The Fed 5 is one of the most feature-packed Soviet rangefinders which does not require a battery. It is virtually undestroyable, I bet it is going to stay operational way after mankind extinct and the cockroaches rule the world. Since it has no battery an EMP blast cannot ruin it. A nuclear winter could not make any difference neither as the kit lens (Industar-61L/D) is already rumored to be slightly radioactive.
The fact is that the lens is actually is not more radioactive than a potato (not from Chernobyl). It contains a rare-earth element called Lanthanum which indeed has a radioactive isotope but that is very rare and not used for the glass in this lens. Do these properties make the Fed the Ultimate Post-apocalyptic Camera (UPAC)? Who knows, but I hope nobody will need to prove that I was wrong or right about this.
Anyway, I hope I have managed to catch your attention with this little intro, if you want to read my personal experience with the Fed and/or want to be a bit entertained, click more!
My feelings about my Fed5 are very ambivalent, I simply cannot decide that I actually like it and should shoot more with it or I would better keep it in the dark deep down in the cabinet. It was the very first camera in my vintage camera collection and this fact itself grants the special label in my virtual camera catalog.
So here is the camera which kicked in my collector instinct and triggered the process which leads to this classic camera blog you are reading right now, yet I wrote I have mixed feelings about it. Let’s just say that the beginnings of our relationship were not an easy ride.
Never trust your old man
At least don’t trust his film development skills if he did not touch his film development kit like 20 years ago!
Shortly after I received the camera, I and some of my film enthusiasts friends set up a nice shootout in the neighborhood. They came to visit from another part of the country so we did visit all the nice places we could reach in 1 day. Of course, we burned through a couple of rolls of black and white film through our cameras. We had a great time, great locations, superb light and most of all very high level of excitement about the results.
We were so eager to develop our films in the bathroom that we completely trusted my father’s rusty memories and we did not “waste” much time for research. We did almost everything right, we kept the development instructions found on the film boxes, but we placed the films into the tank, not in complete darkness, but we used red darkroom lights.
As a result, all of our precious frames were ruined. Only 2 shoots survived somehow but they were also badly damaged by our careless treatment. Later I have enlarged these photos and despite they are not the top quality, I like them a lot. Eventually, these are the first photos I developed myself.
This first-time “failure” was almost inevitable for a bunch of reckless fools who we were. It taught me to be more patient when it comes to film photography and I think it is somewhat the point. You cannot rush with film and old gear, you must wait some time for the results. The waiting for the magic to happen is really spiced up the process to me. If you want the output fast, go pick up a digital camera (I also have some).
The feature set is quite outstanding among other Fed cameras and I think it provides (on paper) everything which I would ever need in a classic camera.
It has a single stroke film advance lever which is connected to an automatic film counter mechanism. This lever is a huge improvement over the previous film advance knob used in the Fed 3.
The coupled range-finder/viewfinder is also handy, and diopter correction is possible and for the first time, it is not prone to accidental adjustments.
Also, it has a hot-shoe which is quite a big thing, so convenient flash usage became possible, and an additional flash-cable port is also available.
The camera features a built-in light meter which does not require any power source apart from the light it is measuring, so you can never run out of batteries. The needle display of the meter and the related mechanical calculator makes the top plate rather cool looking.
The top plate looks so great that it inspired me to make a little comic where a similar instrument is used as a radiation meter on an imaginary space station.
It is ugly
As we all know everything comes with a price. This case the built-in light meter required a hell lot of extra space and eventually, it leads to a new shape which is very unpleasant to my eyes. I like the shapes of the older Fed (1,2,3) models. The older it gets the better it looks (and the closer to the Leica 2). The fed 4/5 are very brick like in my opinion because of the enlarged top part.
Hard to use
Yeap, this camera is nothing but easy to use. First of all the viewfinder is small and dark. Maybe it is only my version, but the glass has a very heavy greenish cast, which holds back a lot of light. In addition, it is very hard for me to see the boundaries of the frame. In general, it is a challenge to compose with this viewfinder. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely usable and I had no problem with focusing so far, but the composition is an issue.
The frame counter is a nice to have feature, but it adds some extra resistance when you try to advance the film. It could give you the impression that something is broken inside the camera. I have got used to FSU cameras, so strange sounds and resistance during film advance are not new things to me, but this camera could be scary even for me.
The light meter is completely worthless, as selenium cells do not age well and they became inaccurate after a few decades for sure. Mine is working acceptable in good light, but as it gets darker the more it gets unreliable. I think it is possible to replace the cells, but usually, I can take my time to measure the light with an external meter. Still, it is too bad that the light-meter is actually the reason for the new shape (I don’t like) and now it is more or less serves as extra weight I need to carry.
On one hand, the Fed5 has a poor viewfinder experience and I am not the biggest fan of its shape. On the other hand, this is my first vintage camera. It never failed me and actually, this is the only L39 mount rangefinder camera of mine which has a reliable shutter so I can test such lenses only with this body.
I am mainly an available light shooter, but I like to have a hot-shoe and I already used the one on my Fed.
If you are looking for a rangefinder but you have a small budget and you want to use flash, you can’t go wrong with this camera. It will survive all of us and keep going to take pictures as long as somebody can press the shutter. Plus it can be turned into an effective melee weapon against polar bears.
Pajtás is a simple box camera made in Hungary in the 50’s/60’s and as you would suggest this was not a high-end piece of technology even at those times.
Normally I seek for perfection in photography and related equipment and I try to write about cameras here which are capable to produce respectable results or at least represent fine craftsmanship. The Pajtás is far from perfect in any of the aspects of build and image quality, therefore it was not particularly exciting for me until now. So why do I yet write about this camera and most importantly why should you read this review, knowing that I will probably conclude that this camera is crappy but lovely at the same time?
My first and probably strongest reason is that this camera is one of the not too many which were made in my homeland and therefore holds a significant value for me. It also means that this camera is not as well known outside of my region so unless you live in Hungary or nearby, there is a pretty good chance that you have never heard of it.
On the other hand, the Pajtás could be interesting for those who like the history of photography or history in general because of several reasons. First of all this camera features an Achromat lens which can give us an insight into the dawn of photography as the very first daguerreotype cameras had lenses with similar construction. In other words, the images taken through the lens of this box machine can show us a little bit of the taste of the character of the photographs that were taken centuries ago.
