Film Is Not Dead: Adventures with Soviet Union 35mm Film Cameras


Although growing up in post-Communist Poland in the 90s had it challenges, there were also some perks. One of those are the Soviet knock-off cameras, which could be found in many Polish households. Whilst the other side of Berlin Wall could enjoy models such as the Leica II, the Eastern side would use models produced by the KMZ (Krasnogorsky Zavod) with the Zorki brand being a direct copy of Leica cameras. On the other hand, the Zenit line was an attempt to expand KMZ’s product range into the SLR market.


Zorki 4 – the 35mm rangefinder

The Zorki 4 rangefinder camera (pictured below) was arguably the most popular of all Zorki cameras, with over 1.7 million units produced. It is fair to say that those cameras can withstand the trials of time. My unit is over 53 years old and is still fully functional, even though it clearly endured some beating over the years.


The unit itself comprises of the leather casing, the camera body and, in this case, interchangeable Jupiter-8 (ЮПИТЕР) 50mm f/2 lens. Full camera specification can be found here.

Despite its old age, Zorki 4 is still capable of producing good shots, even if its current owner is not so competent at handling its fully manual operation. Having loaded the Ilford HP5+ 400asa 35mm film I was ready to explore the streets of Liverpool. From the available 36 exposures I have only produced about 18 images, with the rest being lost to either my incapability to load/unload the film or just over/under exposing the images. The learning curve certainly hit me hard as this was my first experience with fully manual camera and the lack of quick preview after the shot made me so much more conscious of every shot I was taking.

However, despite my shortcomings I was able to take few decent exposures that I’d like to share with you in the slideshow below. To see an image in higher resolution click on the slide.



Zenit ET – the 35mm SLR

Over the years the Zenit brand associated with 35mm film SLR cameras was manufactured across the USSR, firstly by KMZ and then by MMZ-BelOMO, near Minsk. The unit in my possession can be identified as Zenit ET type 5b and contrastingly to Zorki 4 model, it is only around 24 years old.

Similarly to the aforementioned rangefinder camera, the whole package consists of leather casing, camera body and MC Helios-44M-6 58mm f/2, automatic diaphragm, filter thread 52mm lens. The full camera specification can be found here.dsc_7237
In terms of taking pictures, with the younger Zenit ET I didn’t have as much luck. From the two rolls of Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 colour film I used, there was only a handful of images I was happy with. This time the photographs span across the North of England, with images being present from Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle. The main issue that I have found with the exposures that I was taking was the lack of sharpness which could be derived from my lack of knowledge of the operation of manual SLRs. Additionally, the absence of vision correction on this camera (which was surprisingly present on the Zorki 4) has proven to be a challenge.
Nevertheless, there are few captures that I’d like to share with you and they are present in the slideshow below. To see an image in higher resolution click on the slide.

A few extra words…

This is certainly not the end for me and those cameras as I am determined to learn more about the manual nature of the both units. Having seen the photos taken by my parents, from whom I have inherited the cameras, I am confident that I can produce equally good shots as those they showed me when old and dusty photo albums were taken out. For now, however, I will leave you with the rest of images I have prepared for this scribe session. To see an image in higher resolution click on the slide.




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