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B. Film cameras - Zorki 4K and Fed 4: The Russian Leicas

Discussion in 'User Reviews' started by FujiSigmaNolta, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. FujiSigmaNolta

    FujiSigmaNolta Well-Known Member

    I have been planning this for a while and time really only allowed for this now, so here it is, my personal experiences/review of two cameras which I pit against each other, the Zorki 4K and the Fed 4. There may be one or two images, but I think I haven't done the roll of the Fed yet (given that I have messed 4 rolls the other day it's probably a good thing :D ). Anyway, here it is, read on the reply to this post. I hope I have all grammar and spelling correct and more importantly the information as it was 95% off the top of my head.
  2. FujiSigmaNolta

    FujiSigmaNolta Well-Known Member


    The rangefinder was, for good while in my early photographic days a photographic tool that I thought I would never understand. Why on earth would anyone want to use something that does not let you view the image as it is through the lens? Over time, I was convinced that there was something about it, otherwise there wouldn't be so many photographers swearing by it, including some of my favourite ones. So, many years passed until last January/February I decided to buy one. I always thought the prices were prohibitive for both cameras and lenses, making it difficult for an amateur to build a considerable or solid kit. Also, considering a Russian alternative was out of the question, if I was to use a rangefinder I would want a Voigtlander or Leica; that is until I saw some photographers, some Leica photographers including, singing praises for the Russian copies of this reknown camera maker. So my curiosity grew. I searched Ebay and found a very affordable Zorki 4K with a Jupiter-8 lens and it started my foray into the rangefinder photography world. I was hooked. The compactness and silent operation (relatively silent in the case of the Zorki) and the apparent anonymity that the camera brings to picture taking got to me. That was, without of course getting used to some quirks which seem to be inherent to all Russian made cameras, ruining a couple of films in the process. I also acquired from Ebay a turret finder in case I ended up buying more lenses. Anyway, in a bid to get to the review a bit sooner, a couple of months later I decided to retire the camera but not for any particular faults, just because it ended up being autographed by the one and only David Bailey. As such, I ended up buying a Fed 4B which presented a few quirks of its own not too dissimilar from the Zorki.It came with an Industar-61 lens and seemed a bit stiff in operation, which I later resolved with careful application of some WD-40. In fact, having successfully done this, I decided to do this to all my classic cameras, which resulted in improved operation in all of them. I have to add that this may in fact be of greater benefit to Russian made cameras given that the majority of their quirks tend to be mechanical in kind.

    The review

    A. The Zorki 4K

    The Zorki 4K is a Leica copy, just like its counterpart the Fed 4, made by KMZ factory in Krasnogorsk, Russia. It uses the M39 mount, just like the Leica. It does not have a built-in light meter nor strap lugs, so a case is a must, but I personally don't like to have the top cover of the case hanging down when I use it (you can't separate them either unless you cut them). So if you are to buy one of these, make sure that a case and a light meter are on the list. Also, the viewfinder will not give you a totally accurate view of the scene so a finder (or finders) is a must as it will also be parallax corrected. My Zorki 4K came with a Jupiter-8 lens, which had some fungus on the back element, but it does not seem to affect much the image quality, nevertheless I will be getting a clean optic.

    Loading your favourite film

    I had some trouble loading film in the beggining, in fact I thought my camera was faulty initially, due to my inexperience with it. Without instructions, I was loading the film as I would normally load your usual SLR or modern compact, but the Zorki will soon tell you that you have done something wrong as it either will not cock the shutter or get stuck at some point in the film wind. It is vital when one loads the film, to rotate the knob around the release to the raised position to allow shooting (the other position is for rewinding)and to use three short strokes of the lever (not full strokes) upon loading. It will then operate as normal. You also need to make sure that the three dots on the top plate are aligned. The camera also features a manually resettable frame counter.

    Features,Operation& Kit Lens

    The shutter mechanism is typical of Russian cameras. The usual quirk of having to wind on the shutter before changing speeds as well as changing them clockwise except for the speeds of 30 and B. Also, one should never turn the shutter speed dial over the interval between 30 and 1 as that will damage the mechanism. The slower speeds are also harder to get to and are on a slightly raised position. After you release the shutter, the dial will land on what at first seems like a random position but usage will show that it is not random, but one wonders why it lands on such positions. Nevertheless, the Jupiter optic, gives great images and the camera is a pleasure to use. The focussing is smooth and the rangefinder patch is big and bright in comparisson to the Fed 4 (which we will be getting to in a bit). The shutter sound is a snappy, blade like sound which I personally found not to be as silent as I thought it would be, but in any case, quieter than an SLR. Overall, I found that the camera is quite inconspicuous, unless I put the turret finder on. Being a fan of street photography, it was a great bonus and in a first rangefinder experience I could see why these cameras have such an appeal among street photographers and seeing the results reinforced the positive experience. There is something quite different in rangefinder images and while it is hard to pinpoint what it is, I personally think that they seem to be more correct in terms of perspective and slightly sharper (I get good sharpness and contrast with a Jupiter lens with fungus in the back element, which says something about it apart from clean the lens or get a new one). The camera has also a PC synch socket for bulb or electronic flash, but I never used this feature, I might at some point, in homage to Bruce Gilden.

    B.The Fed 4

    The Fed 4 was bought as a replacement for the Zorki 4K as it acquired a certain value and I thought I should take great care with it. It is in many ways similar to the Zorki as such we will keep this section short and highlight the differences. It is an Ukrainian made camera and took it’s name from it’s creator’s initials (Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky). I ordered my Fed from Ebay once again, and it arrived with a brown leather case in very good condition. The all expected quirks were present, except that I found that the slower shutter speeds were even harder to get on to on this camera. The Fed has the advantage of having a fairly accurate built-in meter but it only allows for readings up to ISO400; over this setting you have to use a secondary meter or your own judgement, which is not too difficult since you can use the meter as guidance if you are fairly experienced. The Fed 4 is tall for a rangefinder and has a certain heft to it. It has a collar around the shutter release, which locks and unlocks it.