In addition, this camera is an iconic relic of industrial design from a not too distant, yet completely different era where the market was driven by strange forces. These were among the toughest years of socialism in Hungary. Production was planned in 5 years cycles and there was literally nothing that was impossible to sell. In these times this camera was the affordable and available option for almost a generation.
Through these glasses, we might see this camera a little different and at least for me, it is special to hold and even better shoot with it.
All in all, if you are interested in history, strange unique cameras, or even Lomography than this article is for you.
As always I try to collect as accurate information about the history of a camera as possible, but it is possible that I state something wrong. If I did, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment. Corrections are always welcome.
The members of the young pioneer organization were called Pajtás in socialist Hungary. It was the equivalent of the word comrade for young people. Oddly I had no idea about this meaning of this word until I started to read about this camera. But it has to be said that I was born in the 80’s when socialism was already quite melded in Hungary.
As the name suggests, the camera was intended for a young audience and it was extremely successful. It was affordable, reliable and most importantly available, so many had received a Pajtás as a present for various occasions such as graduation.
The camera was made between 1955-1966 by Gamma although the emblem has changed to FFV from 1960. FFV stands for Fővárosi Finommechanikai Vállalat (Metropolitan Works for Precision). Interestingly Gamma is still an existing company, even though they don’t manufacture cameras anymore.
The designer was János Barabás (1900-1973) who was mainly responsible for lens design at Gamma and we can thank him for the many great lenses used by Hungarian cameras.
The price of the camera in 1964 was 160 HUF and it was possible to buy a leather case for an additional 45 HUF. 
The camera is almost as simple as possible. It is made of Bakelite which allowed mass produce it on a low price.
The back has another nice feature, a little red window which keeps us informed about the number of the actual frame. Basically, the back of the film (in fact the covering paper) is visible through this window so you can see the printed numbers on the paper. While this is a robust solution, it is advisable to cover this window most of the time, especially if you use higher sensitivity film.
The film can be advanced by a knob at the top of the camera while you have to keep an eye on the frame counter window. There is no other way to determine how much you need to advance the film but to look at the window. This mechanism also makes it easy to take multiple exposure or overlapping shoots.
The shutter release is a simple column and a rotating switch around it with two positions. The red dot means locked and obviously, the white mark indicates that the shutter is free to press.
Since it is not possible to focus with this camera, the viewfinder is rather simple. It contains a lens for correct framing, but this is not a great pleasure to use. It is bright enough but considerably blurry to my eyes. To be fair, this viewfinder does the job just well enough. It gives you some approximation about what will be on your photograph and if your subject is not too close the parallax error is not significant.
To be fair, this viewfinder does the job just well enough. It gives you some approximation about what will be on your photograph and if your subject is not too close the parallax error is not significant.
There are only 2 shutter speeds available M (Moment)1/30 sec and T (Time) which stands for bulb. There is a better offering in aperture settings though you can select f/8, f/11, and f/16 options. Both the shutter speed and the aperture settings can be selected with dedicated dials on the front plane of the camera right below the lens.
All apertures are completely rounded and as far as I can see (without disassembling the camera) it is done by a metal plate with 2 holes on it. When the maximum f/8 aperture is selected, the plate is completely off the way, but as you turn the switch for selecting smaller apertures the appropriate hole slides into place behind the lens.
The leather case is pretty nice, it protects the camera very well. In the meantime, it has a hole in the back to read the frame-counter without dismounting the camera. My only concern is that you cannot separate the front part of the case (covering the lens) so you cannot use it as a half case.
The lens is an 80mm f/8 Achromat manufactured by MOM (Hungarian Optical Works). It is a classical landscape lens consisting of 2 elements: a positive crown and a negative flint element.
The lens which was designed and manufactured by Charles Chevalier for Daguerre was an achromatic landscape lens in the 1830s. Although that lens was different from the one that can be found in the Pajtás, the basic concept is the same. The achromatic lens was a huge step because for the first time it corrected some of the main aberrations which can be found in an optical system.
An achromatic lens or achromat is a lens that is designed to limit the effects of chromatic and spherical aberration. Achromatic lenses are corrected to bring two wavelengths (typically red and blue) into focus in the same plane.
These lenses are typically featuring low apertures because the rays entering the lens far from it’s axis need to be cut off by the stop in order to maintain image quality.
The lens used in the Pajtás camera gives no big surprises. It is focused to the hyperfocal distance so everything on the photo from some near distance will be sharp. It is also supported by the relatively small aperture, that is why depth of field is quite big.
The lens looks coated as I can see some purple cast on it when the light is appropriate. In general, it is not too prone to flare. Of course, there are not many elements in the lens so there are not many surfaces to bounce and reflect on. On the other hand, the interior of the camera is highly reflective so flocking could probably improve image quality and contrast.
Image quality and sample shoots
As you would expect, the image quality is not at all amazing. It is decent from a camera like this and I have to admit there is some charm of the strong character. Sure, most of the effects produced by the lens can be mocked by clever applications on any smartphone, but that is not the same. You must know that you work with a high random factor when you shoot with this camera.
So far I shot only 1 roll of Lomo Lady Gray 400 film with this camera as the first trial. In general, an ISO 400 film is probably too fast for this low shutter speed, but since winter is coming and we are having many dark days it was a good choice. I have some Hungarian Forte Supercolor 100 film in my refrigerator (expired in 1995) which could be a stylish combination with this camera.
The lens is sharpish in the center but blurs everything off around the edges. It sometimes even creates the impression of shallow depth of field, but this is not the case.
Distortion is apparent, but I couldn’t hold the camera perfectly perpendicular against the staircase and my scanner is also not the best in keeping the film flat. Anyhow, I think that the geometrical distortion is not the biggest issue compromising image quality here.
The numbers and circle signs on this shot (almost all shots have some) belong to the back of the covering paper of the film. I am not sure how they managed to get to the photos, but they did. If anyone has any idea, I would be happy to read it in the comments.
Also, there are signs of light leaks on almost all of my shots. This most likely happened, because the camera does not seal light perfectly. I am seriously considering to use some black tape next time I put the film into my Pajtás.
This frame was partially overlapped because of my fault. I have not transferred the film correctly.
