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Old Professional Soviet Cameras

Boris Riabov , Aug 03, 2008; 04:57 p.m.

I was wondering if anyone has any recommendations for old 35mm professional Soviet cameras that I can purchase. I am using a Nikon FM2, but I would love to use one of the old cameras - similar to the Contax II Robert Capa used. I was wondering if anyone knows any old cameras that can be purchased around $200 - Soviet or any other models from other countries. Also, I have this pressing question - does anyone know what cameras W. Eugene Smith used?

Many Thanks


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Gene M , Aug 03, 2008; 05:05 p.m.

Kiev's are worth a look.

Steve Bellayr , Aug 03, 2008; 05:52 p.m.

Go to www.fedka.com interesting site with cameras for sale.

Joe Grodis , Aug 03, 2008; 06:00 p.m.

I purchased a Zorki-5 and a Russian Leica Screw-mount copy from Keh a few months ago. Both cameras had better quality than I expected, but the Leica copy came with a stuck aperture ring. Either camera can be had for under $200 with a typical Zorki going for as low as $70 in excellent condition. Both cameras are fun to use and look great but you will have to get used to 35mm film leader trimming. Bottom line... the Zorki-5 is the best bang for the buck and comes with decent lens.

I think adorama has a Zorki-4 for sale now for $79 I think.

Good Luck

The Zorki-5

Russ Rosener , Aug 03, 2008; 06:03 p.m.

Absolutely check out the Kiev 4 series. They are Contax II and III clones. I have found them to be quite well made when adjusted properly and the optics superb. If you can get one with the 53mm Helios lens it's great. A lady from the former USSR told me that the Kiev was a good camera, and the best one they had. She worked as a re-touching artist in a photo studio for years. Not sure what camera Eugene Smith used. I'm certain he used a Leica at one point and probably a Nikon F later.

Jack Welsh , Aug 03, 2008; 06:09 p.m.

I don't know what cameras Eugene Smith used. But, I do know he was fired from Newsweek for refusing to use medium format.

JDM von Weinberg , Aug 03, 2008; 06:26 p.m.

There are two great divisions of humankind: Leica users and Contax users. It has even continued to the present day in the form of Nikon (Contax) and Canon (Leica), but that, as they say, is another story.

Or as they are also known, "those-who-load-film-from-the-bottom" and "those-who-load-film-from-the-back" or "Bottomers" and "Backers" for short.

If you are a Bottomer, then Zorki and FED are the main 35mm cameras you want to look at. The earlier, and more Leica-like, seem to be a little less common these days than formerly because so many of them have been converted into Göring-presentation Luftwaffe Leicas (or does it just seem that way?). These are LTM cameras and may even have a rough sort of interchangeability with "echt Leica" parts.

If you are a Backer, then the 35mm Kiev is your target. Some early Kievs were actually assembled out of Contax II and III parts by German workers who, with the factory and machinery, were taken back to the Ukraine as war reparations after WWII. There are also some Kievs that have been "improved" into "Contaxes", They can be quite handsome, if providing production variants that were never made in Dresden.

In medium format (6x6cm/120 film) there are many choices, as well. Kiev produced a number of sorta-like the Pentacon 6 (itself an East German post-war camera) or very nearly exactly like the early Hasselblad cameras. Go to http://www.kievaholic.com/ for an entertaining and useful discussion of these. Unlike the Swedes, Kiev never gave up trying to make the focal-plane shutter work. Whether they ever succeeded in doing so is a matter of controversy.

At the Kievaholics site you will also find a cogent discussion of one of the important characteristics of FSU cameras, their distinctive aroma--perhaps partly fine Caucasian tobaccos, but mostly something to do with the leatherette and adhesives used in their manufacture. The same site, also discusses the question of the practicality of professional use of these cameras that also applies to the 35mm cameras.

Kiev and used-to-be Kiev cameras

Mike Connealy , Aug 03, 2008; 07:11 p.m.

That's a good question about Smith's cameras. I always assumed he was using 35mm because of the style of photos he made. However, a Google search reveals that he used about every good camera that was available to him at the time -- Leica, Contax, Ikonta B, Rollei, Speed Graphic, Minolta, etc.
    Another question that I am interested in is what cameras the Soviet photographers used around the same time that Smith was working. In the early days, people like Rodchenko used Leicas. Did they later adopt the Leica-copies and Contax-copies out of political necessity? I've never seen a discussion on the topic.

richard oleson , Aug 03, 2008; 08:09 p.m.

The Zorki I is a decent quality copy of the Leica II, and looks very similar to the original. The Kiev II, IIa and 4a are Ukrainian-built versions of the Contax II, and the Kiev III, IIIa and 4 are similar variants of the Contax III with the light meter on top. All of these are well built and reliable cameras in my experience, though the Kievs tend to have issues with frame spacing and light leaks that did not plague the Contax. Early Kievs tend to be a bit pricey, but the 4 and 4a should be way under your budget limit, as is the Zorki.

Between the Zorki I and the Kiev, you've got a Russian version of the camera used by practically every pro of the WWII era (medium- and large-format photogs excepted)

Don E , Aug 03, 2008; 09:40 p.m.

"Also, I have this pressing question - does anyone know what cameras W. Eugene Smith used?"

The gallery guide for Dream Street I have shows him in silhouette at a 4x5 on a tripod; he has a rf with a telephoto lens on a shoulder strap. Inside are several photos and afaict the rf is a Contax w/ telephoto lens, probably a 135mm. He shot some of the Minamata photos (including Tomoko in Her Bath) with a Minolta and a 17mm lens. I've read he used a Leica, as well. A lot of his work was done before the SLR was common.

The Kiev is one of the more highly regarded cameras from the FSU.

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