Mir or Мир

This is a Soviet camera made in the KMZ factory in Krasnogorsk near Moscow. KMZ stands for Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works in English) which is still operational (September 2022). KMZ is better known for their Zorki and Zenith cameras both of which were derived from Leitz’s Leica II camera. The name “Mir” can mean either peace or world. This camera shares its name with the Mir space station launched by the USSR in 1986.

This Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4 and was produced only for the internal Soviet market. This camera was a ‘grey’ import to the UK. The outside of the camera looks just the same as my Zorki 4. However, I am going to describe the camera from scratch rather than just list the differences.

The camera is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with a satin chrome plated top and base plates. The camera, without lens, measures 142 by 90 by 35 mm and it weighs 595 g. Most of the body is covered with black leatherette.

As mentioned above, this camera is derived from the German Leica II camera of the 1930s. It is not a direct copy – the FED I was a simplified copy of the Leica and the Zorki 1 was a straight copy of the FED I. The Zorki 1 was developed and improved in stages to the Zorki 4 and this Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4. This heritage is most noticeable in the design of the top plate which is stepped with controls at different levels.

At the far right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This camera was made in 1960 and most cameras had film advance levers by this date. Turning this to advance the film you can detect the difference between top German engineering and Soviet engineering. The mechanism works well even after 62 years but you can feel a slight but definite bearing grumble. I don’t have a Leica to compare it to but none of my Zeiss Ikon cameras of a similar age have any sort of bearing grumble.

In the centre of the film advance knob is the frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be reset by hand when you load a new film. This film advance knob is on a lower portion of the top plate and is close to the edge of the raised portion which makes it quite hard to get a grip on the knob.

Just up on the higher part of the top plate, towards the rear, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal with a machined top. The button is threaded for a standard cable release. If you turn the shutter release button as you press it, it will lock down until you turn it the other way.

Around the release button is a knurled metal collar. This has two positions: П Д  – these are actually embossed in Cyrillic letters, the Latin equivalents are P and D. Normal operating position is Д – the actual position is denoted by a dot. Turning the collar clockwise to just past П (no dot this time) releases the sprocket shaft inside so that the film can be rewound.

Left of the shutter release button is the shutter speed selector. This is the standard Leica type – you lift and turn to select the speed and the whole thing turns as the shutter fires. Being a Leica type shutter, it is important to wind on the film before changing the shutter speed – failure to do so can fatally damage the shutter mechanism.

This is one of the areas where simplification occurred as KMZ made the camera cheaper to make. Speeds are from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds – the original Zorki 4 had a sequence of much slower speeds and one faster speed of 1/1000 second. If you are willing to set the shutter speed without numbers to guide you, there is a dot past the 1/500 setting which seems to be the 1/1000 speed but without acknowledgement. The slower speeds are not much of a loss as in 50 years of photography I have rarely even used less than 1/60 seconds.

Around the shutter speed selector is a second selector which is very unusual. The outer ring turns allowing you to select the flash synchronising delay. There are six selectable delays: 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 milliseconds. 0 is for electronic flash and the others are for various types of flash bulbs.makes a difference from just having X and M! The Zorki 4 which this camera is derived from has a similar ring but with far fewer options.

Next along from the shutter speed selector is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe with no electrical contacts – so a cold shoe. While these are usually referred to as flash shoes, on rangefinder cameras they are likely to be used with separate viewfinders for use with other focal length lenses. The built-in viewfinder only gives an accurate representation of the image with the 50mm lens supplied with the camera. If you fit either a wide-angle or a telephoto lens to the camera you need to use an appropriate wide-angle or telephoto viewfinder.

On the far left of the top plate the level of the top plate dips again. On this lower portion is the film rewind knob. This is knurled metal. This will turn in both directions and has an arrow stamped on to to indicate the correct direction. Like the film advance knob, this is much to close to the edge of the raised portion of the top plate for the user to get a grip. This time, the designers have thought this through and the rewind knob pulls up 10 mm so that it is above the rest of the top plate and getting a grip is easy.

Below the rewind knob there is a rotating lever. This lever has a short travel of just a few degrees. It moves a lens inside the viewfinder and adjusting this allows the photographer to use the viewfinder without wearing their glasses. This is actually important as the viewfinder eyepiece is metal and will scratch spectacle lenses. I speak from experience!

The rear of the top plate has some writing on it. As this camera was only available in the USSR, the writing is in Cyrillic. Prominent is “Made in USSR” – I cannot type this in Cyrillic, unfortunately. Below this is the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it. To the right, at the base of the top plate, is the camera serial number. KMZ is one of the Soviet makers that started the serial numbers with the year of manufacture. This serial number starts with ’60’ so the camera was made in 1960. Not all the other Soviet makers did this – particularly FERD – so even if the serial number appears to start with the year, it is just coincidence.

