Zorki 4k

Zorki 4K Review – Following the Wisdom of Tolstoy

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” – Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer.

This quote from Russia’s most famous writer was commonly used by my grandfather, who sadly passed away recently. For a long time, I was not aware of its meaning, until the Zorki 4K, a Former Soviet Union (FSU) rangefinder, found its way into my hands. Quickly I realized that the beautiful Leica II duplicate polarizes the community quite a bit. People seem to either love or hate it. The more I was getting into the camera and the more effort I spent, this famous saying came back to my mind. Despite the camera frustrating me to no end at the beginning, I remained patient and got rewarded with true beauty. This article is about why I love the Zorki 4K and why you all should probably give FSU cameras a fair chance.

The myth of FSU cameras:

To be honest, compared to others, I would consider myself still a beginner. The nice thing about being a beginner is being unbiased. I was quite surprised about reading so many strong negative opinions on FSU cameras in general. According to forums and many “experts”, they are unreliable, low-quality-built, heavy, light-leaking, cheap copies of more renowned western camera models. And of course, certain models suffer from bad design or quality control here and there, perfectly fulfilling the cliché. But a generalization for all cameras seems to me a bit inappropriate (especially when it comes down to the Zorki 4K).

After some reading and thinking, I made up my mind and want you to ask following question: “Does it surprise anybody that a fully-mechanical, half-a-century-old camera, not receiving any love or care, is not working properly?

I never had any issues with FSU cameras in my collection so far. But also, I usually do a CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust) on them. Fair enough, probably not everyone may have the nerves, time and skill set for doing so (remember Tolstoy’s warriors: patience and time). But you should give those old tanks a fair chance and proper service somewhere. At least before judging them. It will be a good investment, I promise. (I added some helpful tutorials for doing a Zorki 4K service, as well as a link to my reliable FSU repair man of choice). But let’s talk about my experience with the rangefinder first. After quite some time with my CLA’ed Zorki 4K, I try to present an neutral opinion

Exploring Berlin’s subways with my Zorki4K loaded with Iflord Delta 3200.

What I love about the Zorki 4K:

  • Bright and clear viewfinder:
    It is just a joy to compose and focus via the bright viewfinder window. A true standout feature to me. I never missed any focus, even in darker spots
  • M39 Lens mount:
    The Russian rangefinder uses the Leica rangefinder mounting system, enabling many excellent lens options. My favorite one so far: The Jupiter 8 (50mm, f/2.0), which is a Zeiss Sonnar copy that delivers sharp photos for a fair price
  • Fully mechanical system:
    I love that this camera works without any electronics. It slows down the process of photographing and means that your camera is probably not going to die soon due to degrading electronics. It also brings back a certain feeling of nostalgia in me
  • Special look and feeling:
    Everything about the Zorki 4K is a vibe. The classic look, the sound of the shutter crushing down like soviet thunder, the solid feel of the metal casing in your hands, and especially, the characterful photos obtained
  • Price:
    Seemingly very few people want to use FSU cameras. And that’s a good thing for everyone searching for a good camera on a budget. I got mine bundled with the Jupiter 8 for around 50€ on the web. If you decide to pay for a camera service, instead of doing it on your own, you must add 100 – 150€, which still feels like a fair price compared to more famous competitors
Two of my favourite pictures from my trip to Denmark. Ilford FP4+ pushed 1 stop.

What I dislike about the Zorki 4K:

  • Weight:
    Sometimes, the Zorki feels more like a tank than a camera; it is heavy. They forgot to add some strap lugs, which is a tragedy. Good luck carrying the heavy thing around without a camera strap attached to it. (I 3D printed myself a camera case for attaching a camera strap)
  • Setting the shutter time:
    There is one golden rule: You must never change the shutter speed while the shutter is uncocked! Else, your camera will be seriously damaged. To always bury that on your mind, feels a bit exhausting over time
  • Missing shutter count:
    There is no real shutter count included. To compensate for the missing one, a small mark on the rewind lever is attached, counting the number of frames with every turn. However, this one is so small and may be easily overlooked. If you do not stop winding your film after finishing your roll, the Russian beast will just tear the film out of your cartridge. What a mess!
Zorki 4K sample shot
I love how the rangefinder and its old lenses can add a certain character and look to a photograph. Again Ilford FP4+ pushed by one stop

Conclusion and final thoughts:

To me, the Zorki 4K is a magnificent camera if you are eager to give it some love (and maintenance) and accept some of its quirks. As mentioned at the beginning of this review article – learn to be patient and good things will come. I can understand why people in modern-day’s fast-living society may dislike the camera. The Zorki 4K is truly unforgiving. Every photo taken feels like you must put in a bit more extra work. If you are not careful, you may even damage your camera. The whole photographing process is much slower, which I, however, really enjoy. To work with the Zorki 4K has a decelerating, yes nearly mediative character to it. And in addition to that, the outcome is simply wonderful, with every picture carrying this certain spirit and character of a former, better time. It is so difficult to put into words.

But it is exactly this feeling and experience making me wonder: Wouldn’t it be helpful for all of us to slow down a bit more regularly? Maybe not everything should fall into our hands as easily as possible, always working perfectly fine. Maybe the harder we work for something, the more we can appreciate it afterward. Slowing down helped me to become a more thoughtful and much better photographer. Take a step back, breath, check your exposure, compose, snap, and have fun. Isn’t it what film photography is all about?

In the end, I not only found a beautiful camera on a low budget but also realized how powerful patience and time in photography could be. I became a little bit wiser and channeled my inner Tolstoy … And I am thankful for that.


