Good Russian Cameras?

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E. von Hoegh

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prices comparisons are a difficult exercise because soviet ruble was a domestic currency for internal use, the front-end with open market currencies was an import/export trade for the state but didn't translate into the intrinsics of soviet society, very different of regular capitalist society.
A typical measure was to talk in portions of or amounts of monthly salary.
There was a long thread on club.foto.ru about the cost of cameras in the 80's mostly (well, beginnig of the thread before it diverts...): for instance Zenit-E 100rb, salary 150 rb. etc:

Что сколько стоило в Советское Время...

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well, I believed this was the first known trivial fact about the FED... All literature and online sites do remind of this but few do detail a bit further.

there's also a lot of fuzziness in the terms. It was not the russian secret service but the soviet counter-revolutionary service and secret service, Tcheka then OGPU then NKVD then KGB. Agents affected to counter-revolutionary service had specific uniforms, so they were clearly differentiated from the police and from the military. The ones affected to intelligence activity were of course just regular civilians.

Dzerzhinsky was a Polak from the polish-lithuanian eastern-most realm, his birth place is nowadays in Belarus. In polish registries of the catholic church he was under his polish name Feliks Szczęsny.
Many early Bolsheviks were Polaks and from the edges of Austro-Hungarian empire. As well known marxism and modern forms of socialism and communism did develop initially in Germany (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels...) and propagated into Russian Empire eastwards through Poland and Austria. Karl Radek was from Lwow, Lemberg in german, Rosa Luxemburg from a town between Lublin and Lwow. Etc. Other Polaks as important as Dzerzhinsky in the forming of initial soviet state were Julian Leszczyński and Bronisław Wesołowski. Dzerzhinsky/Szczęsny was active in the polish communist party also.

ok, so the origin of the FED camera is indeed very unusual because it was not from a manufacturer of photographic material. Russian Empire had experienced ten years of war: from 1914 WWI to the end of Civil War around 1923/1924. WWI alone inflicted terrific effects in the country, hence the first february revolution out of social unrest. By beginning 1920's there was a huge amount of orphans and street children. The fresh soviet government was concerned by that of course, and specially Dzerzhinsky. He coordinated measures in order to re-socialize street children and teenagers, end related homelessness , criminality. On the other hand there was a famous pedagogue, Anton Makarov who had experimented with self-sufficient self-managed boarding organizations ie. "communes" with a combined work and educational task. Makarov had also been in contact with Gorki who was a drifter in his harsh youth.

one of this "communes" was founded in Kharkov by Makarov in honor to Dzerzhinsky. There were of course technical personal and supervising engineers. Kids , from early teenagers to youngers in their twenties first producing simple metallurgic objects like bed knobs and oil cans, then moved into manufacture of drills. Workshops improved and tooled as needed. The institution became also a vocational school. Then, once a Leica was brought from Germany, disassembled, and they started making clones, with some slight variations.
it was all hand made until 1935, with lenses individually adjusted to the bodies.

these early hand-made FED, numbered on top plate, with the inscription "Trudkommuna in the name of F.E.Dzerzhinsky" first, then "Trudkommuna NKVD-USSR etc" can be quite expensive. (trud kommuna = work commune). WW2 did suspend production but some batches for the military and these had a 1/1000 speed and are nicknamed "kommandirsky".
After 1935 the marking "Trudkommuna" is replaced with "factory" then "kombinat", as the "commune" was shut down and became a regular factory.

a Trudkommuna NKVD-USSR with the 1/1000s (from an a listing on Avito):

View attachment 276736
USSR (CCCP) yes, however the marking is "YCCP", Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic.
 

antonio_b

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USSR (CCCP) yes, however the marking is "YCCP", Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic.

yes, made a typo.... УССP/СССР ... that for the ones manufactured under the Trudkommuna period. When the commune was formally shut down and it became a factory in the form of a kombinat, the marking was HKBD-CCCP instead of YCCP, and then sometime in war years or just after the kombinat was just zavod, country and city (Kharkov) marking disappeared.

I have seen in Moskow, at Photosale I think, low series Trudkommuna selling for 250.000rb or more, ie. ~2500€ I guess. So not just Leica is an object of speculation ....
 