There is no flash connection on this camera, so in theory, you cannot use flash with it. On the other hand, the 1/30 of a second is slow enough to fire flash manually at the right time. But probably the best strategy is to shoot in bulb mode in very low light or in complete darkness and fire the flash while you keep the shutter release pressed. I have done some successful experiment with the latter technique so I can recommend giving it a try.
Conclusion and recommendations
The Pajtás is not a rare camera, it is extremely cheap and just as light to carry. It is extremely easy to use as well. I believe it is even able to produce nice images in good hands.
Because of the simple construction there is literally nothing which could break in it. It is relatively safe to pick one with good cosmetics as it is almost certain that it will work properly. Eventually, this is not the camera we would expect completely accurate shutter speed from.
My only concern is the back which is a bit flimsy to me, but it can be secured by some black tape. And of course the Bakelite body is very rigid and therefore fragile, so it is advisable not to drop it.
If you like box cameras and the imperfection of the images they produce, or you are a fan of the retro design, then this camera could be a good choice for you.
I have a very special relationship with my Pentacon Six TL camera since it is my only working medium format camera. I was always heavily attracted by medium format photography, but I couldn’t afford for a while to get into it. Eventually, the P6 was the camera which allowed me to shoot 6×6 frames and since then I have not to regret my decision nor had a single thought to change to another system. In this post, I tell my story with this camera and try to show both the bad and the good things about it while hoping that some of you can find this information useful. It will be more like a subtract of my personal user experience and all the important bits I learned during my research.
My Pentacon Six story
I was a student at the university sometime around my second year when I first heard about this camera. I have just started up an experimenting film with an old Zenit-E when my buddy and roommate showed me a website with lots of photos and a description of the P6. Both of us got pretty excited when we realized that there is a world beyond the 35mm film, so we started to google and find more information about this beast. Unfortunately, I had no money at this time to simply buy one on eBay, therefore, I almost abandoned the idea until I found a Pentacon in a repair-shop next to my sister’s old apartment where I helped her to move in. The camera was broken, not complete and had no lens. It was literally a looted old donor of a camera. Despite the conditions of this camera-corpse, I was amazed by the size of the thing. It was huge, much bigger than I have expected after all the photos I have seen on the Internet, especially the lens mount was extraordinary sizeable compare to anything I have seen before. I could only wonder what a hell of a lens could possibly fill this gigantic hole on the front of the camera. From this moment, there was no return. I knew I had to get one of these monsters, but I still had to find the right one, which turned out not to be that difficult at all. A few weeks later I found a little shop in a small village next to my hometown by accident. I had spotted an ancient Russian enlarging machine in the shop-window so I stopped by and found a great repairman and a huge cabinet of precious vintage cameras and other relics. As you have already figured out, he had a nice Pentacon Six TL in the shape I was looking for. The camera was there for cleaning, but the owner hasn’t fetched it for many years. It was not an easy deal because the guy was not really keen to sell anything from his collection, but eventually, I got my Pentacon Six with the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar lens made by Carl Zeiss Jena and with a waist level finder. Both the camera and the lens were beautiful, nice, clean and fully operational. In fact, it was not really heavily used and in addition, the repairman was kind enough to check the shutter speeds before he handed the camera over them to me. Since then I have added many additional accessories and lenses to my Pentacon kit so today my collection consists of:
2 Pentacon six bodies
2 Waist level finders
2 Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ) 80mm f/2.8 Biometar
1 CZJ 50mm f/4 Flektagon
1 CZJ 120mm f/2.8 MC Biometar
1 CZJ 180mm f/2.8 MC Sonar (This lens belongs to a friend I just use it)
1 CZJ 500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon
Extension tube set
Split image focusing screen
Ever ready cases
The way it looks
Unfortunately, there are not only great things about this camera even if most of the bad rumors are only partially true. So let’s start with the not so nice before we focus on the good things. Many people think that the quality insurance was not the best during the manufacturing of these cameras, therefore, it is a real gamble to buy one as you may get a pretty bad and unreliable one. It is true that it is hard to find a Pentacon Six in a good working condition with perfectly accurate shutter speeds, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the cameras. The fact is that these cameras are pretty old and most of them were used for professional purposes where most likely a tremendous amount of film was burned through of them. You should think of them like you would think about an old car, for instance, a VW Beetle. It is a nice car with very few flaws, but since it is old and was driven around the Equator like 30 times you need to pay attention to maintenance to keep it running. You wouldn’t drive a 40-year-old Beetle found in someone’s backyard without checking the oil level, would you? Of course not, so why would you treat a camera differently? An old mechanical camera is just like an old car. It needs some maintenance and care. Of course, if you were a Hasselblad user, you might disagree, but the category and price tag of these brands are completely different, however, the produced images could be very similar.
Typical issues and solutions
I am lucky because I have personally met with only very few issues you can read on the Internet according to the P6. Most problems are easy to fix during a general overhaul which involves cleaning, lubrication, and adjustments of strings etc.
Slow and inaccurate shutter speeds
The Pentacon Six TL uses a huge canvas focal plane shutter which has 3 implications.
Lenses are cheaper because there is no shutter in the lens
Flash photography is limited to the sync speed which is 1/30s.
The huge canvas needs big and strong strings which can lose their adjustment as time goes by.
Usually, the speed 1/125s is the most accurate, anything faster could be slower than intended if the camera was not used in a long time. The slow times also could be problematic because the mechanical clock could pick up some dust. The solution is an overhaul by someone who knows what he is doing. The camera must be disassembled, cleaned and adjusted. There are no big worries here if you casually use your camera this does not have to be done too often, maybe once in every 10 years.
This problem is much more apparent than the previous one though. Many people have this problem of “kissing” or worse, overlapping frames. I think in most cases this happens because of the improper loose loading of the film. Have a look at this video from PentaconSixExpert on Youtube. I am not saying that this is the only problem because my rolls have uneven spacings between frames too (but no kissing or overlapping so far), but many times it is only because of the way you load the film.
I had no problems with this feature either, but this is definitely one of the weak spots of the camera. I have seen some Pentacons where the back of the camera was modified by adding a little window covered with red plastic to be able to see the numbering at the back of the film. This is certainly a solution, but a very harsh one. You could get the counter fixed by a professional or you could live without it, eventually, you can shoot even if it is broken.
