The Fed 2 camera

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 Fed 2

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.

Apple tree with lion's face
Can you see the lion’s face?


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?

Paul Friday

Keeping it simple

So I went off to stay for a week (pre-virus) in a pretty fishing village in the North East, planning to walk a bit of the Cleveland Way. As you do, I took a couple of cameras and lenses. That would be four film cameras and four lenses (two of the cameras having fixed lenses).

  • Praktica LTL body loaded with Kodak P3200.
  • Pentax SV loaded with Kentmere 400.
  • Ensign Ful-Vue loaded with Kosmo Foto 100.
  • Pentax Zoom 105 Super with Kentmere 400.
  • Pentax 35mm f3.5
  • Pentax 80mm f1.8
  • Industar 50 50mm f3.5
  • Yashinon 55mm f1.2

If you’ve ever seen the coastal stretches of the Cleveland Way you will know that it has its ups and downs, mainly where a river cuts through to the sea. Like Ankh-Morpork, Cleveland seems to be built on loam, which accounts for the deep river valleys and eroding clifftops by the sea.

So what I’m saying is that ‘descending the near side of a river valley and ascending the far side’ means stairs. Lots of stairs. With each riser taller than my dog. Very good for the thighs, the Cleveland Way. Next Christmas my party trick will be to crack walnuts between my bum-cheeks.

Cleveland Way

The cliff top path is also quite exposed. Each year a bit more of Cleveland slides into the sea, the farmers move their fences back and the trail creeps sideways away from the drop. We also had storm Ciara blowing hard offshore. Which makes it exciting when the wind is lifting and pushing you towards a crumbling edge on a slippery and muddy track and the poor dog has become a kite. Don’t do this in trainers. I did it in high-ankle walking boots, which while marvellous for fording small streams and puddles, meant increased thigh action on all the steps. See walnut trick above.

So was I going to carry all this camera kit plus map, water etc? The first day, yes. Then I got struck by a flash of sense and carried the Pentax point and shoot. Despite feeling like a housebrick it fits in my jacket pocket. I can work it with gloves on. I don’t have to change lenses. I can even use it one-handed if the dog looks like he’s off to Holland. There’s some advantage to this point and shoot thing.

Of course, being a Pentax means the lens is sharp enough. The autofocus struggled a couple of times though, mostly on back-lit scenes. It was easily sorted with a bit of hold the focus and reframe, so I forgive it. The lens is very prone to flare though, so it’s a definite ‘sun over the shoulder’ camera.

Saltburn pier

So that’s 36 shots with the Pentax point and shoot. 12 with the Ensign, mostly at night. 26 so far with the Praktica and 55mm lens, also mostly at night. And zero with the SV and the other lenses. Think of the weight I could have saved if I’d just accepted that light and simple beats complex and heavy. And that the last thing I wanted to be doing is trying to change screw-mount lenses in challenging conditions.

Compact cameras rock!

The Ensign Ful-Vue bullet-hole camera

Bullet hole? Because the lens aperture is bigger than a pinhole but not as big as a ‘proper’ lens. I’ve written about a couple of them before. Last time I shot the Kodak. This time it was the Ensign‘s turn.

The Ful-Vue has a rough attempt at a focussing lens and a fixed set of aperture and shutter at F11 and 1/30. It can also be switched to a B setting for the shutter, and this is what I had in mind. How else was I likely to get any sort of image on Kosmo Foto 100 in February, in the UK? Especially when there turned out to be a huge storm at the time.

The camera has a rather scruffy metal body with a flat bottom, so it’s simple to stand it on the ground or a wall. Just as well, as the shutter release is below the lens and works with a pull-up action. Without being held down, there’s a risk of movement. On the plus side, the bright viewfinder makes it easy to line the camera up in the dark and looking down into it is much easier than trying to get my eye down behind the camera.

Now, 1/30 at F11 on 100 ISO should translate to an EV of 12. My guide says that this is “daylight scene under heavy clouds; no shadows”. This seems a bit overexposed for even a bright February day, but I suppose that consumer films must have been a stop or two slower when the camera was new. So given that I was going to be shooting day and night scenes plus perhaps interiors, I planned to use semi-stand development to rescue my variable negatives.

