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.


Kiev 30 or Киев 30.

This is a very small camera from the former Soviet Union. It might be small but it is not light – it is made entirely from metal. The camera measures 28 by 47 by 86 mm and weighs 190g. When new, the camera was supplied with a 13 by 17 mm adapter to allow the film to the used in a standard 35 mm enlarger and a ‘disc’ to allow the film to be developed in a standard 35mm developing tank – info from the Kiev 30 manual. Unfortunately, I do not have these two items, just the camera and case.

Kiev 30

Kiev 30, open for use.

Kiev 30, open with cocked shutter showing

The camera opens and closes by sliding. Opening the camera advances the film even if no shot has been taken. It also cocks the shutter, advances the frame counter and reveals both the shutter release button and focus wheel. The cocked shutter has a red dot in the centre. The focus wheel has five distances: 0.5 m, 1 m, 2 m, and infinity and also a red Dot. The red dot represents the hyperlocal distance. The lens has a focal length of 23 mm and the hyperfocal distance is 5 m.

On the other side of the camera to the shutter release button and focus wheel is the frame counter. This counts up. There is a red dot to indicate the end of the shorter length of film that was available which was 18 frames. To the right of the frame counter, beyond the edge of the black case, is a button. Pressing this allows the working part of the camera to slide out of the metal case entirely.

Frame counter

If one does this, there are still a few things to be seen on the case. There are four windows in then casing. 1) frame counter window, 2) viewfinder eyepiece, 3) viewfinder window, 40 lens window. The viewfinder eye-piece is just a hole, the viewfinder window has a plain (and plane) glass cover – this is not a lens – and the lens window is covered with a piece of plain glass.

Exposure calculator

On the side of the case, by the viewfinder eye-piece, is a calculator for exposures. This is simple to use – it is basically the Sunny 16 rule. To use this, you must align the inner disc to your film speed. Film speeds are in GOST (which is very close to ASA and ISO) and speeds 16, 32, 65 and 130 are available . Next you align the outer disc to the weather. Weather options are icons for 1) sunny beach, 2) sunny inland, 30 cloudy and 4) dull. When the red arrow points to the correct weather, you can read off a combination of shutter speed and aperture. Only three shutter speeds are available – 1/30, 1/60 and 1/200 seconds. Adjusting this calculator has no effect on the operation of the camera – actual shutter speed and aperture are adjusted on the end of the camera.

The part of the camera that pulls out of the case contains all the workings and can be actually used on its own but with no viewfinder.

Shutter release and focus wheel

So, starting with the side with the shutter release button. There is a black strip which has the shutter release button and focus wheel. Besides this black strip is a machined stainless steel plate. This plate has a double leaf spring to keep things snug when put together. There is also a red mark indicating the position of the film plane. This stainless steel plate is hinged and lifts tip to reveal the film chamber. The film is held in a small cassette which must be loaded with film by the user – more later. In the film chamber, there are two recesses to take the film cassette linked by a groove to take the film to be exposed. One of the recesses has a linkage to the film advance mechanism and this recess must contain the take-up spool.

The other large side is more complex. Initially, there is a sliding plate with one straight and two shaped grooves. The straight  groove merely limits the movement of the sliding plate. The middle shaped groove advances the film counter, actually advances the film and appears to cock the shutter. I cannot determine what the third shaped groove does although it must have a function. Also on this sliding plate is the frame counter. There frame counter must be set to -1 when loading a new film, by aligning the long line on the counter’s disc with the red dot.

Sliding plate, closed

Sliding plate, open

When the sliding plate is slid away, the camera’s serial number is revealed – 7681448 – I assume that the first two digits are the year of manufacture which means that this camera was made in 1976, the second year that this camera model was in production.

On one of the edge sides there is a cut-out window. Behind this is a black plate which slides together with the sliding plate already mentioned. When the sliding plate is slid out, a further cut-out window  moves behind the outer cut-out window to reveal the shutter. When the shutter is cocked, the shutter has a red dot on it. When the shutter has been fired, the shutter is plain black. If you look at the red dot while pressing the shutter release button, you can briefly see the lens. This is an Industar-M lens with a focal length of 23 mm.

