As far as affordable Leica copies go, you have two choices; Fed and Zorki. Both FED and KMZ were making cameras in the same factory after the war and after the split, KMZ continued to make rangefinders and the Zorki 35mm Rangefinder was born.
Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works or KMZ – was founded as Krasnogorsk Optical Works in 1942 in Sverdlovsk. KMZ produced optical equipment for the Soviet Military until the factory was moved to Moscow in 1944 and they began producing photographic lenses based on the Zeiss Jena lens specifications.
In 1948 KMZ began producing FED cameras to help offset slow production rates in the FED factory and produced the FED/Zorki cameras that had both companies logos engraved onto the body. The following year, FED and KMZ split and in the 1949 the Zorki was born. KMZ would continue to produce an impressive catalog of cameras including the Zenit and Horizon camera lines.
The Zorki 4 rangefinder feels very much like my Leica IIIf. It has roughly the same heft to it (it’s nearly twice the weight of the Voightlander Bessa L), the rangefinder on the Zorki is just as clear and bright as my Leica, although the Zorki’s rangefinder has a slight blue tint to it. Focusing works like other rangefinders with split-screen focusing so you don’t have to just use the hyperfocal scale to work it out for yourself.
As time went on, the design of Zorki models changed and evolved and started to have their own sense of style and control placement. I’m not sure when they stopped just being a Leica knock-off but by the time the Zorki 4 was released KMZ cameras were well built. The controls are all well placed even though at times their purpose isn’t quite so obvious.
The film advance knob pulls triple duty and cocks the shutter, advances the film and is the frame counter. While advancing the film the action is tight and smooth.
Note * : There are unlabeled Zorki/Leica cameras that are full-on knock offs and labeled as a Leica and it can be hard to tell the difference. The easiest way to tell is to pop the shutter and and then cock it. The action is nowhere near as smooth as it is on a genuine Leica. By comparison the Zorki/Leica is sloppy and not well built.
One interesting feature of the Zorki 4 is the viewfinder focusing lever. It acts like a built-in diopter of sorts and magnifies the view while looking through the rangefinder. It’s a cool feature actually, it’s too bad that there isn’t a bit more friction on the lever itself to protect against it being moved inadvertently.
Using the Zorki 4
Loading the film on the Zorki 4 is a bit like loading a Leica IIf. First you have to unlatch the base via the two lock knobs, then sliding the back/base off. You should trim the film in roughly the same shape on the leader to make it easier to get the film into the take-up spool and properly loaded. Once the film is set up properly, slide the back/base back into place making sure not to catch the film on the pressure plate. Take a couple of exposures to advance the film to the start position. Finally, rotate the film counter back to 0 by turning it via the knurled portion in the center of the dial.
The Zorki 4 has a decent range of shutter speeds, ranging from 1s to 1/1000s. Unlike its predecessor, the Zorki 3s, the Zorki 4 has the slow shutter speeds integrated into the same shutter speed knob as the other speeds. It still uses a slow speed mechanism which can be felt and heard while adjusting the shutter speed to one of the slow speeds.
Note ** : The Zorki slow shutter speeds are 1s, 1/2s, 1/4s, 1/8s and 1/15s.
To change the shutter speed, lift the knob up and rotate it. Shutter speeds can only be adjusted once the shutter is cocked, don’t try and force the knob to move if the shutter is in the fired position, you will break the mechanism. To set the camera to the flash sync speed of 1/30s you have to rotate the dial clockwise past 1/1000s.
The Zorki 4 also has the ability to lock the shutter open. Rotate the locking knob clockwise to lock the shutter open, and then rotate it back to unlock it.
Focusing and Lenses
Focusing is easy and designed to be done one of two ways. Using the rangefinder you will find a split-focus image that is focused by aligning the two images you see. Once one image is aligned over the second image you’re good to go. There is also a built-in diopter designed to help get the most precise focus possible. By moving the magnifying lever back the view through the finder magnifies to offset for your vision.
