The first roll of film I put through this camera in 2017 did not turn out well. The film snapped inside shortly after loading and no images were actually made. So the camera lingered on my shelf, got listed on eBay to be sold a couple of times during gear purges, didn't sell and always left me with a lingering intregue of how this camera would perform. Sure it looked great, its operation was a bit clunky, but would the images have that vintage charm? Finally I loaded it up with a 24 exposure roll of Kentmere 400, solely on account of its price and to diminish risk that the roll would be furloughed without being finished in a reasonable timeframe.
I had decided that this camera should be more of less pocketable in a coat and so the Industar 26 lens that it had came with was replaced with a Industar 22 folding 50mm lens shipped directly from Russia. This is the coated red pi version, although as you can see from the above the coating has perhaps seen better days. Overall though it seems in reasonably good condition, with no haze or fogging. Its incredible how compact this set up is with the folding lens retracted and fits nicely into my coat pocket.
In operation the camera's basic operation appeared to be working ok. I did not realise until a few shots in that the lever next to the rewind knob was to adjust the rangefinder's focus and this made a huge difference as a couple of shots in I had been wondering how the viewfinder had got so screwed up whilst sat on my shelf. Otherwise there wasn't much noteworthy about the operation - once I got the hang of quickly extending the lens and focusing with the dial and I did think the rangefinder patch was bright enough that I was pretty confident focus was being attained.
These shots were taken on pretty overcast days and so I wasn't expecting much in the way of contrasty shots.The frames here are the best 4 of the 24. On almost all frames the right hand side of the negative is significantly darker than the rest leading me to think the shutter is misaligned or malfunctioning. On these images I actually think the darker side gives the images extra weight, adding mystery and helping to draw the eye across the image.
Intrigue, as it often does, got the better of me and soon a Jupiter 12 lens had arrived in a package at my door. This lens along with a KMZ 35mm viewfinder were mounted for the last few shots of the roll. This lens is a Zeiss Bigon copy and has a crazy large rear element. Whilst less expensive than LTM 35mm alternatives it still cost £65. I'd read reviews that this lens was relatively poor wide open, with corners softer than warm butter, but stopped down (the below shot is at f11) it seems to be pretty good. This isn't a camera I'd be using for any serious landscape work anyway and so corner sharpness (or lack thereof) is all part of the character.
In a similar vein to the above I started questioning how much better a Baranack Leica would be. Would it actually be any more fun to shoot than the FED? I found a very reasonably priced Leica III on eBay from a camera retailer and as soon as I held it in my hand after unboxing it I realised why these are a premium over these Russian clones. First its noticeably smaller and the Vulcanite covering is less textured and so more pleasing to hold. The film winding knobs feel more like precision instruments than crude mechanisms that will strip skin from your fingers. I've just loaded up a film and will report back soon if its a keeper.