Comrades! Welcome to Communist Camera Revival. Don’t get the (red) scare, we’re just covering Communist Cameras this month as the 1st of May marks International Communist Camera Day! So why was the 1st ICCD? Because the day was a major holiday in the Soviet Union. So let’s get our lomo on and explore the wondrous cameras that have come out of Communist countries. But where did these cameras come from, many look like top end German cameras? Well the simple fact is that they came from Germany, when the Red Army overran Germany they carried away parts, tools, and employees that worked for the major camera companies and setup shop mostly in the Ukraine.
Cameras Featured on Today’s Episode
Seagull 4A-103 – While not a Russian camera, this Chinese twin lens reflex (TLR) camera is a great option if you don’t want to drop a lot of coin on a Rolleiflex. And despite the low cost, well some do cost a little more, this still produced camera produces quality images.
Lubitel 2 (Любитель-2) – Another Twin Lens camera the Lubitel-2 is a great starter TLR and a copy of the Voitlander Brilliant. While the optics on this camera is solid (Lomo T-22 glass optics), the focusing has much to be desired, having only a small loupe, and the focusing is a geared method and can wreak your fingers if you aren’t careful.
Zenit 3M (Зенит-3M) – The Zenit 3m is unique in the 35mm SLR field in the fact that instead of hte more common M42 thread mount it uses the smaller M39 similar to rangefinder cameras of the era. Another chunk of metal but is a solid machine all the same.
Kiev 88 (Киев 88) – While many Russian cameras from the Soviet Bloc were copies of German cameras, the Kiev 88 is a copy of the Swedish Hasselblad. In fact you can swap out some accessories with Hasselblad cameras even. Despite being a Soviet camera the lenses on this camera area pretty good, even at a shallow depth of field. But like any camera from the USSR expect to do some repair work.
Kiev 3A (Киев 3A) – The Kiev 3A is a direct copy of the famous Contax Rangefinder that Robert Cappa took onto the beaches of Normandy during the Operation Overlord Landings on D-Day. In fact many of the early cameras were branded Contax as they used original parts when they captured the factories in Germany. While equipped with a selenium light meter don’t expect it to work anymore.
Fed 2 (ФРС 2) – A Leica copy rangefinder that is basically a chunk of metal. And a favoured camera among those who shoot Russian cameras. When paired with a Jupiter-8 or similar lens the camera offers a solid piece of equipment and sound optics. Just watch out for pinholing in the shutter curtain, but you’ll be able to fix smaller holes with just a sharpie marker.
In addition to these hidden camera gems from the Soviet Bloc, they also produced a large number of lenses that have such a unique look and feel in their optics, and most use the universal thread mount either M39 (Leica Thread Mount LTM), or the M42 (Prakitca) mount. These lenses will work great on any camera with the proper mount, or even with an adapter onto your digital camera! Co-Host Alex has picked up a Fotodiox adapter and has tested it on a Sony a6000 with a Jupiter-8 and Industar-22 lens and gotten some spectacular results!
If you want to try any of these cameras out but don’t want to go the Ebay route, which could lead to getting a bad copy (which does happen) but at least it’s not an expensive camera to replace, you can always go through the Lomography company. They have modern copies of some classic Russian Cameras. Such as the Lomo Compact Automatic (LC-A), the Lubitel 166+, even the Zenit Horizon Panoramic Camera.
After the iron curtain fell, in addition to cameras making their way west, so did some Russian films (eventually) while the former Soviet States started consuming the western films (like Kodak, Ilford, Agfa ect) the films that were avalible in the bloc started taking a backseat but today you can get them rather easily here in the west. One such film brand is ORWO, available from ORWO North America in bulk rolls as it is motion picture film, but works well as a still photography film, in two flavours, the UN54 a nice ASA-100 film and NP74 a gritty ASA-400 speed.
But the more prolific Russian film is the Svema line of products. The company name, Свема is a compound of two words, Светочувствительные Материалы, which when translated literally means Photosensitive Material! Originally the company only produced B&W products but when the Russians got their hands on Agfa’s colour technology during the Second World War Svema started to produce colour films. In North America the easiest place to get your hands on this beautiful film is through our friends at the Film Photography Project! This is fresh film, made in a top secret factory still in the Ukraine. So what can you get from the FPP?
Color 125 – If you want to get away from the Kodak and Fuji colour pallets, this film is for you!
Foto 200 – If you like B&W film this film is pure magic and makes the world look like you want to see it. Don’t let the polyester base scare you, while a bit of a struggle to load up on your film reels the effort is worth it!
FN64 – A classic old school emulsion from Svema, the FN64 is a super fine grain B&W motion picture film. Expose at either ASA-64 or ASA-80.
MZ-3 – If you’re a fan of slow films, MZ-3 is a great zero grain blue-senstive copy film that works great for capturing fine details. Shoot it at ASA-3 and it’ll look great developed in HC-110 Dil. E for 6 minutes.
Blue – If you thought MZ-3 was slow thing again, Svema Blue is an ASA-1.5 blue sensitive film that will again blow you away with zero grain and high contrast.
Of course these are just scratching the surface of the Svema catalog and the best part is that some of these films are avalible in 35mm, 120, and 620 formats through the FPP Store!
Looking for a good spot to get your gear and material fix…check out Burlington Camera, Downtown Camera, or Film Plus if you’re in the GTA region of Ontario, if you’re on the West Coast (British Columbia) check out Beau Photo Supply. Additionally you can order online at Argentix (Quebec), the Film Photography Project or Freestyle Photographic.