The bright side
Now that we finished off the not so nice things it is time to celebrate and inspect why this system is so great. If I had to be short I would say we need to have a look at the following aspects to justify:
Lenses and image quality
The lens selection for this system is just fantastic in my opinion. You can find excellent optics for literally no money (compared to modern lenses) for every focal length from a wide variety of manufacturers most notably Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ). The lenses I use most of the time, are generally very fast, sharp and joy to shoot with.
It has to be said that even the multi-coated (MC) versions are more prone to flare than modern lenses with similar optical formula, therefore the use of a lens hood is always a good idea. If you want to read more about compatible lenses, visit the truly great site pentaconsix.com.
A friend of mine gave me a 180mm f/28 Sonnar to use. While this is one of the best and most iconic Pentacon mount lenses, I rarely use it, because it is so much bigger and heavier than the not much shorter 120mm Biometar.
Size and weight
The Pentacon Six looks like a 35mm SLR except this is much bigger, therefore, many people call them beefed up SLR or SLR on steroids. While it is true that they are significantly bigger and heavier than their 35mm counterparts, in fact, the P6 is a rather compact medium format camera which shoots 6x6cm frames. Yes, there are smaller ones, but those usually do not have the capability to switch lenses or having similar dimensions but with more weight. If you, like me love to travel with the biggest “sensor” possible then this size/weight aspect could be really important for you.
It has to be said, that this kit could be still awfully heavy especially if you pack more than one lens and a tripod too.
Value for the money
I think the Pentacon Six system comes with a very appealing price nowadays. You can get your body with an excellent standard lens around 100€ and even if you add the extra for cleaning and adjustments it is still far cheaper than most other interchangeable lens medium format system.
The fun I have
Eszter documented how I took a portrait of a painter in Istanbul. I think it reflects my emotions during the usage of this camera.
During the years I used my Pentacon Six, I have gained a lot of experience with it. So I would like to share some random thoughts I think could be useful for you.
Pentaprism vs Waist level finder
I do have a TTL prism, which provides a correct image in the finder (no switched sides) and can be used for through the lens light readings.
On the other hand, the prism is very dark and the light metering is not very easy to use. It is great to have in some cases, but generally, I prefer an external light meter. There are different brighter prisms available for example the older non-metering version. If I am not wrong the even brighter prism of the Kiev 60 is also compatible and can be attached.
In contrast, the waist level finder is definitely the brightest solution, therefore I use it the most. But it switches the sides of the images in the viewfinder, and you can hold the camera lower than usual to be able to see through the finder. For me, it is much easier to focus with, especially with the little magnifying glass built in.
Despite all of the inconveniences of the waist level finder, the image in it is something really special. I know it is an oxymoron, but it looks even better than reality. It is huge, bright and vivid, no viewfinder of any 35mm camera can come even close to it.
Focusing as always is a critical thing to do when talking about any photography. I had to learn that the depth of field is just way more shallow when you shoot medium format, thus even a slight movement of the camera could cause your subject to fall out of the sharp region.
When I shoot handheld with the 80mm/120mm lenses I try to not going wider than f/4 or even f/5.6 because it still provides nice bokeh, but has some safety in terms of the size of the sharp areas. Naturally, I often find myself shooting wide open (f/2.8) on a street, but it’s always risky to do.
Luckily I haven’t had many problems with my cameras, but during the last 6 years, I had some cases where I had to ask someone to help.
I had “the old” (my original) P6 cleaned, lubricated and adjusted one time after I heard some unusual noises from the shutter. Since then it works perfectly. No exposure problems even when shooting Velvia.
My 120mm lens had a stuck iris once which required the disassembly and general cleaning of the lens. This is, unfortunately, a common problem with old lenses. Conclusion and recommendation
Needless to say, this camera is not for everyone. As long as you can accept that your camera needs some care in a form of regular maintenance, you could be very happy with it. So keep in mind that the final price could be higher than the purchase itself as basic repairs might be needed.
Nowadays it is not always easy to find someone who is qualified to repair old mechanical cameras. Therefore it is best to buy from a trusted source with grantee that you get a working camera. I think it worth the extra money to get an overhauled camera in the first place.
I think this is a great camera, and could be a good choice for anyone who wants to try medium format photography and needs an interchangeable lens solution. If you don’t have the budget for more expensive systems like Hasselblad or Mamiya, or simply want to find the most compact option this could be the solution for you.
So far my Pentacon Six never let me down, the images are just amazing and for me, it is great fun to shoot with.
The Pentacon Six System Far the best and most comprehensive informational site about the topic. Highly recommended.
“Woow!” This was the first thing came into my mind when I first saw an Exakta in a cabinet in a very small and messy shop of an old camera-repairman a couple of years ago. The second thing? Well, I seriously considered to lick it quickly while the owner looked away. It never happened due to the glass door of the cabinet and I can still feel the sensation of the missed opportunity -What a pity-.
Apart from the joke, I had been seriously touched by the appearance of this family of cameras, especially the older ones. It is an entirely mechanical, full glass, bare metal, chrome and leather piece of jewelry. I am almost certain that this camera triggered the entire steam-punk culture. There is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful classic cameras of all times.
“True” Exaktas were manufactured by Ihagee in Dresden during almost 4 decades which resulted in an amazingly complete and comprehensive camera system. While I always keen to give a bit of historical overview of a camera system, I had to realize that others have done this on a level I simply cannot match. If you were interested in the different variants and history, please visit this link. I limit myself to the most interesting facts I found out during my research and consider this post as a kind of tribute to Exakta and the company made it Ihagee.
It is interesting to know that the Exakta camera system was very stable during its evolution, almost all parts were interchangeable among models which are remarkable. There was a huge sort of accessories available for these cameras and they were heavily used for technical and scientific photography. I think this system was one of the most versatile at the time. For example, you can see below a commercial from a 1952 German magazine Die Fotografie where the camera is attached to a microscope.
The Exakta Varex was introduced in 1950 and the big innovation was the possibility to use the camera with the standard waist level finder or with a pentaprism. This interchangeable viewfinder system even further increased the versatility of the camera. In addition, there were a big number of available finders of both types (4 basic pentaprism types) and all of them allowed to use a huge variety of focusing screens on top of it. They claimed in their commercials, that they merged the good old experience with modern ideas. You can check out the complete list of finders and screens on this page.
