Once upon a time, a long time ago, a young boy cried and cried and cried for a camera that he dearly wanted. But in those days, long ago, cameras were very expensive and the boy’s mother always said she would buy him a camera one day when daddy got that nicer job, the job he was always talking about, the one that paid £25 a week instead of the £15 a week which his present job paid him…..
Wake up, wake up…this is a true story….and that boy was me!
I was always interested in gadgets as a child, and often made my own toys if I could, with odds and ends I found around the house. I even almost got myself killed one day, when I was trying to fit a mains power socket (yikes!) all by myself….with the mains power not switched off but still running. Not only that….I was alone at home, having flunked off school for the day, and my parents out shopping. Just thinking about it now gives me the shudders. How close I was to dying!
Anyway, I managed to short out the live and neutral, or maybe live and earth connections (I can’t remember which now) with a careless slip of my little screwdriver. There was huge bang and for a few seconds I couldn’t see anything, blinded by the bright flash. Slowly I looked at my hands…my fingertips were black, and the metal screwdriver had melted, but at least I was alive! When dad and mum came back, I kept quiet,having replaced the fuse in the main power fusebox (2nd yikes!). My age then was just 12 years!
Anyway, let’s get back to the main talk for today…
The camera I was crying for was a Zorki. At that age, as now, it looked fabulous. I had already seen my uncle use one and had even had the opportunity to shoot a photo of him and his wife with it. From that day on, I wanted one.
But, as the story above says, dad, although he was a qualified accountant, couldn’t get a suitable job in his field, so he had no choice but to take any job in order to feed us….he took the first job offered to him, making coffee tables at a local wood machinist factory. He used to get up at 5 am, wash, eat get dressed and walk to the bus stop to get to work, come rain, come shine. And he would come back home absolutely exhausted…I still remember how sorry I felt for him, as I knew he was highly educated and this job was not for him.
He earned just £15 a week, that’s roughly $22! And with that wage, he was able to feed my mother, my 2 siblings, pay the bills and the mortgage, too! But things were tight…damn tight. We hardly bought anything….when we kids cried for toys, dad would take us to the local High Street where the big shops were, and we’d stand outside the shop windows looking at all the toy cars, robots and things, and tell him which ones we wanted. He would say “Ok, that’s great…I will buy them for you one day very soon, ok?”. And with that, we’d all come back home.
So you can imagine what an effect I was having on my parents with me asking for a camera that cost more than 6 months’ salary, or approaching that. Sometimes, my dad would lose his cool and tell me why I kept wanting another camera, when we already had one, a Yashicamat tlr, the one I still have and still use.
But I still wanted that Zorki! And because it was from the CCCP, it had an exotic aura about it…don’t forget, those were Cold War days, and anything to do with Russia or the Communist Bloc had a cachet about it, something very exciting, very James Bond, very Man from Uncle, about it!
Fast forward by birthday….I was sitting there opening all my presents, brand new clothes..wow! Then, at the very end, when the birthday candles on top of the homemade cake had been blown out, and we had all eaten up our cake, my dad went to the other room and came back with another present….it was for me.
“But dad…Ive already opened all my presents!” I said, surprised. But no, he said, this was definitely for me. I ripped the parcel apart, wondering what it could be. With the final bit of wrapping falling off, a cardboard box was revealed, a brand new cardboard box, and in it, was a just as brand new….Zorki camera! My face must have had the biggest smile ever at that time, as I saw tears in my dad’s eyes as he looked at me handling that camera…god knows how he managed to buy it for me on his wage.
Righto! That’s the story behind my Zorki. Now, what are the specs of the camera and more importantly, what is it like to use and what can it do? Read on….
First of all, let’s clear up a myth….there is no such thing as a Zorki 1….its a story created by writers. All the Zorki cameras, which are modeled after the Leica II are called Zorki. There is a Zorki with a number in front of it, and its the Zorki 2 (this has a self-timer added).
The Zorki cameras was one of the first rangefinder cameras to be built by KMZ in the USSR (KMZ stands for Krasnogorsk Mechanical Factory). It was indeed a copy of the Leica screw model, and also looked similar to the other Russian camera, the FED.
Produced between 1948 and 1956, with a M39 screw mount interchangeable lens.
Some models have the Cyrillic lettering Зоркий on them, whihc translated is “Zorki”, meaning sharp-sighted.
In the second world war, the factory where the FED cameras were made was hurriedly moved to avoid the advancing German armies (don’t forget, the Zorki is modeled after the FED camera, which in turn was modeled after the Leica!).
