I for the longest time fancied owning a completely mechanical rangefinder camera, but I always thought that they were out of my budget. That was until I, by utter chance, stumbled into the world of Fed and Zorki Ukrainian and Russian rangefinders. After doing a bit of research online, I decided on getting a Zorki 4K with a well-regarded Jupiter-8 50mm f/2 lens (an optical copy of the pre-WWII Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2).
Whilst I am not a stranger to the world of old Russian cameras, it was never with rangefinders, only the SLR varieties. One of the first cameras I used when growing up was my Mum’s Zenit TTL and then later my own Zenit 312. Therefore, it was very exciting for me to finally enter the world of rangefinder cameras.
The Zorki 4K was my preferred choice on account of the film advance lever which is not present on previous models. I managed to get hold of a lovely example from a friendly chap in Scotland who performs a CLA on every camera he sells. As soon as the Zorki arrived, it was easy to understand why rangefinders are the camera of choice for a large number of photographers. The camera felt extremely comfortable to hold and the rangefinder system is a joy to use.
The Zorki became my companion on adventures around Europe (before the current world situation, and when travel was possible). I used the Sunny-16 rule for most of my exposures, and if in doubt, I consulted a smartphone-based meter to double-check.
I spent some time getting accustomed to the strange operational quirks of the camera. As nearly every blog post on the Zorki or Fed cameras will tell you there is a golden rule: only change the shutter speed after the camera has been wound on/shutter cocked.
With the first roll of film, there was some evidence of light leaking into the camera. This leak seemed to be alleviated for the most part in the next roll by the use of electrical tape over the top back seal of the camera.
Another thing to take care of is not to point the camera towards bright light when winding the film on. This is because stray light can sneak in via the shutter curtain whilst it is moving. Also, lens flare has to be taken into consideration with the single-coated Jupiter-8 lens.
Taking into consideration the necessary steps to avoiding light leaks or taking care in bright or direct sunlight, I am very pleased with the results the camera produces. I experienced no problems with the shutter, and most photos exposed as expected and did not disappoint. Additionally, the Jupiter-8 lens performs very well, and I even had the opportunity to develop my zone focusing skills. This was something completely new to me and led me to a greater understanding of what all the markings on a classic camera lens barrel meant.
I think the Zorki 4K will be a faithful companion for some time. Not only does the camera produce quite impressive results (once you understand its quirks). But because the camera forces you to rely on good-old-fashioned photography techniques when shooting, it requires you to hone your skills or even develop some new ones.
To a great extent, the Zorki is a very zen-like camera. It forces you to take a breath and really think about the shot you are about to take.
The limitations of using a quirky fully manual camera can be most liberating.
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