One of the interesting characteristics of this camera is the left-handed shutter release which (I believe) is inherited from the times when the camera used only waist level finder. It is very awkward at first and even at the second time to handle the camera because of this using the prism for those who got socialized on right-handed cameras. I guess it was no problem initially with the waist level finder and they kept this property. In fact, it is possible to get used to it, but it requires quite a commitment.
I have managed to dig out a couple of high-quality commercials and posters released by Ihagee, this cool half cut camera poster can be seen in a camera shop in Hungary (Soós Fotó). I have found and included in this post many more nice illustrations from books and magazines. It shows that the Exakta was really among the most prestigious SLRs at the time. It was literally the ultimate way to go for every possible purpose from photojournalism to science and technical applications where larger formats could not be convenient to use.
My Exakta is a subtype of the very long lasting and successful Varex IIa. This version was released in 1960 and the distinguishing feature is the logo which is not pressed into the metal anymore and the shape of the prism is slightly different than earlier models.
Varex IIa datasheet
Produced 1957-1963 this version was introduced1960
Film type 135 (35mm)
Lens mount Exakta mount (inner and outer bayonet)
Shutter cloth curtain (traveling horizontally)
Shutter speeds 12s – 1/1000, B
Sync speed 1/50
Viewfinder interchangeable waist level or prism
Exposure meter none
PC sync connections
Internal film cutting blade
This particular camera was sold in Antwerp, Belgium in 1961 and according to the catalog I have, the list price was 13.185 francs with the prism and Tessar standard lens. The second lens (Trioplan 100mm) had the price of 4.205 francs. I am trying to find out what could that mean at that time, but one thing is sure in Hungary this combo would have cost a complete year salary of a regular person in the 60s. In comparison for a Russian Zenit SLR, some had to work like hell for 2-3 months while consuming solar energy only for survival in Hungary those times.
The camera actually belongs to my Friend David who was kind enough to give it to me for use as he did with the Yashica TL-SUPER camera I reviewed. He received it from the original owner from Belgium, so I can actually track back the history of this camera until the beginning. Thank you again, David!
The camera came in the every-ready case, with 2 wonderful lenses. a high-quality B+W filer, a nice rare Carl Zeiss Jena polar filter, a Sunpak flash unit and all sort of documentation including warranty, and catalogs.
Condition and repairs
The overall condition of the camera is very good, although the Tessar lens was really stiff, it was very hard to focus on. In the opinion of my repair-man, it could have been stored in a cold place for a while. I have got the lens cleaned and lubricated and now it is as good as new. Again, the arts of lubrication was successfully applied, plus apertures and glass elements got some attention and cleaning. Important to note that the focusing ring is covered with some kind of plastic which became rigid over the years, and it is advised to take care of it as it is very fragile and can be broken for any little hit. If it breaks it needs to be replaced by leather with a similar texture which is a hideous task to do.
The shutter was advanced when I first got it in hand, so the springs were tensed probably for many years ago and as it turned out the high shutter speeds are not really usable now. 1/500 and 1/1000 while they sound good the movement of the curtains are not even. As a result, some parts of the frame came out less exposed than others. It could be fixed by the master of the lubricants, but it would definitely cost a load of money. I decided to wait and until it gets fixed I started not to use these speeds. It seems everything works fine up to 1/250s and I have managed to carry out my second roll without any problem.
The silvering of the mirror is damaged badly around the edges and it has a negative effect on the clearness of the viewfinder. There is no way to fix the mirror because the silver just melted down. The only solution is the complete replacement, but as I use this camera casually only I decided to keep it as it is for a while.
The way it looks
As you have already figured out I like this camera the most because of its appearance. I think it really does look gorgeous even though I prefer more the versions with the engraved or embossed logo on the front plate. Despite this not too serious concern, I feel like holding something really special when I choose this for a walk. For me it is an outstanding experience to carry such a nice piece of history and heritage while I can be almost certain that the camera hanging on my neck is so unique I will probably not meet with anything even close to it. It has its charm and style to not to deny apart from what kind of photos came out at the end. Of course, the shoots are great too, nothing to complain about. What I want to say is that it is so elegant I might walk with it even if it was a bad camera (which is not!).
Well, we have reached the point where I must stop extol this camera because the ergonomics is at least awkward.
The left-handed shutter release is really hard to get used to it. The shape of the body is nothing but convenient. It is in fact quite bulky. The reason is probably practical though, this shape helps to keep the film more in place and flat according to some opinion and I eventually accept it.
To change the shutter speed, you have to pull out the dial and it is the normal procedure in this era, but not really convenient. To set longer exposures (1/5-12s) you have to operate two dials by setting the main dial to T mode and setting the second for the speed. The film advance lever has an extremely long stroke and the mirror does not return after release. The film transferred from one spool to another in the opposite way as it is usual as the system is left-handed, and to rewind the film you have to pull and turn a couple of things at the same time. Overall many things are a little bit complicated.
All in all this camera is the hardest to use among those I have ever tried. It is at least challenging and not as straightforward as switching your bicycle. But I think it is worth to fight and it is possible to realize that focusing on your left hand is only a habit, not a testament. After you have learned all the tricks it could be as easy to use as any other camera, but for me, it takes some time.
Proper ways to hold the camera while using the waist level finder. The image is from the original handbook of the camera
I have only a pentaprism with split screen focusing glass. It is dark for modern standards, although it could be also because my lenses are not exactly that fast (f/2.8) and the mirror is damaged around the edges. I suppose with a faster lens like a f/1.5 Zeiss Biotar and with a new mirror, it would be bright enough.
The split screen works as intended, but it takes a too big part of the screen (in my opinion) and I often use the matte parts around the central circle to focus instead.
I would love to try the waist level finder also because I prefer that on my Pentacon Six over the prism because of the extra lightness and the presence of a magnifying glass for pin accurate focusing. I don’t shoot much action with these anyway, I have time to focus precisely.
There is a feature of this camera which had been hardly used by most and made me think quite a bit until I have found out what it is for. Interestingly enough you can actually cut the film inside the camera with a razor sharp hook-shaped blade. This way you can change film in the middle of the roll without the need for rewinding and calculating the position of the last exposed frame.