    Loading your favourite film

    The bonus that the Fed has over the Zorki in my experience is that to load the film you can take out the take up spool to load it, making it easier to properly load the film, avoiding looseness. The user can adjust the film easily simply by rolling or unrolling the film from the spool. Just make sure that before loading the camera is set to “C” on the collar ring around the shutter release.

    Features,Operation& Kit Lens

    The Industar-61 lens that came with it was clear but I found that the focussing ring sits too near to the body making it more difficult to focus than with the Jupiter-8. With my Fed 4, both lenses felt somewhat stiffer in focussing, which is something that I attribute to the focussing mechanism in the camera (and this even after applying WD-40). Nevertheless, the sharpness is very good as I came to expect from Russian lenses. There is information on the Internet in regards to the lanthanum component used in this lens (or some copies of it) being radioactive, but apparently its radiation is so low as to be harmless. This component is also said to give the lens its good colour, contrast and sharpness.

    As I look through the viewfinder I also feel that the rangefinder patch is too small in comparison to the Zorki and so is the viewfinder, as such it is a camera that certainly benefits from an external finder for this reason.
    In operation, the shutter speeds are set in similar fashion as with the Zorki, so cocking the shutter prior to changing speeds is imperative. Unlike the Zorki 4K, the Fed is much quieter and the shutter sounds more like a low muffled clunk. From a certain distance this is also barely noticeable. Nice, but the camera is not as inconspicuous as the Zorki, even more exacerbated if you put the said turret finder on top of it. The usual apparent “Wheel of Fortune” type landing positions of the dial after an exposure also apply.

    To rewind the film, the camera uses a thumb wheel to the left side of the body which I find a bit inconvenient in comparison to the Zorki’s rewind knob. Even more so, if like myself, in first usage, do not load the film properly.

    In conclusion

    Zorki vs Fed

    As with everything it comes down to subjectivity, but here is what I find as pro and cons of each:

    Compactedness: Zorki wins

    Features: Fed wins (built in light-meter)

    Operation: Zorki wins (albeit noisier in operation)

    Ruggedness: I would give this to the Fed, but the Zorki doesn’t trail by much

    Kit lens: Albeit you can find Feds with Jupiter lenses, they are more common with Industars. I would say that in this case for actual final results performance they would be neck and neck but the Industar’s focussing ring sits too close to the body, making it more difficult to focus.

    Viewfinder&finders I only brought this up for an issue reported by some, that I have not come across yet, but apparently the height of the Fed can lead to increased parallax error while using a turret finder. Personally I haven’t come across that, but perhaps I am not shooting close enough to subjects to see this. Nevertheless, it’s not a problem reported by that many and in fact it may be due to faulty or bad finders.


    In short, they are both fun to use cameras, which as always, if you can work around the quirks they produce great results. Even better if you have established brand M39 lenses which you can use on them. For me personally there was a bit of a learning curve when I started using a rangefinder because all I knew before this was to focus through the lens, but the challenges that rangefinder photography put before the SLR photographer are a very educational experience as well as a totally new and exciting one. It also makes one think if you really need to carry all that kit around in your camera bag; in fact, my Zorki with lens and turret finder, fit my jacket and vest pockets very easily. Not only that, in this digital age they can turn into great conversation pieces. More importantly for the budget minded enthusiast photographer, they only cost a fraction of the cost of the established brands and provide quality images. Thoroughly recommended as a system or as a learning tool for the future rangefinder photographer thinking of take the plunge to a more expensive and established brand model.
  3. Malcolm_Stewart

    Malcolm_Stewart Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your review.

    I too have a few Zorki 4K's upstairs, including one designed for use on a microscope supplied in a wooden case; but no Feds at the moment. I've also got two of the Contax copy, the Kiev. What a difference! (But then it's simply mirroring the real differences between the Leica and Contax years ago.)

    Being a spectacle wearer, I like the built-in dioptre adjustment on the Zorki 4K.
  4. sillyconguru

    sillyconguru Well-Known Member

    The Zorkis and older Leicas (and FEDs) use a L39 mount. IIRC; this is 26 threads per inch as opposed to 1 thread per mm for the M39 mount.
  5. FujiSigmaNolta

    FujiSigmaNolta Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the heads up. But according to this, it is almost just a semantics game :D

    LTM or L39 it's just to say Leica True Mount. As far as I am concerned in practicality they fit in the same hole, you can even call them H39 for Hole 39! :D

    But thanks anyway, there is a little difference despite what they practically are.
  6. FujiSigmaNolta

    FujiSigmaNolta Well-Known Member

    Actually the dioptre adjustment is something I should have mentioned, which I would also hand it to the Zorki. On the Fed, you need to turn the circular eyepiece on the viewfinder which again is not very practical for its intended purpose.

    By the way, the Kievs is also where I am going next :) .
  7. sillyconguru

    sillyconguru Well-Known Member

    Yes, they are all but the same. However, I always believed that L39 was generally used for cameras with a register distance of 28.8mm (i.e. rangefinder) and M39 referred to 45.2mm (i.e. SLRs). Lenses such as the Jupiter 11 were available for both register distances.
  8. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Here is a pic of my Fed 4 given to me by a fellow camera club member and I will try to put on here a couple of slide scans taken with it at the Severn Valley Railway 1940's do.
    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/2987495326/" title="German Paras by pentaxpete, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3200/2987495326_f1f2c3d9fc.jpg" width="500" height="333" alt="German Paras" /></a>

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