Shooting with Stalin

He’s as crooked as the Soviet sickle, and as hard as the hammer that crosses it.
– Snatch

A friend gave me an old Zorki 4 35mm rangefinder camera a while back. Since I reactivated the shutter, it’s been sitting in a corner of my office.

The usual problems: a slow, sticky shutter, wobbly rangefinder, etc. I managed to massage the faster shutter speeds into working most of the time, so I thought I’d run a roll through it to check the lens.

stalin 3

The body

It’s a Russian Leica derivative. What can I say?

Having shot with a couple of Leicas, and having handled a Fed, and now this Zorki, I’m reminded of cassette tapes. Remember your friend’s oh, so desirable latest album by that band? And how you craved it, but he wouldn’t let you copy it? So you found a friend at school who had a copy which he in turn had copied off his big brother? And how he was too stingy to purchase quality tapes, and how you, too, were skint? But you copied it anyway? And it sounded like ass, but it was still the best tape you had?

Well, shooting with a Zorki is a little like that. The Zorki is a derivative of the Fed, which in turn is a copy of the Leica II. Except assembled, it seems, by Soviet Heroes of the Motherland, loyal communist Babushkas, their hearts filled only with the Love of Stalin (or possibly Kruschev, judging by this camera’s probable age), the Hero of the Revolution.

When this shutter fires, it doesn’t make the sensual ‘snikt’ sound of Mr Barnack’s revolutionary camera. Instead, it seems to say “WE WILL BURY YOU”.

The film advance is stiff and jery, the rangefinder wobbles disconcertingly, the viewfinder is tiny, the rewind knob manages to make the idiosyncratic rewind knob of the 2003 Leica MP seem to be a lush, smooth luxury.

The shutter speed dial makes me yearn for the wide open Russian Steppe.

When you’re shooting with the Zorki, you’re shooting with Stalin.

Or Kruschev.

The lens

As far as I can tell, the Jupiter 8 50mm f/2 which is on the camera is highly regarded. It’s got a couple of very specific things going for it: it’s said to be a Zeiss Sonnar clone, and it has a Leica 39mm thread mount, which means it’ll go onto an M with an adapter, or a “Barnack” Leica straight out of the box.

The lens has a feel of precision that is quite at odds with the rest of the camera. There’s no slop, no wobble, nothing. There’s no aperture detents either, but that’s OK — nor does my Leitz Elmar-M 90mm f/4.

The front element rotates in its entirety, which makes it just as well that there’s two aperture scales.

It also says ‘Made in USSR’. That’s impossibly cool for a more or less western boy like me.

stalin 6

My totally professional review

I ran a roll of home-spooled Rollei Retro 400N through the camera yesterday afternoon. I developed it in 1+25 Rodinal at 20° for seven minutes, fixed it in Calbe A300.

That lens is sharp. The camera feels like all kinds of crusty ass and needs a CLA as a matter of urgency, after which it’ll still feel like ass, but at least the shutter times will be spot-on. Or not. Russian cameras are hardly famous for their quality.

But that lens is going in my Leica bag.

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About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on July 9, 2009, in leica, Photography, Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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