If you want to use any LTM or M39 lens on a digital cameras it's really easy. Olympus, Lumix and Sony make a bunch of Mirrorless cameras that can be adapted to use these lenses. Using a mirrorless is preferable so there isn't anything that may block the movements inside the camera. Just get an adapter and you're all set. I have some examples below.
The other way to focus is to use focal distance. This is often the preferred method for street photography since you don’t have to bring the camera to your eye. By using the scale on the top of the lens you can gauge what will be in focus by how far away it is from you. Using the brackets created by your selected aperture, rotate the focus ring on the lens until you have the desired distances in the focus range.
Originally the Zorki 4 came equipped with either a Jupiter-8 50mm f/2, or Industar-50 50mm f/3.5.
The quality of these lenses range wildly, but they do have some enduring characteristics that are more or less universal. Jupiter lenses have better low-light characteristics and extremely lovely bokeh. The Jupiter 8 is most common, but there is also the Jupiter 3, which is a bit faster than the 8. The Industar 61L/D is a great all-purpose, leave the lens on all the time kind of lens. The 61L/D also stops down to f/2.8 so that’s a bonus.
You can easily find one for less than $50. If you like collapsible lenses, then you’re in luck, the Industar 22 or 50 a great all-around choices too. There is a huge range of quality here too, and lenses are not always “serviced and tested”. The first Industar 69 I bought was seriously gummed up and wouldn’t focus without considerable effort. I manage to take it apart and lube it, but the front element of the lens was also loose, so while cleaning and tightening infinity focusing became maladjusted, but it was only $25, so I ordered a new one to try again.
Keep in mind, that in general, the numbers following the name does not indicate focal length. For example, the Jupiter 8 is 50mm, the Jupiter 12 is 35mm and the Jupiter 11 is 135mm. This applies to Industar too, the Industar 61L/D is 55mm, the Industar 69 is 28mm and Industar 51 is 250mm.
I have four Zorkis right now, well maybe it’s 3. One of them is a Leica knock-off that’s made to look like a real Leica and I’m not 100% sure it’s a Zorki. I really like these cameras just for what they are. The Zorki 4 rangefinder is one of the more solidly built models and is less prone to breaking down. These are also great cameras to practice camera repair on. They are easy to find and they are inexpensive. I have a few cameras that I’m going to replace the leatherette with new leather and different colors.
There’s not much to lose by purchasing a Zorki 35mm film camera. They are inexpensive and easy to use. There are a huge variety of lenses available from the inexpensive Industar and Jupiter lenses, to middle of the road Nikon and Canon lenses and top shelf Voightlander and Zeiss lenses. So get out there and buy some toys!
KMZ Zorki 4
Type : Rangefinder
Lens Mount : M39 – LTM
Operation : Mechanical
Format : 35mm
Shutter : Focal plane
Shutter Speeds : B, * 1s – 1/1000s
Shutter Remote : Mechanical
Shutter Lock : Yes
Self Timer : Yes
Mirror Lock-up : No
DoF preview : No
Flash Sync : 1/30s PC Socket
Flash Mount : Cold shoe
Multiple Exposure : No
Strap Lugs : Yes
Production : 1956 – 1973
Weight : 1lb 5oz (body only)
Leather case and strap
Various filters: Yellow, Orange
Mechanical cable release
Metal lens cap
There are a considerable number of lenses available for Zorki and FED rangefinders. KMZ manufactured Industar and Jupiter lenses.
Some FED lenses will fit Zorki cameras as well as Leica, Canon, Voightlander and Nikkor M39 (LTM) lenses.
With a Novoflex adapter any of these M39 lenses can be used on a Micro Four Thirds digital came like the Olympus Pen E-PL8 or Lumix GX85.
Note** I have tried a number of adapters, there will be a follow-up post about which ones I prefer.