Cocked shutter

At one end of the inner meal box is a trapezoidal black end. This sports the aperture and shutter speed controls. Apertures are ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/11. This might seem  like a short range but at ƒ/11 and a focal length of 23 mm, the physical diameter of the aperture is only 2 mm. At ƒ/16 this would reduce to 1 mm. There are two issues here. The first is mechanical – making a usable and adjustable aperture of 1 mm. The second is diffraction. At a physical aperture of 1 m, diffraction softening of the image will be a serious issue. Shutter speeds are 1/30, 1/60 and 1/200. The old adage is that you can safely hand-hold a camera at a shutter speed of the reciprocal  of the lens’ focal length – so 1/23 seconds – which means that this camera will be usable hand-held at 1/30 seconds. On the side of the trapezoidal end is a PC socket for a flash gun.

Shutter speed plus Aperture

While this camera clearly works, I have no ready source of 16mm film nor am I able to develop 16mm film so I shall not be using this camera. Shall I keep it? That remains to be seen – it is very small so will not be in the way of storing large cameras but if I cannot use it, why keep it?

Zenit 3M

Zenit 3M 35mm film SLR from the KMZ factory in Russia.

This camera is an early adaptation of the Zorki camera, turning it from a rangefinder to a Single Lens Reflex camera. So, the basic structure of the camera is that of a Leica II as improved by the FED factory and then improved a bit more by the KMZ factory and then had the reflex mirror added. KMZ made an earlier SLR – the Kristall – which was not popular and did not stay in production for long. This Zenit 3M model later developed into the Zenit E which was my first ‘serious’ camera.

The camera is entirely manual and there is no light meter. This means that the user is in complete control – this is either a good thing or a bad thing thing, depending on the user’s mindset. I only used entirely manual cameras for the first thirty years as a photographer so I am very happy with a fully manual camera. Both the camera body and the lens have serial numbers and, coming from the KMZ factory, the first two digits indicate the year of manufacture. Both the body and lens have serial numbers starting with ’65’ so this camera was made in 1965. This camera cost, in 1965, £39-19-6 (in old British money, or £39.97 in modern British money. This equates to £1,291 in 2020 money – a rather expensive camera. This included  an ƒ/2 Helios 44 lens.

