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Innovative Soviet Leica Screw Mount Rangefinders  with Combined RF/VF

Though not so well know  in the Western world, the Soviets apparently made MORE Leica screw mount cameras than Leica !  Information on most of them was sketchy until the downfall of the iron curtain.   Soviet designs started off with copies of the Leica II, and then over time added innovative features.   In my opinion the ones that make sense today are the later innovative cameras, with combined rather than separate Rangefinder/Viewfinders, lever film advance, and removable or hinged back for easy film loading.

All the cameras listed  below have Leica screw mount, combined RF/VF window,  and a Leica style shutter horizontally traveling cloth shutter.  None have TTL metering or parallax corrected framelines.  The Leica screw mount means you have your choice of the largest group of RF lenses ever made, from the Russian lenses, to classic Leica, Canon, Nikon lenses, to modern multicoated Voigtlander lenses, with lots of others smaller lens makers as well.    Lens selection is a big smorgasbord for the Leica screw mount body user.    Soviet camera quality control can be spotty, with some cameras and lenses exhibiting more precision than others.  The smoother the film advance, the better.

My own favorites on this list are the Zorki 6,  Zorki 4K, Fed 5 B, and Leningrad.  The Zorki 6 offers the longest rangefinder base length (which means more accurate focusing), combined with the convenience of lever film advance and a hinged back for easy film loading.  It's limitations are no slow speeds and a top speed of only 1/500th.   The various Fed 5's with lever advance, hot shoe and removable backs are common, but I prefer the meterless 5 B with its lever rewind.     The Leningrad is also quite interesting, with its built in 3 fps motor, even if it is not so reliable.    Strangely enough, at least one Russian Fed 2 was converted to mount  the Canon 50/.95!

The various Soviet close copies of the Leica II/III with separate RF and VF windows are not included here. No Soviet Leica Screw Mount RF had TTL metering, though some did have Selenium meters.   My advice is to choose the features you like, but don't bother with frustrating yourself trying to find an accurate built in Selenium meter. Most decades old Selenium meters are seldom working today, much less accurate.

On Soviet/Russian cameras and lenses, the first two digits of the serial number indicate the year of manufacture (too bad all camera makers don't do this).  Earlier lenses are chrome, later lenses are black.  If possible test mount and focus Soviet lenses before buying them.   If the Vodka ration was generous that day in the factory,  these "standard" Leica screw mount lenses might not mount or focus properly on your Leica screw mount body.   If your Soviet camera Leica screw mount body breaks,   it's probably cheaper just to buy another than to have it repaired.   Contrary to what some sellers claim, I have a very difficult time believing any Soviet Leica crew Mount or Contax mount lens left the factory with multi-coating.

IMPORTANT:  ADVANCE the shutter BEFORE you change shutter speeds

Camera RF Base, Mag  Advance, Rewind, Loading Notes
Zorki 3 1954-5 38 mm, 1:1 knob wind & rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/1000, T, B, classic styling similar to Canon III,  no sync,  separate slow and high speed dials,  later version had flash sync at 1/25th, hard to find
Zorki 3M 1955 38 mm, 1:1 knob wind & rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/1000, B, like Zorki 3 but shutter speeds combined on top dial,  no flash sync, hard to find
Zorki 3 C 1956 38 mm, 1:1  knob wind & rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/1000, B, like Zorki 3M but new long top plate, flash sync, no longer looks similar to classic Leica, hard to find
Zorki 4 1956-73 38 mm, 1:1 knob wind & rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/1000, B,   like Zorki  3 C with self timer added, flat front top plate, common
Mir (Zorki 4 w/o slow speeds) 1959-60 38 mm. 1:1  knob wind & rewind, removable back like Zorki 4, but 1/30 - 1/500, B, economy version of Zorki 4, no slow speeds
Zorki 4K 1973-77 40 mm, 1:1 lever advance & knob rewind, removable back No Meter, 1, 1/30th-1/1000, B,   X sync 1/30th, self timer, fixed slotted film take up spool, diopter VF adjustment. 1st to have black 50/2 Jupiter, strangely no strap lugs, exported widely, over 500,000 produced
Zorki 5 1958-59 67 mm, 1:1 lever advance & knob rewind, baseplate loading No Meter, 1/25-1/500, B, X & M sync, no self timer, longer RF than 4/4K, but no slow speeds, the Zorki 5 and 6 appear to be a marriage of the Zorki 4 body and the Fed 2 RF/VF
Zorki 6 1960-66 67 mm, 1:1 lever advance  and knob rewind, HINGED back No Meter, 1/30-1/500,   B,  X & M sync, self timer added, long RF base and hinged back make it attractive, if you don't need the slow speeds and 1/1000
Fed 2 1955-70