The nice thing about the Ensign is that it is not a precious object. Replacements are cheap, the lens has probably already got all the scratches it needs and the body is a light metal pressing. The only worry I had was flare through the uncoated lens. I have previously tried shooting an old Balda folder at night, and the lens on that threw huge rings of flare on the negative from an in-frame streetlight. Flare aside, I had no qualms in stuffing the Ensign into a jacket pocket and taking it for a walk.

Less mad flaring than I got with the Balda

The reduced flare compared with the Balda is probably because the Ensign has a single meniscus lens, whereas the Balda is a triplet: the Balda has more lens surfaces to bounce light around. So for shooting at night, simplicity wins. The Balda does win by a mile if you want a sharp picture in daylight though.

The semi-stand development gave me pretty even development across the whole film, despite the wide range of exposures between frames. When I was out in actual daylight, I made a bit of effort to shield the lens from direct sunlight and it seems to have worked. The lens is by no means sharp, but it does give a nice old fashioned look.

A bit of light leakage into the roll of film visible on the left.

It also has a bad habit that I will need to fix, in that it winds-on soft rolls. The take-up spool does not pull the film tight, so the finished roll is fat and at risk of light leaks. Luckily I took the exposed roll out in a dingy indoors room, so while there is some leakage is is minimal.


The scale-focusing lens feels more like guesswork, but there is a visible sharpish plane of focus in the shots where I used it.

You can see the sharpness fall away from the centre

So, given that you can pick one of these cameras up for £5 or less, I reckon they do a surprisingly good job. And they take standard 120 film, so there is less messing around than with something like the Kodak Brownie that takes 620.

The Ensign Ful-Vue II, a camera that works well within its limitations. And sharpness is over-rated, anyway.

The Fujicarex II

After saying how much I needed a one-handed camera, I got one. Meet an odd hybrid from 1963: the Fujicarex II.

This is a strange hybrid of SLR and rangefinder that weighs as much as the combined pair and is reputed to have more mirror-slap than a Pentax 67. Think of it as a Single Lens Reflex Rangefinder.

Imagine a design team that started with the desire to combine what they thought were the best features of existing cameras. Through the lens focusing – check. Leaf shutter for easy flash sync – check. Light meter visible in the viewfinder – check. And then it all went wrong. Use your right thumb to control exposure and to focus the lens – check. Add mechanical linkages and drives so that the camera is really heavy – check. Put the film rewind out on the end of the camera, a bit like a Leica – check. Fix the lens to the body so that you can only change focal length by swapping the front group – check. Put a split-image focusing aid in the viewfinder so it still works a bit like a rangefinder camera – check. Build a really complicated shutter mechanism that has to close and open a leaf shutter and a swinging mirror at the same time – check. Weighs nearly a kilo – check.

Fuji 1

The 1960s were the time of the fixed-lens rangefinder or viewfinder camera, typically with a 45mm f2.8 lens. So this Fuji seems to have been an odd progression path, offering the photographer a camera that looked and worked a lot like their trusted scale-focus friend, but had a fast lens and some of the features of an SLR. With the odd selling point of being able to use it one-handed. If you were right handed. At least it left you one hand free to support its weight. Think of it as a mirror-image Exakta.

So, snarking aside, what’s it like to use? Odd.

The metering is displayed in the viewfinder. You set the film speed on the lens and select the shutter speed. The aperture and speed move together to maintain the exposure value, or you can turn the dial on the back of the camera to alter the aperture alone until the meter needle falls into the correct zone. It has a good ISO range of 10 to 1600.

Fuji 3
The red dots align to release the front of the lens. And yes, it could do with a clean.

The aperture in use is visible through a little window on the top of the lens. The distance of focus is visible in feet on one side of the camera and in meters on the other. There is no way of setting the hyperfocal distance – you would need to carry the manual to refer to the depth of field scale. There is a lever on the bottom of the lens that stops-down the aperture so you can judge depth of field.

The meter on this one is dead, but if working it would display in the viewfinder. Besides the over and under markings. there are separate markings for 160 and 32 ISO film, as these settings are not shown on the lens. The manual has instructions on how to meter for ISO 32, 64 and 160.

