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.
This Soviet Feed 4 is a camera with an impressive pedigree. The original design was by Oskar Barnack and the Leica 1 introduced in 1926 by E.Leitz (Leica = LEItz CAmera). An orphanage in Karkiv, Ukraine set up a workshop to produce copies of the Leica II as a training exercise for teenage boys. This copy was sold as the Fed (named after the head of the NKVD). In time, this changed from a training exercise to full-bloodied commercial production.
During WWII, the factory was destroyed and after the war ended, production was temporarily moved to the Krasnogorskiy Mechanicheskiy Zavod factory outside Moscow. When the Fed factory was rebuilt, production was moved back but the Krasnogorskiy Mechanicheskiy Zavod factory also continued production with cameras now called Zorki.
I already have in my collection, Fed 2, Fed 5 and Zorki 4. The Fed 2 and Zorki 4 only differ in details, the main one being the extended rangefinder base of the Fed 2.
Fed 2, Fed 4 and Zorki 4
The Fed 4 is a further refinement which embodies an uncoupled light meter.
So, a description:
The overall shape of the camera is a rectangular ‘brick’ with rounded ends. The ‘brickiness’ is broken up by the film advance being in a lowered section of the top plate.
The film advance is a lever. This is slightly curved and is quite comfortable to use. The travel of the lever is just over 180 degrees and easy to do in one motion. The lever is on a ratchet and it is possible to advance the film with several shorter motions.
rear and top plate
The central boss of the film advance has the frame counter. This needs to be set to zero manually and counts up. If you are lazy like me, you can ignore this completely and continue to use the camera until you cannot advance the film anymore. The counter counts up to 39. Right in the centre of the frame counter is a reminder for film type. There are three settings: sun, light bulb and circle. With colour film, each brand would come in two versions, one colour balanced for sunlight and one colour balanced for artificial light. The circle position is intended to represent black and white film. This is merely a reminder has has no effect on the operation of the camera.
Nestling in the corner of the film advance is the shutter release. This is chrome plated steel and is threaded for a standard cable release. Around the shutter release button is a milled collar. This has two positions marked B and C (in Cyrillic – V and S in the Latin alphabet). This is depressed and turned to allow rewinding of the film. This is very fiddly to get at and turn.
Next to the shutter release, on the raised portion of the top plate, is the shutter speed selector. This is used by lifting and turning to the required speed – indicated by a red arrow. In common with the other Leica derived cameras (Zorki, Zenith and other Fed models) it is important to do this only after advancing the film. Speeds available are the standard range from 1 second to 1/500 seconds.
Next along is the accessory shoe. No electrical contacts here so a cold shoe.
On the left hand end of the top plate are the light meter controls. This is a selenium meter and so does no require a battery. Looking at Interweb articles, you could gain the impression that selenium meters eventually deteriorate and lose their sensitivity and so should be avoided. I have selenium meters that are over 55 years years old and still agree with my modern digital camera.
This is a match-needle type meter – you turn the outer ring on the controls until the red needle is over the white needle. At this point, you can read the correct exposure from the black scales. Before this, of course, you need to tell the meter the speed of your film. This is in ASA but the range offered is rather strange: 20, 40, 80, 160, 320. The reason for this (my guess here!) is that it is translated from the German DIN scale, being centred on DIN 20 (=ASA 80). Assuming this makes setting the camera easier: ASA 100 = DIN 21 = one division past ASA 80. ASA 200 = DIN 24 = four divisions past ASA 80 or ASA 160 plus one division.
Front of camera with no lens
The front of the camera is in two parts. At the top is a deep, chrome top plate. This contains a square viewfinder window, a small, round rangefinder window hiding by the ФЭД-4 logo and a square light meter window. By the corner of the light meter window is a PC (Prontor Compur – named after the two German shutter makers, both owned by the Carl Zeiss Foundation) connector for flash. This will be X synch for electronic flash at this date.
At the left hand end of the top plate is a milled wheel protruding from the side of the top plate. This is for rewinding the film. It also acts as a visual check that the film is advancing correctly.
On the back of the top plate is a small round viewfinder eyepiece which has a milled surround – guaranteed to scratch modern plastic spectacle lenses. This milled surround can be rotated to adjust the eyepiece for spectacle wearers so there is no need to wear glasses when using this camera which obviates scratching the lenses. There is also an embossed ФЭД logo and the legend “MADE IN USSR” indicating that this camera was made for export.
