FED-2 variant II is a beautiful camera with its share of flaws and imperfections. A Soviet copy of the Leica II that I could not resist at $50.
FED is an acronym for Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, in Russian: Фе́ликс Эдму́ндович Дзержи́нский. His legacy is Soviet secret police and the children’s labour commune which eventually got transformed into the factory that made this camera.
The model I got came with the beautiful 50mm 𝒇3.5 Industar-10 lens that has patinaed to reveal its brass barrel. Its shutter speeds are 25-500th of a second with Bulb mode. The viewfinder is quite squinty, with the 0.75х magnification factor; it has a dioptry adjustment, and it is reasonably bright. The rangefinder patch is round, just like on FED-5, with decent contrast. FED-2 is a little tricky to load, and its frame counter is somewhat unusual.
English websites tend to list a, b, c, d, L, and e as variants for this camera. However, the Cyrillic alphabet doesn’t quite work like that — plus I found a Russian website with a much more comprehensive catalogue: 1, 2, 3, 4, and I for pre-production; Iа, Iб, Iв, II, IIа, IIб, IIв, IIг, IIд, IIе, IIж, IIз, IIIа, IV, IVа, IVб, IVв, IVг, and V for the main line. My copy Variant is II, which I think is more correct than b, if you care.
FED-2’s build quality is far from perfection. Its mechanics have low precision tolerance, it’s shockingly heavy for the size, and the design is for the large part “borrowed” from the German Leicas II and III.
FED-2 introduces a series of improvements over the first Leica it copied not found on its German counterparts, however. This includes a combined rangefinder/viewfinder with an extended base, a removable backplate for easier film loading, and a dioptry adjustment.
FED-2’s body features textured metal instead of leatherette for the grip. It’s a tank.
With the lens, FED-2 weighs 604 grams as compared to FED-5’s massive 732g though the II feels “denser.” FED-2 could fit into a wool jacket pocket with its collapsable optics. FED-5 requires a forklift.
Despite its imperfections, I found FED-2 to be a visually irresistible camera. The brassing, the patina on the textured metal grip, the typography on the lens barrel, the strange but not unusual for the time frame counter, and all-metal construction. As a shelf piece, FED feels prettier and more interesting than the Leicas of the period, less “clinical.” It’s also a lot less precious, costing roughly 1/10th of the price.
While this camera is an iteration on a Soviet reproduction of Leica cameras, Russians were not the only one who ripping that design off. There’s a ton of copies by various manufacturers of the time, especially during the post-war era, when much German technology was treated as a free-for-all.
Camera handling and ergonomics.
FED-2 has an excellent grip, it feels much firmer in hand than the beautiful Vitessa, and unlike the latter FED-5, it comes with a good set of strap lugs.
Readying the lens is easy: pull and then twist clockwise. The tiny tab that lets you change the aperture looks ridiculously small and dangerously close to the lens but works quite well, and it doesn’t facilitate any smudging.
Focusing with Industar-10 is somewhat confusing. It clicks at the infinity mark, making precise adjustments at far distances impossible. The tab looks like it would point towards the distance markings, however, the actual pointer is a small dark grove on the opposite side.
The rangefinder/viewfinder combo is tiny and isn’t recommended for spectacled photographers. It will scratch your lenses — instead, use the dioptry adjustment, a small lever next to the film rewind knob; it’s rather neat. There are no bright lines or any information though the finder is reasonably bright, and I’ve had no issues focusing in subdued light. The mechanism has a remarkably large triangulation base, which suggests better focusing precision, though I did not find that to be the case.
The mushroom-shaped winder/frame counter combo is nice. Some may prefer a lever or motorized advance; with FED, however, chances are you’d be shooting slow. The mark next to the frame numbers on the winder dial indicates where we are; once you advance to the next frame by rotating the winder clockwise, the next frame number will align with the mark. After you’ve loaded a fresh roll, you can slide the numbers ring independently of the winder until it reaches zero.
Setting the shutter speed can only be done after you’ve wound your film onto the next frame by lifting and twisting. You also can’t switch between 500 and B by rotating the head clockwise — instead, you’ll need to twist it around in the opposite direction.
The shutter button on my copy doesn’t feel very smooth, and the curtain slap is fairly severe. I wouldn’t recommend shooting this camera hand-held at anything slower than 250. This FED makes a stereotypical “clack sound,” so it’s not very sneaky either.
Rewinding film on FED-2 is annoying. Unlocking the winder is rather awkward: the thick metal ring around the shutter button needs to be rotated clockwise, towards the Cyrillic “п” — short for “произвольно” and at the same time pressed into the body until it stays in the down position. Now you can rewind the film with the small extendable winder knob on the opposite side; I found it slow and straining.
