Have you ever wanted a camera just because of the way it looks? The big old Nikons with the huge photomic pentaprims give me that feeling, even though I could no more fit one into my life than take up yoga. But the Fed 2 has a place and would fit.
It’s that stripped-back-to-basics look of an old Leica, but without the pretensions or prices. What am I thinking? I bang on about the camera being immaterial and the pictures being the thing. I make fun of the rabid acquisition monkeys. I just didn’t know the power of the dark side.
I confess: I succumbed. Of course I did, or this would be about a Nikon F2. So Fleabay delivered what turned out to be a Fed 2 version B from 1958-9. It has a lovely feel, in that the wind-on and shutter feel smooth and quiet. The lens is an Industar 26-m of the same age. It’s a bit worn, as there is some play in the focus thread. But again it feels smooth and has a nice focussing tab. I have the replacement Industar-61 LD version of the lens with the (horrors!) lanthanum glass, but the newer lens feels almost wrong on this camera. (Side note – both lenses are Tessars, but of different construction. That’s why I put links to both.)
The whole camera feels well put together but smooth from use. Could this really be Soviet engineering? The film pressure plate was a bit shiny, but that’s a good sign that the camera has been in use rather than sat in a cupboard. A bit of permanent black marker ought to see things right. That or only ever shoot cine film with remjet backing. The rangefinder needed a bit of recalibration. The horizontal alignment is simple – remove one small screw and use a tiny screwdriver to get the infinity alignment back. The vertical alignment is a little more awkward, as it involves rotating the rangefinder window. The glass is obviously a wedge rather than flat, so rotating it shifts the light passing through it.
The first film through was evenly exposed and the frame spacing was regular. Good signs that the mechanical bits were working as intended.
The lens seems to be low contrast. The glass is clear, so this doesn’t look like a veiling flare from cloudiness. I was shooting with a lens hood, on a fairly overcast day, so I guess that the low contrast is real. It’s going to be interesting to try taking shots under similar conditions with both versions of the Industar and to compare it with my Jupiter 8 lens, which is of a different construction entirely.
Even though this is about the camera more than the lens, the camera did come with this lens on it. It seems reasonably sharp right into the corners at normal working apertures. The bokeh looks a bit busy though, even though you probably can’t see it in the scaled-down picture above. At full size the white bench is a bit choppy. Still, once adjusted the rangefinder seems accurate.
The viewfinder and rangefinder combination are, well, modest. There are no frame lines in the viewfinder so people wearing specs will probably see less than the lens covers. The rangefinder patch is round and not very prominent. The long rangefinder base makes a focusing trick easier though, which is to waggle a finger in front of the rangefinder window. This has the effect of switching the rangefinder patch in the viewfinder on and off, which makes it easier to see if the critical bit of the image wiggles when you do it (meaning it’s out of focus). It also has a common Russian feature of a little lever that alters the diopter of the viewfinder. Brilliant for those of use with ageing eyes. This one is a bit loose though, but a dab of silver gaffer tape holds it in position and matches the camera top plate.
But there is a certain joy to using an old rangefinder. It’s fairly compact and hangs well from one hand with the strap around your wrist. Nice and discrete. Fairly quiet shutter, not like an SLR and my Ricoh in particular (which sounds like you dropped a bag of coins into a bucket). The wind-on, even using the knob rather than a lever, is pretty quick and smooth. The film rewind is a pain though – on my Zorki the rewind knob can be raised to make it easier to rotate. The Fed keeps the rewind knob masked, so you need lots of little twists. I guess that’s why film comes with 36 frames: so you don’t do this too often.
Loading is fairly easy. Unlike some of the Russian rangefinders (and expensive old Leicas), the whole back comes off so access is great. I used to have a bottom-feeding Zorki, and the easiest way to feed the film through was to remove the lens, hold the shutter open on B and wiggle the film around with a finger to clear the pressure plate. On the Fed the take-up spool slides out, so you can hook the end of the film into it and then feed film and spool into the camera together. I was worried at first that the end of the film might hang-up in the take up spool when rewinding, but it slips out easily.
The only potential issue is that the spacing between frames is very close – just 1mm. This makes it possible to squeeze another frame out of the film, but makes cutting the negatives tricky. Luckily, in 1983 Polaroid launched an instant 35mm slide film and with it a film cutter. When the instant film died off, the film cutters could be found cheap in remainder bins. And I cannot resist a bargain. (Bargain no more! I’ve just seen what they fetch on eBay.)
So despite being 60 years old, it works just fine and looks as cool as anything. Perhaps I could hide behind it like it was my good-looking pal?