This blade can be seen on above on my photo where the back is open and for reference point please look the point 38 on the draft above. The operation is simple you have to screw out a lock at the bottom of the camera than you have to pull the rod and the blade cuts the film. I have never seen this before and while I am sure I will never use it, still it is a neat little feature. The engineers of Ihagee thought of everything.
Lenses and test shoots
Ihagee didn’t manufacture lenses by itself, but many brands made glass for the Exakta mount.
A very cool page to visit according to these lenses, in general, can be found here, and in detail with illustrations here.
I have got the camera with two lenses: a standard 50mm Tessar and a 100mm Trioplan. The Tessar had to get cleaned and lubricated, but the other lens is in a really nice shape.
Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f/2.8
There is no Tessar written on the lens nor Carl Zeiss only Jena and a big “T” letter. The reason is that the East German Carl Zeiss Jena was not allowed to use it’s brand name nor the name of the lenses outside of the eastern block because the West German company owned the brand names. Nevertheless, this is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and it performs as it should.
The Tessar is a classical construction or base type which consists of 4 elements 2 of them cemented together. These are considered very sharp and having a “hard” character (whatever it means). Because of the good performance, good enough speed and cheap production costs this lens type was very popular and have several siblings such as Elmar, Industar, Primotar, Skopar, Xenar, Ymmar, Ysaron, Belar etc. Apart from the direct relatives, there are many more modifications led to new lens families.
I am going to write a deeper article about this lens as soon as I can get an EOS to Exakta adapter.
Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
This is a triplet structure anastigmat containing obviously 3 elements. Although the structure is very simple it allows a relatively fast aperture and also it has the advantage of having no risk to get glued elements separated as there are none of them.
Some of the brothers are Anticomar, Cassar, Novar, Meritar, Radionar, Trinar, Triotar, Voigtar, Eurygon.
The triplet construction does not produce sharp images on large apertures due to the issues with the rays coming from sideways. This problem can be fixed on a level by stopping down. As you can see on the test photos the lens is indeed very soft wide open and it adds some kind of glow to the objects. It could even be beneficial for portraits by delivering a dream-like effect which hides most of the skin imperfectness of the model.
This lens is famous for its bokeh, which contains unusual and for most pleasing circles when shooting wide open. Unfortunately, I have no example taken by me so far, but you can see one here.
Again, I will do a deeper review of this lens as soon as I get an adapter to Canon and have some time to do more research.
The Pancolar 80mm f/1.8 is a late development of Carl Zeiss Jena which was at that time the East German part of the original company torn into pieces by the WW II. Therefore this lens was accessible in the eastern block mainly and even though now it can be found all around Europe, this is a very rare lens in other continents.
The lens has a high reputation as a sharp, fast portrait lens and it is quite expensive among other lenses of the same era. It has an M42 mount and was produced in both automatic and electronic forms. It was later remounted as the B-mount Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1.8/80. (source Praktica-users.com)
Datasheet and optical formula
Construction:6 elements, 5 groups
Angular field: 30.4°
Minimum focusing distance: 0.8m
Diaphragm action: fully automatic
Minimum aperture: f/22
Maximum aperture: f/1.8
No. aperture blades: 6
Filter size: 58mm screw-in type
Push-on diameter: 60mm
Barrel length: 64mm
This lens is a typical example of the legendary classic double Gauss lens formula also known as Planar.
The Double Gauss was likely the most intensively studied lens formula of the twentieth century, producing dozens of major variants, scores of minor variants, hundreds of marketed lenses and tens of millions of unit sales. It had almost no flaws, except for a bit of oblique spherical aberration, which could lower peripheral contrast. Double Gauss/Planar tweaks were the standard wide aperture, normal and near normal prime lens for sixty years.
The double Gauss lens consists of two back-to-back Gauss lenses (a design with a positive meniscus lens on the object side and a negative meniscus lens on the image side) making two positive meniscus lenses on the outside with two negative meniscus lenses inside them. The symmetry of the system and the splitting of the optical power into many elements reduces the optical aberrations within the system. (source: Wikipedia)
I have got mine from the girlfriend of my father with the original case. She never used it, it was basically on the shelf without a camera since ages.
Probably she didn’t know what was the value of this lens, so I didn’t know neither. As it turned out it is an expensive lens among the usually very cheap M42 mount lenses. The market price is very similar to a new Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, which is why I am often thinking about selling it. So far, I decided to keep it, because of the nice performance, character and because I can use it on many crazy cameras of mine.
The front cap was missing and the aperture blades were stuck, otherwise, as you can see in the photos below, the lens was in a really good shape. The glass was clean, no dust, no scratches, no fungus and it was obviously not used too much. I have substituted the missing front cap with a Canon cap of the standard 18-55mm kit lens. I tried to use other Ø 58mm caps, but this was the only one which was not tending to touch the front lens element.
The way it looks
This is one of my favorite lenses. The images are always very sharp and have a good contrast with it. I can say that there are very little signs of any aberrations or distortions over the frame. I have not tested the lens scientifically yet so I cannot compare the performance in numbers with other lenses. But real word experience is quite pleasant for me.
At wide open, sharpness and contrast are a bit lower than stopped down by one-two stops, but still quite nice and I think this is very common with almost all fast prime lenses. Besides a slightly softer result can be beneficial for some portraits where little details of the skin can be smother and this way the model could look more perfect. The 80mm Pancolar is really not much softer wide open though. Colors are also rich and lovely and somehow different from my other lenses when using on the same digital body.
Dept of field & Bokeh
I like this short telephoto lens because this focal distance allows me to take nice shoulder portraits while I am still close enough to the model to interact with.
Also, this lens has the ability to blur the background (like hell) very much because of the large maximum aperture. In fact, the depth of field can be so shallow that sometimes you get only a few centimeters of it and it has a risk that you miss the focus. A good example when only one eye of the model is in focus.
Speaking about bokeh (quality of out of focus elements), this lens produces a lot and the quality is superb, creamy. I know it is subjective to judge this property, so please have a look at the sample shots and decide yourself. The only caveat with it is the fact that the lens has only 6 aperture-blades. It could produce a not circular (multigonal) spots of highlights in the blurred background. It is a subjective thing again to like it or not, personally I prefer the perfect circles. This is not a problem when shooting wide open as the aperture is round at that case.