Loading film into FED-2 is different but not difficult. The worst part is taking off the cover, locked by two lugs on the bottom plate — an operation that leaves you with little grip on the camera and lots of opportunities to add finger oil smudges on glass. The take-up spool can be removed for ease of loading though it isn’t necessary. Your film would fit in the camera upside-down with its last perforation needing to be “hooked on” to the spool. With that done, the spool, film canister and back cover can be reinstalled, and you can fire off the first shot.
Image quality with Industar-10.
I love the look of the Industar-10 lens on the FED-2 camera. It’s a beautiful piece of machined metal and glass. Its performance, however, has some drawbacks.
This Russian copy of M39 Elmar is quite soft when shot at 𝒇3.5, particularly in the corners. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the camera didn’t shake as much during the shutter’s curtain slap, limiting the speeds available for hand-held action. Stopping down to optimal resolution means shooting at around 𝒇8, which makes photographing in subdued light tricky.
This camera/lens combo makes the sharpest images at 𝒇5.6, 𝒇8, and 𝒇11 with either 1/250 or 1/500s. This means you have about six optimal stops of light to play with.
That is not to say that the lens is unusable at 𝒇3.5 — you won’t cut anyone with those photos, but they’ll make decent or even great images. The shaky shutter curtain is likely to cause a lot more smudges and blur than the lens.
The colour consistency and quality of the lens aren’t great. Industar-10’s tendency to flare blue in subdued light should concern those who shoot colour film. Correctable post, but it’s not an even wash, so it could take a chunk of time to do.
The same roll of film that got the blue flares shifted towards yellow in the sunlit scenes. Easier to correct but still annoying, unless this is an effect you’re looking for. For context, my opinion here is driven by the fact that I like to spend as little time as possible editing, though I might be the minority.
Despite the flares and colour shifts, Industar-10 manages to keep an OK amount of contrast in each scene. It may even surprise you with its clarity and resolution in favourable light conditions.
✪ Note: I may have over-exposed the film as I’ve been eyeballing EVs for all frames here — or the shutter timing is not accurate due to age. In that case, colour shifts may occur in either the emulsion or on the scanner as interprets the data. Though I don’t think this is likely since the Fujifilm Superia X-Tra film does not seem to behave that way in other cameras.
Of course, some situations may turn Industar-10’s disadvantages into an edge over “better” lenses: the above image is as sharp as the film grain itself, the blue colour shift is fitting the mood, and the strange pink hue near the sun looks pleasing — to me.
The lens can produce vertigo-inducing bokeh swirls, though at 𝒇3.5 — even being a 50mm — they don’t seem overly distracting. I quite like how the focus falls off on this lens: it’s smooth and just enough for nice background separation.
A final note on the lens quality: Soviet lenses produce variable results — from stunning to poor. Your copy may perform worse or better. But I wouldn’t expect magical things like diminished flaring or colour artifacts; these sorts of things are baked into the design.
The scans you see in this article are the best my copy can do sharpness-wise. I’m saying this because I took the time to peer at the image it produces on the film plane with a microscope.
Repairs and maintenance.
Fresh out of the box, the lens’ infinity setting did not match the rangefinder patch indication. This is typical on cameras of this type and age; luckily, calibrating the rangefinder patch on FED-2 is easy. A screw on the top plate, just above the lens barrel, immediately underneath the “Э” letter covers the adjustment access. Removing it with a small, long screwdriver will reveal a hole where you can place your driver — rotating the screw underneath will move the patch up and down. You can use this method to set the infinity mark.
Further adjustments can be made by following this guide, found on Pentax Manuals.
☝︎Further reading: A perfectly-adjusted rangefinder patch may not prevent the lens’ focus from drifting if it’s not calibrated correctly. On film cameras, verifying focus could be either lengthy — shooting an entire roll, developing, and scanning — or expensive — with tools like autocollimator. However, there’s another method that I’ve developed that lets you preview near grain-level sharpness in real-time with a cheap microscope and sticky tape.
The final culprit on my FED was its weathered shutter curtain. Over the years, it deteriorated, perhaps dried or melted by the sun entering the lens, resulting in a nasty artifact in the middle of the images. Curtain replacement is a laborious process, which is difficult to justify even with the beaut that FED-2 is. Instead, I used a liquid rubber putty to carefully plug the pinholes in the shutter curtain without doing any of the work requiring stripping and rebuilding. The entire repair process took about twenty minutes and fourteen dollars in materials. This Lomography blog post has the details.
FED-2 can undoubtedly make good photos when handled well. It’s a little limited due to its quaky shutter, but newer Soviet lenses can improve that. You may even attempt to mount fancier Leica lenses of the era, though it may involve some risks as the designs differ slightly.
As beautiful as FED-2 is, I’m spoiled by my German and Japanese cameras’ unbeatable feel and performance. I love handling it and can’t wait for a reason to take it outside; perhaps a new Russian lens will do the trick. Until then, it’s either the Vitessa or my Minolta TC-1.