Fuji 4
The exposure and focus wheels are visible, as is the mirror-come-darkslide, that gets out of the way when the leaf shutter does its job.

The focusing screen is unusual, with a horizontal section that acts as a rangefinder wedge.


The flash shoe is cold, as the trigger contacts are in the leaf shutter lens. Even my 1948-ish Mercury managed to have a hot shoe (and a second cold one).

In use it’s quite slow, as the focusing thumbwheel is harder to use than twisting the lens. You also risk changing the aperture instead of focusing. Basically you are taking this camera away from your eye a lot to check the settings. Fine for posed snapshots but I wouldn’t use this for sports. Not unless I could prefocus. There’s a lot happens when you press the shutter too, so the noise is quite distinctive.

I’m also a bit nervous about using it. There is a lot going on inside the camera and I managed to lock it up by using the self-timer – the clockwork is very stiff and it took some encouragement to run it through and give me the camera back. Speaking of shutters, this doesn’t look like it has a separate leaf shutter and aperture in the lens. Watching it work it looks like the aperture stops down and returns, so there is some clever timing going-on between the lens and the mirror.

Its first outing was a trip to the local woods. The shutter noise is quite loud and the focusing screen is dark. I found myself using the odd central rangefinder section to focus. I also kept moving the exposure dial instead of the focus one, which meant taking the camera away from my eye to tilt it and check the aperture setting.

Fujicarex II

Overall it feels like a complex solution to a problem I’m not sure I had. But the film frames were well exposed and evenly spaced, the lens seems sharp enough and the bokeh is smooth.

Would you want one? Probably only to see how weird it is.


Just before going to press I learned that Fuji used the same focussing thumbwheel on other camera models.

It’s still an odd idea.

The Kodak Retina 1b

This is one of the first of the renowned German Kodaks, produced between 1954 and 1957. This is an early model, so has no rangefinder. It has a lovely heft though, and the lens opening is a joy of smooth cuckoo-clock movement. The focus action is also beautifully smooth, which is really unnecessary as this is a scale-focus camera so you are not going to be holding it to your eye and adjusting the focus. Even so, this thing feels like class and fine engineering. The source for it was my surprise box of cameras.

The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar of 50mm and f2.8, which is basically a Tessar. It glides out when you press the button on the cover panel but must be set to infinity before it will close.

Retina 1
The rangefinder is useful but not standard

The wind-on lever is on the bottom of the camera, which looks like it would be difficult to use. It actually works quite well if you point the camera downwards after shooting.

Retina 2
Winder and rewind release on the right, with the film door release under the arrowed tab on the left.

It’s a little fiddly to set the aperture. It’s on the bottom of the lens and requires that the pointer is pulled out to set. In use it locks the combination of aperture and shutter speed together so they change in sync.

Retina 4
The green thing sets the flash sync. The cog on the right is the focusing tab.

Making the lens retractable adds complexity and weight for a possible gain in portability: with the lens shut it’s a flatter package that would fit better into a bag or large pocket.

Retina 3
There is a cute bellows hidden inside the lens arrangement

Ken Rockwell tried and wrote about the precursor to this, the 1a. He seems to hate cameras that scale focus and don’t have meters, but he liked the lens.

So basically, unless you want to guess, you need to carry or fit a rangefinder and a meter. It also has a quirk in the way the frame counter works: it counts down from the maximum size of the film and locks the camera after frame number 1 has been shot. This may have been a protection from the heavy-handed, but it’s a pain to a frugal photographer. The trick is to start the counter above the maximum frame count to get that last frame or two off the film.

In use it’s a bit like a miniature view camera, to the extent my darling partner asked if I needed to put a cloth over my head when I was using it. You open the camera, check and set the focus, check and set the exposure, then shoot. Using this will definitely slow you down: it’s a measured performance. This is not the camera to carry around for quick snaps. The lens is sharp though, so it could be a good way to do the slow and mindful photography thing. The fact that it folds up could also make it a contender for the sort of camera that you would throw into a rucksack, if it wasn’t so heavy. If I wanted a folder I would take a medium format one and get bigger negatives, or an Olympus XA which is smaller and lighter. So it’s a mechanical marvel with all the ease of use of a large format camera and all the quality of a smaller negative. So what makes this camera less attractive than the equally-fiddly Mercury? Mostly it’s the looks of the Mercury – it’s a steampunk delight. I forgive it being awkward because it’s fun.

