Soviet and Russian camera threads, can someone sum up please?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by casioculture, Jun 8, 2005.

  1. casioculture

    casioculture Guest

    There's been a few threads in this newsgroup about soviet and russian
    cameras lately. Can someone who's familiar with russian/soviet cameras
    and who followed the threads please sum up; which russian/soviet
    cameras are worth buying, if any?

    casioculture, Jun 8, 2005
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  2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Quality control is a problem for all of them. It is usually necessary to
    be able to check and adjust main functions yourself (or spend the money
    to have it done professionally).

    That said, my own favorites are:

    1. Leningrad (a Leica M with a bult-in spring motor drive). Rare,
    expensive and can have extra problems due to the motor drive.

    1b. If you like middle format; the Iskra (a 6x6 folder).

    2. Zorki 4 (I've never used the 4k - with lever wind - so no opinion on
    that, though some people report reliablity problems with the lever advance).

    2b. The Zorki 5 & 6 have some advantages compared to the 4 (wider
    rangefinder, lever advance, opening back), but lack slow speeds between
    B and 1/30.

    2c. If you like middle format; the Kiev 6 (a 6x6 SLR).

    3. The various 35mm Kievs (Contax clones). I put them in third place
    because I don't like the Zeiss-Ikon ergonomics (Leica really won on that
    front), but technically and quality-wise they belong in the first place.

    3b. The various Mokbas (6x9 middle format folders - Zeiss-Ikon
    Super-Ikonta clones - though the "5" is substantially improved). Here
    experiences vary greatly, maybe also due to shooting (and camera
    opening) technique. My own experinces (3 samples) are good.

    4. Feds (at least later ones ) seem rougher than equivalent Zorkis, but
    if you get a good one they can be very satisfying.

    5. Some people like the Zenits. I personally find the very early ones
    with the 39mm screw mount interesting, but have never used one. I have
    used a later one (3m?) and, while I am a bit of a luddite, that was
    going too far!

    There are also many others, but these are the ones I've actally used.
    Chris Loffredo, Jun 8, 2005
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  3. casioculture

    DunxUK Guest

    Ok, hmm. The better value for money any object is the more it is worth
    buying in general terms. As almost all soviet cameras and lenses aren't
    collectable their prices are low; they are not artificially inflated.
    This makes them worth buying in one narrow sense.

    I almost exclusively use soviet cameras so take that into account. I
    bought and sold several until I settled on a Kiev 4M and a Zorki 6.
    They are both genuine bargains and worth a try; I found the Jupiter
    50mm, 35mm and 85mm lenses on the Kiev were all good. This was taken
    with the Kiev:

    The Industar 61LD which fits the Zorki is also a great lens, probably
    my favourite lens of all. I have not however been overly-impressed with
    soviet SLRs.

    The unreliable ones seem to have largely vanished from the market and
    all the cameras I have bought in the last 2 years have been 100%
    working and reliable. As opposed to 100% of Zeiss and Rolleis in the
    last year which haven't!

    I would get one if I were you - they are cheap and you can always sell
    them again if you don't like them. Do try the 61LD if you get a chance!
    DunxUK, Jun 8, 2005
  4. casioculture

    calcerise Guest

    The Fed 5 is probably the least risky and best intro to these cameras.
    The prime advice I have is try to buy from a source in your own country
    with a good reputation. The Pentacon-style 120 SLRs are also a
    relatively known quantity. I would leave the FP Hassy clones strictly
    alone unless you are a camera tech. The backs DO NOT interchange with
    Hassy and they are in general troublesome.

    I wouldn't spend any money on them I wouldn't feel bad about losing.
    Parts are NA and few camera techs will look at them. OTOH the optics
    are first-rate-by early '60s standards, which is still not bad.

    I doubt seriously they will ever take the film camera business
    seriously, because it's considered obsolete and they are pretty
    fatalistic and un-entrepreneurial. Also, drunk.
    calcerise, Jun 9, 2005
  5. casioculture

    Peter Irwin Guest

    If you like old fashioned, somewhat quirky cameras and you aren't
    super fussy then I think you might like to give a Soviet camera
    a try.