Beneath the deep top plate, the camera is covered with a black plastic ‘leatherette’.
On the front, below the ФЭД-4 logo, is the lens mount. As this camera derives from the Leica II, the lens mount is LTM or M39 (Leica Thread Mount which is 39 mm diameter and 1 mm pitch). Just inside the lens mount, at the top, can be seen the focusing cam. As the lens is focused towards infinity, the lens pushes this cam inwards which in turn moves the rangefinder image. Around the lens mount are four chrome screws which I assume hold the internal shutter crate in place. To the right of the lens mount (left, when looking at the camera rather than using it) is the self delay lever. This rotates through 180 degrees to wind up the mechanism – it is activated by pressing a small chrome button just below the top plate.
Lens mount with focus cam at top.
The base of the camera has a tripod boss just below the lens (1/4 inch UNC), next to which is the serial number. On many Soviet cameras, the first two digits of the serial number are the production year but not here. The number is 097010 – I do not yet know which year this is.
On either end of the base plate are a folding cam. These are lifted and turned half a turn to release the base and back in one piece to allow access to the inside of the camera. Inside the camera, the film cassette fits on the left. On the right is a removable take-up spool. These frequently get lost, unfortunately, and when buying a Soviet camera it is worth confirming that the take-up spool is included. The idea behind the removable spool is that it can be replaced with an empty Leica cassette (not the modern Kodak cassette) removing the need to rewind the film. The take-up spool rotates ‘backwards’ and winds the film emulsion side outwards.
Loose spool having been removed
The lens supplied with the my camera is the Industar-61 which is a Carl Zeiss Tessar design. The lens has a focal length of 53 mm and an aperture range from f/2.8 to f/16 with click stops (it would seem that many Industar-61 lenses go to f/22 but not this one). There were a number of optical factories making lenses in the Soviet Union with differing reputations. This lens was made in the Fed factory in 1989 – whether that is a good thing or not, I don’t know but the lens certainly performs well enough.
Industar-61 lens facia
My test film.
The negatives are exposed well showing the light meter is OK. There are no light leaks and the shutter curtains are moving smoothly enough to give an even exposure. The only camera fault is the level of flare in one (just one) frame – see below. I had a fault in that the viewfinder is always in focus and a couple of times I forgot to focus the camera. If I was using this camera all the time, that would become second nature. I am pleased to report that I did not fire off half a dozen shots with the lens cap on – which I did with my Fed-2. I did a rangefinder test by focusing on a steel fence. I focused on the first ‘silver’ finial which should have been in sharp focus but it is barely in focus at all. See below.
The frame with lens flare
One I forgot to focus
Rangefinder test – the first finial should be in focus.
Steep Hill, Lincoln
Remains of a public tap, Lincoln
Steep Hill, Lincoln
The Strait, Lincoln
Broadgate, Lincoln and the cathedral.
My usual photo of the abandoned bicycle.
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I wanted a Fed camera since I first saw one many years ago. The external design is very much "form follows function" (and I suspect the internals is as well). When I finally bought a Fed, it was a Model 5B which was box-like and anodyne - it also leaked light and I got rid of it after my test film. This Fed 2 is much better.
Fed-2 (C) John Margetts
A brief history: the Fed was originally conceived as a training project for boys in a Ukrainian children's home. The idea was to teach the boys basic engineering by making quality cameras - the model selected being the German Leica II. They are often decried as being poor copies of the Leica but I don't think they are either poor or copies. The Fed 1 was essentially a copy of the Leica II redesigned to allow it to be made on less sophisticated machine tools by trainee engineers. The Fed 2 (the camera this blog article is about) is a complete redesign so it is more accurate and meaningful to say that it is inspired by the Leica II rather than a copy of it.
After the Germans destroyed the Fed factory in Kharkov, Ukraine during World War II, production was transferred to the KMZ factory near to Moscow - this resulted in the Zorki-Fed and, ultimately, the Zorki line of cameras. I bought one of these - a Zorki 4 - and I am very pleased with it. The joint lineage of these two cameras is clear but they are very different.
So - both the Zorki and Fed line of cameras are based on the German Leica II. The Fed 2 was made between 1955 and 1970. The Ukrainian seller tells me mine is a Model 2, Type B4 so it was made between 1956 and 1958. The quality of the Soviet engineering is shown by the fact that the camera is working well after 60-odd years.