The camera body measures 135 by 90 by 50 mm. It weighs 700g (including lens and film). The body is entirely metal – cast aluminium with a matt chrome plated top plate and bottom plate.  On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This is on a ratchet and the film can be advanced either with one long stroke or a number of short strokes. This lever is entirely metal and the tip curves away from the body to allow the user’s thumb to get a good hold. There is a very small black rubber pad part way down the lever to soften the return of the lever to its rest position. In the centre of the advance lever is a frame counter. This counts upwards and requires then user to set it to zero when loading a new film. Only every fifth frame has a number, the rest being represented by dots.P1050281In the centre of the frame counter is the shutter release button. This is a more convenient position than with the Zorki and Fed cameras. This button is threaded for a standard cable release. The top of the button is milled. This milling is so when using long exposures (i.e. B) you can turn the release button after pressing it which locks the button in the depressed position, allowing the user to then remove their finger for the duration of the shot. The downside here is that is quite possible to turn this release button accidentally and the camera will not work properly until you turn it back again. I speak from experience!P1050289The rest of the top plate is slightly raised above the film advance lever. The first item on the raised portion is the button which releases the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this button depressed while rewinding.P1050288Next to this is the shutter speed dial. This offers five speeds – 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 – plus B. To set the shutter speed, you lift the dial and rotate to the required position and allow the dial to drop again. This is very easy to do apart from 1/250 which is very close to 1/500 and I am never quite sure which I have set. FED, Zorki and Zenit  E cameras tell you that it is very important to set the shutter speed AFTER advancing the film and I suspect that it is the same here.Below the shutter speed selector is the flash synch selector. This has options for M (bulbs) and X (electronic). In both cases, the shutter speed must be 1/30 (the only shutter speed at which the shutter is ever fully open. At the other shutter speeds, the exposure is by a moving slit. The difference between X and M is timing. With X, the flash is fired exactly as the shutter is fully open. With M, the flash fires very slightly before the shutter is fully open to allow the bulb time to burn to maximum brightness.Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. This has a circular eye-piece. This is 20mm external diameter and unscrews to allow the fitting of a correction lens to correct the user’s eyesight. This correction lens must have a diameter of 16mm. The front of the pentaprism hump carries the camera name – Zenit 3M – in Roman script. On the other end of the rear of the top plate is the body serial number and the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it.P1050290On the left of the top plate is the rewind knob. This pulls up to allow the film cassette to be inserted and removed. In the centre of the rewind knob is a film type reminder. This offers the options of sunlight balanced colour, tungsten balanced colour or the film speed in GOST (the Soviet version of ASA or DIN in use until 1987). The film speed options are 11, 22, 45, 90, 180 which equate to ASA speeds of 16, 25, 64, 100, 200.The front of the camera is rather as you might expect. It is dominated by the lens mount. This is a peculiar mount. It is a threaded mount – 39 mm by 26 threads per inch – this is a strange combination of metric and imperial units which is a hangover from the Leica camera this was developed from. It is, actually, the same thread as is used on Leica cameras. The explanation for this is that this camera is an adaptation of the Zorki rangefinder which used Leica threaded lenses so the KMZ factory was already tooled up to produce this thread. However, the presence of the reflex mirror means that the lens mount is further away from the film than is the case with the Zorki (FED, Leica) rangefinder. So, the Zenit 3M lens will physically fit a Zorki (or FED or Leica) and vice versa but it will not be able to achieve infinity focus if you fit a Zorki/FED/Leica lens to the Zenit 3M (it will, however, work very well as a macro lens!). With the Zenit B and E, KMZ used the M42 thread (the same as the Praktica and Pentax cameras) which removed this incompatibility.P1050286On the front of the top plate beside the lens mount is a PC connector for flash. On the left of the lens mount is a self timer lever. To activate this, you turn it anti-clockwise until it is pointing down. Pressing the small button above the lever will start it into action. This has two separate actions. After about 5 seconds, the mirror lifts. After a further 3 or 4 seconds, the shutter fires – the total delay is about 8 seconds. Lifting the mirror several seconds before the shutter fires means that there is no mirror slap when the shutter fires which is useful for pictures where sharpness is critical. On either side of the front of the camera is a strap lug.P1050287The base of the camera is plain apart from a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. This socket is right at one end which is not good for stability or levelness.The hinged back is opened by a sliding catch. Inside, the shutter is a cloth focal plane shutter – the same as with the Zorki – which travels horizontally.P1050282The supplied lens is an Industar-50. This is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Tessar which means that there are four glass elements arranged in three groups. The lens body is made from machined aluminium painted black.P1050284The lens bezel has the lens name – Industar-50 – in Roman letters followed by the aperture size and focal length (f/3.5 and 50mm), the serial number starting with the production year (N6543441) and then the KMZ logo.The front of the lens turns to select the aperture (f/3.5 to f/16). The aperture scale is repeated three times so, as you focus the lens, one of the three scales will be at the top and visible. There are no click stops so it is easy to change the aperture by accident. It is also possible to set intermediate values.Around the aperture scales is a milled ring which turns to focus the lens. The focus range is from 0.65 m to infinity. The throw of the focus ring is about 310º which means that fine focus control is easy but fast focus is not. This is offset by the provision of a matt focus screen with no focus aids. However, good focus is easy to achieve.

The iris diaphragm has seven blades which makes for a fairly circular aperture. For this concerned with bokeh, this will be a good thing.

Depth of Field scale below the distance scale.

Behind the focus scale is the depth of field scale. Youngsters who have only used autofocus  won’t have seen these. They allow you to look at the focus scale – the distances on the focus scale by the set aperture give you the near and far extents of the depth of field. The depth of field scale also allows you to set the focus to the lens’ hyperfocal distance by setting infinity against your set aperture. This gives you the maximum focus range which is ideal for landscapes but not for portraits. On this Industar-50 lens, the hyperlocal distance at f/16 is 3.5 m giving a focus range  (aka depth of field) from 1.7m to infinity.A note on this particular lens: when I received this camera, the focus helical was rough in its action and binding in a couple of places. Dismantling lenses Cana be fraught and reassembling them worse. My solution – which works very well – was to lubricate the thread with clock oil diluted with naphtha (two parts naphtha to one part oil). This dilution has two advantages. First, it makes the oil running and able to wet the threads thoroughly. Second, when the naphtha evaporates only a very small amount of oil is left. Adding too much oil runs the risk of the oil moving to places where you do not want it – onto glass surfaces and aperture blades. I added the smallest possible drop of diluted oil I could manage to the end of the thread and spread this along the helical thread by repeatedly focusing the lens from minimum to maximum and back. I did this with three separate very small drops (rather than one large drop) and the lens focus action is now smooth and easy.While using this camera with my test film, it occurred to me that using a rangefinder lens with M39 threads, while not capable of achieving infinity focus, would act as a close focus lens – it focuses down to about 200mm. Accordingly, I have fitted my Zorki’s Industar-25 lens to the camera for the last half of the test film to see how well this works.

