There comes a time, in every rangefinder fanboy’s/fangirl’s life, when they must contemplate the inevitable: should I buy this cheap Soviet rangefinder? “Look, the Seller says everything works… and it’s such a solid, reassuring brick of metal… I’m pretty sure this is what a Leica feels like. I mean, even if it doesn’t work great, it’s a really interesting part of history… I’m getting it for the history.”
I started out with a Kiev 4. For one roll, it shot fabulously! Then we stopped getting along when one of the shutter ribbons broke. Some weeks later after receiving spare shutter ribbon from Oleg Khalyavin at OK Photocameras, I got to work on repairs. Long story short, my Kiev 4 looks nice.
Next, I found a FED 2 in fantastic condition. Jackpot! There was a smidgen of goopy grease on the still-functioning aperture blades and a few pinholes in the shutter curtain. It even came in a custom leather case with a small metal plaque inscribed with Cyrillic lettering, something to the effect of:
“For Such-and-Such (girl’s name), on her 16th Birthday”
Miss Such-and-Such apparently threw this 1966 FED 2 into her closet, and promptly forgot about it. Not a mark on the vinyl, not a scratch on the metal. That was only about 3 years ago, but I feel like it’s been a lifetime together.
Speaking honestly, this is ONLY the third roll of film I’ve shot using this camera. The 52mm Industar-26m just isn’t that comfortable to me, or rather, the 50mm field-of-view isn’t. I’m a Wide Guy, through and through. I prefer the 28mm or 35mm field-of-view immensely, which is why I stopped using this after the first two rolls. I purchased this camera with the ambition to eventually get a 35mm Jupiter-12 lens, which happened after about two years. Finally, I had a slick mechanical rangefinder with my favorite focal length! What a day, what a feeling!
For the Jupiter’s first outing, my wife and I went on our traditional fall hike along the south fork of the Walla Walla River. Grey-black columnar-basalt cliffs and golden fall foliage to the soundtrack of a rushing mountain stream. It’s always a beautiful hike, and this time was no exception.
A few weeks later, after getting the pictures back from the lab, I discovered something: all my images were completely out of focus. All of them! That’s pretty weird because I distinctly remember carefully focusing each frame, my patient wife nearby. Both lens and camera body seemed to be moving and responding as expected. I didn’t have the experience to know what was going on, nor the motivation to figure it out, so I put both the camera and the pictures aside for a few months.
At some point (perhaps after stumbling upon James Northcote’s Kiev 4 review on this very site!), I regained both the motivation and time to look into why my pictures turned out all smudgy. I looked for help on the newly-opened DPReview Film Photography forum, and received some fantastic advice on what could be happening: I’ve been had! The lens was a fake, a false, a phoney! I learned that some lens groups of various Soviet-made rangefinder lenses are similarly-sized, such that a rear lens group from Lens A can physically fit into the housing of Lens B, even though they are a complete optical mismatch. I was also scandalized to learn that some people actually make and sell these homunculus lenses on purpose! The shame. Aiming the fake Soviet lens towards my backyard on a sunny day, I put a white piece of paper behind it and found that, no matter the distance I moved the paper, I couldn’t get more than a colorful, soft blur of an image.
In the intervening months between putting the FED 2 back on the shelf and investigating the lens issue, I kept that roll of 24 smudgy images in a folder on my computer desktop. Every so often I’d look through the images. Each time I did, I liked them more than the last. When viewing them for the first time, they definitely appealed to some part of my brain, but were drowned out by a bit of confusion and a lot of disappointment. I am the kind of person to always have multiple projects happening concurrently, so I moved on to the next thing. In viewing the images later, without that initial disappointment, I began to feel a nameless attraction to them.
They are most assuredly out of focus, yet still retain enough form and arrangement to just barely float above the pure abstract. The exposure for most of the images is fairly decent, and the colors come through quite nicely. My favorite element is the 5-sided bokeh that is surprisingly common, and lends a bit of form and angularity to the overall softness of the images. I’m reminded of some impressionist landscapes I’ve seen, and the peacefulness I got from them is similar to what I get from looking at these images. Produced by a fake Soviet lens.
Thanks for looking! You can find me on Instagram and Flickr.
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23 thoughts on “Fake Soviet Impressionism – By Ben Garcia”
I too like these’ mistakes’ . Thanks for posting.
I use a couple of Commie Cameras myself and have mixed results, but they can be great.
All the best
Thanks for looking Paul! Yes, even when I don’t like the results from my commie cameras, I always end up learning something.
Ben, I’ve never heard of this practice before. You’ve been well and truly had, sadly. But your Fed 2 looks in the best condition I’ve ever seen one. As for the Jupiter 12, it’s a cracking lens. I have 2, one in Leica LTM mount and the second for Kiev.
Unfortunately, sourcing anything from the Russian Federation or Ukraine is going to be a bit of a gamble. There are some honest dealers but it’s going to be next to impossible to suss them out before buying.
Given how good the Jupiter 12 is, it will be worth your while trying to source a good one. If you have a look on ebay.uk you are more likely to find one that hasn’t been messed with, although there’s no knowing if the seller is passing on a duff acquisition. When Russian gear was officially imported into the UK, it came via Technical and Optical Equipment Ltd. who checked each item before sending it out to dealers. They also provided repair and service facilities. Thus the chances of sourcing a lens from the UK has more of a chance of being original. No, gurantee of course with older used gear. But check out dealer listings to improve your chances. Unfortunately, I’ve no idea of postal rates ex-UK.
Looking atyour images, you have an excellent artistic tool with your duff Jupiter. Trying experimenting with different coloured electric bulbs. You never know, you may get your work in a local art gallery. ????