In 1963, Wallace Heaton (a retailer in London) was offering the Fed 2 for £23-19-6 which is 6d short of £24-0-0. In modern decimal money, this is £23.975 and at todays values would be around £750 or so.
This camera is a 35mm rangefinder camera. the top plate measures 140 mm by 32 mm. There is a raised "L" shaped hump in the middle of the plate. This houses the rangefinder mechanism. In the front of this are two windows - the viewfinder window and the rangefinder window. They are 67 mm apart which means that the rangefinder will be very accurate - this aspect of the Fed 2 was taken from the Zeiss Ikon Contax camera. The rangefinder windows on the Leica II are much closer together.
Fed-2 top plate
On the left end of the top plate is the rewind knob. This pulls out to make rewinding the film easier. At the base of the rewind knob is a lever to adjust the diopter level of the viewfinder. This excellent device means I can use the camera without wearing my glasses.
On the left end of the top plate is the film advance knob. This turns clockwise which I find to be non-intuitive but it works well enough. Beneath the film advance knob is the frame counter. This counts up from zero to a maximum of 36. Beside the film advance is the shutter release. This is towards the back of the top plate which I find to be a less than natural position but, again, it works well enough. The shutter release is threaded for a standard cable release. Around the shutter release is a milled collar. This is the rewind clutch - you press it down and turn it clockwise where it will lock in position while you rewind the film. Once the film is rewound, you must turn the collar anti-clockwise before loading a new film.
Blog (C) John Margetts, 2015
Next along is the speed selector dial. This is set by lifting the dial and rotating to the required speed. There is a central post with an engraved dot to mark the selected speed. This is a big improvement over the usual Soviet system as the shutter on this camera can be set either before or after the film is advanced. The usual advice for Soviet cameras is to only change the shutter speed after winding on the film. Actually, as far as I am concerned, I always advance the film immediately after taking a picture - I do this so that the camera is always ready - so I am always going to set the shutter speed after advancing the film.
Also on the top-plate, in line with the lens, is an accessory shoe. There are no flash contacts here - 1956/8 is much too early - so a 'cold' shoe in flash terms.
The rear of the top plate has the camera serial number. This does not match the usual Soviet system of starting the serial number with the year of manufacture so dating the camera by this number is not straight forward. The front of the top plate is engraved with the model name in Cyrillic - ФЭД-2 or FED-2 in Latin script - and ФЭД is repeated on the top near the rewind knob.
The front of the camera is simple. There is the M39 (also called LTM) lens mount offset to the left of centre. At the top of the mount, the rangefinder cam slightly protrudes. In fact, this is in the way of screwing in the lens and it is essential to set the focus on the lens to its nearest point (1 metre in this case) to make fitting the lens practicable.
To the right of the lens mount is the flash PC socket. In later versions of the Fed -2 this PC socket gets moved onto the top plate - this is one of the ways of determining the type of Fed-2 you have. This camera has no shutter delay lever - again, added to later versions of the Fed-2. What I do appreciate is the presence of a strap lug at either end of the camera.
The base of the camera has a fixing cam at either end. Turning both half a turn allows the back/base to be removed to allow fitting and removing of the film. The base also has a tripod bush (the old standard of 3/8 inches Whitworth so none of my tripods will fit unless I 'borrow' a 1/4 inch slug from one of my Zeiss Ikon cameras to fit into the 3/8 inch thread).
The lens that came with this camera is an Industar-26M which is a 50 mm, f/2.8 Tessar type lens. I suspect this is the original lens for the camera - it is certainly of the correct type and date. The lens focusses from 1 m to infinity and has apertures available from f/2.8 to f/22. There is also a depth of field scale which is invaluable if, like me, you use hyperfocal focusing (at f/22, everything from 1.5 m too infinity will be in focus if you set the focus at 3 m). The lens is coated - as is to be expected in the late 1950s - signified by a red п - on the lens bezel.
In use, this is a capable and pleasant camera. The shutter is as quiet and vibration free as a cloth focal plane shutter is going to be and much more gentle than either my Zenit E or Zorki 4. The viewfinder eye-piece is rather small and is surrounded by a milled steel ring which is bad news for modern plastic spectacles. On the plus side, there is a dioptre adjustment for the viewfinder so I can use this camera without wearing my glasses. Also, the viewfinder is not as bright as it could be. It is tinted green/blue to give maximum contrast with the yellow rangefinder spot which is really clear and makes the rangefinder easy to use.
