The Russian Experience

When I began my photographic journey (a good few years ago now!) My first real SLR camera was a Russian made Zenith, known as a Zenit B. This camera was the budget end of budget cameras, sporting a manual stop down lens and no lightmeter – you had to go up the range to the Zenit E to get a built in lightmeter and a preset lens.
The camera had the weight of a house brick and about as much style!

So why do you ask. After all this time do you go and buy another Russian camera?

Simple answer. Because I felt like a challenge and hark back slightly to my youth when cameras were that much more straightforward, I don’t want or need a camera that offers GPS tagging and 4k video, I just want to take photographs!

A little information about my purchase.

The camera in question is a Fed 4b, made between 1969 and 1976.

Shutter speeds – Bulb plus 1sec to 1/500th with a flash sync of 1/30th.
Format – 35mm film (24mm x 36mm)
Focus – manual rangefinder.
Metering – uncoupled selenium cell.

Lens – 53mm f2.8 Industar.
Construction – 4 elements in 3 groups,  single coated optics.
Lens mount – M39mm screw thread.
Aperture range f2.8 to f16.
Filter size – 40.5mm.

The Fed 4b experience.

When my new (old) camera arrived via that well known auction site, I checked it over to ensure that it actually worked! Then loaded it with the nearest equivalent film that I would have used in my younger days, ie. Ilford FP4 plus and went out to take some photographs.

The film back has to be removed by rotating the two lugs on the base and sliding the whole back off.

Note that the Fed 4b does not have lugs for a neck strap, although the brown leather ever ready case does.

Typical of most Russian rangefinder cameras, the shutter cocked before changing the shutter speed.

As expected the meter was wildly inaccurate, so I ignored it and instead used the standard ‘Sunny 16 rule’ Which for the uninformed is – whatever the ISO of the film used is the shutter speed set and bright sun means an aperture of f16.

Focusing is via a rangefinder system that means rotating the lens whilst looking through the viewfinder until the offset circle merges with the main image to make one image.

Rewinding the exposed film requires the bezel around the shutter button to be pressed down and turned to the left, then use the winder knob on the left hand end in the direction of the arrow.

Once the film was had been exposed, it was into the darkroom to process it.

The results looked well exposed and the spacing of frames were very even. To double check my first impressions of the negatives, the film was scanned at high resolution and the images checked on a calibrated monitor. I was not disappointed, the images were very sharp and evenly exposed.

Sample images

Final thoughts

Is it worth buying a vintage Russian camera?

If you get a good one, yes. Sadly the reputation of Russian cameras is a little suspect. Most of the Russian cameras were based on early Leica models, but not necessarily to the same build standard. They were built to a price using less expensive materials and modified for ease of manufacture  most do work  quite well, bearing in mind that most will not have been serviced. Because quality can be variable do check the camera and lens thoroughly if you can before purchasing. Ultimately have fun with your new purchase.



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