A the left end of the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is quite viscous as it is metal and will easily scratch modern spectacles. if you are a spectacle wearer, you need to use the dioptre adjuster mentioned above and keep your glasses in your pocket.

The viewfinder image is tinted mauve – this is to make the rangefinder easier to use. In the centre og the mauve image is a pale yellow spot. The two colours are to maximise the contrast between the general image and the smaller rangefinder image.

To use the rangefinder, you centre the pale yellow spot on your main subject. if the subject is out of focus, there will be two images within the spot – a mauve image and a yellow image. As you turn the lens focus ring, the yellow image will slowly move. keep turning the focus ring until the mauve and yellow images are in the superimposed.

The front of the top plate has more going on on it. On the right is the viewfinder window. This is nice and large, 19 by 12 mm. In the centre of the front of the top plate is the rangefinder window. This is much smaller at 5 by 4 mm. At the left of the front of the top plate is a PC socket for connecting a flash gun. Between the rangefinder window and the PC socket is the camera name in Cyrillic script – Mir – which looks like Mur to Western eyes but is, of course, in Cyrillic.

Below the top plate, in the middle of the front, is the lens mount. This is the standard M39 thread used by Leica. It is also known as the LTM (Leica Thread Mount). It will take any lens intended for a threaded Leica, Canon rangefinder, FED, Zorki and quite a few others.

Looking in the mount, you are looking right at the fabric focal plane shutter – no mirror in a rangefinder camera. Just inside the mount, at the top, is a lever on a swivel. This actuates the rangefinder. As the lens is focused nearer, the rear of the lens extends and pushes this lever inwards and, in turn, this moves the image in the yellow spot in the viewfinder.

To the left of the lens mount is the self-timer lever. To use this, you turn it through 90º clockwise. Above the lever is a small chrome button which activates the timer when pressed. This gives a 6 to 8 second delay before the shutter fires. On each corner of the front, just below the top plate, is a lug for attaching a strap.

To access the insides of the camera to load or remove a film, you have to remove the back and base in one piece. This is achieved by turning two semicircular folding keys, one at each end of the base. One turns clockwise and the other one turns anti-clockwise. Between these folding keys, in line with the lens, is a tripod socket. This is the older 3/8 inch Whitworth thread.

The inside of the back has a rather small pressure plate for keeping the film flat. On the left of the base (on the right when looking at the inside ) is inside of the key for opening the camera. This has a cutaway which locates on the base of FED-type refillable cassettes. When this key is turned to fix the back/base in place, this opens the cassette to allow the film to move both into and out of the cassette without scratching the film. Turning the key to release the back/base closes the cassette rendering it light tight.

Inside the camera body, in the middle, is the film gate. This is reasonably large – much larger than the pressure plate. The actual gate is 36 by 24 mm – the standard size for 35 mm film. Behind this is the focal plane shutter. This is black light-tight cloth which is in very good condition – others of my old Soviet cameras have wrinkled or translucent (and on one camera, both). The shutter speeds look to be very good at the higher speeds (I have no means of checking the speeds, I am going by a general impression) but on lower speeds (1/30 or B) the blinds move very slowly and erratically.

On the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. This can be either a Kodak style cassette or a FED type refillable cassette. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft for counting the sprocket holes in the film when advancing the film. Eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the drive for the take-up spool. This looks remarkably complex with teeth and a spring. This drive fits the supplied take-up spool. I have been told that you can fit a second, empty, cassette here to avoid having to rewind the film, but my FED cassettes will not fit here. The supplied take-up spool has a spring-steel grip to take the film leader.

The edges of the back fit into a groove on the body to provide a light seal. This camera is ultimately derived from the German Leica and no foam light seals were used and no foam light seals to go bad.

The lens that cvame with the camera is an Industar-50 lens. This is essentially a copy of the Carl Zeiss Tessar. Zeiss’s patents on the tyessar had expired a long time before the Soviets started copying the Tessar design. Tessars are my favourite lenses. They might not be as sharp corner to corner as some other lenses and distortion is not completely eradicated but the Tessar renders images very nicely with something of a 3D effect. Many people get carried away by the technical excellence or otherwise of their equipment and forget that they are producing pictures. Tessars help with the story telling so sod the technicalities.

The focus range is from one metre to infinity. To move the focus from one metre to infinity (or from infinity to one metre) you need to turn the focus ring through 180º. This is enough of a turn to allow for precise focusing (something missing on modern autofocus lenses which are a nightmare to focus manually). Apertures are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16. There are two aperture scales so as you focus, one of the two scales is always at the top of the lens barrel and easily visible.

Tessars – and this Industar – have four glass elements in three groups – there are air gaps between the groups. The lens is coated – there is a red П on the lens bezel. This П stands for покрытый (or pokrytiy in the Latin alphabet) which means ‘coated’. I would assume that this is multicoated and on each glass surface as was usual by 1960. but that is definitely an assumption on my part.

Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: