Soviet Film Cameras

Soviet film cameras are cameras that were produced from 1917 to 1991.

Soviet film cameras

It is not entirely correct to call cameras that have been produced since 1991 Soviet film cameras even though the development and production of many of them began during the Soviet Union.

It should be noted right away that the entire Soviet photographic industry was built on borrowing and copying German and Japanese cameras.

soviet camera review

The first Soviet cameras were EFTE, which appeared in the late 20s of the 20th century. These were large-format scale cameras with a frame size of 9×12, developed on the basis of German prototypes produced at the Zeiss plant.

The next notable milestone in the development of the Soviet photographic industry was the release of FED and Zorkiy cameras, which were exact clones of German Leica. Further, Kiev cameras appeared on the shelves of Soviet stores, which in fact were Contax cameras produced on Soviet territory.

soviet cameras review

But despite the fact that in the Soviet Union they mostly copied German developments, many Soviet film cameras had quite decent quality and could produce very good pictures.

Below we will give you a short list of the most interesting Soviet cameras that you can buy.

Soviet 35mm Cameras

Rangefinder Cameras

There were three main brands of rangefinder film cameras in the Soviet Union:

  • FED
  • Zorki
  • Kiev

FED and Zorki were clones of Leikas, and had almost all the advantages and disadvantages of the original. These cameras were equipped with a cloth curtain shutter and initially had a short range of shutter speeds, as well as a rangefinder not paired with a viewfinder. In addition, these Soviet 35mm film cameras were equipped with lenses with an M39 mount. In the future, the viewfinders and the rangefinder became connected into one unit, and the number of shutter speeds in some further models increased.

soviet camera zorki
Zorki-3, Jupiter-8 2.0/50, Ilford Pan 400
Film camera review
Zorki-4, Jupiter-8 2.0/50, Svema Foto 64

Unlike the FED and Zorki cameras, Kiev were not Leica clones, but were essentially original Contax cameras, which were produced on original German equipment and with the participation of German specialists. Kiev cameras were considered devices of a higher level, and, accordingly, were more expensive than other Soviet rangefinder cameras. Kiev initially had a coupled viewfinder and rangefinder, and the set of shutter speeds was from 1/2 to 1/1250 (in later models 1/1000). In terms of build quality and performance, the Kievs were among the best Soviet rangefinders.

Soviet camera
Kiev-4am, Jupiter-8 2.0/50, Svema Foto 64
Soviet film camera
Kiev-4am, Jupiter-8 2.0/50, Svema Foto 250

SLR Cameras

The main brands of Soviet SLR cameras were Zenit and Kiev. Zenit was considered the more affordable option, while Kiev was considered the more advanced SLR for professionals and advanced amateurs.

Zenit cameras were developed on the basis of the Zorki rangefinders, and differed little from them in equipment and characteristics. The main difference, of course, was the presence of a mirror Zenits. Otherwise, in Zenits, you can see the same cloth curtain shutter with a set of shutter speeds from 1/30 to 1/500, the same method of loading and rewinding film, and even a similar set of lenses.

Soviet film cameras
Zenit, Industar-50 3.5/50, Svema Foto 64
Film camera
Zenit-AM2, Helios-44m4, Svema Foto 64

Kiev cameras, unlike Zenita, had a shutter with metal curtains with a set of shutter speeds from 1/2 to 1/500 (in some models up to 1/1000). In addition, the Kiev SLRs had a larger and clearer viewfinder, better build quality and a bayonet mount.

Soviet film camera
Kiev-19, Helios-81H 2.0/50, Ilford Pan 100
Kiev-19 shot
Kiev-20, Helios-81H 2.0/50, KNZ-3

Scale Focus Cameras

Due to the fact that the entire Soviet industry was mainly focused on the poorest segment, a huge number of cheap scale cameras were produced at the Soviet plants, the most popular of which were Smena cameras.

The Smena cameras were made of very inexpensive materials and were equipped with fairly simple triplet lenses with simple leaf shutters. But despite the simplicity and cheapness of these old soviet cameras, they produced very interesting photographs.

Soviet film camera Smena
Smena-8M, Triplet T-43 4.5/40, Fomapan 100

In addition, the BELOMO plant produced Vilia cameras similar in form factor and characteristics. These Soviet cameras were equipped with similar triplet lenses and similar shutters.

Soviet Medium Format Cameras

Among the Soviet Union cameras were, of course, not only 35mm specimens, but also medium format film cameras. The most popular Soviet medium format film cameras were:

  • Moskva
  • Iskra
  • Lubitel
  • Kiev

Medium Format Rangefinder Cameras

One of the first Soviet medium format cameras were the Moskva medium format rangefinder cameras with the frame size of 6×9 and 6×6 cm. It was essentially a series of folding soviet medium format cameras that were clones of the German Carl Zeiss Ikontas. Moskva medium format cameras were equipped with Industar lenses (which were clones of Tessar lenses), had leaf shutters with a fairly decent set of shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/250.

The best soviet camera
Moskva-4, Industar-23 4.5/110, Svema Foto 64
Top Soviet Film Cameras
Moskva-2, Industar-23 4.5/110, Svema Foto 250

A further continuation and improvement of Moskva rangefinders was Iskra cameras with a frame size of 6x6cm. The Iskra Soviet medium-format rangefinders were noticeably better than Moskva rangefinders. They had a coupled rangefinder and viewfinder (which was very large and clear), an unusual but very convenient frame counting system. Iskra is considered one of the best Soviet cameras.

Russian cameras
Iskra, Industar-58 3.5/75, Svema Foto 64
Iskra photo example
Iskra, Industar-58 3.5/75, Svema Foto 64

Medium Format TLR Cameras

The most popular Soviet TLR is Lubitel developed on the basis of the German Voigtlander Brillant. The Lubitel TLR was famous for the fact that, for all its cheapness, it can give quite high-quality and interesting photographs. These Soviet TLR cameras have been in production for several decades, and over the years, quite a few changes and innovations have been made.

soviet tlr film cameras
Lubitel-2, Triplet-T22 4.5/75, Svema Foto 250

Medium Format SLR Cameras

The best Soviet medium format cameras, in our opinion, are medium format Kievs. These cameras can be divided into two types – with the Hasselblad form factor and with the form factor of a conventional 35mm SLR camera. The difference in them, in our opinion, lies only in ease of use and personal preferences, since both options give the same image quality, as they are equipped with the same lenses with but different mount options.

Soviet medium format film cameras
Kiev-60, Volna-3B 2.8/80, Fomapan 100
Best film cameras
Kiev-6c, Volna-3B 2.8/80, Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Soviet Large Format Cameras

The Soviet Union also produced a fairly large number of large-format cameras, the most famous of which is Fotokor. This is a folding camera with a frame size of 9×12 cm, equipped with Ortogoz or Industar lenses, as well as a leaf shutter with different set of shutter speeds.

In addition, in Soviet times, FKD cameras were produced, which had larger frame sizes and more rear standard movements, and were also equipped with various interchangeable lenses.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Soviet film cameras were a secondary product, they gave quite decent image quality. In addition, a great advantage of Soviet cameras is their low price. Nowadays, for the price of a film roll, you can buy a fairly good Soviet camera (for example, Smena Symbol) and take amazing atmospheric photos with it.

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