 

 

67 mm 1:1 knob wind and rewind, removable back No meter, 1/25-1/500, B,   no sync, late version with self timer and diopter adjustment

Fed 2 variations include w/wo Sync, w/wo Self timer, 30-500 shutter, knob film reminders, blue, green, brown, gray body coverings

Fed 2 L  1969-70 41 mm lever advance and knob rewind, removable back No Meter, a modified Fed 3 with Fed 2 label, rare, only Fed 2 with lever advance
Fed 3 1962-3 41 mm knob wind and rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/500, B,   unusual high shutter speed dial, 1/30 X sync, self timer, hard to find
Fed 3 L 1964-80 41 mm lever advance and knob rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/500, B, new level top plate, 1/30 X sync, fixed take up spool, self timer, common
Fed 4  1964-5 41 mm knob wind & rewind, removable back Selenium Meter, 1-1/500, B, new level top plate, X & M sync, fixed take up spool, high shutter speed dial like knob wind Fed 3, self timer, a strange camera
Fed 4L 1964-78 41 mm lever wind & knob rewind, removable back Selenium Meter 1-1/500,B,   new level top plate, X & M sync, fixed take up spool, self timer, common
Fed 5 1978-2000 45 mm lever wind & knob rewind, removable back Selenium Meter 1-1/500, B,   PC & hot shoe, self timer, with diopter adjustment, common, widely exported, over 650,000 produced
Fed 5 B  1978-2000 45 mm lever wind & rewind, removable back No Meter, 1-1/500, B,  hot shoe, self timer, with diopter adjustment, hard to find in US
Fed 5 C  1978-2000 45 mm lever wind & rewind, removable back Selenium Meter, 1-1/500, B, PC & hot shoe, self timer, no diopter adjustment, 50mm fixed brightline,   over 225,000 produced
Drug 1960-61 43 mm Bottom Trigger advance, rewind knob in bottom, HINGED back No Meter, B-1/1000, non-parallax frames for 50 & 85, X & M sync at 1/30th, rare
Leningrad 1956-66 57 mm .68 MOTORIZED spring wound advance, about 3 fps over 12 frames possible,  knob rewind, removable back innovative spring motor camera, the ONLY LTM camera with built in motor, No Meter, 1-1/1000,  B,   four non-parallax framelines: 35, 50, 85, 135, X & M sync, self timer, motor must be disconnected before film loading/unloading,  often problems with frame counter and broken glass pressure plate, bulky/heavy, bright finder,  hard to find, when new the most expensive Soviet RF camera, interesting design but with mediocre finder and not so reliable

This table is an effort to give a quick overall view, so minor variations and rare limited production cameras  have been left out.     Info was compiled from 3 sources: 300 Leica Copies by Pont/Princelle, Leica Copies by HPR, and The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Camera by Jean Loup Princelle.   Disagreements exist about model designations,  production dates, and RF baseline lengths.   

Personally I advise against building a Soviet camera collection, since it's unlikely to greatly appreciate in value during your lifetime.  On the other hand, the cameras listed here do offer a very low priced entry into the Nirvana of Interchangeable Lens Rangefinderdom,  while also can offering  a stepping stone to the ultimate upgrade: the Leica M body.    Just add a Leica screw mount to Leica bayonet adapter to your lenses, and they will work perfectly on your Leica M body. 

Hmm.  The Russian style script on the front top plate bothers my Western style eyes.  I wonder how easily I can take the Zorki 6 nameplate off and replace it with a nice "Nikon" nameplate.  hmm.


Let the Buyer Beware: While the cameras listed here can be incredible bargains, they can also be problematic.  Quality control is often very creative in Soviet cameras, bouncing all over the place.  In my opinion it is best to buy these in person, so you can personally evaluate the finder, film advance, and shutter, to make sure all is as it should be.  If you buy mail order, I suggest NOT  buying  if the seller does not give you a 7 day return privilege if the camera turns out not to be what it should.  IF it breaks, don't repair it, just buy another -- it will probably cost less than a quality repair.


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Revised: November 26, 2003 Copyright  1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.