“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
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
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
What I dislike about the Zorki 4K:
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!
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.
Contribute to 35mmc for an Ad-free Experience
There are two ways to experience 35mmc without the adverts:
Paid Subscription - £2.99 per month and you'll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).
Content contributor - become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.
Sign up here.