On the negative side, I have had a serious problem with loading the film. On the face of it, loading is really easy - you insert the end of the film beneath a brass strap on the (brass) take-up spool and then wind-on. Unfortunately, my first film slipped out of place after I had replaced the back. When I thought I was advancing the film, the film was winding around the sprocket shaft rather than around the take-up spool Once there was five or six frames around this shaft the camera completely jammed. This was quite easy to sort out but involved opening the back of the camera with the film in place and cost me half a roll of film.
Despite the seller assuring me that the rangefinder had been correctly adjusted prior to sale, it is clearly not. When the lens is focussed at infinity, the rangefinder split image will not coincide. As adjusting this is fairly simple, I might have a go myself, but I am not really bothered as I usually use hyperfocal focusing rather than precise focusing. On the other hand, it would be nice to have the camera as it should be.
Examples from the test film to follow.
3 April 2015
Test film was a disaster! One picture from a 24 exposure cassette. I am hoping that this is me leaving the lens cap on (I certainly did that for some shots) and I am trying a second film with the lens cap left at home.
Fed 2 test film
Apart from the appalling light differences from left to right (entirely down to me) this shot is quite good. Focus is good, contrast is good, exposure is good. With an older focal plane shutter there is a likelihood of the two shutter curtains not moving smoothly together leaving differently exposed strips. Hopefully with the second film I will be able to report more thoroughly on this camera.
This is no better. I am certain the lens cap was not left on as it was left at home. Three images from 24 frames - not very good and shows that the shutter is not opening most of the time. This is strange, as with no film loaded, and the back removed, the shutter definitely opens every time. My best guess is that the back is either fouling something or is distorting the body. In addition to the shutter not opening, there are very clear pin-holes in the shutter curtain. This shows up in the black frames below are three bright spots. These are also visible on the three images I got. The camera is useless.
Fed 2 - with three very clear pin-holes
Fed 2 - pin-holes not so clear but still there
Fed 2 - clear pin-holes
Fed 2 - pin-holes with the film not wound on for some time
Fed 2 - pin holes with the film wound on fairly quickly - so smaller spots.
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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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This is a very sturdy camera. It is black, square, solid with no frills or cosmetics. Fed cameras started off as copies of German Leica cameras and while the design of a Fed might be identical to a 1930s Leica, manufacturing standards are certainly not.
As I am being fairly negative here, I would like to point out that I do not have experience of Fed cameras in general, merely of my own Fed 5B. (since writing this article, I have bought two more Feds – Fed 2 and Fed 4 – which articles see).
Actually, the camera works very well. Setting the exposure using my trusty Leningrad light meter, all the images in my test film were exposed as I would wish – good blacks, clear whites and a usable range of greys in between. This means that both the shutter and the aperture settings are at least reasonable. I have no means of testing shutter speeds, but they are clearly close to nominal. The aperture has six blades giving a hexagonal aperture – for those concerned with bokeh, this should bode well.
The lens is much better than adequate. Scanning the film taken with this camera and enlarging to full screen on my fifteen inch monitor gave an image that was still sharp with no visible vignetting or barrel/pin cushion distortion. The only problem optically is light leakage from a poorly fitting back.
The controls are “firm” – that is to say, definite effort is required to make this camera do any thing. I find focussing difficult as the focussing ring is close to the camera body and is stiffish to turn. This stiffness seems to be entirely in the lens assembly as the rangefinder mechanism in the camera is quite free and requires very little effort to move. Advice on the Internet is to dismantle the lens, remove the Soviet grease and replace with modern light grease. It seems that the Soviet grease hardens with time and stops the lens turning freely. Actually, this is not confined to Soviet cameras – all old cameras suffer from this to a degree and Agfa camera are notorious for it. The plus side here is that the whole lens mount moves to focus, not just the front element which means that image quality is not sacrificed in order to make a cheaper lens. As this is a rangefinder camera, focussing is easy and accurate – a simple matter of aligning the two images in the centre of the viewfinder. If this is inaccurate, it can be adjusted by focussing on a clear vertical at infinity (i.e. anything over 40 feet or so away) and turning the adjusting screw until the images coincide.
