Guest Reviews Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

Back in the USSR – a Fed4 & Industar И-61 lens review – Guest post by Howard Hurd

When I was much younger I had a brief foray into the world of USSR-built cameras. At the time they were much less fashionable and considerably less expensive than they are now.  I put a roll or two of film through such classic cameras as a Lubitel 166B medium format TLR, a Zorki 35mm rangefinder (a Contax copy) and a Lomo 35mm compact. These cameras lingered all too briefly in my hands as I pretty soon sold or gave them away. I progressed onto other cameras until I found one that just felt ‘right’ to me (in my case the lovely little Pentax MX 35mm SLR).

These early experiences with Soviet cameras, however, left a lasting impression. I have always wondered what I would think if I used these cameras again today, after more years of experience in using cameras of all types.

The comrades’ Leica

Recently I had the chance to find out, as I came across a Fed4 in a local secondhand store at a good price. It was in nice condition, with a clear lens, and in its original brown leather case.

I had never used one of these Leica-a-like L39 mount 35mm ‘made in the USSR’ rangefinder cameras before. As I was in the middle of my 2016 ‘year of film’ I thought I’d give it a try.

The Fed cameras were a series of different models of 35mm rangefinder cameras. They were built in the then USSR (at a factory in Kharkov in what is now the Ukraine) over several decades during the cold war. They are sometimes called the “Comrades’ Leica” or “Soviet Leica” as they use Leica’s old L39 screw mount. And most of the models have designs very reminiscent of early Leicas.

Simple but functional design

My Fed4 is one of the later models and was probably built sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The Fed4 is fairly bulky as it has a built-in uncoupled selenium light meter that adds some height to the camera. Because of this it does not look quite as streamlined as Fed models with no light meter.

The top plate of the Fed4 - meter on the left, shutter dial, shutter release and film advance on the right

The top plate of the Fed4 – meter on the left, shutter dial, shutter release and film advance on the right

To my eyes there is a beautiful simplicity to the Fed4’s design – there are no elaborate embellishments or extraneous features. You’ve got everything you need to take full manual control over your photos – a shutter dial, aperture control, a rangefinder (which needed a little adjustment – see footnote below) and a light meter.

Although quality control was often reported to be an issue in the Soviet factories, my particular Fed4 is solidly constructed. It feels like a camera that you could take on a trip around the world and it would keep on going whatever you threw at it – with the added bonus of not even needing batteries.

Loading the camera

Loading a film is pretty straightforward, although not quite as simple as some cameras with a more modern film take-up mechanism.

The bottom plate of the Fed4 with the back-retaining latches at each end

The bottom plate of the Fed4 with the back-retaining latches at each end

By turning a pair of latches on the base of the camera through 180º, you can then slide off the whole back. You place the film canister on the left (held in place by a little stub at the bottom) and then load the leader of the film onto a detachable take-up spool. With the back replaced and the clips locked you’re then good to go.

Fed4 with back removed

Fed4 with back removed

The Fed 4 in use

In use, the camera is fairly bulky and quite heavy due to its all metal construction. You certainly notice it around your neck after a day’s shooting. However, the weight also lends the camera a sturdy and durable feel and I think it has a nice heft in the hand.

The light meter is simple to use – with the film speed set (marked from 20-400 ASA), rotate the dial so the wider red bar aligns with the white meter needle, read the shutter speed and aperture from the dial and then transfer them to the camera (adjusting as you think fit). Alternatively you could use a handheld light meter, smartphone light meter app or the Sunny16 rule but the built-in light meter is handy and seemed fairly accurate to me. Either way, your photography will become more deliberate and measured with the Fed4 as you have to take the time to read the light meter and set your shutter speed and aperture – and this is often no bad thing.

The very simple back of the Fed4 - showing small circular viewfinder top left

The very simple back of the Fed4 – showing small circular viewfinder top left

The camera has a few quirks in use. The viewfinder is a relatively small and not very bright porthole on the back of the camera. The rangefinder patch is not particularly large – or particularly bright on my camera, but that might just be fading due to the camera’s age. The viewfinder has dioptre adjustment by rotating its collar.