Terry, thanks, I’ll have a look. I’ve definitely thought about using this lens more. If I home-developed, I think it would be a no-brainer to try and get creative with this. 🙂
Terry, I used to work for T.O.E in the late seventies as a Goods Inwards clerk. My job was to recieve all the customer returns sent in for repair and send them to the Russian tech bods upstairs. It was mostly Zenith Es, Bs, Feds and Zorkies as well as the massive radios with real wooden casing. Because of the odd (to me anyway) controls and dials of these cameras and seeing how many broken ones came back I never did warm to them at the time. I was a Praktica and Olympus OM man myself. I don’t recall though having seen many lenses sent back for repair apart from the usual 50mm Helos which were attached to the broken bodies. I have succumbed in recent times to owing a few of these cameras, mainly for their looks. Must stick a roll of film in them sometime to give them a try.
It is probably an adjustment mistake, these Rangefinder lenses are capable of good and sharp photos, this wide angle lens can give beautiful results. I am using Kiev 4 and Zorki with good and consistent results.
Kind regards Frederik
LS, it could very well be! I still don’t know much about these things. I’ve since acquired a new Jupiter and the rear element looks a bit different than the fake one. Then again, if the QA/QC was so dynamic with these Russian lenses, I might expect some differences in appearance.
What a beautiful camera, and what a shame about the lens 🙂 There are brand new (new old stock) industar-61 lenses available for peanuts (20 euro ex shipping) on eBay. You could get one…
I too like the pictures, they have something nice ‘autumney, dreamy’ going on.
Oh well, try try again..! I’m definitely lucky to have landed the body, for sure.
I like your optimism, and the abstract results do look good for what they are! I would say it’s still worth getting a working Jupiter-12 if you can, however. I used one for a bit on a Canon P and was enamoured: fantastic sharpness across the frame for those deep dof all-in-focus f/11 shots, but really nice subject separation for group portraits at wider apertures. There’s a few disparaging reviews on the web, including at casual photophile, which suggests using this lens is a case of ‘Russian Roulette’, with focussing issues etc. But I didn’t find that to be the case at all. It’s turned me onto the biogon design for good, I much preferred it to the sharp but boring Takumar 35mm f/3.5 for SLRs.
Thanks for reading Callum! Y’know I found a Canon P recently that I’ve been thinking of getting. It looks like a great machine, but do I neeeed another m39 rangefinder? Ugh. Maybe.
Can understand your interest in both the camera and the Jupiter 12 lens, though I’m certain that the real item is costly, so it would explain fakes being made. Some lenses have legendary status, and as such, keep out of our reach from the start. I see old movies from the 50’s at times with Lieca 2’s, 3’s, and this shiney silver glass tube fastened to the front, and recall that somethings aren’t for having, just admiring from afar. Really sorry for your chagrin my friend. You’ll find a great fit some fine day. Best of luck.
Thanks Murray! I’ve noticed some silly things on prop cameras in movies, as well. I laugh usually, and try to tell my wife why it’s funny. She never gets it, though. 😉
Soviet Socialist Realism has become Impressionism and Comrade Trotsky has the last laugh at the expense of the Capitalist Running-dog Lackey! This is a great story, and a cautionary tale as I am in the first throes of a relationship with a Kiev-4 that I rather like…
Glad you enjoyed this, Michael! The kiev 4 really is a fascinating camera in all ways. It’s so heavy, and tough. The lens mine came with had a beautiful quality of rendering. And that knurled knob for the film rewind! It’s like braving the tomb traps to try and get the golden idol.
Brilliant, I have recently been going back through previous work and finding “failures” more appealing than I did when I shot them. It’s so interesting!
Thanks for looking Holly! We’re loosening up in our old age. 🙂
Beautiful mistakes. I dare say they would look good on a wall or in a zine. 🙂
Thanks! Yes, I think I totally agree!
When the Soviet cameras and lenses work correctly, they are capable of producing fantastic results.
I have had my fair share of improperly adjusted soviet equipment also.
I found your surprise out of focus photos, both quite funny, yet artistically interesting. I have bad eyesight (-5.5 prescription, both eyes) and if I remove my glasses, I essentially see a world of bokeh – very similar to your photos.
Yet, there is something about these images, more for what the mind tries to interpret what the scene would have been, that maybe triggers the viewer to use their imagination, without even knowing it.
Its the same reason now in my oder age. I remove my glasses purposely sometimes if Im in a park or scenic location. To then allow my mind to imagine what is there, when all i see before me is colourful bokeh.
“if I remove my glasses, I essentially see a world of bokeh” -That’s fascinating, Chris! Hopefully your organic lenses give you “good” bokeh. xD
Glad you like the photos. As someone else suggested, I may have to experiment more with this lens (on purpose!).
Love the images, wondering though how you mounted the Jupiter 12 onto the FED 2. I’ve tried this and it doesn’t work. Do some FED 2 models work and not others? Thanks!
Thanks for looking, Molly!
If you can’t mount a J12 on a FED 2, there is a big problem, somewhere. These lenses are Leica Thread mount type, which is a fairly common standard for older rangefinder lenses. As I found out, these older lenses may not have all the parts they should, or have improper substitutes.
Are you sure you have a J12? I recommend looking online at pictures of the back of the lens to make sure there’s nothing wrong there and you indeed have a good copy of this lens.
Mounting this lens can be a little scary because of the flared protruding back element. It sets quite close to the shutter. Turn the focus ring so that the protruding element is as far forward as possible before mounting.
If there’s no problem with the lens, then check the camera opening. FED manufacturing QA-QC was hit-or-miss. Is there something blocking the opening or keeping the threads from engaging?