Test Film Results:

First, using the Zorki lens as a close-up lens. This is focused much closer than the camera’s standard lens would focus. Depth of field is not very great but I had to keep the lens wide open as I was photographing in the evening by artificial light. It is not quite macro as the negative image is about 1/3 life size


This next is a close-up the fabric in the first shot. It is with the Zorki lens attached to the camera and the Zenit 3M lens hand-held against the front of the Zorki lens – so shot through two lenses. I do not claim it I to be a great photograph but it is certainly a macro shot.


The rest were shot with the Zenit 3M’s standard Industar-50 lens.  This shot is as close as the Zenit 3M Industar-50 lens will focus. Again, not intended to be a brilliant shot but demonstrates the quality of the lens.000024550020These next two shots show the lens wide open and then stopped right down.000024550005000024550004The next three are just general shots of Lincoln on a dreary day. The lens has enough contrast to be usable in this sort of weather and will be very good in sunny weather if we get any.000024550002000024550018000024550017This is a hand-held interior shot of my favourite coffee shop – I am quite impressed with my ability to hand hold this camera with such a slow shutter speed (I cannot actually remember the shutter speed but I think it was probably 1/30).000024550012

FED 35A (ФЭД 35A)

FED 35A or ФЭД 35A
a 35 mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.

This FED 35A camera is a compact 35mm film rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union. With the FED name, I would assume that it was made in Kharkiv, Ukraine. This camera was made between 1987 to 1990 according to the Interweb – this means that the serial  number does not start with the year of manufacture (number is 849208). This is my fourth Fed camera – my others being the Fed 2, Fed 4 and Fed 5.

The camera seems to be intended for home consumption. All the writing on the camera is in Cyrillic. There is a logo on the rear of the camera – a pentagon with a four pointed star and the letter CCCP (USSR in Cyrillic). This logo indicates that the camera has been manufactured to international standards and should be as good as a camera made elsewhere in the world.

It could be that the camera was officially exported but the expected sales levels might not have supported an export version. The camera is entirely black with white writing. The body measures 112 by 78 by 32 mm. The lens protrudes a further 28 mm. The camera weighs 446g.

The body is metal – die-cast aluminium with a pressed aluminium top plate and brass base plate. Most of the body is covered with black leatherette and the rest is painted satin-black.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Front view
FED 35A rangefinder camera, front view

The top plate has the bare essentials. On the right hand end is the film advance lever. This is black painted cast aluminium and is held in place with a black painted brass disc. This lever is not on a ratchet and needs to be moved in one go. It moves through about 130º to advance the film one frame. At this date, the film advance lever also cocks the shutter.

In the right hand rear corner of the top plate is a small window (6mm diameter) giving on to the frame counter. This counter is reset by opening the camera back. It is necessary to advance the film three frames to get to frame 1 – this is to remove the length of film fogged while loading the film. Apart from frame 1, the odd-numbered frames are represented by dots, only the even-numbered frames having digits. Number 2 is missing entirely. Frame numbers go up to frame 36. If you wind beyond this, the frame number does not move anymore.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
A 35 mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Top view 

Next to the film advance lever, right at the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. This appears to be made from stainless steel. It is a simple cylinder which is threaded for a standard cable release. The button falls easily to my fore finger while holding the camera for use, which is more than can be said for the FED 2,4 or 5.

Nearly centrally on the top plate, on a slightly raised portion, is the accessory shoe. This has one central electrical contact and so is a hot shoe – it can be used with most electronic flash guns made since the late 1960s. On the left of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is very small (14mm diameter) and folds out to 23mm. It makes the Japanese rewind cranks look very generous.

On the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 8 by 6 mm – it is not the smallest eyepiece I have come across but it is close. This eyepiece double as the rangefinder eyepiece.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
a 35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
rear view.

The front of the top plate (looking at the front of the camera) has, on the left, the camera name painted in white in Cyrillic characters. To the right of this, on a slightly raised portion, are the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. The rangefinder window is centrally over the lens. It measures 6mm square. Around this is the light source for the bright lines in the viewfinder. The viewfinder window measures 14 by 9 mm.

The rangefinder is coupled to the focus ring on the lens. To use the rangefinder, you look through the viewfinder and put the central yellow dot on a strong element in the image. The yellow dot will contain two images slightly displaced one from the other. As you move the focus ring, these two images move relative to each other. When you have moved the focus ring so as to superimpose the two images, the lens is in focus. 

