I've got a few Russian's, and like them a lot. My Zorki 4K is good, the only criticism I have is the focusing patch is a bit vague. Once I'd set the lens register, it worked very well. The Kiev I like a lot, but I'm only on the first roll through it and haven't seen any results yet, but I bought a dead Contax for the Sonnar 50 and externally at least there is little to choose in the quality of each of them. The Kiev has a great focus patch as well, although I have another Kiev with a non moving patch. The two FED 4's are still unused, but they do seem to be a cheaper build that the Zorki and Kiev. The Zenit's are a mixed bunch, I think I've 4 or 5 different ones, but they all work. Any 'quality and reliability' was due to the basic engineering method of "is that likely to break? if it is make it twice as thick!" The quality was certainly suspect, but if the lottery of buying a Russian camera falls your way they are excellent.
The primary problem with FSU gear was lack of quality control. Factories had a quota to get out every month but many times the workers sat around in the early part of the month because the parts from other factories hadn't arrived. Then, in the last few days of the month they had to throw things together to try to make quota. It was pretty much the same in all Soviet industries. People tried to purchase items that were manufactured early or in mid month when things moved slowly enough there was some quality control.
It has been my experience that a FSU camera from the '50s, '60s or '70s that is still in mint condition is more than likely that way because it never worked right and was packed away in a closet early in its life. The good "shooters" tend to be cameras with lots of wear -- a sign that they actually worked and were used.
The Soviet Leica copies are not comparable to real Leicas. In the Leicas moving parts glide on bearings. in the Sov. Leica copies shafts just ride in holes with no bearings. The tolerances in the FSU cameras are much greater. If you take apart a Leica or one of the good Japanese copies they are darned hard to get back together because of those tight tolerances. Soviet cameras are a lot easier because there is considerable "slop."
It allegedly got so bad in the late '70s that an entire month's production from the Kiev factory was hauled directly to the landfill.
It was the whole Soviet production system that hit at any consistent quality, and design by committee! The worst example I heard of, and assuming it is true, it was on the BBC, was USSR toothbrush production, they made a range in various colours, with an exact quota to be met each year, no more, no less...but some colours made were un-popular and remained unsold. The popular colours sold out, leaving a permanent national shortage of toothbrushes, with the unwanted ones scrapped each year. Nobody corrected the situation for well over 40 years.....
If they ran the camera companies like this it explains an awful lot.......
The Kiev was a better product, after all they had the real Zeiss tooling, and German technicians making them at first, but then started simplifying the complex shutter and it all went wrong. It got better later on, but they never approached Zeiss standards, although matching them in the lenses.
A slightly odd excuse for the slack fits on Feds and Zorkis, was the cold of Russia, yes, they do work at much lower temperatures than a Leica, this was tested to my certain knowledge, as I worked at the repair company that supplied specialist Leica cameras to the Government etc, and the owner tested out the Russian clones very carefully indeed. They stood temperatures of less than -40C, any lower and the film failed anyway. He supplied special Leicas with PTFE bearings to stand -70C, Kodak supplied special low temperature film to go with them.
The best finished cameras were not Leicas, both the UK Reid and the US Kardon were better finished all round, and both suffered the same fate of late delivery after the wartime requirement had gone.
In particular the need for Leica equipment in the war was met by requisition, and the British solved it by simply buying supplies via Sweden! I was a friend of the Army Officer responsible for the procurement of the photographic equipment the Armed Forces needed in the war, and he supplied the Leica details to Reid to get the Non Metric Reid made.
He said the stores in Kent, where the cameras of all types were stored, was full to the rafters with unused cameras! quite a bit of Russian stuff turned up at the end of the war, British Troops were forbidden any access to cameras in wartime, but did trade them with Russians, after May '45 and they were confiscated by the Army if found.
