Soviet Cameras

I picked up my ’53 Smena from the shop today, and was shown in detail how to navigate its somewhat tricky order of operations. A fun exercise in Russian, definitely. They’re going to find someone who can fix my leather case, too. Afterward, they brought out a few other old cameras, and let me choose one “as a little present”. I’m now the proud owner of a ’73 Zorki 4k! It’s an export model as nothing’s written in Cyrillic, (Made in the USSR is on the back) but it’s still really cool. Great start to the week, I think.

I got my Smena when I was in briefly Kyiv on my way to Lviv for New Years. I was walking down Andriivsky Uzviz with some friends when I spotted one of the few vendors still out in the cold selling old cameras. I said hello, picked up the Smena, and asked her if it still worked. She replied with an “of course it works, it’s from the ’50s!” I replied, in my broken terrible Russian “I live in Sumy, and I looked and looked for such an old camera. In the bazaar I found old cameras, and when I asked the men who sell them ‘Does this work?’ and they answered, ‘Of course not, it’s from the ’50s!”

She proceeded to open the case, release the shutter over and over again, and kept telling me that it was from the USSR, so it was naturally of the highest quality. She really wanted me to understand the year in which it was made, and though I said repeatedly that I understood, she took out her calculator and entered in 1953, pointed to another camera, punched in its year, and kept going. The Smena came with an awesome leather case as well. That night, at a dim bar while waiting for our train I tried to figure out how to load the film I’d bought at a kiosk outside the metro. I’d completely forgotten most of what I’d learned in photography classes over the years, but I did make some small breakthroughs that I decided to try in the morning light.

I took two rolls of film in Lviv, but noticed that something was wrong–tiny bits of film were chewed up and left inside the body of the camera once the film had been rewound into the cartridge. I took the film to Ruslan, who owns a print shop near my school, and warned him that the film might be severely damaged. Turns out it was torn and eaten so badly that though he was able to develop the negatives, he couldn’t make any prints. Luckily he knew a guy who repairs cameras, and on a very rainy sunday he took me to the little shop on the third floor of a brick building near the bazaar.

I’ve been fiddling about with the Zorki, and it’s really very cool. I haven’t taken either the Smena or the Zorki out yet, as I’ve been trying to relearn a bit about photography in order to take the best pictures I can in the cloudy mid-February conditions we’ve got going on right now.

The Zorki is a rangefinder camera, which means that you focus by matching up a small, bright square ghost image with the image you see through the viewfinder. Apparently the Zorki is a Leica copy, and a pretty solid camera. I’m really looking forward to taking it out and doing a bit of street photography.

Here’s a video that tells you a lot about the Zorki 4k:

And one about the Smena that would have been helpful to have found a few weeks ago:


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