Camera review: me and my Zorki 11 – by Ante Prskalo
Hello and welcome to my review of the little known Zorki 11, a camera I recently purchased on a local auction site for the meager sum of 7 Euros (I had been searching for an affordable camera that would temporarily replace my Olympus Trip 35, that fell to the all-too-frequent sticky shutter issue).
I actually ordered the Zorki 10 rangefinder, but the fully-automatic viewfinder “11” came in the mail instead. No biggie since I didn’t go bankrupt, and it’s not like Trip 35 was a rangefinder either, so no wishing death of a thousand suns to the shifty seller.
The camera is strikingly designed, with clean lines and a very nice half-black/half-silver finish that’s truly something; a love at first sight from a visual standpoint. It’s not an original design by any means – it’s pretty much stolen from the Ricohmatic 35, but the Russians made it slightly more beautiful.
However, you are in for a minor shock the first time you take Zorki 11 in your hands, since it weighs a hefty 659 grams. The front houses a fixed 45 mm f/2.8 Industar-63 lens surrounded by a large selenium cell and a PC-socket. The lens barrel provides distance markings as well as variations on the single person / multiple people icons found on other zone-focus cameras. It is also on the lens that we set ASA and DIN values for the meter.
The wind-on crank, film counter, rewind button and tripod mount are on the bottom plate. The back of the camera features a tiny viewfinder…and that’s it.
The camera’s quirks don’t stop at its angular design. When you open the hinged back cover, you’ll see that the film goes backwards, from right to left, since the cocking lever is placed on the lower left side of the camera. The other surprise follows right after when you’re about to set the ISO (GOST) value – the only standard value is 100. Everything else is either 20, 160, 250, 320… numbers you won’t find on many 35mm films available on the market at the moment. Just go for the nearest one and hope for the best.
Since the selenium ring was working on my copy, I was able to use the camera as intended. The automatic mode (which sets shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1/500) didn’t falter, but if you really want to choose the aperture yourself (from 2.8 up to 22), you can switch to manual mode and the camera will set the shutter to 1/30s for you. This is really useful in low-light conditions or when using flash.
Speaking of, there’s no hot shoe, only a cold accessory shoe, so it’s either the flash with a cable attachment (there’s a little Flash PC socket is beside the lens) or none at all. Since I have Holga 120 which requires the hot shoe to function, I shot these sample images at daylight.
Additional options provided are a self-timer (10 seconds), which works as well as it can for a 40-ish year old camera, and a bulb mode option that lets you hold the shutter open for as long as you want. Sadly there’s no way to attach a shutter cable so you’ll either have to hold your index finger on the soft shutter button for as long as you want, or get creative and tape it somehow so it stays open. Not very practical, but not impossible!
So, the million dollar question is – how does the camera feel? Unsurprisingly clunky. Not only because of its heaviness or the really small viewfinder. Pressing the shutter button on the lens feels a bit too soft and doesn’t result in a satisfying feedback as most other cameras do. There’s a faint click and that’s it.
Also, it’s frustratingly easy to tilt the camera to the right when you’re pressing the shutter button, which makes you feel like it’s working against you at times. It takes a while before you learn to hold it properly and take photos as intended. The ergonomics weren’t a priority here, so for proper compositions you might have to rely on a tripod.
Thankfully the photos that do turn out well look really good. The lens (and the camera itself) was made at the time when the Soviet quality control was still a thing so there are no light leaks, uneven focus or vignetting in the corners. This is no Lomo experience – the sharpness is present throughout the frame.
It’s a marvellous thing attached to a tank of a camera body that just makes you want to rip it off and attach it to something else.
In the end, is this a camera that could be recommended to anyone?
Well, if one is aiming for a Soviet camera, there are plenty other better alternatives, like FED or Zorki 4K. Some nice rangefinders with better controls and ergonomics. The Zorki 11 is more of a curiosity; a camera that one can happily show off to their friends, perhaps use as a nice paperweight, or bludgeon an unsuspecting burglar (its sharp edges were tailor-made for literal slaying).
For any other situation? The jury’s still out on that one. If you stumble upon it and have money to spare, or you’re really intent on getting a Zorki 11, then by all means get it and experiment with it, but it is safe to say this won’t be your next favorite camera.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ante Prskalo
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