The Pancolar is a very well made lens which has a full metal + real glass construction. It looks absolutely beautiful, feels solid and has a good weight to it. The aperture ring clicks at every half stops and operates very smoothly and precisely. The focus could be the same if I had got the right grease into it. -I will get it fixed soon. – The lens barbell extends a few milometers while focusing, but not seriously and the front element does not rotate -> there is no problem with polarizing filters to use.
There is a switch on the lens to set automatic or manual mode. When set to automatic the aperture stops down only when you press the shutter button and then it returns to full size when mounted on a compatible camera. In the case of manual mode, you must pre-set the aperture manually. This could be a nice feature too for videographers.
I have found a short summary on a nice website (Prime35.com) which is a perfect quote to close this post.
CZJ Pancolar MC 80/1.8
I’d say this is the best choice for versatile and sharp M42 80mm lens. It’s contrasty, it has the best wide-opened performance of all f/1.5-f/2 M42 portrait lenses. Center is close to Biotar, but borders are much sharper. Great colours (MC) + great bokeh. It also isn’t as risky as the early post-war lenses, because its coating is much harder, so cleaning marks are not an issue. For me it’s the best post-war Jena lens. (source: Prime35.com)
The Kiev-4 -according to my opinion- is an extremely outstanding camera. It has a fascinating history, an extraordinary construction, a very attractive outfit and on top of all these, it is still a very capable performer if you don’t mind to shoot in full manual.
Produced 1947-1987 Arsenal, Kiev, Ukraine reference
Film type 135 (35mm)
Picture size 24 x 36mm
Weight 27.2oz (771.1g) with Jupiter-8 (“white”)
Lens Jupiter-8 (Arsenal copy of Zeiss Sonnar) 50mm 1:2.0
Focal range .9m to infinity
Shutter metal curtain (traveling vertically)
Shutter speeds 1-1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, 1/250s, 1/500s, 1/1250s + B
Viewfinder coupled rangefinder
Exposure meter uncoupled selenium cell
Accessory shoe, PC sync connection
As I have already mentioned this camera has a very interesting history which you’ve probably heard of. I am not the biggest expert of this story, therefore I don’t even try to reveal every twists and detail, but I do try to make a good summary of the research I have done.
Surprisingly it is more a German camera than a Soviet, but most importantly it is not a plagiarism of the Contax but it is a legal replica. But how it is possible?
After World War II. the Soviets acquired the Zeiss Contax II and III from Germany as part of war reparations. They got everything, machines, technologies, spare parts, and key personnel as well. That is why the first Kievs have original Contax parts and eventually, most of these cameras were made on the very same machines.
After some pilot production series, the production lines were set up in Kiev, Ukraine in the Arsenal factory. Even though the production was based on local workers, the technical coordination was done by a small group of German professionals, most notably Wolfgang Hahn.
Despite the initial lack of trained personnel, the fact that the entire production line was moved and the high pressure to produce cameras in very big quantities, the Kiev is a very well built camera (The design itself is very fault tolerant). It is in fact much closer to the original Contax in quality than any other Soviet cameras especially early models were very high quality.
It has to be said that there were significant drops in quality as the camera was simplified in the sake of productivity and as the members of the original crew went retired. Therefore if you intend to buy a Kiev camera, the older is the better (before 1970 if possible).
All in all the original design from the 1930’s is so rigid that despite the circumstances the Kiev cameras was based on it during many decades until 1987.
If you want to read more about the history with way more details, I can recommend to check out this site.
My Kiev-4 is made in 1965 and sold (first) in 1966 in Budapest for 2400 HUF – 500 HUF discount (for unknown reason) which was a ridiculously high price at the time (I will figure out how to convert it to today’s values). Hungary was a part of the Eastern block and there was only 1 company which sold photographic equipment in the country called Ofotért. The funny part is, I have got a catalog of this company from 1979 and this camera was still listed for 2140 HUF.
The warranty was 1 year and the camera is still working! I have the original box, invoice, warranty, lens caps, ever-ready case and the camera itself with a Jupiter-8M lens. The M stands for the feature that the aperture values click as you change them (quite advanced technology).
How did I get it
I always wanted a usable and good looking rangefinder. I usually don’t demand much in terms of usability as I am a camera addict, so what I really wanted can be summarized as accurate shutter speeds, interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder which is combined with the rangefinder and bright/big enough to let me enjoy the rangefinder characteristics. My other concern was of course price because a Leica or even an original Contax is way out of my scope.
I did not know too much about the Kiev until one day I have found one in a very good shape (almost mint condition) on a Hungarian auction site, similar to eBay. The camera was listed with the excellent Zeiss Sonar copy Jupiter-8M lens, the original box, and documents including the original warranty, which is, of course, had expired way before I was even born. It was so attractive that I couldn’t resist. After a few hours of research, I decided to buy it and I haven’t regretted my decision so far. The whole package cost me 14.000 HUF. If there was no inflation some could think the camera actually gained some value, but in fact, it is now below 50€ at the time of writing and I think it is extremely low for such a beauty.
The way it looks
It has a metal vertical traveling shutter. Both vertical and metal are rare if not nonexistent at this era of FSU (Former Soviet Union) cameras. With the vertical movement, the shutter needs to travel a shorter distance as the frame is (24 x 36mm) and thus higher shutter speeds are available. 1/1250 of a second is indeed a short amount of time, and my camera is still able to produce it. The metal part doesn’t make much difference, however, it will certainly not tear or puncture easily compare to a canvas material.
It is worth to note, that you have to advance the film before changing shutter speed because you might cause some trouble and your settings could be inaccurate. If you want to know why to visit this site.
In my experience, the shutter is very quiet, maybe not as quiet as a Leica as some would claim. But it is quite enough to be able to take street shots in a very discrete way.
Viewfinder and focusing
The viewfinder fits the view of the standard 50mm lens and it is large and bright compare to my other FSU rangefinders (the collection is not complete though). It is true that it could be brighter and it has some greenish color casting. I think it is probably because it is used to increase the contrast between the small internal and the bigger external frame of the viewfinder to aid focusing. It is still very usable, but I could wish brighter among dim conditions.
It is combined with the rangefinder, you can use the same window to compose and make your subject sharp. If you want to read more about how the rangefinder device works, visit this site in general, and this site specifically to Kiev-4.
Personally, I think the viewfinder is very usable for a camera this old. All of my shoots so far were spot on. This is way better than my average focusing results with manual SLRs without a Fresnel type split screen.