Once the war was over, production was restarted on the FED models, and a new one, the Zorki, a much smaller and smarter looking model, was designed.
There are 5 models to choose from in the Zorki range, with slight differences in design and additions.
The Zorki came with 4 main lens types, namely
- Industar-22 (3.5/50mm)
- Industar-50 (3.5/50mm)
- ZK 50/2, ZK 50/1.5
- Jupiter-8 (2/52mm)
Shutter: A Leica-derived horizontal traverse focal plane cloth shutter, speeds: 1/20 – 1/500, +Z. The shutter is identical in design to the shutter used in Leica II cameras.
The Z on the shutter speed dial, in German, means Zeit = “Time”, following the traditional German style for marking manually timed exposures. Z was replaced with “B” after 1955 or so.
Frame counter: Additive type, rotates 360-1 degrees. Reset manually by turning the frame counter beneath the cocking knob to Zero position, using the “nipples” on the counter disc. The counter disc must be turned CLOCKWISE only.
Engravings around the opening ring at the bottom of the camera: ЗAКР (close) and ОTKP (open)
There is a mounting shoe on top of the camera, but is not a hot shoe as in modern cameras.
Tripod thread size: 3/8 inch. A bushing adapter must be used to allow the camera to be used on tripods with the now common 1/4 thread.
- Body: Metal; Weight: around 520g.
- No flash sync socket, no self timer.
- No strap lugs on the camera body.
- As with other Soviet rangefinders, Zorki’s shutter speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and should not be touched until after the shutter has fired. Also, if you change the shutter speed without cocking the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film.
What the Zorki can do, etc
Well, one of its lenses, the Industar 22 is based on the famous Zeiss Tessar, and so it gives you fantastic sharp shots, with good contrast and colours.
It’s a camera made of solid metal, no plastic here, is a handy size and just feels so comfortable in your hand. Ok, it can be carried around in your pocket, but this is one heavy bugger alright….be sure you’re wearing suspenders (to hold up your trousers, silly, nothing to do with stockings…..!). And like another camera I often use, the Nikon F Photomic, a solid brick of a camera, this one can be used as weapon to hit a would-be mugger on his head as well!
To use it demands a slow, methodical pace, something that seemingly doesn’t exist any more, in this wonderful, instant-gratification world of ours. First, you cock the shutter (you know, every time I use that word, I feel real guilty that someone, somewhere, will think I am a dirty old man or something..but hey, that’s the word everyone uses..), then set your shutter speed by lifting the knob (!) and turning it to your chosen speed. Then, you set your chosen aperture on the front of the lens. Right, that done, its back to the rear of the camera, where you will see 2 windows. Use the first window on your right to compose your shot, then move your eye over to the 2nd window, which is your rangefinder window, and slowly turn the lens by its lever at the front and make sure both images coincide, inside the rangefinder. Finally, press the shutter and you’re done.
Nobody is saying the Zorki is as good as the Leica. It’s not in the same league, for heaven’s sake. But lets not forget that even though some may think it is inefficient and tricky to use, it’s exactly the same technology as the Leica that Henri Cartier-Bresson used to produce his incredible street shots. It’s fully manual, fully mechanical, and no light meters or batteries for anything.
Using it is an acquired taste, I’d say. Once you get the hang of it, and you’ll really like the way it gets you to slow right down…you know, think about what you’re doing, rather than pressing the damn shutter button on your digital camera every nano second, without even thinking what the hell you’re shooting…you know what I mean.
And if you’re into street shoots, well dude, this is the man for it! The Zorki is so small and discrete, nobody but nobody will even caste an eyeball at you when you’re using it. Beats poking a massive DSLR or SLR with a tree-trunk of a lens stuck on its end, into someone’s face, eh? And if you’re shooting in a run down area, and you get mugged and the thing gets stolen, well, so what, man? You can buy them for a few bucks, so go get another one!
Now..the myth about the Jupiter lens. Ok, so the Jupiter may just be better made than the Industar one, but, you know what they say about buying a used car….if it runs well, buy it. So what I’m saying is I’ve used my Zorki with an Industar lens and a Jupiter as well, and there ain’t much difference between the 2 of ’em, I tell ya.
All in all, the Zorki is an amazing camera and a great conversational piece to boot, give it a shot if I were you, and let everyone think you’re wearing a camera from Indiana Jones or something….go on, go ahead. What? You don’t know where to get the best deal? Well drop me a line anytime and I’ll be happy to help you find one. Deal?
Now, feast your eyes on some shots taken by this camera (all shots courtesy flickr.com):