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I have a wonderful early Zorki 5 that I bought broken years ago for peanuts. For fun I took it apart and rebuilt it, new shutter curtains and all. Since the slowest speed on it was 1/25, I underwound the shutter springs to halve that, so now the slowest speed is 1/12 or so. Much more usable. One interesting side effect of doing that made the shutter super quiet. Really is nice to use. It is basically like using a Leica but cheap. Lol. It is a lot quieter than my M3 too, though I don't really care about those things. I haven't used it in years. I should remedy that.

I had an early Fed 2 as well at one point. Cleaned up it was a nice camera. Not as nice as the Zorki though. I repainted that one and ended up selling it at some point which was dumb.

I have a box of Kiev parts too if anyone is interested. I think there are four Kievs in there and one Zorki 3.

I think Russian cameras get a bad rap. I mean, they weren't that great to begin with, but if they are taken care of, they are fine cameras. Just need a little TLC these days. The mechanisms are super simple too.
 

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I have a wonderful early Zorki 5 that I bought broken years ago for peanuts. For fun I took it apart and rebuilt it, new shutter curtains and all. Since the slowest speed on it was 1/25, I underwound the shutter springs to halve that, so now the slowest speed is 1/12 or so. Much more usable. One interesting side effect of doing that made the shutter super quiet. Really is nice to use.

I retensioned my FED 5C recently and my impression from handling it (and other FEDs) was that many are overtensioned. Cocking the shutter went from sounding like a sharp-edged plastic spatula scraping up bits of old mortar to a much healthier, clean and understated *tschunk*. Firing the shutter is a lot quieter now too.
 

E. von Hoegh

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I have a wonderful early Zorki 5 that I bought broken years ago for peanuts. For fun I took it apart and rebuilt it, new shutter curtains and all. Since the slowest speed on it was 1/25, I underwound the shutter springs to halve that, so now the slowest speed is 1/12 or so. Much more usable. One interesting side effect of doing that made the shutter super quiet. Really is nice to use. It is basically like using a Leica but cheap. Lol. It is a lot quieter than my M3 too, though I don't really care about those things. I haven't used it in years. I should remedy that.

I had an early Fed 2 as well at one point. Cleaned up it was a nice camera. Not as nice as the Zorki though. I repainted that one and ended up selling it at some point which was dumb.

I have a box of Kiev parts too if anyone is interested. I think there are four Kievs in there and one Zorki 3.

I think Russian cameras get a bad rap. I mean, they weren't that great to begin with, but if they are taken care of, they are fine cameras. Just need a little TLC these days. The mechanisms are super simple too.
"The mechanisms are super simple..."
Not the Kievs. I have two, plus a '36 Contax II. I've serviced them all, and the Kiev 4 has a working meter; it's been my carry around camera for a bit more than 5 years, it's absolutely reliable. Even the flash synch is good. The 4a needs ribbons, but then it's 62 years old and has seen such use that the chrome is gone from the advance knob. That's maintenance, not a defect. I have J12, J8, H103 and J9 Soviet lenses and like them all, the J12 and H103 are particularly nice.
 

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My Agat 18K just showed. What a weird little camera! I'm shooting it horizontally so it takes vertical shots. Like a PenFT. That way I can do the 2 images per frame diptych thing.
Took just over 2 weeks to come from Kazakhstan. Looks new..
 

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Finished the first roll. Not sure how the frame spacing will turn out as the advance seemed to be uneven, but we will see.
The frame lines in the VF are really hard to see, so that is disappointing. Compared to my other VF cameras there is no comparison (Agfa, Rollei, Konica, Minolta etc).
Looking forward to getting the film back.
 

henryvk

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I assume it has reflective framelines in the VF eyepiece? Those are easier to see depending on where the light is coming from, so if the sun is in your back they'll be pretty good but at other angles quite pale, I think. Might have been the other way around...
 

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They are just very hard to see, but I think I will get used to it. Got my film back. Spacing is perfect - I'm actually surprised by that because advancing the film does not feel very confidence inspiring!
The lens is remarkably contrasty and sharp. So much so it seems to crush shadows in a brightly lit scene, and it really saturates colours. The exposure symbols and/or film speed setting seems to be a little off. It perhaps is a stop slower than indicated. I will compensate for it next time i.e. set it for iso 200 for 400 film etc. (and yes I know many of you do that anyway..)

