I have two Fed 5 cameras, both have an engraving text "CCCP". The seller claims it is a special high quality camera, better assembly control than others without this label. Anyone more knowledgeable in the former russians can confirm this?
Fed 5, engraving.
Fed 5b, black "ink" label.
Both cameras works really well, and I like them a lot. The shutter makes less noise than my Leica IIIc.
It was a rather generalised Mark of Quality, rather than the individual camera's quality, the companies had to earn the mark officially from 1967, to categorise Goods of Better Quality, especially for export, but afterwards the mark could be placed on all production.
Most UK supplied Equipment did not have the mark, as they relied on the Russian owned importer, TOE(UK)ltd., to maintain quality checks. By the late 1970's it did appear here on Zorki and Fed. The marks ran till about 1991.
The general rule with the USSR camera industry was better made items went for export, with ordinary for domestic. But domestic also included special items, and often USSR customers got the cameras serviced, so Ex Soviet cameras can be quite good value.
UK supplied was better quality as the Russian Embassy owned the Importers and controlled service etc. Most Euro supplied equipment was OK, but service depended on the importer.
Officially few were sent direct to the States, and came from many sources, as secondary exports, so that the US could claim no import during restrictions.
The quality of most Russian is pot luck, you may get a good one!, but at the least a bad one can be serviced to a good standard, there is nothing wrong with the design.
What ruined the overall quality was the "could not care less attitude" of the Communist authorities, they simply meet targets and that was that.
I have just bought another Zorki C, the performance of which surprised me, as it behaves like a Leica, quiet and very smooth, and the 3.5 Industar is razor sharp. It came from the Ukraine, and I opened it up the see why, to find a re-built shutter crate, with miniature ball races on the main shaft, a new damper, improved flash contacts, and all other bearings in what looks like phosphor bronze.
Some Russian script engraved on it shows re-built in 1979, with Zorki factory markings, so possibly an employees own camera serviced and altered to his own tastes.
Retains the limited speed range etc, all dead accurate on test. The release is smooth and predictable, retaining the Zeiss, not Leica extension release connection.
So in general it is quite difficult to predict how they behave or the relationship to the markings,
The only FSU gear that I've seen that was definitely of higher quality than the norm were the "Double Zorki" Zorki 1 models. They have the name in Cyrillic and standard lettering on the top. They were generally a lot smoother in operation than the standard Zorkis and had a better finish. They were made for VIPs and export. For the most part Soviet cameras -- all Soviet cameras -- were notoriously inconsistent from a quality standpoint. I once asked a Russian camera seller why the workmanship on the cameras seemed to drop after about 1953. He said that was because that's when Stalin died. He said when Stalin was alive "if you made bad cameras, you got shot." Whas never sure if he was serious or trying to be funny.
Last Edit: Jul 11, 2014 16:31:13 GMT -5 by Deleted
The better cameras often went to Press photographers, Diplomats, Communist Party members of standing, and others who worked abroad from Russia.
The average Russian pro photographer did not usually get a special, they bought standard and had them serviced. This information came from TOE staff in London, who described the production as State organised chaos....if Moscow said make 1000 cameras, 1000 were made, then the factory stopped dead, till more instructions came through on the next economic program period.
The trouble is that it is difficult to identify the specials, but the Double Zorki is a good example, but be warned, they are faked.
After the USSR collapsed there were many years with little to do, and workshops bashed out every variant of Soviet or Leica models they could assemble. Even from Communist days, my Zorki C shows that other conversions were made as well.
A worthless variant is any thing marked for the Moscow Olympics, they put the marks on anything! I have seen Feds made 10 years before the Moscow Olympics, dated by serial number, that have engraving for it!... and the KGB never engraved cameras that they owned, although I was assured by TOE, that the shutter crate was marked with a numerical code for the KGB, who preferred Leica anyway!
One variant that does turn up are the "Cold Cameras", made with larger controls for gloved hands, almost every type of Russian Cameras had these large knobs variants, supplied to Universities, Engineers, and Scientists. If they have the bigger knobs, then usually the rest of the camera is a very good standard indeed, but be wary of post communism fakes, the knurling of the knobs may not match, or is odd finish as a give away.
Last Edit: Jul 27, 2014 14:47:53 GMT -5 by Stephen
Thanks, Stephen and Wayne, a much better answer than the wikipedia article. Bottom line, the quality sign is really not that important when buying used russian cameras. I also think russian camera on auction sites have been refurbished to a degree before sale. None of my russian cameras have been faulty or have any negative faults. I could have been lucky.
The situation is so much different now, there is choice of early models etc, and lots on Ebay, but when I worked in the photographic trade in the 1970's it was very rare to see earlier Russian cameras, we had current Feds and Zorki's, but the pre-war or just post were just not around in any quantity.
The ones that were around in the UK were all illicit imports, or purchases from tourists by the trade. Soldiers bought the cameras abroad after the war (UK servicemen were totally forbidden cameras during hostilities), but the occupying forces in Germany traded with the Russians, who were allowed cameras! US servicemen bought large quantities, and they famously started making Leica fakes to sell on. These "copies" are very basic, just a re-engraving, and nickel plating, done it is said by a US motor pool group in Berlin.
There were also a quantity that were taken to Cairo to modify for sale as Leicas, they went from the USSR via Turkey, about 1947/8. These are badly altered, the craft work is OK, but they could not spell Leica or Wetzlar, a bit of a give away! I knew the Officer who investigated the Cairo trade, and late met a customer with a "Leica", who wanted to trade it in after many years of successful use in Africa on wild life photos...He was not best pleased to be told it was a FED in disguise. He had bought it in Cairo!!!.... and had it "serviced" by a "Leica Agent" in Nairobi... who must have known it was a fake, but never told him!!
The UK virtually banned all imports after the war, with restrictions and massive tax rates, and even bringing in a camera privately might incur a large tax bill.
So by the 70's USSR cameras were rare beasts if the early types, and commanded quite high prices second hand. Most were very worn, and spares were very difficult, also most camera repair firms would not touch them, so lots that went wrong got abandoned in dark drawers, to be forgotten till now
The huge change was the collapse of the USSR, with Russians selling cameras and all the associated states selling stuff freely, the prices crashed around the late 90's, and then shot up as the new Leica fakes appeared, only to fall now to current levels, which are now at a historical low.
Last Edit: Jul 12, 2014 11:14:45 GMT -5 by Stephen