Passing through fire and frost

I’ve just received a beautiful new (well, really quite old) FED-2 rangefinder camera made in the former Soviet Union some time in the 1950s. The FED-2 was the first and very successful attempt by Soviet camera makers to improve upon the original and vastly more expensive Leica II and IIIg designs.

The camera is unusual because it’s finished in black enamel, so this is an opportunity to see how the FED-2 would have looked if that finish had ever been available on a camera out of the FED factory. It never was, and this finish is in fact the detailed modern enamelling work of a skilled restorer from Odessa in Ukraine.

The story of the FED factory is an interesting if unpalatable one. The factory (???) in Kharkov was an orphanage-turned-work-commune named for Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka (later the NKVD).

And the origin of the title of this post? It’s from an old Soviet song about war journalism:

With Leica and with notepad
And sometimes with machine gun
We passed through fire and frost.

Stephen Rothery has a controversial conspiracy theory that the early Leica I and II models were clones of the first FED rangefinder (the FED-1 or Fedka). He posits that the Leica in the song was simply a genericised trademark and that, for some time in the 1920s to the early 1940s, Leica in Russian was a synonym for a 35mm camera. I’m not sure about this, but it’s a good story…

Anyway, these are rugged, inexpensive machines that take great photographs, on good old fashioned film. I plan to use this pretty much exclusively for black and white photography; perhaps I’ll post some shots here after I’ve used it for a bit.

[Edit: 23 June 2008: I worked out the camera is from 1955 and is the type ‘a’ version of the FED-2. I’ve added a wonderful little wrist strap from Gordy’s Camera Straps. Elegant, simple and rugged. And very reasonably priced too! The camera, which is heavy enough, feels safe hanging on it. Highly recommended.]

7 thoughts on “Passing through fire and frost

  1. Well, Ryan, who knows if the photographs will be better! What I like about using film is the mystery of not quite ever knowing if a photograph will be wonderful or just dull (or worse still, out of focus or underexposed, et cetera).

    But I think you’re right: new does not always mean better. And there’s something magical about the feel of one of these old cameras: heavy in the hands, tried and tested, and capable of producing truly beautiful results. That’s always assuming the photographer is capable of that, too, I suppose. 😉


  2. vl,

    It is in very nice condition. I was delighted with it; quite amazing really for a 50 year old camera. And it does have an accessory shoe – you can just about see it on the top of the camera at the back, hiding on the lower part of that top edge.


  3. By shoe I meant a leather thing to put it in :p

    Mine is rather cute in it’s leather “shoe”, it has a little plastic thing to put notes on (I’ll post a pic sometime) with some old scribbles from hell knows when. I was thinking of getting a Jupiter lens for it, but then, that really defeats the purpose of it being foldable and nicely protected by the shoe…



  4. Ha ha! That kind of shoe!

    Well, mine has the usual, slightly battered FED-2 (n)ever-ready case.

    I like the collapsible lens too; you’re right it makes the whole camera so much more compact! I have a spare Jupiter-12 lens, if you’re interested. You might need a bigger shoe, though… 😉


  5. I got a friend to buy me a Jupiter-8 for it in Moscow, as I’m not a huge fan of those turret things for wide lenses. I’m curious about the rather large quantity of blades in that lens…

    In any case, I’m starting to realize that all Soviet cameras tend to scratch film in one way or another. I’m not sure if older film was thicker and sturdier (people tell me this is the case) or that I just keep getting bad ones, they’re all a little different too.

    How are pictures coming out with this?



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