The FED-2 is a solid Soviet rangefinder camera built during the 50s and 60s. In an age of tiny digital cameras which employ magic to allow you to take thousands of perfectly exposed photos of your cat, there’s something reassuring about occasionally dipping into a past where cameras were real, mechanical objects that mere mortals could just about understand. Taking a photo of your cat was a challenging, artistic experience.
The great thing about these old cameras, and FEDs in particular, is that there are so few moving parts that almost nothing can go wrong, and as an extra insurance they built the things to last anyway.
Even better FEDs are pretty cheap. £20 or £30 on eBay should get you a reasonable FED from some bloke in Eastern Europe, where they abound. When you consider that these were pretty reasonable copies of Leica rangefinders of the period, and that these will set you back hundreds or even thousands, FEDs really do seem like great value. And you’re not buying into that whole Leica inflated-price nonsense, so you can actually take your camera out its case and use it without fear of damaging something close to a museum piece.
Below is a photo of my FED-2. It’s a B4 with a blue case. Weirdly they decided to colour their cameras in black, blue, green, and red. Don’t ask me why, because the colours are pretty dull. But I guess in the exciting world of the late 50s Soviet Union these colours must’ve seemed pretty wacky. It dates from c. 1957 and still takes good photos.
OK it doesn’t have a light meter, and is totally manual. But if you want to take photos – really take photos – then what better way? A great way to learn the art of photography, certainly. Guesstimating light levels (or using the Sunny 16 rule) based on your film type, shutter speed, and aperture give you a really good feel for what you’re actually doing when you take a photo, and help you really focus on your surroundings, your subject, light quality…
Of course, you make lots of mistakes. Digital photography takes care of stuff for you much more. True, you can learn very easily on a digital camera because you can see instantly that your photo is crap. Maybe the learning process with an old manual camera is slower, but somehow more rewarding. Or am I just getting old and weird?
The name “FED”, by the way, comes from F. E. Dzerzhinsky, the man in charge of what later became the KGB. Scary stuff. And by all accounts conditions at the factory in the Ukraine where FEDs were made were not good at all. Not good at all.
But hey, we all buy cheap goods made in the sweatshops of the far east. I own an iPhone after all… So to the uber-cool liberal thinkers and artists of the pre- and post-war eras, “Soviet” often meant something more positive than we understand today. They could brush aside the small details of the crushing brutality and unfairness of the Soviet regime with the broad sweep of Ideology. It’s therefore likely that Picasso, famously interested in photography as art, made a point by owning Soviet cameras such as the FED-2.
Here’s a photo of him with a FED-2. So there you go. He owned a FED.
I’m not sure who took the photo, or when, or quite why (two watches? Making a point about something I guess…) But that’s definitely a FED-2 round his neck, despite some people on some flickr forums I’ve seen thinking it might be a Leica.
Even better, I’m pretty confident in saying it’s a FED-2 B4.
Nerdy? Well, ok. But as far as my nerdiness can tell, Picasso’s camera is identical to the one I have. And that seems a pretty cool fact to me.
The key things to look out for in a FED-2 B are:
- case with two buttons
- flash sync socket just to the side of the lens
- Industar-26M lens
You can see all these clearly in my comparison photos below.
Unfortunately identifying it as a B4 rather than any old B is trickier, because you can only tell for sure from the serial number, and the style of shutter speed dial. But I’m sure it must be a B4 because of the Industar lens.
For those of you interested in such things, I found the sovietcams.com site particularly useful for identifying Soviet cameras.