Update March 2013: I’ve been collaborating with the poet Rebecca Goss on a project using the Zorki-4 and the Jupiter-8 lens. We’ve called it the Jupiter Project.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a Zorki-4 camera on ebay, because I wanted to see what it was like to use a rangefinder, and I don’t have the money to experiment with Leicas. I think I have been lucky with my purchase. This particular camera was made in 1968, the year I was born, but as the pictures below show, there isn’t much wrong with it. Even the slow shutter speeds seem reasonably accurate. The Jupiter-8 lens is in good shape too, but more on that later.
Zorkis were made in Moscow, starting with the Zorki-1, in 1948. The Zorki-1 was a copy of the Leica II rangefinder, from the early 1930s, and indeed if you are thinking of buying one of those, check carefully that it didn’t start out life as a Zorki. They look almost identical even before they have been modified, and you’re better off with a working Zorki-1 than a fake Leica. The Zorki-4s were made from 1956 to 1973, and were the best selling of the Zorki range. This one was made for export, and probably arrived in Britain when it was new.
Of course I am old enough to have used film cameras when there was no alternative, but what little I know about photography has mostly been learned with digital cameras. In fact if it hadn’t been for digital, I doubt I would ever have felt excitable enough about a camera to buy one of these, because I wouldn’t have spent enough time taking pictures. The Zorki has no electronics, and gives no assistance, not even a passive light meter. That was quite scary at first. The problem shifted from “How do I get this light into the camera in the way I want it?” to “How much light is there? Now what?” I downloaded a couple of light meter apps to my phone, and have also used another camera just for metering, but mostly I have used the “sunny sixteen” rule, made a guess, and worked it out for myself. The distance range on the lens, and the rangefinder way of focussing is very easy. The Zorki is a revelation.
The Jupiter-8 lens that came with this camera is a little stiff, but not in a problematic way. It’s clean and tidy, and seems to be free of scratches. One thing that has shocked me a little though is how variable it is. With modern lenses there is some slight variation in sharpness, depending on how wide the aperture is set, but for middle of the road snappers like me that doesn’t make much difference. This lens though is radically different with the aperture wide open from the way it is “stopped down”. I was pleased to get the shot below, largely because I was finding out whether the slow shutter speeds were working (they seem to be). But since it was taken indoors, the lens was wide open. Even allowing for a tiny bit of camera shake, you can see how soft the image below (taken at 1/40 second at f2) is. Not in a bad way, necessarily–maybe in a way you could use–but soft nonetheless.
Compare it with some of the outdoor shots in the slideshow below to see how sharp it can be at small apertures. A huge range.
PS. This camera and lens cost less than a fast SD card.