The Moskva V camera with focusing attachment engaged

5 Frames with a Moskva 5

After using my Voigtlander Bessa 66 a bunch, I was excited to try more 120 folding cameras. I had my eyes on a Zeiss Super Ikonta, but when I spotted a Moskva 5 — complete with 6×6 mask — for less than half the price, I clicked the buy button without hesitation.

Well… maybe a little hesitation. The Moskva 5 is the Soviet version of the Zeiss Super Ikonta, and Soviet versions of cameras are known for their idiosyncrasies. Some might call them ‘faults’. Some might be less kind. You never quite know what you’re going to get. The seller was reputable and had tested the camera, but I still felt like I was taking a chance.

I was pleased to find the camera in excellent condition. The focus was stiff, as it is on any Moskva that hasn’t been re-greased, but everything was in working order. A couple of test rolls confirmed that the exposure and light bellows were sound and that the Moskva was a good choice to accompany me on my trip to Bogotá, Colombia.

I shot 3 rolls with the Moskva in Colombia, 2 of them on color stock with 6×9 negatives. The third was on black & white stock with 6×6 framing. Sadly the B&W roll was a total loss. Not due to the camera, but due to the film apparently being stored underneath a radioactive rock. The negatives contained nothing but fog.

That left 2 rolls, each with just 8 (massive) negatives. I’ve picked 5 from those 16 shots.

I shot this at 100 ISO not knowing what to expect. I’ve never used any of Lomo’s LomoChrome stocks. Some shots came out very purple. Others had a more subtle purple cast. Sometimes I got different effects on two different shots with the same light. Fun, if you don’t mind the erratic nature of it.

A narrow street in Bogotá decorated with umbrellas overhead. The film has a light purple to pink cast.
Definitely, but not aggressively, purple

You can see the non-purple version of this photo on Flickr. I think the purple here is nice. It adds to the odd feel of this always-crowded, somewhat-mysterious street.

A deep purple photo of a street art mural on a large 3 story building. The mural is of a person looking hop.fully to the sky. Beneath the mural are some other street art throw ups.
A definite and aggressive purple

Compare this to a similar photo taken at the same time on a more ‘standard’ stock. Here I was trying to capture this mural as it got hit by the golden light of sunset. Did the long exposure make it more purple? I’m not sure. But I think it’s too purple.

Cinestill 400D

I’ve used Cinestill 400D a few times. The color gets a little faded for my taste, but it’s ok. With this final roll of 120 I tried to take photos of actual humans instead of my usual photos of graffiti or flowers.

An older resident of Bogota leans against a building with a swagger, using a cane in his right hand.
I asked him if I could take a photo, and he gave me an excellent pose.

Unfortunately I must have left the film out and some light snuck in through the edges of the backing paper. This shot, the first on the roll, was the most affected. But I still really like the composition and his pose. And a nice feature of the 6×9 negative is that I can crop in to compensate for me standing a million feet away from my subject.

A Bogotano man stands next to a brick building. His eyes are closed and his hips are cocked to one side as he leans on a cane.
So much negative, cropping is a breeze.
A young man sits on a street curb, reading a piece of paper. In front of him is a typewrite and a sign. The sign says that the man will write you a poem if you pay.
Probably my favorite photo from the trip.

Here’s where photographing humans can really shine. I asked him for a photo, he agreed and continued to go about his very thoughtful reading. He was interested in my camera and I tried to explain, in my rough Spanish, that I liked the Moskva because it forced me to think about what I was photographing. He really liked that response. Either that or he thought my Spanish was hilariously bad. Hard to say! But it felt like a great interaction.

The skyline of Bogotá, especially the Candelaria district and downtown. On the top of a green mountain is Monserrate church.
Farewell Bogotá

I’m not sure the faded color here does Bogotá any favors, but I like the overall vibe.

The Camera

There are some downsides to the Moskva. It’s nearly 1.4 kg (3lb), which is hefty. The ergonomics are…odd. I find it hard to frame the shot, hold the camera still, and press the shutter release. I’ve found it easier to bypass the shutter release button by pressing a lever underneath the shutter (Warning!  this method bypasses the camera’s double-exposure prevention). The rangefinder focus window is impossibly small.

For me the biggest drawback of the camera is the minimum focus of 1.5m (5ft). It makes it hard to do anything candid or intimate. Though it can be done, as I found in my photo of the street poet.

But I do like the methodical, multi-step process that the camera forces me to take. Meter. Frame. Focus. Set the exposure. Frame again. Shoot. Like my Voigtlander it’s a camera that forces deliberate action.

And the small number of photos I get from a roll only accentuates that deliberation. Eight photos per roll encourages care and thought. And I love the detail on the resulting 6×9 negatives.

Thanks for reading! I have more photos on Flickr. I suggest this album, since that’s where I keep the photos I really like. You can also follow me on Mastadon at @[email protected]

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6 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Moskva 5”

  1. Murray Leshner

    Moskva 5 (& maybe others) seem to have a habit of leaking red light from the film counter window on the back. I used black photo tape (3M…233?…with black paper and adhesive).

    I also insisted in running 220 film (which only has paper over part of the beginning and end, so no film window use allowed) thru it by first figuring out how many turns for each frame). For this I black-taped the window and the back door.

    It was still hit or miss for focus (folding mechanism was loose), even remembering to open the bellows before winding to the next frame. Open, then wind is a recommended technique for bellows folders in general, and specially large negatives.

    I got a few good images that were in focus with good color but the other wear and tear wore & tore on me. I saved the lens and got rid of the camera.

    1. Good point about the leak. One of my windows is missing its cover, so I have that one taped over. But maybe I’ll tape them both.

  2. Nice results! It’s a pretty tough camera to get great results from. Mine was susceptible to camera/shutter shock which seems strange but apparently is common for this camera. For me the biggest issue was getting accurate framing when you get close. If I used the 6×6 mask, it got difficult.
    The film advance got, well, a bit painful if you planned on shooting a lot!

    Anyway, it was a fun experience while it lasted. FYI Aki-Asahi has some really cool leathers for it. I had mine covered in white, and called it The White Russian. But they also sent me a tartan set as a free gift! Great company to deal with.

  3. Marco Andrés

    The portrait of the street poet [4th image] is riveting.
    Some suggest cropping the Moskva 5 for closeups []
    « One thing a 6X9 folder works great for is portraits if the camera comes with a 6X4.5 mask. The 105mm lens on 6X9
    works great.»
    As you note, the Moskva is rather heavy. If you’re willing to forego an on-camera-rangefinder [use an external], there’s a whole world of lighter pre-World-War II folders like the Voigtlander Inos II [120 in 6 x 9 and 116 in widescreen {2½” x 4¼”}], with closest focus 1m.
    For 6×6, the Voigtlander Perkeo 6×6 weighs a mere 525 grams.

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