To load a film, the back and base are removed in one piece – much like a Contax. This makes it easy for large fingers to access they film chamber and fit the new film. on my specimen, the cams that hold the back in place are badly made and the back does not quite fit snuggly. This allows light to leak into the camera and fog the film. This is easily obviated by applying black plastic tape to the joins after loading with film – not a really satisfactory technique but it does allow the camera to be used.
Care must be taken when buying second hand FSU (Former Soviet Union) cameras. If the writing is in Cyrillic and the camera is pristine, it most likely has never been used as it was seriously flawed from new. Buying a camera with clear and definite signs of use means that the camera, at the least, has worked well at some point. Dating Fed cameras is easy – the first two digits of the serial number are the year of manufacture. My FED5 body has the serial number 849211 and so was made in 1984. On the other hand, the lens I have has the serial number 9249524 and so was made in 1992. This means that the body/lens combination is not original – not that it really matters.
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Zenit E – a 35mm film SLR from the KMZ factory in Russia.
The Zenit E is a Russian camera made in the USSR by KMZ in the town of Krasnogorsk (also made in Belarus). Soviet era cameras have a poor reputation – mostly undeserved in the West – but my Zenit E purchased in 1973 was an excellent camera. It performed well for many years with much neglect (including being dropped off a moving bus!). I now have a newer Zenit E from 1981
focal length: 58 mm
apertures: f2 to f16
focus range: 0.5 m (2.6 ft) to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 s to 1/500 s
flash: PC socket
film size: 35mm
The camera is solid and weighty – weighing 700g. The body is made from die cast aluminium with brass base plate and top housing. The controls are well placed and accessible – they compare well with a Fed 5 where I have to fumble for the poorly placed shutter release. I have large, not very nimble, hands and I find this camera very easy to use.
The shutter offers speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 plus B which is plenty for normal use. The focal plane shuttersynchronises with the flash socket at 1/30 both for electronic flash (X) and for Bulb flash (MF).
The built in meter is a selenium meter which does not require a battery and is not TTL. It is no improvement over a hand-held meter other than you only need to carry one item. The meter is of the traditional match needle type and has settings for 13 – 28 DIN and 16 – 500 ASA (new scale, the same as ISO).
Zenits came with a Helios-44 lens with a focal length of 58mm which is normal for 35 mm film (‘normal’ means it gives the same perspective as the human eye does). The Helios-44 lens is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotor lens. This lens has an aperture range of f2 to f16 which is more than adequate for most situations. The aperture setting ring has click-stops and there is a second ring to close the aperture after focussing. – the lens does not stop down automatically when the shutter release is pressed, you have to do this manually after focussing and before touching the shutter release. This lens has an excellent reputation and is considered to be better than the Carl Zeiss Jena lens it copies – the Helios lens is multi-coated which the Biotar lens was not.
Focussing is from 0.5m to infinity. The fitting is the Pentacon M42 thread as was standard on Praktica and Pentax (and many other cameras) up to the advent of bayonet fittings in the 1970s. The focussing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prism or split image focussing aids found on more expensive cameras. There is a printed depth of view scale on the lens barrel and a hyper-focal position marked which will give a focus range of 5m to infinity at f8.
There is an accessory shoe fitted on top of the pentaprism but it is not a “hot” shoe, flash connection being by way of a PC connector on the face of the camera.
Loading film is simple and easy. The back is hinged along one short side and the other short side is locked by a sliding catch. The rewind knob has to be pulled up to allow for the insertion of the film cassette and when pushed back in, locks the cassette in place. The film travels over the film plane, over two sprocket wheels and fits into a slot on the take up spool. Once the back is closed it is necessary to wind on two frames to place unfogged film behind the lens. At this point, you can set the film counter to zero.
Focussing is not as easy as with most manual SLRs of the period as the focussing screen is plain ground glass – no micro-prism, no split image – but it is certainly adequate.
The Helios-44 lens is very sharp and if stopped down to f8 the depth of field is more than capable of removing any defects in poor manual focusing.
When one is used to an automatic camera, it is easy to forget to manually stop down the lens before pressing the shutter release. To make focussing easier, the aperture ring has click stops at each f number but does not actually alter the aperture which remains wide open until the secondary aperture ring is turned after focussing. Once used to this camera, it becomes second nature and adds to the slowness of using this camera. I find that this slowing down to be useful as you are forced to be more considered in your actions and this leads to better pictures.
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