So would you want one of these? It is very quiet in use and it’s a mechanical joy to handle. It might also be perfect for learning how the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and focus works with 36 (or more) shots on hand. I’m not so sure about the folding thing though – that feels more like they did it because they could, than for any real reason.

Wheldrake, Retina 1b
Works well enough

While the lens is sharp, the lack of a coupled rangefinder means that you can’t really use it for close work. But then, that’s probably what most people would have wanted a camera for anyway: groups and landscapes. There was a IIc model that did have a coupled rangefinder, so you could look for one of those if you really needed the focusing.

So the verdict is: nice lens in an awkward package.

The Universal Mercury II

Now here’s an odd little camera. The Universal Camera Company originally made cameras that they sold on the same principle as razors: the money is in the refills, not the product. So they sold a well-featured camera with a high top shutter speed that used their proprietary film. And they sold them by the ton.

They switched to using the standard 35mm film cassette but didn’t want to redesign the unique rotary shutter. Since the standard 35mm frame was larger than their own film and the hole in the shutter was a bit too small, they repackaged the camera as a half-frame 35mm. They sold these from 1945 to around 1948 until the company staggered into bankruptcy and decline and faded away during the 1950s. They had patents on the shutter, so nobody else used it.

So the result is a nicely-made and highly-detailed little camera with a unique and fast shutter. Because of the way the shutter works it is supposed to hold its speeds well and not lag and drag like an old cloth focal plane job.


The rotary shutter has an axis of rotation that is parallel to the lens. This puts the winding knob and shutter speed selector on the front of the camera rather than the top. The body has an arched top to accommodate the shutter disk, and Universal made use of it to mount the depth of field tables for the lens. The back of the camera is dominated by an exposure calculator, which works on the same principles as my (much simpler) plastic version but is obviously much more complicated and uses tiny and almost invisible numbers and text.

In fact, the camera is covered in tiny little engravings and markings. This is not a camera for someone with senior eyesight, not unless you carry a magnifying glass. The lens aperture scale for example, is well hidden by the shutter speed knob.


Speaking of shutter speeds, they are an odd lot. The series of speeds is not evenly spaced at whole-stop intervals. Instead there are odd progressions of two thirds or sometimes one and a third stops. The full list of speeds is:

B, T

One plus point though is that it has a true T setting: press once to open and again to close. No need for a locking cable release (even though there is a cable socket).

The lens is a teeny little American-made Wollensak. How teeny? It takes a 25mm lens cap. There were three lenses available – mine is a coated f2.7 triplet. There was a (probably cheaper) uncoated triplet at f3.5 and the top end job of a coated Hexar f2. All of them unscrew from the focusing helix, which is a fixed part of the camera.

The viewfinder is tiny and has no frame markings. The advice in the manual for dealing with parallax in close-ups is to use a pair of arrows in the right and bottom corners of the viewfinder. Place these on the centre of the subject if you are within five feet or less.

See the two little arrowheads in the viewfinder? Line-up their intersection with the middle of the subject at close distances.

You will notice in the picture above that the camera has two flash shoes. The middle one is probably the earliest version of a hot shoe. The one over the viewfinder is a cold shoe and probably meant for a rangefinder.

The frame to frame spacing is wider than other half-frame cameras, so it doesn’t get quite as many shots per roll: 44 from a 24 exposure and 65 from a 36, rather than the 72 of something like an Olympus Pen.

Like a lot of old cameras, there is a definite sequence of actions to using it. The camera has to be wound on before the shutter speed is changed. The film counter has to be set before the camera back is closed on loading, so that it advances to the starting position. If you were looking for film photography to slow you down, this is the way to do it. It’s probably the photographic equivalent of a flintlock musket.

  1. Estimate range to subject, use a separate rangefinder or set the lens to its hyperfocal distance using the scale.
  2. Set aperture – you may need a magnifying glass.
  3. Check shutter speed is set. You need to wind-on first.
  4. Frame subject, adjusting if close.
  5. Press the slightly raised shutter button to hear a muted whoosh as the shutter spins.
  6. Wind-on using the knob on the front of the camera. The shutter speed dial resets to its set speed and the exposure counter increments by one.