The film advance lever is effective, although has quite a long throw (about 180º). Also you have to set the shutter speed dial after advancing the film to cock the shutter – in the same way as on some other Soviet cameras of this vintage (such as my Zenit E SLR).

The focal plane shutter has a range from 1 second to 1/500 second (plus B and 1/30 second flash sync speed). It is is fairly loud – certainly not as quiet as the ‘snick’ of a Leica – but is quieter than most film SLRs as there is no moving mirror. There is also a standard clockwork timed shutter release on the front of the camera.

The side of the Fed4 showing the film rewind

The side of the Fed4 showing the film rewind wheel

The film rewind procedure is a little unusual. There is no film rewind button (typically found in the base of 35mm cameras) – instead you have to rotate the collar around the shutter release clockwise. And there is not a film rewind lever to rotate – instead there is a knurled wheel that protrudes slightly from the left hand side of the camera. This rewind wheel does the job but is not quite as quick to use as the more traditional rewind lever.

It’s all about the lens – the Industar И-61

For me, however, this camera is all about the lens. I had heard about the reputation of the Industar И-61 standard lens so I was very interested to see how it performed with the type of pictures I usually take.

The Fed4 rangefinder - with Industar lens

The Fed4 rangefinder – with Industar lens

The lens is quite light (I have read somewhere that it uses aluminium in its construction) and does not feel quite as well put together as the rest of the camera. My particular И-61 is marked as 52mm focal length – but I’ve seen pictures of similar lenses marked 51mm and 53mm. It has an f2.8 maximum aperture (minimum f16) with whole stop clicks, and focuses down to a marked distance of 3.6 feet (about 1m).

To my eyes there is something quite special about the way this lens renders an image. On colour film it produces nice tones and out-of-focus areas have a lovely smooth quality, despite the lens only having 6 straight-edged aperture blades. I haven’t yet put any black and white film through the camera. 

When used wide open at f2.8, the lens is reasonably sharp in the centre and produces some reasonable foreground/background separation. When used stopped down at f5.6-f8 the sharpness increases nicely across the frame. For an old lens it also has good levels of contrast, seems to have fairly low chromatic aberrations, and is even quite resistant to flare when used into the sun.

These pictures are only from fairly low resolution supermarket processing scans, but show the character and sharpness of the lens. The first set of shots were taken on Agfa VistaPlus ISO200 colour film. The second set of shots used the same film but hand-reversed and shot as redscale film at ISO50. They also show that my Fed4 body has an intermittent and slight light leak from one side that I will need to investigate. However the light leaks appeared on the roll of hand-rolled redscale film so it might not be the camera body that caused the leaks. The body does not have any light seals as far as I can see, as the back just fits in place in some slots that act as light traps.

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Clarence Pier in Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Ben Ainslie Racing Building in Old Portsmouth, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Ben Ainslie Racing Building in Old Portsmouth, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

View of the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

View of the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Seafarers' War Memorial, Southsea seafront, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus at ISO200

Seafarers’ war memorial, Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers' war memorial, Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers’ war memorial, Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers' war memorial, Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers’ war memorial, Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers' war memorial, Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers’ war memorial, Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers' war memorial, Southsea, UK - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Seafarers’ war memorial, Southsea, UK – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Garrison Church, Old Portsmouth - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Garrison Church, Old Portsmouth – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Railings in Old Portsmouth - taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Railings in Old Portsmouth – taken with Fed4 and Agfa VistaPlus redscale at ISO50

Using the Industar И-61 lens on a modern sensor

As an added bonus, the И-61 lens is very easily and cheaply adapted onto my Sony a7 full frame digital mirrorless camera (via a dumb adapter bought for about £6 online).

Its light weight and short flange distance due to its rangefinder design make it a very good everyday companion for a mirrorless camera. If needed you can also reduce the minimum focusing distance by unscrewing the lens slightly in the adapter.

I love the results produced by the Industar И-61 lens on the Sony sensor – I think this combination really “sings”. The pictures have a lovely warm vintage tone and a less digital look than results from more modern lenses. Whilst the resolution of the lens might not be quite up to modern standards I find it more than acceptable – although if you are an extreme pixel-peeper your opinion may differ.

I actually slightly prefer the look of the still photos produced by this combination to the shots I have taken with the equally legendary Helios 44-2 (58mm f2) lens on my Sony a7.

