Part of the fun of photography is testing each and every camera I come across in real world environments to ensure their accuracy and usability. Today we tested the Zorki 4k rangefinder camera with a Industar-61 55mm f/2.8 lens. Welcome to the first camera review and thank you for reading! You marvellous bastard you.
Upon first glance, I’m sure we can agree the camera is a simplistic beauty. Okay, so maybe it’s not a Leica, maybe even not a low end Nikon, but surely it’s at least a Zenit (no offence intended, I once built a wardrobe using a Zenit 11). Despite its cost effective design, it is tremendously fun to shoot, albeit a bit quirky. The camera is a rangefinder type, interchangeable lens, 35mm mechanical camera. It takes LTM / M39 mount lenses. This one has a 55mm f/2.8.
Nothing particularly special about that. However, to my surprise, nothing particularly bad about that either! Whey hey! From the moment you’ve finished loading the film, it’s a joy to use! Loading the film, is, an activity of zen. If you happen to have the time for it. And that’s the summary - this camera is great but can sometimes take a little bit of time.
One of the more famous quirks is that you must, must, must set the shutter speed after you cock the shutter mechanism. If this order is not followed, you allegedly have a chance of turning your camera into a glorified paper weight. I say allegedly as, unsurprisingly I have yet to test this theory. I would strongly recommend that you do the same. (Update - about a year after writing this review, I have tested this theory and am yet to break one, that being said, I'm a luck S.O.B. so don't blame me if you fuck up your camera). Also, the rangefinder patch seems to be quite dark at first. After the first fifteen minutes of handling the camera I realised I was very used to other rangefinders and simply had my eye in the wrong place. As long as there’s contrast in what you’re trying to focus on - absolutely no issue. Also, there is a leaver on the left hand side of the camera that swivels beneath the rewind knob. This is the rangefinder magnification lever. If you take a wee peep through the viewfinder and everything seems f***ed, you’ve accidentally hit that switch. The adjustment is so strong I can’t really see a use for it. Maybe Soviet spectacles are stronger than our western optics.
Loading film is actually quite pleasant, in a similar (ish) way to the Leica M3, but with the added convenience of being able to completely remove the back of the camera. Good times! Now you only have yourself to blame if the take-up spool goes flying into a street drain or other tiny orifice never to be seen again. Once loaded, just wind on and go. No light meter in or on camera to speak of so I used a hand held light meter and metered for the highlights. It was early evening in January, perfect for testing slower shutter speeds.
I have tried to include images that best show off the range of contrast of the Industar 55/2.8 lens and also the accuracy of the rangefinder patch in terms of focus accuracy. I found that I was pleasantly surprised by the lens, showing relatively good sharpness in the centre of the frame that falls off slightly towards the corners with mild barrel distortion. As per almost every lens in existence it improves throughout the aperture ranges with a sweet spot, I found, around f/8. The focus offers enough feedback for fine adjustment and the rangefinder has a fairly long base-length of 41mm, which makes accurate focussing pretty damn easy. I did find myself rocking the focus ring back and forth to really fine tune it a bit more freaquently when compared to using the split prism view of my ultra hardy Nikon FE2 (blog/review en route) that I can use in the dimmest of lights very quickly relying on the clear and bright ground glass as a backup option.
A positive aspect to shooting with this spunky little guy is that is’s really quite easy to shoot sharp images at low shutter speeds due to the camera being comparatively small and light when removed from the never-ready case. Also it’s just really solid. A little, dense hunk of soviet tenacity with simple controls and adequate features. Nothing extra but no essential is spared. The main thing, however, was simply it was a joy to shoot. It never got in the way, never slowed me down and enable me to capture everything I needed to in the way I wanted to in challenging light with no inbuilt light meter to boot. The case strap isn’t great, but other than that no complaints at all and a wonderful part of the rangefinder journey. And for the price, 10/10 would bang.