You can slow down even more by using the exposure calculator on the back.


You will definitiely need the magnifying glass for this, plus good fingernails. There are two separate disks that rotate on a fixed background and it can be difficult to turn one of them without the other also rotating.

These aside, the camera is rather delightful. It looks fantastic and feels like a rock-solid little lump of cast alloy. Its quirks are endearing – this thing is 70 years old and still working!


So Fritz, how does she handle? Nicely. The camera has some good heft. The first film through it came back well exposed, so the seventy year old shutter works well. The frames are reasonably well spaced, even though the film must be advanced by a train of gears running from the winding knob. The lens seems sharp enough, although the limit is likely to be the small film frame. I like it – it’s quirky and interesting. I can enjoy using the camera as much as I enjoy taking pictures.

Not bad spacing and consistent exposure


Compact vs SLR

I want a new camera. Well, new to me. It has to be able to do some specific things, chief amongst which is the way it handles. Perhaps strangely, I need a camera I can use one-handed. So this means I need a compact and not an SLR.

This camera is to be used underwater as a replacement for the Nikonos. It will spend its working life in a housing, tethered to me with a lanyard. I will typically want to work the camera with my right hand and hold a big torch in my left, or use my left hand to brace my position.

SLRs are great, but I don’t want to have to use my left hand to work the zoom. Nor do I want to buy a housing that is specific to one range or model of lens. If you thought classic Leicas were expensive, try an underwater housing for a good-to-decent dSLR.

So I want a compact digital camera, as they usually have the zoom control somewhere under the right forefinger. I also want a Canon, as they make the best compact cameras.

OK – contentious. Let me explain best. Canon had (and have) a habit of putting top-range sensors and processors in their compacts, but disabling some of the functionality depending on the model. Enter the hacker’s kit – CHDK. Run a temporary firmware update from the memory card and you get back some of the hidden features, like saving RAW files, motion detection, timelapse and so on. So you can often buy a lower-range Canon compact and add back to it some of the features missing from more expensive cameras.

If you are happy buying second-hand you can also get some real bargains. My current underwater rig uses a Canon Ixus 750. The quality is quite good and I got a second camera as a spare from eBay for £5. Since there is always a risk of flooding the thing with salt water, the spare camera was cheaper than insuring the original.

But I’m pushing the performance and capabilities of the Ixus, so I want something a bit better. What I want is a wider ISO range, image stabilisation, a wider maximum aperture if possible, better macro capabilities if I can get it, better control over the flash (as I will be using a second external flash), more megapickles, and the lens to be wider at the wide end. Oh, and world peace.

So off we go to the shops. Or eBay. Up pops a Canon Powershot G9 with housing at a good price and soon it is mine (Precious). More features than Netflix and more knobs than a political rally. The housing is taken for a swim sans camera but packed with tissues to check the O ring. The camera is parked on the kitchen table while I read the manual and make ooh ooh noises.

Is this the new legend?

The first question is why it has a separate knob to set the ISO? Because it can. This is digital, not film. There is no need to set the ISO once when you load the camera and live with it – you can change it for every shot. So having a dedicated control makes more sense than burying it in a menu system. What stumped me for a bit is that the flash controls are in a menu system, which you get to by holding down the flash button and not by pressing the menu one. Hence all my first test shots were done using slow-sync flash and second curtain triggering. Sharp with a blurred overlay – nice!

It has an underwater mode that adds a virtual red filter. The usual trick is to then put a blue gel on the flash, but I need to see what happens if I’m shooting RAW.

There are also a bunch of settings for the autofocus to try, plus working out how to balance the built-in flash with the external one. The Ixus 750 was not very good at this – it kept seeing the external flash and quenching the built-in one. Even masking things with some highly technical plastic and gaffer tape didn’t cure it. Early tests with the G9 look promising.

So there you have it. For me, a reasonable compact camera beats a dSLR hands down. Or one hand down, anyway. Right then fishes, smile!

(And if his doesn’t work, perhaps I need a Diveroid?)