Beach Buggin' event, Southsea, UK - taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Beach Buggin’ event, Southsea, UK – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Beach Buggin' event, Southsea, UK - taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Beach Buggin’ event, Southsea, UK – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

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Beach Buggin’ event, Southsea, UK – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Beach Buggin' event, Southsea, UK - taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Beach Buggin’ event, Southsea, UK – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

South Parade Pier, Southsea - - taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

South Parade Pier, Southsea – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

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South Parade Pier, Southsea – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

South Parade Pier, Southsea - taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

South Parade Pier, Southsea – taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Canoe Lake, Southsea - 2-shot panorama taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

Canoe Lake, Southsea – 2-shot panorama taken with Industar N-61 lens on Sony a7

My final thoughts

Whilst the Fed4 is not as sophisticated as my lovely Fujica Compact Deluxe 35mm rangefinder, I had just as much fun using it as it made me concentrate on the fundamentals of photography.

I would strongly recommend trying one of these old Russian rangefinders. Not only because of the great results you can get using them with film but also due to the lovely look of the results you can achieve using their characterful lenses adapted onto modern mirrorless digital cameras.

Howard

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Dmitry Goloub
    February 20, 2017 at 10:51 am

    FSU gear is awesome, although there are lots of cameras and lenses in bad condition by these days. I just love the collapsible Industar-50 (50/f3,5 Tessar design), the Jupiter-8 50/f2 renders very well (lovely Sonnar design), as well as J-12 (35/f2,8 Biogon design) and J-11 (135/f4, Sonnar as well) are the lenses that I shoot daily and recommend. I like the difference between Industars and Jupiters in the way they render and I switch them according to my mood.

    • Reply
      HowardH
      February 20, 2017 at 11:18 pm

      Hi Dmitry,

      I’d love to try some of these other FSU lenses sometime – I’ll keep looking for them 🙂

      • Reply
        Terry B
        February 21, 2017 at 9:48 am

        Howard,

        The Jupiter-12 f2.8/35 is a wonderfully sharp lens. I’ve owned three over the years and still have two, one in Leica screw and the other in Kiev. The very first one I bought in Kiev mount was one of the sharpest 35’s I’ve owned. At the time I did a direct comparison using a very sharp K25 slide against a friend’s Canon lens and we both decided, after much scrutiny, that the Canon won just by a whisker. But at the time the J-12 was £13 and the Canon close on £200. OK, the Canon was a fast f2 and this cost money, but even so for the J-12 to be rubbing shoulders with it without any embarrassment was quite an achievement. However, a warning. Don’t buy it if you expect to use it on your Sony A7. You can’t, as the rear element is exposed and sits deep inside the body and on the A7 it fouls the sensor.

        • Reply
          HowardH
          February 21, 2017 at 10:16 am

          Hi Terry – thanks for the info about the Jupiter-12 (and the heads-up re. not using it with a7!)

          • Terry B
            March 5, 2017 at 9:57 pm

            Howard, you, and others interested in these lenses, may well find the following useful and interesting.

            http://www.slrlensreview.com/web/entry/a-guide-to-russian-ltm-lenses-part-2

            It explains why, if one uses them on Leica rangefinder bodies, focusing problems can be an issue.

            My two Industar N61 L/D lenses arrived the other day; both were listed as 52mm versions, but turned out to be 53 and 55 respectively, but more of this anon. A 52 does exist, as you have one, and I have seen images on ebay.

            Taking advantage of a little sun yesterday, I carried out a very quick comparison shoot out of all three lenses on my A7, and simply running through the aperture range. I shot the same two subjects with each lens. I was surprised at how sharp all three were from f4, especially in the centre, and given its provenance, just how good the 1953 Industar 22 is, but the most interesting discovery was the consistency of image scale, despite on paper there being a focal range from 50 to 55mm. It was difficult to separate the lenses and which were virtually identical in their scale of reproduction. Says something about the engraved focal length on each. It isn’t a major consideration in practice, but are they all 50’s, 53’s or 55’s?