    The Kiev rangefinders which were the continuation of the old
    Contax II and III tend to be the best made of the rangefinders.
    The Kievs also have the most accurate rangefinders and shutters.
    Some people are troubled by the ergonomics: the "Contax hold"
    necessary to keep your fingers away from the rangefinder window.
    If you shoot a lot of film, you may find the shutter ribbons
    need replacing after a thousand rolls or so. This is not a big
    problem in typical amateur use, but if you shoot more than a roll
    a day it could be annoying. The shutter on the Kiev makes a
    very quiet thud at high speeds, and a not quite so quiet wheeze
    at lower speeds.

    The look-a-leica Fed 1 and Zorki 1 cameras are fun, though you
    probably shouldn't compare them too closely with Barnack Leicas.
    The Zorki 1b I bought from Oleg <> is
    one of my favorite cameras to carry around. It is very compact
    with its collapsible lens. The shutter on that particular Zorki
    is quite quiet, but I've used others which make more noise than
    you would expect from a Leica copy. Loading film is easy once
    you know how and have done it dozens of times, but bottom loaders
    can be a bit of a challenge at first.

    The later Feds and Zorkis are larger, heavier and clunkier, but
    can be a lot of fun to shoot. The ones with slow speeds require
    extra care that you do not try to change speeds before winding
    the shutter. You can get a Fed 5B with Industar 61LD lens
    for $15 + $12 shipping. It is hard to argue with that price for
    a working camera.

    I've some people give high praise to the Soviet lenses, and others
    hold them in contempt. None of the soviet lenses I have are as
    good as the SMC Takumar 55/1.8 on my Pentax. None of them are
    bad by my standards either.

    The Iskra is medium format (6x6) folding rangefinder which I like
    quite a lot. The frame counting mechanism tends to give trouble
    on these cameras, but mine hasn't let me down yet.

    The Sputnik is a stereo version of the Lubitel plastic TLR.
    It is a stereo medium format camera and hence great despite
    its limitations. The lenses are ok when stopped down to
    f/11 and smaller, which is generally what you want with
    a stereo camera anyway. There are a couple of websites
    which discuss how to get the best results from a Sputnik.

    The Smena plastic 35mm viewfinder cameras are interesting.
    They are surprisingly decent for cheap plastic cameras.

    Peter Irwin, Jun 9, 2005
  6. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    I would suggest choosing from the FED 4 or 5, the Zorki 4 or 4K and
    the Kiev. All are rangefinder cameras. I would suggest avoiding the
    Zenit SLRs when there are so many superior used Japanese M42 bodies
    available at extremely low prices.

    You must accept that former Soviet cameras are unreliable, despite
    outwardly appearing heavily constructed. The rugged build contributes
    to a feeling of solid reliability that is diminished by poor detailed
    design and the often very poor workmanship of the precision items that
    are needed to make a camera work.

    If you can possibly enjoy using a camera that might let you down at
    any moment, you might be able to enjoy owning former Soviet equipment.
    Personally, having owned one Zenit SLR and two Zorki rangefinders, I
    would never touch another former Soviet camera because there are so
    many better Japanese alternatives.

    Why drive a Yugo when you can drive a Toyota, Mazda or Honda?

    Having said that, I use a Kiev TTL metering prism with my Hasselblad
    medium format cameras. It is consistently accurate and reliable, but
    I always carry a hand held light meter as well, so I am not worried in
    case it ever lets me down.
    Tony Polson, Jun 9, 2005
  7. casioculture

    DunxUK Guest

    It is important not to overstate the unreliability of soviet camera
    (especially after one poster's dubious experience of owning only two
    RFs ever and probably some time ago. Just look at recent posts in this
    ng yourself;

    Olympus OM-1n problems
    Minolta x-370 Help
    Spare parts for Nikkormats?
    Contax 159MM,RTSII, Yashica FX-3 overexposing
    Is it worth repairing a lens? (Pentax FA 1:4 28-70mm AL)
    Impossible meter readings from Spotmatic F
    HELP: Canon Rebel -- overexposed (blank) shots
    Where to send FM2 body for minor repair?

