cameras, photos and stories
The first 35mm camera produced in the Soviet Union was the FED. The small Leica copies were produced in F.E. Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926) children's commune in Kharkov, the then capital of Ukraine. Originally, the children's commune was a kind of educational institution for orphans, where children both learned and perform production work. F.E. Dzerzhinsky was one of the founders of the Soviet secret police, the Cheka. The fact that such a man known as a bloodthirsty killer is associated with a children's orphanage is remarkable to say the least
In the twenties of the last century, Russia and later also the Soviet Union had to deal with a huge number of orphaned children.
The First World War, followed by the Revolution and the Civil War, had orphaned many children. Then came the famine of 1921 and 1922. In total, about 16 million Russians lost their lives during this period. In addition, many parents had lost contact with their children. The Soviet authorities were confronted with some 7 million abandoned or orphaned homeless children, the besprizorniki, who roamed the vast country. The People's Commisariat of Education (Narkompros) in 1920 brought this huge problem to the attention of Dzerzhinsky. Dzerzhinsky was apparently moved by the misery of these millions of children and decided to use his secret police, the Cheka, to do something about the problem of these abandoned children. His arguments were that his Cheka was a very efficient organization and that people took the Cheka seriously; in other words, they were terrified of it. In early 1921, a committee to improve the lives of children was installed with Dzerzhinsky as its chairman. It caused quite a bit of unrest that precisely this man was going to improve the lives of children.
Most besprizorniki tried to survive by begging. Or by doing small jobs for everyone. But in the heavily impoverished Soviet Union that was not easy and certainly not for the huge numbers that had to survive. A large number ended up in prostitution. Inevitably, juvenile delinquency increased dramatically. Hunger and cold left few other choices open to the children.
The Soviet authorities not only wanted to (re)educate these homeless children, but they wanted to focus their education on all children in the Soviet Union by realizing a huge communist movement among young people. The People's Commissariat for Education was given the task of organizing orphanages and education for the abandoned children. The orphanages were established in a spirit of revolutionary idealism, but were soon overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem of housing and feeding all these millions.
The F.E. Dzerzhinsky working commune was one of the orphanages founded for the besprizorniki, the abandoned children. A certain Anton Makarenko was the first director. Makarenko devised a kind of combination of learning and working. He had already put this principle into practice in the so-called Gorky Colony. The children worked and learned under strict military discipline and competition. While conditions in the other orphanages were dramatic, the Gorky Colony was said to be doing better.
Dzerzhinsky died in 1926. In the same year, the OGPU, the successor to the Cheka, decided to establish a children's commune under his name as a tribute to Dzerzhinsky. The F.E. Dzerzhinsky children's commune. Makarenko was appointed as the first director in 1927. Under his leadership, the institute acquired such a reputation that many international visitors were shown around. Makarenko therefore received full cooperation from the authorities. The commune and the workshop were housed in new buildings. The number of orphans grew from 150 in 1927 to 600 in 1935. The children were between the ages of 13 and 17, both girls and boys.
The children were engaged in making locks, simple furniture, clothes and shoes. There was also a foundry. At first only for their own use and with the help of craftsmen from outside the commune, but soon orders came from outside the commune and the children were skilled enough to do it without outside help. The commune became a self-supporting institution. By the end of 1929, furniture production was in the thousands. The children were paid better and the commune had its own Komsomol and Pioneer organization, in which sports, drama and even photography took place.
In 1928, Stalin launched his first 5-year plan. The Soviet Union changed from a peasant state to an industrial state. It was both Lenin's and Stalin's policy to make the Soviet Union a fully autarkic economy independent and isolated from the capitalist outside world.
But to do that, the Soviet Union had to first use technology from the west. They did this without the enormous costs involved in research and development. International patents were considered largely irrelevant by the Soviet authorities. This also applies to Leica's patents on all kinds of developments in camera techniques.