The focusing is especially accurate because the two windows of the rangefinder have an unusually big distance between each other. This and the small focusing wheel on the body makes focusing extremely precise.
As a downside, it is very easy to hold a camera in a way that one of the rangefinder windows are covered by hand thus compromise it. Therefore the proper holding is a bit aardvark and called the “Contaxt hold”.
Keep your index finger on the shutter release, your middle finger on the focussing wheel and the other two below the RF window and you’ll be fine! (Tobi’s camera page)
This is something that you get used to it or you will hate this camera forever. For me, it is not a big price to pay for the accurate focusing at all.
This version of the camera has a built-in selenium cell meter at the top plate while the Kiev-4A is the same camera but without the meter. I think the no-meter version is more stylish and in addition, these light-meters are generally inaccurate nowadays. It is still working (no battery needed), but it is not reliable plus the difference is according to a non-linear function, thus it cannot be easily corrected. Making it worst the film-speed scale is GOST instead of ISO or DIN. This is not a big issue if you carry a convertion table or you stick to one film speed only, but inconvenient for sure.
That is why I have to use an external light-meter or a digital camera to measure the light. I know it sounds tricky, but most of my cameras have no meter at all, plus many great photographers could live with this limitation just fine before us.
Film loading and advance
You have to remove the back plate in order to load the film. This is not too special, but you need to get used to it.
Advancing a film is done by rotating a knob at the top plate instead of having a fast-advance-lever. Again this is not really ergonomic, but you can accept it unless you shooting fast actions.
Winding back the film is a similar experience, but you need to hold a button located at the bottom of the camera. In fact, this is the part I dislike the most about this camera because the rewind knob is very small compared to the force you have to apply. It doesn’t mean you had to force it badly! If you feel something needs to be forced, better not to do it because the film and the camera are both very sensitive instruments.
According to Camerapedia “The Jupiter-8 (sometimes marked in Cyrillic, ЮПИТЕР-8) is a postwar Soviet copy of the prewar Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 for the Contax, built with six elements in three groups. It was made in Contax and M39 mounts, both for rangefinder cameras. “
The lens has a big reputation of being sharp, fast, with a good contrast and a nice bokeh (quality of out of focus elements), but it is prone to internal reflections by direct sunlight hitting the lens. I can confirm all these and yes, it is much better if you are having a lens-hood (5€). The lens is a bit soft wide open, but this is not unusual. You just need to stop down a bit and you will get pin sharp results. On the other hand, the lens has a very pleasing character, which can be revealed best wide open and I think it is great for portraits.
It is true that the quality of your lens highly relies on how lucky you are because the quality control was not the best in that part of the world. Generally speaking the older the lens is the better with the notion that the coated versions are preferable.
The body itself supports a wide variety of lenses. It has the standard Contax bayonet (in fact 2 bayonets inner, outer), so all Contax and Kiev lenses are accepted plus there are Japanese lenses available -Nikon and Canon also made cameras with this mount, but those might be not fully compatible because of the differences in the film distance.
I am very happy with this camera. It looks great and as you can see in the sample photos it can produce very good results (in my opinion). I sent some photos to the original owner of the camera, and he was also surprised, how well it perform for me.
It is indeed not as easy to use, but it gives you a very unique feeling of using something really special, and you are taking pictures in the same fashion as photographers were doing 60 years ago.
In fact, this is one big thing I really like in film photography. You can use the equipment of the elders, yet as you put a modern film in it, you can achieve state of the art results.
I recommend it to anyone who likes the way around and doesn’t mind to learn the “Contax hold”. It is not a big investment but can give so much fun and works perfectly on the exhibition cabinet as well.
Kiev survival site -Everything that is needed to know about the camera including repairing guides for the body and lenses-
The Yashica TL-SUPER is my regular walk around film SLR camera. I think this is a very solid piece of craftsmanship and I thought I might share my experience with it.
I have plenty of vintage cameras most of them in a pretty bad shape, but those which are in good condition I try to use as much as I can.
This Yashica however isn’t mine but belongs to a very good friend David, who gave it to me for use. He is not shooting film, so I guess it could stay for a while. In fact he gave it in a set which consists of a very retro looking camera bag, 3 lenses, a filter, eye-cap,a truly wonderful leather case an of course the body itself. Everything is in an almost perfect shape and I also take care of this equipment a lot.
Unfortunately the battery was left in the camera for a couple of years and as far as I could investigate all the wires are burned out, therefore the meter is dead. It could be fixed by rewiring everything, but until now I have not take the challenge, plus I use an external meter for my other cameras anyway. Despite this issue and the fact that the light sealing rubbers have been pretty much eaten by time it looks as brand new. Thank you David so much! The sealing is a common problem of this kind of cameras, and not on the level of rocket science to solve. (Repair informations can be found here)
I have done some research on the web in order to be able to give some not subjective facts about this camera. So here it is what I have found so far.
The camera has 2 variations both produced in the same year. The significant difference is the way how to open the back of the camera. While v1 has a switch at the bottom of the camera, the v2 opens the back with the traditional rewind-knob pull solution. My version is the more interesting v1.
I love this camera because of it look and feel in my hands, it is really solid indeed. All the dials and switches operate very precisely and I have always a very nice quality feel when I set the time on the body. The lenses are equally well made, on the standard, there is even a scale for infrared photography which is also not usual. My other favorite feature is the mirror look-up. I can flip off the mirror from the way so I can take pictures without any vibrations due to the mirror movement.
I do love the leather case so much because it is very well made and over-thought. You can remove the front-top part while the back of the camera is still covered by the rest of the case. In addition, there is a screw-mount at the bottom of the case in the knob, so you can actually mount it to a tripod without unwrapping your camera. Finally, the knob fixing the case to the camera is somewhat over-sized compared to any other I have seen before, which makes it very convenient to attach and detach.
Some more photos
Very good chance to get one which is working well due to the robust design
Good built quality
Integrated meter works with a common battery type
Works without battery
Huge selection of cheap yet excellent lenses
Nice leather case
Nothing, if you like this manual way of photography.
In fact my only minor concern is that I miss the split-image type focusing aid from the viewfinder. It does have micro-raster but the split-image method is much better for me especially when shooting indoor with a not as fast lens. It could be hard to focus in dim conditions.