The yellow dot is nice and bright and the two images easy to see. The down side here is that the rangefinder window is very close to the viewfinder window. This means that the two images do not move much as you turn the focus ring. The focus ring also does not rotate very far. These two together make critical focus other difficult. incidentally, the colour of the yellow dot is achieved by using gold on the internal mirrors rather than silver.

The viewfinder image has bright lines – large corners for landscapes and small corners to allow for parallax with close-ups.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly in the centre. The shutter is an anonymous Soviet leaf shutter offering speeds from 1/4 seconds to 1/60 seconds in manual mode. I am told by the Interweb that when in the automatic mode, the shutter will go to 1/300 seconds but as I do not have a manual for this camera I cannot confirm that. This manual range is very poor and I would struggle to get good exposures with these shutter speeds and the limited aperture range. The other Fed cameras the I have – FEDs 2,4 and 5 – all have cloth focal plane shutters. I assume that the designers went for a leaf shutter here to maintain compactness.

The lens is an Индустар (Industar in the Latin alphabet)  81  lens. I am assured by the Interweb that this is a four element lens with three groups – a Tessar copy. My experience of Soviet lenses is that they are excellent performers – it remains to be seen if this lens lives up to the Soviet’s reputation. The lens has a focal length of 38mm – this is slightly wide angle for 35mm photography (43mm is ‘normal’) but quite usual for compact cameras as the shorter the focal length of the lens, the shorter the lens barrel – and more compact the camera. The lens has apertures from f/2.8 to f/16. This is a usable range even if a bit short (but see my comments above about this aperture range and the rather slow shutter speeds in manual mode). The diaphragm is a disappointment – it consists of only two leaves each of which has a right-angle notch cut in it. As these two leaves swivel from the bottom, the hole varies from a flattened diamond at f/16 to an inverted and elongated kite at f/2.8 – not good for lovers of bokeh. When the shutter speed is set to either B or A (automatic) the aperture opens to f/2.8.

FED 35A or ФЭД 35A
35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Detail of the lens bezel.

The lens bezel contains the light meter window. This is rather small and sits to the right of the lens. The meter is a CdS device and so requires batteries (see below). On the opposite side of the lens is a window showing the selected film speed. This is in gost – but is labelled гост in Cyrillic – which was the Soviet Union’s own film speed standard. This gost film speed is very close to ASA or ISO speeds but apparently not quite the same. This offers film speeds from 16 gost to 750 gost. When I try this camera, I shall just assume they are ISO speeds.

Altering the gost setting is entirely mechanical. It is achieved by rotating  knurled ring between the lens bezel and the lens itself. What changing the gost setting does is move a Waterhouse Stop over the meter sensor. As the film speed gets faster, the Waterhouse Stop gets larger. I don’t think anything electronic happens.

Opening the camera uses the now standard method of pulling up the rewind crank.As far as I can see, the back is rendered light tight by using felt light seals rather than the more common foam seals. This bodes well for light tightness in an elderly camera – my test film will show for sure.

The take-up spools a full length steel spring to hold the film leader. This take-up spool turns clockwise so the film is wound with the emulsion side outwards.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket. This is the usual 1/4 inch UNC thread. Next to this is the battery chamber. I have no idea as to what size battery is intended but I am using two silver batteries which will give me a 3v supply. This seems to work so far as the automatic system is concerned but the test film will confirm whether this is correct regarding exposure or not.

On the there side of the tripod socket is the button to enable rewinding of the film. Push this in far enough and it is not necessary to hold it in while resining. The base is also where the serial number is stamped.

In use: 

I have run a test film through this camera and had the film developed (by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln, as usual). I am quite pleased with this camera. The automatic exposure does not work (well, it does on rare occasions, when it feels like it, but not usually). Using my trusty Leningrad light meter all the exposures are usable – negative density varies from good to slight overexposure with most shots having good negative density. It was easy and pleasant to use.

One down side with the test film – which has nothing to do with the camera – is that  as the film moves through the camera, both while taking pictures and when rewinding, the moving film generates a small amount of static electricity. This static attracts any dust inside the camera – and this camera seems to have had plenty of dust in it which has affected the images. The photographs below show this dust – I have removed some of the dust but not all.

There are no light leaks, the consistent exposures shows that the shutter is working as it should with timing being at least approximately right and consistent (and that my Leningrad light meter is still OK).

FED 35A 
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