The collectivization of agriculture would deprive millions of farmers of their property and many of them of their lives. Sudden changes in policy had fatal
consequences for many.
The industrialization of the Soviet Union came alive during this time; also in the field of photography. The first Soviet cameras, albeit in small numbers, were produced in 1929 and 1930. More than a million of the Fotokor, a folding plate camera, were produced.
The Dzerzhinsky commune was also affected. In 1930, a faculty of the technical school in Kharkov was established on the commune to bring the students up to the entrance level of the university. The commune then set up its own fully-fledged factory. Electric hand drills were produced in a new building from 1931. Like the later cameras, this drill was also named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the FD-1. Later followed by the FD-2 and 3 and all based on American Black & Decker machines.
And then in 1932 it was decided to start making cameras based on German Leicas. Sometime in June 1932, a research department for the production of Soviet Leicas was established in the commune. Both the production of the drills and the cameras had the main purpose of making the economy of the Soviet Union independent of other countries.
The first Soviet Leicas were produced in the same year. The cameras were exact copies of the Leica A, including the famous hockey stick and even including the separate rangefinder, which Leica had developed for the Leica A. These first Soviet Leicas were equipped with a 50 mm 3.5 lens made in Leningrad at VOOMP.
The Soviet Leica was a huge prestige project for the Soviet authorities. Nothing of the complexity of a Leica had ever been realized in the Soviet Union or in ancient Russia. A whole new building was even built for it, with a capacity of 30,000 cameras per year. But by the end of 1933, only 30 Leica A copies had been made.
The real Fed production began in January 1934. The name of the camera was nothing but the initials of the old director of the Cheka, F.E. Dzerzhinsky.
The lenses for these cameras were now also made on the grounds of the commune. By April 1934, however, the production of Leica A copies was discontinued and they started with copiing the Leica II with built-in a rangefinder. In the first year of production 4000 Feds were built. They were fitted with a lens that also had the name Fed engraved on it, a 50mm 3.5 lens.
text was engraved on the top plate of the camera: FED/Trudkommuna/im./F.E. Dzerzhinkogo/Kharkov. It all just barely fittrd on the small camera. The shutter speeds were the familiar range of 1/20 to 1/500 second and Z from Zeit. In the latter position, the
lens remained open, so you could use shutter speeds slower than 1/20 of a second.
In 1934 a profound change in the organization of the Soviet system took place. The police tasks of the OGPU were transferred to the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. And so the Dzerzhinsky commune also came directly under the NKVD. The already significant text on top of the Fed camera now became: FED/Trudkommuna/NKVD-USSR/im./F.E.Dzerzhinskogo/Kharkov. The appearance of the camera also underwent changes; there was a hot shoe, a smaller shutter speed dial and a rectangular viewfinder frame. That last detail distinguishes a Fed from a Leica II.
The Dzerzhinsky commune had grown to 600 members by 1935. Virtually every aspect of camera production was done in the commune itself. With the success came the problems. The demand for the Fed camera was high, but a good camera system requires more than just the camera. The demand for accessories such as lenses and for instance enlargers also increased and in order to meet this the organization of the commune had to be overhauled. I
In July 1935 Makarenko was relieved of his duties. Two years
later, the school and the factory were separated. The factory came under the control of the NKVD and the young people who both learned and worked there were gradually replaced by 'ordinary' workers. In March 1937, the government ended the combination of learning
and working across the country.
Meanwhile, the production of Fed cameras continued and in the course of 1937 more accessories were delivered, such as light meters, self timers, developing tanks, etc. Most of the accessories were also copies of Leica accessories. But there was also criticism of the high price and low quality.
In 1938, the demand for more lenses for the Feds was met. In addition to the 50mm standard lens with a maximum aperture of 3.5, there was a fast standard lens with a 2.0 aperture and new lenses such as a 28mm and a 100mm lens were produced. In addition, new models of Fed cameras had been developed with shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 1/1000 second. But few of these new types were produced.
