This is a FED 2 35mm rangefinder camera made by the F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune in Kharkov, Ukraine during the reign of the Soviet Union. The FED line of cameras started off as direct copies of German Leica cameras. The FED 2 was very similar to the original Leica design but offered several upgrades that make it desirable for collectors wishing to have a Leica style camera, but without the Leica prices.
Film Type: 135 (35mm)
Lens Mount: M39 Screw
Lens: 50mm f/2.8 coated Industar 26M 4 elements
Focus: 1m to Infinity
Type: Coupled Rangefinder
Shutter: Cloth Focal Plane
Speeds: B, 1/25 – 1/500 seconds
Exposure Meter: None
Flash Mount: Coldshoe and PC Sync
The history of the FED camera is just about as fascinating as the Kiev 4, which is the other Soviet camera I own. As I mention in that review, there is a whole sub-genre of cameras from the Former Soviet Union which are popular with collectors. The appeal of FSU cameras is that they are often well-made copies of very popular German models, yet they sell for far cheaper than the cameras they are based off.
Prior to the formation of the Soviet Union, there was no camera industry in countries that would eventually become part of the USSR. A primary goal of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917 was to make the Soviet Union self sufficient and not have to rely on imported goods. When Joseph Stalin rose to power in 1924, he made a push for the advancement of industry and technology in the Soviet Union.
Around 1930, the workers at the F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune in Kharkov, Ukraine were given the task of creating and assembling the Soviet Union’s first domestic camera. The FED Labour Commune was basically a military type school that was designed as a youth rehabilitation center. The center was created by Anton Makarenko who was a Ukrainian educator who believed that troubled youths could be productive members of society by combining education and labor in a strict atmosphere. The center itself was named after Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky who was the founder of the Soviet Union’s secret police, known as the NKVD. The NKVD was the predecessor of the much more well known, KGB.
At the time, the Leica II rangefinder camera from Germany was considered to be one of the most reliable and accurate cameras available, so it was this model that the Soviets targeted as their basis for the first FED camera. The original FED camera was made in very small quantities in 1932, but by 1934, wide scale production began, churning out large numbers of the camera. Although this first FED looked very similar to the Leica, it had a much more crude and simple design and it had very inconsistent quality control.
Production of the FED camera continued until 1941 when invading German forces destroyed the factory. In 1946, the factory was rebuilt and production of the original FED continued until 1955. Throughout the entire production of the original FED camera, several minor changes occurred in the model making minor improvements to the original design, but as a whole, all of the original FED cameras from 1932 – 1955 were very similar.
Between 1930 – 1955, the FED factory had learned a lot about making cameras. Starting in 1952, they started working on a completely redesigned model that would address several issues with the first FED camera. In 1955, an all new model known as the FED 2 was released. This new camera was an almost complete redesign of the original FED. Although the FED 2 still carried inspiration from the German Leica camera, it was not a direct copy like the Kiev series of cameras. The FED 2 was a completely Soviet designed camera with its own improvements.
Two of the major improvements in the FED 2 were a completely new single window rangefinder with a longer base for more accuracy and a new removable back which greatly simplified film loading. The original FED had separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows and film had to be carefully loaded through the bottom of the camera. The entire body was die cast metal which made it cheaper to manufacture and also made quality control more consistent. The shutter was all new and featured speeds from 1/25 – 1/500 sec and was much more accurate than the original design. Other upgrades were the inclusion of an adjustable diopter, a new shutter release button capable of threading into a cable release, a new rewind lever, and shoulder strap lugs.
During the FED 2’s production run from 1955 – 1970, there were as many as 22 different revisions to the design of the camera, some extremely minor. Most collectors consider there to be a total of 5 different major “types”, which are given letters A – E. To confuse things even more, there are often inconsistencies between different types of the FED 2, so some collectors will not agree which type a camera belongs to.
Luckily, the production year of the FED 2 is easy to decode from the camera’s serial number, and there are a couple of different sites out there that go into extreme detail about the different types, so it was not hard for me to date and classify my copy. My camera has a “new style” film advance knob, “old style” shutter speeds, the flash synchro on the top plate of the camera, a self timer, and a 6 digit serial number, so with that information I can conclude that my camera was made in 1958 and is a type C.
Between the years of 1955 and 1959 the FED 2 saw the most upgrades. The flash synchro was added and moved, a self timer was added, the lenses changed, and the shutter speeds that the camera was capable of changed as well. The type D was the longest produced type of the FED, in production from 1959 – 1968. In 1961, a whole new camera was introduced called the FED 3 and built alongside the FED 2. By the late 60s, the FED 2 was being phased out and between the years 1969 and 1970 there were “crossover” versions of the FED 2 that had elements of both the FED 2 and FED 3, these are called type Es.
The FED factory continued to make cameras up until 1990 around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which gives it the distinction of being the Soviet Union’s first and longest surviving maker of cameras.