    I worry more that the lab will wreck my negatives than my Kiev will
    suddenly stop working. In fact the only cameras I have ever had that
    suddenly stopped working all had electrical faults.

    To be honest there are very few people I would trust on this ng to
    advise me on any camera choices. A better place to ask would be; certainly rangefinders are among the better
    soviet cameras.

    Good luck!

    DunxUK, Jun 11, 2005
  8. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    It is important not to overstate their *reliability*.

    Heavily built does not equate to reliable.

    Reliability of a camera depends on the quality of manufacture of items
    such as shutters and rangefinder linkages, items that need great
    precision in order to perform within acceptable limits. This
    challenge is the same for every brand of camera, and former Soviet
    cameras are not precision items.

    When I started with my first SLR in the UK back in the early 1970s, I
    and many of my undergraduate friends chose Zenit, because that was the
    only new SLR we could afford. There were multiple problems, with no
    particular pattern, because just about every moving part that could
    possibly fail, did.

    Not everyone had every problem, but we all had problems that were
    serious enough to make us trade up to a used Pentax or new Praktica at
    the earliest possible opportunity. I spent more on repairs in one
    year (1973) than the camera cost me to buy new, and I know many people
    who had similar experiences. I bought an Olympus OM-1 in 1974 and it
    was faultlessly reliable, despite being used in a very harsh
    environment, in underground railway tunnels being constructed under a
    UK city, with plenty of salt water, cement dust and sandstone around.

    Possibly the former Soviet cameras now available on the used market
    are better, on average, because the worst of them have long been
    discarded or given a new career driving fence posts into hard earth.

    But, as an example, you can still break any Zorki 4 by changing
    shutter speed before or after cocking the shutter (I forget which is
    the wrong way, but you should not have to remember!) and the majority
    of those cameras have also had problems with the film transport
    shredding film. These problems have been around for over 30 years and
    they still haven't gone away.
    Tony Polson, Jun 12, 2005
  9. casioculture

    calcerise Guest

    The skilled camera repairman with access to parts, which is to say
    parts cameras, can keep most Soviet cameras going. For the hobby
    repairman/tinkerer they are ok. And apparently people like Hartblei can
    make a reliable camera out of a Kneb.
    calcerise, Jun 13, 2005
  10. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    But at what cost? Even the cost of a simple CLA is more than the
    cameras are worth.

    I can understand people's fascination with obtaining results from junk
    gear - the Lomo being a prime example - but former Soviet products
    just aren't up to any kind of serious use.
    Tony Polson, Jun 13, 2005
  11. casioculture

    DunxUK Guest

    I consider serious use to include work like weddings, studio work etc.
    The opinion of someone in this line of work is no more relevant to me
    than a formula 1 racing driver telling me which Ferrari to buy.

    What matters to me is the opinion of people in a similar situation, who
    takes photos for the enjoyment of it and can't spend much on equipment
    let alone a CLA. If you are on a tight budget and want a rangefinder
    with interchangeable lenses the best option is to go Soviet. I hate
    Zenit SLRs and have found them dreadful and unreliable in my narrow
    experience but RFs are altogether.

    Also Lomos can produce spectalular images that no other camera can and
    as such provide a valid addition to the wide world of photography.
    DunxUK, Jun 13, 2005
  12. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    By serious work I meant anything where a broken camera causes a
    problem. Former Soviet cameras are prone to breakdown in
    unpredictable ways.
    Altogether what? Different? They aren't. They are all prone to
    failure, and they are no cheaper to repair than Japanese cameras that
    break down far less often.
    Photographers produce images. A good photographer can produce great
    images from inferior gear. The Lomo is about as inferior as it gets,
    but even that will not prevent a good photographer getting some
    surprisingly good shots.