In 1939 the Fed factory was renamed the F.E. Dzerzhinsky Kombinat. The name Kombinat was given in the Soviet Union to a large industrial complex with different sites that were responsible for the different steps in the production process. In mid-1939, the 100,000th Fed was produced. That the Fed was not the only Soviet camera is apparent from the total production figures for Sovjet cameras cameras before the war: 478,600.
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the total number of Feds produced until then was 175,000. As German forces advanced, Soviet troops evacuated industrial enterprises to places beyond the Ural Mountains. Everything they couldn't take with them was destroyed; burnt earth tactics. At the end of the war Kharkov was completely destroyed by the retreating Germans. Of the buildings of the Dzerzhinsky commune, only rubble remained.
After the war, camera production was restarted. The buildings of the former Dzerzhinsky commune were rebuilt. In 1947 the total camera production was already almost 100,000 copies. The Fed was the only pre-war Soviet camera that went back into production
almost unchanged after the war. The factory's close ties to the pre-war secret police no longer seem to exist after the war.
From 1948, a second Leica II copy, the Zorki, almost identical to the Fed I, was made by the KMZ factory near Moscow. During the war, the KMZ factory had played an important role in the production of optical instruments for the Red Army, among other things. It was a strange thing that two nearly identical cameras were produced simultaneously in such a centrally controlled state. But the idea was that the Zorki, the camera made by KMZ, was for export, while the Fed was more for the internal market.
The Fed 1 looked very much like the Leica II. However many call the Fed cruder. There are indeed a number of optical differences that distinguish the Fed from the Leica. For example, the rangefinder cam is pointed and not circular like in Leicas, the shutter release buttons and search windows look a little different and real Leicas have instructions for loading the film printed onto the inner surface of the base plate. However, the cameras are so similar that Feds and also Industar lenses could be provided with Leica and Elmar inscriptions and sold as very special Leica camera's . Often these Fed's are sold as old Wehrmacht Leicas, because these Leica's are very pricy on the second hand market. If someone looks into it a bit more, it is not difficult to see these are not Leicas. In addition, some specimens are so extremely pimped that they hurt your eyes. But prices of the nicer ones are certainly going up. While you can buy a good Fed I for around 100 euro the fake Leica's are being sold for 250 euro and sometimes more.
This old Fed I's but the same goed for Fed II and III's are not bad cameras you have to avoid. The Feds in my collection from that era all work without a hitch and most likely without ever having had a CLA service. That cannot be said of the Leicas. Especially the lubricants used by Leica deteriorate strongly and have to be replaced by modern lubricants at some point. According to a camera repairman, this was because Leica used more natural-based agents, while the Russians used more industrial chemical agents. Another point might be that as far as the Feds are concerned, only the good ones have survived, and the bad ones have simply been thrown away. An almost Darwinian survival of the fittest. A 'bad' Leica was much less common due to the extreme quality controls and if there was a bad one, it was sent back by the owner to be repaired. You don't throw away a Leica.
Production of the first Fed model ceased in 1955 and the camera was succeeded by the Fed 2. The Fed 2 (ФЭД) is a 35mm rangefinder. Production ran from 1955 to 1970, during which time 1,632,600 cameras were produced. Fed 2 has been produced for quite
a long time. The Fed 2 was offered in a lot of versions with different features.
There are older versions with shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500 and B. While from 1959 the standardized shutter speeds were used: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 , 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and B. On the Fed 1 and Fed 2, the shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1 second were still missing.
Early Fed 2 versions were equipped with a folding Industar-10 50 mm F/3.5 made by Fed itself. Outwardly it looked like a Leitz Elmar copy but optically it was more like a Zeiss Tessar.
More often than with the foldable Industar-10, the Fed 2s come with an Industar-26m or later the Industar-61. The Industar-26m 50 mm F/2.8 is a coated Tessar type lens. It was sold with the Fed 2 from 1957. As is common in rangefinder cameras, the closest focusing distance is 1 meter.
