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.