this camera to have supplied a metal sticker on the inside of the ever-ready case to remind the user.
Around the speed selector is a large ring used to set the type of flash synchronisation – either M or X. Next to this is the accessory shoe – this has no contacts so is a ‘cold’ shoe in flash terms. On the far left, at the same lower level as the film advance, is the rewind knob. This is telescopic to make rewinding the film easier. A very nice touch not often found on cameras is a lever below the rewind knob which allows the user to focus the viewfinder – this means I can use the camera without my glasses on and still have a clear view.
Zorki 4 showing top plate.
The back of the camera is rather plain. On the left of the top plate is the viewfinder eye-piece. This doubles as the rangefinder eyepiece. On the right of the top plate is the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it and the legend ‘MADE IN USSR’ (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for our younger readers). Below this is the body serial number – with Soviet cameras the first two digits of the serial number frequently give the year of manufacture, in this case 1973.
Zorki 4, rear view
The base plate of the camera has a tripod boss below the lens which is a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. On either end of the base plate are the catches for the base/back which are removed as one to load the film.
Zorki 4, base of camera
The front of the top plate has the viewfinder which is quite large (18 by 12 mm), a centrally placed rangefinder window which is rather small and the PC socket for the flash. Above these is the stencilled legend – Zorki-4. The front of the camera body has the lens (where else?) and the self-timer.
The lens is a Jupiter-8 lens. This is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar lens. Early production was cased is plain aluminium but by this date the aluminium was painted matt black. The use of aluminium gives a very light lens but at the expense of toughness. This specimen has been bashed at some point and the filter thread has a flattened part meaning I will not be able to use filters on this camera – no great loss as I rarely use filters.
The lens serial number has the same format as the body number and shows that the lens was also made in 1973.
The specification of the lens is quite impressive. It has six elements in three groups, for the optical aficionados, and has a maximum aperture of f/2. This is quite a wide aperture for any lens and as wide as you will find on a camera of this age. As a landscape photographer I will rarely use any lens this wide open. The iris diaphragm has nine blades giving a close to circular aperture which should produce nice bokeh.
Using the Zorki-4
This is a rangefinder camera so the first thing to note is using the rangefinder. This is not too easy. For those who have never used a rangefinder – the technique involves turning the focus ring on the lens until two images in the viewfinder are on top of each other. To work well, the two images must be easy to see and that is where this rangefinder falls down. The rangefinder window on the front of the camera is small – 5 by 3 mm – which gives a very dim second image. It does work and I have been using it successfully but it is not easy. One thing that is common with rangefinders is to ‘silver’ the internal mirror with gold rather than silver or mercury as this gives an orange image which is easier to see. Alas, Zorki have not done this and you end up peering into the viewfinder looking for the secondary image. I shall probably use this camera as a scale focus camera and rely on the hyperfocal distance as I do with most of my non-reflex cameras.
blog copyright 2014, John Margetts
Apart from the rangefinder aspect, the viewfinder is bright and clear. As I mentioned above, it is possible to focus the viewfinder to allow for personal defects in vision and I find this to be very useful. The viewfinder is both above and to one side of the lens. This will introduce parallax errors for anything other than landscapes. Parallax is where the lens and viewfinder are both looking at the same object but from different places. For a head-and-shoulders portrait, it will be necessary to keep the person towards both the right and bottom of the viewfinder – experience will tell the photographer exactly haw far to the right or bottom to go. With many camera there are secondary bright lines in the viewfinder to frame close up shots. With up-market cameras the viewfinder adjusts its view as you focus, but this is not an up-market camera.
Focussing the lens is smooth and easy as is setting the aperture. The aperture ring has two scales – the front of the lens turns as you focus and if there was just the one scale you would not be able to read it at both near focus and infinity. The aperture ring has no click stops. This means that you can set intermediate apertures if you want to but also means that you can inadvertently alter the aperture so checking is a good idea before firing the shutter.
Setting the shutter speed is not as clear as it could be. The dot on the scale does not line up exactly with the numbers. The height of the selector knob changes with speed – 1/60 and slower raise up the selector knob – 1/125 is the slowest sped with the selector knob in the lower position – you can then count positions to accurately set 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000.
Having framed your picture and focussed the lens, pressing the shutter release needs a firm but not excessive pressure to fire the shutter. I do not like too easy shutters as I am liable to fire accidentally as I am still composing – not a problem I shall have with this camera. When the shutter is fired, the camera makes a definite squeak. Exakta cameras are notorious for this and then it indicates that the shutter needs lubrication. I suspect that it is the same with this Zorki but the cost of paying someone to lubricate it will be much more than the camera is worth.
Winding the film on is easy even though the film advance is a knob and not a lever. The one bit I do find slightly awkward is the fact that the knob turns clockwise – the film is wound onto the take-up spool emulsion outwards. Neither really matters but I find moving the advance clockwise to be non-intuitive.
I am quite pleased with these pictures overall. The lab that developed the film for me (Snappy Snaps, Lincoln) told me that some frames were overexposed but mostly they are within the latitude of the film (but see the yellow flowers below). Over-exposure suggests a slow shutter ( or me moving the aperture setting inadvertently). This is a 1973 camera that has most probably never been serviced and not used in some time – there was a film in the camera that had been there long enough to be forgotten about when I bought the camera.
I took a variety of fairly close-up shots to test the calibration of the rangefinder – all seems to be well. I also used the lens wide open and at f4 for the flower shots to see how well the lens performs.
Russian lenses are generally very good, particularly when stopped down. Where Russian lenses do not perform well it is usually down to careless assembly in the factory or an owner messing about with the lens, rather than the glass itself.
In summary, this lens gives good colour rendition and good contrast. The lens is plenty sharp enough. The camera is slightly over-exposing but not to an extent I cannot compensate for. In fact, with use, the shutter might start running correctly.
I am giving individual comments on each photo below.
This is the only photograph to show the white band on the left. It was also the last frame on the roll of film. I am assuming that its position on the film is the cause of the white band. The picture has good focus and good contrast.
Here, I focussed on one of the pink petunias. This shows that the rangefinder is pretty well calibrated as it should be. The result of some over-exposure is visible in the pink.
These buskers are a fairly regular sight in Lincoln city centre. I focussed on the accordion as being the only part of them with the strong lines that the dim rangefinder needed.
This shot did not use the rangefinder but rather my usual habit of using the hyperfocal distance. I am quite pleased with the sharpness of this.
Lincoln Market Hall. Again, using the hyperfocal distance rather than the rangefinder.
For this flower shot, I focussed on one of the yellow flowers (a potentilla). The detail in the flowers is almost completely blown – a result of over-exposure. The leaves, being that bit darker, have retained their detail.
These lavender flowers did better. Again, I am happy with the focus that the rangefinder gave me. This shot was with the lens wide open (f/2).
The Siemens’ factory on the banks of the Witham in Lincoln. Another hyperfocal picture. I like both the colour rendition and the contrast.
The same factory complete with reflection. No flare which I had thought might be a problem with this lens.
A close-up of a disused part of the Siemens’ factory and a part of the Witham sluice. A hint of flare in the upper left of the brick-work.
Factory and sluice from further back.
For this close-up of the steel rail, I focussed on the top of the first upright. The lens was wide open (f/2) and the metal-work is in good focus. The rangefinder is as well calibrated as it could be.
The Witham in the city centre where it flows under the medieval bridge. It is now usual to have a number of barges moored along here although a few years ago it would have been unusual.
A trio of Rockabilly buskers who play in the city centre on a regular basis. I focussed on the double bass with the lens stopped down. Again, good colours and good contrast.
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