This '45/'46 period was when the first rash of fake Leicas appeared, at least one source was a US motor pool in Berlin, who were finding Russian traded FED cameras and re-engraving them. They also added SS markings to anything, and Olympic markings to any Contax equipment! It was only brought to a halt when a US top Brass bought one and realised it was fake!!
The other source was Cairo, there was one man who made copies till about 1950, using Fed's, obtained, it was said, through Turkey. He could never spell correctly, many are silly mistakes, but was good at beating out the original markings.
Last Edit: May 22, 2013 17:58:36 GMT -5 by Stephen
The coloured finished Russian Rangefinder Cameras rarely showed up in the UK, TOE(ltd)., the Russian Embassy run Importer of the cameras would not touch them, saying it would have caused spares problems if the body required replacing, they preferred the black finish for this reason alone.
The Red and Brown finishes looks nice, green was never a popular colour for any cameras in the UK, although Kodak did a few in the 1930's.
It seems the coloured Russian Cameras were often better finished, they were specials, made as premium export, gifts, or Party Workers awards etc, and with the lower numbers made got better attention to assembly and finish.
TOE(ltd)sales representatives admitted they supplied such specials in the 1970's, often engraved etc., and were always especially made and reserved outside normal production, and if supplied for the UK, they were serviced and checked over by TOE(Ltd) themselves to ensure it was in 100% condition.
One of the TOE (Ltd), sales people summed it all up, he used Russian lenses on a Leica body!!, he said it was the best combination!...and expressed total frustration with Moscow about the standards and lack of steady supply that plagued the USSR in those days.
A lot of the coloured ones offered today are productions from about 1989 onwards as state run factory production collapsed, and re-organisation in the Russian optical trade occurred.
Many ex-employee's seemed to have access to old parts or spares etc, and assembled a lot of the more famous "fakes", but also re-made coloured versions of older cameras.
There cannot have been huge numbers of spares used, as also I found cameras modified from vintage ones with new vulcanite or nylon finish in colour added to what was previously a black camera.
One activity that to my certain knowledge occurred was the production of the older boxes, to add to vintage cameras and fakes, I was offered some!!
Most of the modern fake activity has faded away now, although some top end Leica fakes are still appearing, they are not altered Zorki's any more, but use a mix of original Russian parts and CNC produced body parts. I saw one a few days ago, and it was very good, a proper fake, it had all the right external Leica features, and even had "brassing wear". It was bought as a fake, and is not mine!!, and the owner has responsibly engraved "Russian" inside, on the shutter crate!!
My own interest in fakes are the "Cairo" FED fakes, made just after the war, they were sold to UK servicemen in Egypt as "Leicas" I have one example. The standard makes the Russian fakes look sophisticated, as the man who made them could not spell Leitz or Wetzlar!!! but he was good at beating out the lettering, re-engraving and re-plating the chrome, which is better than original!! The cameras were believed to have come via Turkey to Egypt from Russia.
The other FED Leica fake I have is believed to have been made in Berlin, by a US motor service unit, who delighted in engraving genuine Leica and Robot equipment with Swastikas and Luftwaffe markings, and suitable Army markings, and churned out Zeiss Contax's with 1936 Olympic Prize engraving!
The informant, and supplier, was a friend who was a camera expert, he was a specialist officer in WW2 in optical and scientific equipment, who was in charge of recovery of German equipment, perhaps not the best person to offer fake stuff to!!! He estimated that more fake Olympic prize Contax's were made than the total number of contestants at the 1936 Olympics. I wonder how many are still in US collectors hands as "Genuine".....
I have the same camera lens. The aluminium lens barrel cleans up well with brasso, rub it on thick (I use the cotton wadding type) then I use a wide shoelace to polish it into the 'rings' the shoelace gets it into the corners. You will get blackening of the alu - I think its a reaction to the polish, but when you polish that off its lovely and shiny. Small scratches will go. Deeper scratches are not so noticeable because of the shine. Brasso is good to remove surface oxidisation of aluminium.