Today, FED is considered to be one of the “big 3” FSU rangefinder makers along with Zorki and Kiev. Most FEDs, especially the ones made in the 50s and 60s are very well built, reliable cameras that are capable of great photography 50-60 years after they were made. Like all FSU cameras however, they suffer from inconsistent quality control and are prone to shutter problems due to the original lubrication drying up and causing the shutter to be stiff or in extreme cases, completely inoperable.
Also, like the other FSU camera makes, tons of these were made over a very long period of time, so they are not hard to find cheaply in Europe and FSU countries. Very few were imported to the United States, so finding a FED in good condition in the US can be a little tricky.
When you get into collecting film cameras, you are going to hear the name Leica a lot. Leicas have been making top of the line luxury cameras from the 1930s up through today. A modern entry level Leica camera costs around $600, and their prices skyrocket from there all the way up to the Leica S Edition 100 Medium Format DSLR for the low, low price of $34,500.
As with any product, when you are the top dog people want to copy you, and over the years there have been many attempts to copy Leica’s designs. There are copies by camera makers from China, France, the United States, and many other countries. Most of them fail pretty miserably at getting it right, but the FSU versions were pretty good. There is a huge market for counterfeit Leicas out there with convincingly accurate nameplates, and whole sites dedicated to telling the difference between a legit Leica and a fake.
With film cameras, its the film and the lens that are mostly responsible for high quality images, and even though a genuine Leica would be a nice camera to own, its not going to take any better pictures than a camera 1/10th the price, so as a result FSU copies of Leicas are the closest I’ll probably ever come to owning the real thing.
The FED 2 is my favorite of all the different FEDs. While later models expanded on available shutter speeds, had larger and easier to use viewfinders, and added more advanced features like hotshoes and exposure meters, I like the FED 2 for its classic design, excellent optics, and reliable operation.
My first FSU camera was the Kiev and I immediately fell in love with it. The Soviets picked two great cameras to copy with the Contax II and Leica IIs. Both of their respective FSU versions recreate the solid metal feel and unique operation of their German ancestors. Its partially this tactile reason why I like the FSU cameras. The other is their unique stories. The histories that I have typed in this article of the FED camera and the Kiev camera in my review for the Kiev 4 are merely Cliff’s Notes of an otherwise fascinating history.
I grew up in the 80s with movies like Rocky 4, Red Dawn, and WarGames that taught me about “those evil red commies”. Although I learned a little about the Cold War in school, I never really got to see anything from their side. In my own little way, owning and learning about these great cameras is my way of getting a glimpse into the empire of the USSR. The scariest part about the Cold War was that the United States knew that if push came to shove, they could dish out as much damage as we could. I have a lot of respect for their history, and today it takes something like a camera to learn more about world history. Plus, theyre just so cool! 🙂
I didn’t start out by looking for a FED 2, I happened to see an auction for an inexpensive one located in the US so I took a chance on it. It was one of those “I dont know anything about this camera” type deals, so there was no way to really tell the camera’s condition other than the pictures. The FED has a reputation of being built like a tank, so I bought it.
Initially, I was underwhelmed with the camera. Although everything seemed to be in good working order, the viewfinder is very small and harder to focus than other rangefinders I owned. I dry fired it a couple of times and then put it on a shelf thinking I’d play with it later.
As I learned more about the history of the FED cameras and handled the FED 2, it started to grow on me. This is a relatively small camera. Certainly smaller than the Yashica Electro and Konica Auto S2 that I own. The vulcanite covering was in great shape and the rangefinder did work. I figured I might as well give the little Ukrainian camera a shot and I loaded in a roll of my trusty old Fuji 200 and took some shots around Thanksgiving.
The FED 2 is a relatively simple camera. As I collect more and more vintage cameras, I start to see a lot of the same problems with older cameras. Even those whose shutters still work, its highly likely that the slower speeds will be off, or wont work at all. This is because shutters are inherently fast. In order for a camera to have a slow shutter speed, something has to slow it down. This is done by a series of gears and springs that were originally coated in some type of oil or lube. Over time, this oil becomes sticky and tar-like throwing off the slower speeds.
One upside to the FED 2s simple design that is that since its slowest shutter speed is 1/25 of a second, it doesn’t have the parts that usually throw off the slower speeds. This was something that was changed with the FED 3, but the FED 2’s more simple design means that its more likely that things will be fully functioning without a full CLA. Mine seemed to be in great shape, and after test firing all of the shutter speeds, they seemed to be accurate to the naked eye.
Since this is a rangefinder, focusing with the FED 2 is like any other rangefinder. Look through the viewfinder, and you’ll see a smaller image superimposed over a larger image. Rotate the focusing wheel until the two images line up and thats how you know you have focus.
Another interesting thing about the FED 2, is that it is one of the few FSU cameras that do not require you to cock the shutter first before changing shutter speeds. There is a plethora of information out there about why you should cock first, then change shutter speeds, but if you have a FED 2 with a two piece shutter speed knob, it does not matter which order you do it in. On the other hand, if you own more than one FSU camera, its probably a good idea to stay in the habit of cocking first, then changing the shutter speed, so that you don’t get in the habit of doing it out of order on the FED 2, then potentially damaging something on another one of your cameras.
