I didn’t want another rangefinder, but it was like pulling a thorn from a bear’s paw and having it follow you home as a friend (or to eat your dog).
I was mooching the Disabled Photographers stand at the Photo Show. Just out of curiosity you understand, and in case they had any wide-angle lenses. Right on the end of the bench was a grubby and battered Fed. The leatherette was scarred and torn. So of course I picked it up. The nameplate on the front was skewed and viewfinder was fuzzy and out of focus. But this is a Fed, so it can be easily adjusted to compensate for the variations in manufacture. The nameplate on the front, that contains the front windows for the viewfinder and rangefinder, is held on by a spring. It comes off to allow access to the rangefinder adjusters. So I pushed it straight again. The viewfinder itself has a diopter adjustment, so I twisted the eyepiece until it was sharp. I looked through it at a ceiling light and poked the arm in the lens throat. The double images came together with no vertical misalignment. Hmm, this thing might actually work.
The big test though was the shutter. Peggy of CameraGoCamera is clever enough to fix a knackered shutter, but not me. I’ve come to accept that I’m not good with anything more delicate than power tools. But the shutter curtains looked good – the fabric looked smooth and there seemed to be no holes when I held the camera up to the light. So I tried all the speeds (winding-on before changing speed, as one must). They looked and sounded about right.
The Fed 5b has a better film winding arrangement than some other cameras, like a Zorki. The Fed has a drum with slots for the film leader, where some other cameras have a take-up spool that falls out when you open the camera. My Zorki has the escaping spool, as does my Fed 2. I think in the past I have used the spool from inside a 35mm film cassette as a replacement.
So of course I bought it.
With a better look at home I could see that the film counter was broken – there were no numbers visible through the window. Then I noticed that the window was in the wrong position. Someone had twisted it 90 degrees out of line. So I slacked the grub screw, turned it back and locked it. The film numbers appeared and incremented as the camera was fired and wound-on. Wow! This thing might work.
Next is a torch test of the shutter curtains. No point putting film in it if the shutter is more net curtain than blackout blind. It passed – no obvious pinholes.
The Fed 5 was the last iteration of the line, produced from 1975 to 1990. This one, the 5b, was a cheaper version that lacked the uncoupled light meter of the 5. One less thing to break. The body is basically a box with rounded corners. Not as intricate as my Fed 2 or as steampunk as the Argus C3, but functional. It’s noticeably taller than the Fed 2. That’s not a bad thing for handling – I have big hands and the Fed 5 fits into my whole hand whereas I carry the Fed 2 using two fingers and a thumb (which is why it gained a raised grip on the front of the body). There are no strap lugs though, so it will be a bag carry.
The real test will be the rangefinder calibration. Setting the infinity point is easy, but you sometimes also need to adjust the close point. This means turning the cam on the end of the arm that rests on the back of the lens. It’s doable, but delicate. But I can’t wait, so I loaded a part-used film. I often tell my wife she has the patience of dynamite (with the expected result), but in this case it’s me.
The developed film showed consistent exposure, so the shutter is probably OK. The negatives were well spaced, so the mechanicals are probably OK. Infinity focus was good, but close focus was way off. So I’m going to have to twist the cam on the end of the rangefinder ‘finger’. The lens was focusing beyond a close object, so it wasn’t far enough out. The camera thinks the lens is further out on its focusing thread than it is. So I think I have to twist the cam to protrude further out. This will push the arm back in a bit, so the lens will have to be racked out a bit further. Luckily the whole back of the camera comes off to load, so it should be relatively easy to put a focusing screen over the actual film gate, lock the shutter open on B and then experiment.
To be continued…