No light leaks, very sharp, very punchy, very happy that this cheap, weird little camera gives me fun results like this!



















 

Donald Qualls

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Most Soviet era cameras have exposure in Gost, which is 90% of ISO/ASA speed -- that is, 400 Gost = ASA 360. That said, a 40 year old meter might be a little tired, too.
 

Huss

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Most Soviet era cameras have exposure in Gost, which is 90% of ISO/ASA speed -- that is, 400 Gost = ASA 360. That said, a 40 year old meter might be a little tired, too.

There is no meter in it. It is an interesting mechanical programmed camera that has preset exposure values depending on iso and exposure symbol set.
Really very clever, and still works after all these years! It may also be that the Soviet idea of full sun 40 years ago is different than what we see today!
 

Huss

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The lens is surprisingly sharp and handles back lighting really well.
It does suffer from barrel distortion a bit, but it's only really noticeable up close and/or if you tilt the camera up.

More from my test roll snapping random stuff just to get the film done so I can see the results! I now have it loaded w HP5

 

Donald Qualls

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@Huss I'd actually expect "Soviet full sun" to be a half stop to a couple stops dimmer than what you get in SoCal -- most of the Soviet Union was north of the 45th parallel; significant portions were north of 50 degrees, so high summer there is similar to mid-winter in SoCal, and winter solstice is like Golden Hour all day. If the camera is underexposing a little, then it's probably either a shutter that's a little fast or incorrect eyeball estimation of conditions.
 

Huss

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@Huss I'd actually expect "Soviet full sun" to be a half stop to a couple stops dimmer than what you get in SoCal -- most of the Soviet Union was north of the 45th parallel; significant portions were north of 50 degrees, so high summer there is similar to mid-winter in SoCal, and winter solstice is like Golden Hour all day. If the camera is underexposing a little, then it's probably either a shutter that's a little fast or incorrect eyeball estimation of conditions.

Full blazing sun to them is most prob partly cloudy to us. So the fact that I used the full sun setting, when in fact it should be partly cloudy to us, would result in the slight underexposure. No harm done, I'll take that into consideration moving forward!
 

Donald Qualls

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If you used the full sun setting in actual full sun, you'd overexpose by at least a stop (assuming they actually compensated for Russian latitudes). Sunny f/16 becomes Sunny f/11 in Seattle, or Sunny f/8 in Glasgow or Oslo (or St. Petersburg).
 

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That does make sense. Looking at the results, I think the super contrasty lens that crushes the shadows gives the impression of underexposure.
 

Donald Qualls

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That does make sense. Looking at the results, I think the super contrasty lens that crushes the shadows gives the impression of underexposure.

Seems much more likely. Easy fix: let it get a little dirty. The scatter will fill the shadows a little, just like flare from an uncoated Tessar would.
 

davidsyd

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I bought a Kiev 4a out of curiosity and it work great. The earlier 1950s are really nice.
I also bought a Kiev from a seller call Yuri who has check ( suppose to have service them) and
it is working good after 5 years.

After that I bought a FED 2 and it had a slow shutter. I taken the back off and clean out the
shutter channel and it came back to live. You can get reasonable ones provided you know what to
look for or buy one from a reliable seller.
 

Donald Qualls

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Nice!!
 

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The lens is surprisingly sharp and handles back lighting really well.
It does suffer from barrel distortion a bit, but it's only really noticeable up close and/or if you tilt the camera up.

More from my test roll snapping random stuff just to get the film done so I can see the results! I now have it loaded w HP5



man, that's beautiful, it almost looks like an illustration / cartoon.
im always amazed at photography, its so photographic..
 

henryvk

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Agat 18K, Ilford HP5+, Cinestill DF96 Monobath

Beautiful work, all of them! Wish my framing was half as good (pun intended).

Thanks for showing off the Agat. I'd seen the camera somewhere but never any pictures taken with it.
 

Huss

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Beautiful work, all of them! Wish my framing was half as good (pun intended).

Thanks for showing off the Agat. I'd seen the camera somewhere but never any pictures taken with it.

Thanks! The Agat is such a strange camera to use. It just feels like the pics aren't going to turn out because it is so toy like in feel, and yet they do!

Another version of "A dog's life". As the frames are evenly spaced, you can pick whichever two sequential ones you want to make one diptych.

 
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