The austere lines and peculiar look of a Russian camera during the Soviet Union times are unmistakeable. It's a whole different world. Its weight, representative of it robust built, and indecipherable acronyms in cyrilic letters have nothing modern about them. They might have something of timeless though, as they were built to last. Whoever is the proud owner of a Zenit, or a Chaika, of a Smena, or a Lomo or a Moskva has, aside from excellent photographic equipment, a piece of the old Soviet Empire...
The history behind the Russian cameras follows the history of the Revolution itself. It's in the post-Revolutionary years that the first cameras of this kind appear, part of the eternal Soviet strategy to rival the Western world and show that socialist technology is better than the capitalist one. One of the first photo cameras was, however, a blatant copy of the German Leica, and was named FED. The acronym stands for Felix Edmundovich Dzerjinski founder of the secret police Tcheka, which was later to become the KGB. All very patriotic.
1934, the FED 1 was released, an exact replica of Leica 1a, in only a limited number of copies. Socialist technology had, from them on, the necessary knowledge to produce high quality photographic equipment. Even its most delicate part, the polishing of the lenses was achieved with great precision. The rest of it was robust.
While FED became the trademark brand, others followed, in a productive and propaganda-driven Soviet effort, that were of equal importance and quality. Such is the case of Zenit, which became very popular in the West. The Zenit 3, produced in 1960 using only rudimentary mechanisms was one of the most interesting of them all - an excellent device for whovever wishes to learn the basic photographic techniques.
The Zorki Stereo, for instance, comercialized in 1948 was very similar to FED. It had, however, the added possibility of having a device incorporated into it that was able to take stereoscopic photographs, a very popular genre at the time that has since ceased to be used. The Sputnik, launched in 1955, as well as the satelite of the same name, was specifically concieved to take this kind of pictures.
One of the oldest cameras, together with FED, was the Sport, an uncommon name, in this context. It was also one of the first cameras to carry the SLR system of lenses. Notice the heavy volume of the prism in its top part.
The Estafeta (also an unusual name), was a 6x6 medium format movie camera, produced in 1960. Huge and heavy. On the other side, in the same year, the Vega model of Kiev was released, rivalling the small Japanese cameras. Finally, a rarity, the Horizont 202, especially concieved to take panoramic photos. The objective rotated 120º and impressed a 24mm film in a length of 58 mm.
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