There is no exposure meter so you either need to use an external light meter or use the Sunny 16 rule. Most of the shots I took outdoors were on an overcast day in late November. Not exactly the most ideal time of year for lots of color, but in some ironic way, its kind of fitting to shoot drab colors on a cold day in November with an ex-Soviet camera!
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the rear shutter curtain had several pin-sized holes in the curtain allowing light to expose the film when the shutter was cocked. I did not know this until after I got my film back, but basically every shot shows these white orbs of light in the same locations on the frame.
The picture at the left shows an excessive amount of these light leaks. In some ways, it sorta looks “angelic” but that wasn’t the intent of the picture. Thankfully, the light leaks aren’t as evident on every picture.
For the rest of the pictures, the results were very pleasing. As expected, the Industar 26M resolves a lot of detail. In the picture near the top of this article, I show a closeup of a Christmas tree at my work. The colors and sharpness are very good. This very next picture shows a 1:1 pixel crop of the tree.
If you consider that I achieved these results on a 56 year old camera made in the Soviet Union by a company who employed child labor, building a camera inspired by a pre-war German camera, using common Fuji 200 film, and scanned in using the budget scan tier from Dwayne’s Photo, I think the results came out pretty good!
After looking through the rest of my pictures, I was excited about shooting another roll in this camera. Unfortunately, fate has its way of interfering and one night while I was playing with the camera, I noticed that the rear curtain was misaligned. I attempted to fix it by gently persuading it into position, but this wasn’t helping. After a post on a vintage camera forum, it was suggested that the most common cause was a broken lower shutter ribbon. I found instructions on how to remove a shield that is inside of the camera that covers the riboons and after I did that, sure enough the ribbon had broke.
Upon further research, there is no easy fix for this other than a complete shutter replacement, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do a full CLA.
I have a few options. Oleg from OK Photocameras in Russia is a very reputable repair shop that does this kind of repair for a relatively cheap price. The parts and labor to replace the curtains and do a CLA on a FED 2 is around $56, but shipping to and from Russia is another $45. While $101 isn’t a lot to pay for a reputable repair on an old Russian camera, I thought this looks like something I might be able to do myself.
Fedka sells replacement shutter curtains and ribbons for $13 + S&H. I also found a site showing step-by-step instructions with pictures on how to replace the shutter. I figure that I’ll never learn if I don’t try so I ordered some curtains and I am going to try this over the holiday break.
I know there is a very good chance I’ll be unsuccessful and make my camera permanently broken, but if I do succeed, the feeling of accomplishment plus what I will learn, will be worth it.
So stay tuned. I’ll be sure to update this article once I start my repair and if I ever get the camera working again, I’ll not only have a brand new shutter, but the light leaks will be gone too!
Sadly, I have to report that my attempts at repairing the shutter on my FED 2 have come to an end. I received the curtains and a started disassembling the camera a week or so ago. The disassemble went pretty smoothly. There are several tutorials online showing you how to take this camera apart, and for the most part, it was pretty straight forward.
The curtains and ribbons are glued onto 3 separate spools. Although I only needed to replace one of the curtains, it was strongly recommended to do both since you’re already there. I removed the old curtain material and thoroughly cleaned the spools. I took care to mark where the old ribbons and curtain material was glued onto the spool so that I could glue the new ones to the same exact position.
I used Pliobond and started gluing, but that’s about as far as I got. Getting all 3 spools to stay in position inside of the shutter crate, and get it back into position while lining up all 6 shafts of the spindles, plus the shutter gears, and the pin at the underside of the speed selector was a chore. I did it at least 50 times, and only got it all lined up correctly 2-3 times. The problem was that when I got everything lined up, the curtains would not close or open at the same time.
I determined that my problem was in how I glued things together. Since I had ordered these curtains from Fedka and they were described as “new old stock” original FED curtains, I assumed everything was the same length. After taking it all apart and comparing the new ones with the old ones, the curtains were the correct length, but the ribbons weren’t. The new ones were about half an inch longer. This was causing the spools to unwind farther than they needed to.
So I took everything apart again, removed the curtain material and scraped off all the glue and started over. After getting it all together and everything reassembled, the curtains were crooked, and although they moved very closely together, they weren’t perfect and I knew if I had continued to put this together, I would have had major light leaks.
After several days of this and many hours, I decided to just chalk it up as getting in over my head. I will say that it was an interesting experience, and it was fascinating seeing how a camera like this was designed from the inside out. Part of me was disappointed that this camera has existed somewhere in the world since 1958 and until it met me, it still worked, but now the camera will probably never take another picture.
I carefully put everything in a zip lock back and put it away. There’s a chance I might try again in the future, or possibly send it off to someone to get repaired, but in reality, I know that will probably never happen. This is a cool camera and its sad to know that it will probably never work again, but I have so many other cool cameras, I’ll probably forget about it after a couple of rolls with one of my other cameras.