          • HowardH
            March 5, 2017 at 10:34 pm

            Interesting info Terry – have fun with your N61s 🙂

  • Reply
    Chris
    February 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    My first camera in the 80’s was a Fed 5 with a Jupiter-12 and a Jupiter-8 lenses, and I still use them 30 years later with much pleasure.

    That watermark on your otherwise nice pictures is utterly hideous.

    • Reply
      HowardH
      February 20, 2017 at 11:16 pm

      Hi Chris – thanks for the feedback on the watermark(s). I had grabbed these images from a selection of my social media feeds so they are a bit “in your face”. There’s a lot to love about these old Eastern European and Soviet cameras – despite their quirks.

      Best wishes, Howard.

  • Reply
    Jürgen Schütz
    February 20, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Howard, thanks for your review! I acquired several ( a dozen at least) former Soviet Union (FSU) cameras and lenses when they were really cheap. Most of them are decent tools and results depend mainly on the photographer. I also found them to be rugged and trustworthy. I can´t remember any problems with reliability (at least less then with my Leica R cameras). You can still get them serviced cheap here (http://www.okvintagecamera.com). That´s the place were I send my Leica IIIs, too. In my opinion FSU rangefinders (FED, KIEV, ZORKI) are real fun to shoot with. They are my first pick, when I´m travelling to locations, where I´m not sure my M Leicas would be safe and sound.
    Thanks and cheers!

    Jürgen

    • Reply
      HowardH
      February 20, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      Hi Jürgen – thanks for your comments. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the old Eastern European and Soviet cameras and lenses – and because they made so many they are still fairly affordable and often have lots of character.

      Howard

  • Reply
    Christoph
    February 20, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    I have this little lens and yet have had the chance to put it to use in good conditions. Up here in the Pacific Northwest …we only had one good day of sun in 2 weeks, yes one.
    The lens you have featured in this article I use on a Voightlander / Cosina close focus adapter with the M39 to M mount ( bayonet ) adapter ring that threads on.
    The look in film of the war monument are wonderful, great character. I for one an so pleased to live in a time though , where the obscure lenses from yesterday year can come alive again. This is a special time in the Art of Photography.
    Imagine who in their wildest dreams ever thought their Great Uncle’s photo kit would be relevant again ? Amazing.

    Hamish knows the lenses I have collected and yes from the costliest … a few to the Helios 2 44 I love them all. As a student learning my craft … there are many with far deeper knowledge of these waters.

    To all…Search the Light , and pursue it…great with Heart. Indeed. We pursue the Light.. Yes.

    • Reply
      HowardH
      February 20, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      Hi Christoph – the sunny pictures were from last spring and summer. I’m looking forward to the longer days coming back. Enjoy your lenses 🙂

      Best wishes, Howard

  • Reply
    Terry B
    February 20, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    Howard, Great to see Southsea get a mention! Viewing the lens performance on the A7 has prompted me to get one. Just ordered two on ebay, the 52mm tested here, and what is claimed to be a brand new unit of 55mm focal length.

    • Reply
      HowardH
      February 20, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks Terry – if you get a good copy of the lens you should enjoy it (I use mine with the cheapest possible L39 > E mount adapter bought online – which seems to do the job fine). Southsea has so many great sights to capture – the sea and scenery is ever-changing.

      Howard.

  • Reply
    Andrew Cotterill
    March 22, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    your light leaks might be from a hole in the cloth shutter – it’s possible for sunlight to burn a hole on a bright day if lens cap/case left off.

    I’ve got a Fed2 , great camera, but as you say a bit heavy.

    • Reply
      HowardH
      March 22, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks for the tip Andrew – I’ll check it out.

      • Reply
        Andrew Cotterill
        March 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

        I had same problem, and used black fabric paint for repair, after holding the back and lens-less camera up to a strong light to work out exactly where the hole was.

        There are quite a few pages out there explaining this better than I could, but this thread might be useful:
        https://www.flickr.com/groups/[email protected]/discuss/72157603065888387/

        • Reply
          HowardH
          March 22, 2017 at 1:53 pm

          Very helpful – thanks 🙂

  • Reply
    Reg
    November 19, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Hi i got mine a few weeks ago but can’t seem to get it to focus on my A7,it only works as a macro,i am using a m42 to nex adapter..any suggestions..great post btw.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 19, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      You need a l39 to nex adapter

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