Later, from 1964, the Fed 2 came with the Industar-61 50mm ƒ/2.8, a modified Industar-26m. It is a multicoated lens and has clicks between each F stop.
The cameras were manufactured in Kharkov in Ukraine.
The Fed 2 is a much improved version and can therefore no longer be called a copy of the Leica Barnack. The design of the FED 2 is quite different from that of its predecessor. Loading film was made a lot easier.
In stead of removing the bottom plate of the camera the entire back had to be removed. In this way it was easier to handle the film. A system that was used much earlier in the Contax and Kiev cameras. It makes loading film much easier and faster, although
sliding the back wall back can also be quite a hassle. An even more important improvement was that in the Fed 2 the rangefinder window was combined with the composition window (viewfinder). A system that Contax already used in its models before the war, but
which Leica only introduced in the M3. That also meant a huge improvement in ease of use. Another major improvement was an extension of the rangefinder base to 67mm. The longer the base of the rangefinder is, ie the distance between the two rangefinder windows
on the front of the camera, the more accurate the focus can be. In addition, the camera was equipped with an adjustable diopter and a self-timer.
Many Feds came with Industar lenses. On the folding Fed lens, the aperture is set in the front and is focused with a lever near the body. The rangefinder is coupled to the lens. The field of view in the viewfinder is that of a 5 cm lens. Other focal lengths require a separate viewfinder on the accessory shoe.
According to repair experts, the Fed 2 was more reliable and better made than the Fed 1. The molded Fed 2 camera body is much sturdier than its predecessor.
Often the Soviet cameras are considered just bad copies of the Leicas or Contaxes. But that seriously falls short of models like the Fed 2. The Fed 2 is a well-made, good-quality camera. The copies that have survived the test of time often still work fine without having enjoyed a CLA major overhaul in all those years. Think about that in comparison with Leica's from the fifties.
The Fed 2 is one of the nicer Soviet cameras. One of its most famous users was none other than Pablo Picasso.
he Fed 3B was produced from 1963-1980 (type B) FED in Kharkov Ukraine. It is a 35 mm coupled rangefinder camera. Of course it is fully manual and there is no build in light meter. The shutter speeds go from 1 second to 1/500 of a second. The camera
is equipped with a adjustable diopter and a self timer. There is even a flash sync connection. For a small camera it is rather heavy 719 g with the Industar 61 52 mm 1/2.8 lens. A lens with the 39 mm Leica mount. There were as with all other Feds lots of somewhat
different models. The model in my collection is a Fed 3 type B. There were also a Fed 3A, Fed 3L and 3 L/D. They looked different because they had a stepped top deck.
The Fed 3 was equipped with shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/30 of a second. This was at the expense of the land rangefinder base of the Fed 2. So focusing was a little less accurate. The wind knob was replaced with a ‘modern’ lever.
As the Fed 2 the Fed 3 is a well built camera with a very sharp lens. Contrary to the Fed 2 which in my opinion is a beautiful camera design the Fed 3 is a lot less beautiful not to say ugly. The width of both camera’s is the same but the 3 is much higher and the top deck is completely different.
When you wind the film the shutter speed selector turns also. Most of the Sovjet camera’s of this era are designed like this. If so never change the shutter speed without first cocking the shutter!!! If you not you will damage the shutter. If you have cocked the shutter and you change the shutter speed it won’t operate smoothly. You can feel some grinding. Don’t worry this is normal and won’t damage anything. There is something strange about this camera. It has no strap lugs. You have to carry it in its ‘every ready’ case. A very heavy and sturdy leather case.
The Fed 1 was a copy of the Leica ii from the 30ies. The Fed 2 was an original design and this also goes for the Fed 3 be it not a very esthetic design. If you put a Fed 3 next to a Leica iii or M you see very different camera’s.