    Don't ever think the Lomo is a good camera. It isn't. Therein lies
    the appeal. It is like using a single use camera - the lens is not
    great, so when you get a good shot from it the pleasure is all the
    more satisfying. That's Lomography, and I think it's fun.

    What I don't think is fun is inverted snobbery.
    Tony Polson, Jun 13, 2005
  13. casioculture

    DunxUK Guest

    This supposes that any shot from a Lomo would be an even better shot
    had it been taken with a better camera. The distortion produced by a
    Lomo, by SX70 manipulation, by shooting with vaseline on the lens is
    all part of photography. It's not about getting an 'acceptable' image
    from poor equipment.

    Also why are Soviet RFs just as bad as Zenit SLRs? I've got lots of
    experience with them and found them extremely reliable and I am very
    happy with the picture quality. I only get 6 x 4 prints and at that
    size there is no difference between a Jupiter 8M and the Pentax SMC
    f1.4 50mm which I have on my SLR.

    Finally not having enough money to buy better kit isn't inverted
    snobbery. I would buy a Contax tomorrow if I had the money!
    DunxUK, Jun 13, 2005
  14. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    No it doesn't. Try reading what I wrote before replying.
    Tony Polson, Jun 13, 2005
  15. casioculture

    DunxUK Guest

    DunxUK, Jun 14, 2005
  16. casioculture

    calcerise Guest

    The point with Soviet cameras is that if you are a working pro you
    don't buy them. You buy them if you are a DIYer and amateur camera
    tinkerer, a collector, or an adventurous hobbyist willing to write off
    the purchase.

    That said working pros in the Eastern Bloc and other backward palces
    DID use them and very successfully for decades. They learned to fix
    them and made them work surprisingly well.

    Remember too, that these cameras are 30s-50s designs. While the Leica
    and Rollei of the era were and still are reliable, a great many Western
    designs of the era are as bad or worse. ANY of the Western leaf shutter
    35mm SLRs, many of the rollfilm folders, and even the 35mm RF cameras
    of those eras-today and even then- are as bad or worse than "modern"
    (sic) Russian/Ukranian cameras.

    Ed Romney's widow still has some copies of the Russian camera repair
    manual available. It's interesting reading.
    calcerise, Jun 14, 2005
  17. casioculture

    Tony Polson Guest

    In your mind, it would seem *anything* is possible.

    Tony Polson, Jun 14, 2005
  18. I would have to agree. I am NOT a working pro and have a Kiev 4AM and
    a older Fed (masquerading as a Leica). I also have a Leica IIIF BD and
    a Contax IIa. The Fed/pseudo leica came pre-broken, in fact there
    wasn't even clearance for loading film in the camera. The Kiev came
    working and has always worked very well, but then I haven't worked
    either camera very hard. I had the Fed repaired and it works well now.
    The lens is also quite good. The russian Kiev lens is even better.

    You might be better off with the Kiev's (contax clones) than the Leica
    clones if you're going to work the camera harder. The lenses from
    Russia are generally good, but in cheap mounts and quality control can
    be spotty. If you get a couple of bodies and a collection of lenses you
    are likely to get good service out of them, at least for a while. And
    you can use classic Zeiss lenses too (and those are great for their
    time period). It would be a great way to see what rangefinder
    photography is like for very little cost.

    Another option might be Canon leica clones. Really great innovation and
    quality (not as good as Leica but not far off). I have a Canon 7 (very
    underpriced for how really good a user it is) that I like a lot. Easy
    film loading, changeable viewfinder frames, big rangefinder/viewfinder,
    internal meter (and mine is working at least for now), non-rotating
    shutter speed dial, etc. The only downside is that the 7 has no
    accessory shoe. Fortunately I have the optional accessory coupler that
    gives me one but they're a nightmare to locate these days. Anyway,
    almost any Canon would be a very nice, reliable rangefinder and it
    would use all the leica screwmount lenses. The collectors collect Canon
    but not as religiously as they do Nikon rangefinders and Leicas.
    carbon_dragon, Jun 22, 2005
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