cameras, photos and stories
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II, the Red Army had acute need for precision optical instruments. The existing factories were either inaccessible, such as LOMO in besieged Leningrad, or overloaded with demand, such as Fed which had just been evacuated from Kharkov in Ukraine to Berdsk that is north east of Kazakhstan. Because of this and the huge demand from the Red Army for optical equipment, the Fed factory was unable to meet that demand.
The Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod) or KMZ factory was set up in 1942 as Krasnogorsk Optical Works in Sverdlovsk in the Urals. In 1944 the factory moved to Krasnogorsk, a western suburb of Moscow, which by then was no longer in immediate danger from German troops, on the site of a recently evacuated mechanical plant.
The KMZ factory was intended during the war to meet the demand for optical equipment for the Red Army. Initially the company took over production of scopes and binoculars as well as reconnaissance cameras.
After the war
After the end of the war in 1945 KMZ began producing photographic lenses to the specifications of the Carl Zeiss corporation, whose factory in Jena had been overrun by the Red Army and largely carted off as war reparations.
In 1946 the factory started making cameras; first the Moskva folding camera.
Even after the war, Fed struggled to produce the Leica II copies. In 1948 KMZ therefore started to assembly Fed cameras to compensate for the slow production of cameras from the Fed factory. KMZ had come out of the war reasonably unscathed and production of the rangefinders was resumed under a joint Fed-Zorki logo. After Fed moved back to Kharkov from Siberia, Fed 1 production was resumed and KMZ started producing the camera under its own name. In 1949 started the production of cameras under the name Zorki. In 1952, KMZ created an SLR based on the Zorki, and thus the Zenit was born. More about the Zenits you will find on another page of this website.
The first Zorki camera was the Zorki 1. This small rangefinder was a copy of the Fed 1, which was on itself a copy of the Leica II. The Zorki 1 was produced from 1947 to 1956. Quite a few types were made that differ little from each other. In all, more than 835,000 have been produced. In comparison ’only’ 52,500 of the original Leica II were produced from 1932 to 1948.
After the war, the Soviet Union decided that the Fed cameras would be intended for the home market and the Zorki's more for
the export market. The 1934 Leica II was the basis for the pre-war Fed 1 and so the Zorki 1 is also a Leica II copy. The cameras are hardly distinguishable from each other. That was also the source of inspiration for scammers to provide Feds and Zorkis with
Leica symbols and sell them as Leicas. Some are dressed in such an exotic way that you can see at a glance that this is not a Leica, but there are also those that approach the Leicas very faithfully.
The story goes that the Zorkis are of a better quality than the Feds but of incomparably less quality than the real Leica IIs. I have a copy of all three cameras in my collection, as well as an obvious fake Leica, but I dare to question that 'huge' difference in quality. There is not that much difference between the cameras or between the lenses. The Industars and Jupiters are also capable of excellent results.
I suspect that the quality control in the last years of the Stalin regime was very strict. You didn't want to be the one who signed a bunch of bad export cameras. Even after him under Khrushchev, controls were still strict not only on production but also on the workers themselves. But under Khrushchev a new economic wind started blowing. There was more attention and space for research and development and less for heavy industry and mass production, although the unrealistic planned economy was maintained.
The first Zorki had never een number in the name. It was a exact copy of the 1932 Leica II. So the Zorki is a rangefinder camera with an M39 screw mount and interchangeable lenses. It featured a 50mm f/3.5 Industar-22 lens. This is a collapsible lens.
It looked like the Leitz Elmar but the design is actually a copy of the Zeiss Tessar. The Zorkis were delivered with different standard lenses.
The Zorki was introduced in 1948 and it was produced until 1956 in Krasnogorsk. The Zorki was the first 35mm camera made by KMZ. The Zorkis cameras were intended for export.
The shutter is a horizontal focal-plane shutter with the standard shutter speeds of 1/20 to 1/500 seconds and of course B. The same type of shutter that was used in the
Leica II. The rangefinder has a separate window to focus and a see-through viewfinder to compose the shot. That meant that you couldn’t compose and focus at the same time through the same viewfinder.
Like the Barnack Leicas, the Zorki is loaded by removing the bottom and sliding the film into the slot of the take-up reel and then sliding the whole thing back into the camera. But before this hassle a part of the film's lead, about 25 cm, has to be cut in the length after which one half has to be cut off. Actually apart from this cutting business I think this is easier than loading a film by removing the whole back.
Like the Leica II and the Fed I, the Zorki is a well-handled camera. The retractable lens makes the camera very portable. It fits in a jacket pocket without any problem. There are only two points that make the usability of the camera a lot less. The separated windows for framing and focusing and loading a film.
About 800.000 of the Zorki were produced.
Prices on Ebay for a Zorki go from € 35,00 to € 90,00. Remarkable is that a refurbished Zorki in a Leica II has been sold for € 170,00. Fake is hot.
In 1954 the Zorki C was introduced. The camera is similar to the Zorki but features a flash sync. After adding a self timer they changed the name in Zorki 2C. The design of the Zorki 2 is in my opinion ruined by placing the shutter speed knob
and the cold shoe on top of the camera. The sleek design of the Zorki is there by lost. That doesn’t mean the Zorki 2 is a bad camera. The copy in my collection a Zorki 2C from 1959 works flawlessly with a beautiful shutter sound.
Only 10,000 copies of the Zorki 2 may be produced. There are 7 for sale on Ebay between € 40.00 and € 120.00