Between 1961 (Fed 3A) and 1980 over two million camera’s were produced
The Fed 4 is a 35mm film rangefinder camera made by FED in Charkov Ukraine and produced between 1964 and 1980 with quantity 633.096 units. The copy in may collection is from 1974. As you can see on the pictures it looks like new and it works flawlessly.
The main improvement over the FED-3 is the uncoupled selenium light meter at the front of the camera. On top of the camera is a window with a red and a yellow needle and a large knob with the aperture
values, the shutter speeds and the Sovjet variant of ISO values, so called GOST. By turning the large knob so that so that the yellow and red needle coincide you can read the right combination of shutter speed and aperture. Next you can set these values on
the camera and the lens respectively.
The Fed 4 uses an old fashioned winding knob instead of the ‘modern’ lever of the Fed 3 to transport the film. Rewinding of the film is done with a thumb-wheel on the right side of the camera, I have never seen such a design on any other 35 mm camera. This has to do with the place of the light meter where normally the rewind knob is placed.
The placement of the meter calculator leaves the rewind as a thumb-wheel on the end of the camera.
The camera is equipped with a Industar-61 (ИНДУСТАР ) 52mm f/2.8 lens and a 39 mm screw mount.
It is a rangefinder so focusing is done by matching yellow rangefinder images in the viewfinder.
The shutter is a horizontal focal plane shutter with a rubberized silk double cloth curtain. The shutter speeds go from 1 second to 1/500 second.
The camera is equipped with a diopter correction, done with a ring round the viewfinder and a self timer
Changing film is done by removing the back of the camera which opens by two folding levers on the bottom plate.
Prices on Ebay are all over the place from € 30,00 to € 140,00
The Fed 5 is a 35mm rangefinder camera that was produced from 1977 until 1996. The Fed 5 marked the end of the FED rangefinder family. It was intended to replace both the Fed 3 and Fed 4, which were in production
at the time of its introduction.
The Fed 5 is an updated Fed 4, with a rewind knob in stead of the thumb-wheel at the side of the Fed 4, a hot shoe, restyled film reminder/frame counter and meter rings, and the meter scale repositioned and converted from a match-needle to an EV-scaled device where the user manually transfers the meter reading to the calculator.
As with all the Fed cameras there were several version (17 in total). The original Fed 5 for instance had an exposure meter like the Fed 4 but the here shown Fed 5B was a cheaper version without the meter.
All Fed 5 cameras were supplied with an Industar I-61L/D 53 mm f/2.8 lens. It is a rangefinder. So to focus you have to match yellow images in the viewfinder. Of great help twist that is the diopter correction ring round the viewfinder. The Fed 5 uses a lever to cock the shutter and to transport the film The shutter is a rubberized silk double cloth shutter with shutter speeds from 1 to 1/500 of a second. New and a big improvement is a frame counter coupled with the cocking lever that auto resets itself. The camera is equipped with a so called hot shoe, which couples the flash direct to the camera without the need of a pc port.
As with the other Fed cameras to load film you have to remove the back of the camera by turning to small levers at the bottom plate. When you are in a place where you can put the back safely aside loading is no problem.
In 1997 the Fed factory stated that production of all kinds of cameras has stopped. Since the beginning in the 30ies they had produced around 8,5 million cameras.
The Fed Zarya is a bit of a outsider.It is a 35mm film camera but its not a rangefinder but a viewfinder. That means that there is no way to check if your subject is in focus. The only way is to use zone focusing. As all Feds the Zarya was
manufactured by F.E. Dzerzhinsky factory (FED) in Kharkov, Ukraine. It was produced between 1959-61 and 141.288 copies were manufactured.
The Zarya is a simplified cheaper version of the Fed 2b.
It was restyled with a very prominent viewfinder on top of the camera. It was intended for the Soviet domestic market. The Zarya came usual with an Industar-26m 52mm f2.8 lens, but the 39 mm mount accepts any Zorki, Fed or Leica M39 lenses. The copy on this page is equipped with a 50 mm 3.5 lens