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About The Author

21 thoughts on “Zorki 4K Review – Following the Wisdom of Tolstoy”

  1. Simon Cygielski

    I love Soviet Leica clones, despite their many failings. The 4K is one of the more interesting ones I’ve worked with, but the Zorki 6 eclipses it for me with its wider rangefinders base, hinged back, nicer advance lever and – yes! – strap lugs. It’s only missing the 4K’s notoriously unreliable slow speed escapement, which honestly may be a kind of a blessing as well.

    1. Marco Sebastian Holzer

      Hey Simon! Sounds like a wonderful camera to me. Will certainly look into it, this are just my beginnings. Cheers

    2. Yes! I had quite a few LTM FSU rangefinder cameras and the Zorki6 my favourite too. I was also very fond of the Mir (a Zorki4 without the slow shutter speeds) and in general of that bright 1:1 viewfinder that is a pleasure to use.

  2. Thanks for posting this article. My parent has a Zorki 4k back in the lates 70’s & I started off in photography with various Zenit and Praktica SLRs later on in the 1980’s.

    I recently picked up a 4k for 20 quid with a stick range finder cam which, after following a couple of YouTube videos explaining how to remove the top plate got it working perfectly again. One gripe I do have with the 4k is the lack of strap lugs on the body; I don’t like carrying the camera in the every ready case as it’s too much of a faff flipping the cover open every time I want to take a shot so got used to keeping it in a shoulder bag when out and about.

    One other caveat I do remember from the old familial Zorki was not to leave it unnattend the lens cap off outside. An afternoon spent on the shore of Lake Como in Italy meant the sun left a hole in the shutter curtain. Oops.

    1. Re the lens cap off problem. Many years ago I decided to buy a Pentacon Practina IIa. My local dealer just had one left, the display model in the shop window. This unfortunately had the burnt shutter curtain when examined.

      The dealer had put the camera in the window with shutter uncocked, as good practice would normally dictate.

      The Praktina IIa has a non-return mirror – the film has to wound on, which also cocked the shutter, to lower the mirror. For several weeks the sun had moved across the camera with mirror up, the lens burning a slit in the unprotected curtain. No lens cap on.

  3. hello Marco,

    Nice article you shared with us.

    I fully agree with your final thoughts about slowing down to realize and enjoy what you are actually doing. And, at the end, a final result with needed some more effort gives the most satisfaction.

    To support this alternative approach, from a photographic perspective, it is a good thing that film photography still exists, even shows some revival.

    with kind regards,


  4. Peter Roberts

    A fair and lyrically written assessment, Marco. I enjoyed reading it.
    I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Soviet era cameras, and I don’t mean the nearest marsh! If you accept their often exagerrated foibles they’re great fun to use and, as you say, transport you back to another era. Did your final image try to capture that? If so, it succeeded.
    Yes, the absence of strap lugs is annoying, but there again the use of a case goes some way towards eliminating stray light leaks.
    The crash of the shutter firing is satisfying and at least reassures you that at least something is working as it should, especially when combined with the plop of the mirror coming up on a Zenith.
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Marco Sebastian Holzer

      Thanks for the nice words Peter, really appreciate that! Also, I can only agree to everything you wrote. But what does it say about us that we are so fond of mirror slaps and shutter shocks? – Anyway, happy weekend to you 🙂

  5. Thank you very much Marco, one for the excellent article and two, for the how to link. I’ve had a read of the how to and it’s really easy to follow, perfect for me 😄.

  6. My dad bought one of these new in the 80s 80s and it was the fist camera I learned on. I recently shot a roll on it for fun, but my meter-free skills are seriously atrophied and I will need a little more practice there to get decent exposures. But I have always found the ghost-image rangefinder focusing to be very accurate despite the lousy lens on this thing.

    One tip: Use a tripod-mount attachment for a strap because carrying the beast is a chore otherwise.

  7. Anthony Lloyd

    I enjoyed your article, thank you. Yes, fairly hard camera to work with. I bought one in 1974 when I was 14 years old. I bought it out of my mother’s ‘catalogue’ ( pay weekly credit). They are quite heavy like you say, but then I went over to a Nikkormat! that was heavier, but easier to use. Another USSR you might like from that period, the Kiev- Contax copy. I took one to Afghanistan in 1978, the built in light meter was good enough for Ektachrome. I still have the slides, maybe one day I’ll write a little, and show a few pics of my experience with the Kiev.

  8. Oh, to quote the greatest fiction ever written… while using such absurd, limited camera. But you use it with Nikolai Rostov’s horsemanship-like craft. With Pierre Kirilovich’s self-assurenace.

    Great imagery. Particularly those lyric Danish landscapes.

  9. Marco, amazing writing and amazing images, thanks for sharing them!
    But how come the visualization quality is so bad? Is there something I can do on my side?

  10. Great Article! I have owned a number of Zorki 3 and 4ks along with quite few Kiev 3 and 4s etc… After you have these cameras CLAed They can be very good reliable cameras that take very sharp images. One beautiful Zorki 3 from the mid-1950s that I lent to a fellow friend photographer used it to photograph a homeless family, and one of images from that series ended up in the New York Times! When I asked for the camera to be returned, He refused and I end up selling it to him as he had fallen in love with it!!!!! Great Cameras if you can deal with their idiosyncrasies. Michael M.

    1. Geoffrey Haining

      Hi Michael,

      Great article on the Zorki 4K. I have a few of them and equally enjoy using these cameras with all their quirks. I have one question, your case you 3D printed, it looks perfect. I was wondering if you sell them as I’d been very keen to get one!


  11. I forgot to mention that a guy named cupog on eBay sells CLAd FSU cameras and Czech Fkexaret TLRs – I’ve bought a lot of cameras from him over the years and always great stuff. Thanks again for the article.

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