FED 5B — a Soviet Rangefinder Review
A Ukranian-Made Cameras of the ‘70s and ‘80s6 min read by
FED 5B (marked with Cyrillic ФЭД 5В) is a Soviet-Russian rangefinder manufactured at the Ukrainian factory in the city of Kharkiv. This was my dad’s camera, the one I remember vividly from my childhood years in our modest Moscow apartment.
The camera was sold with a kit 𝑓2.8 55mm Industar-61 L/D lens (reviewed separately).
FED 5B’s rangefinder featured a circular, high-contrast patch with dioptry adjustment for easy focusing and a silk curtain plane shutter with 1-1/500s speeds + Bulb. It could be synced with a flash at 1/30s and has a self-timer.
Even in the days of film price hikes and the explosion of interest in film photography, these cameras still sell for dirt cheap. This can make one wonder, is this camera worth trying at all?
A brief history of FED-5 cameras.
FED-5B is the “basic” version of the FED-5 lineup. It has no light meter and frame lines in the viewfinder. The correct way to identify this camera is FED-5V as the Cyrillic “В” is equivalent to the English “V.”
The FED-5 cameras were the last generation of FED cameras that goes back to the 1930’s FED-1. FED-1 was a nearly identical copy by the Russians of the German Leica II camera whereas with FED-2 onwards the Soviets began to innovate on their first platform to add features and streamline production.
As you may have noticed, FED-5 has diverted from the Leica rangefinder models significantly. It looks and feels cheaper, bulkier, and less refined. The FEDs stuck with the M39 screw mount lens design whereas Leica has long moved on to M-mounts and others. But it was also an immensely popular camera with over 8.6 million units made.
FED-5B build quality.
The build quality of FED cameras is weird. They are all very heavy — my FED-5B without a lens weighs 599g or 1.32lb. This makes them harder to carry but also adds heft often associated with more expensive materials and craftsmanship needed to mould them. Indeed, there’s no shortage of metal parts on FEDs with almost no plastic bits at all.
These cameras certainly break — if had copies with burned curtain and just gave one away that had a slow shutter. But for the most part, considering how many of them were made and the materials, they are impressively sturdy and functional.
The design, however, suffers. To simplify construction the body volume has increased over the years, and the massive weight is a sign of a lack of innovation in miniaturization techniques. The pricey metal bits, though mostly well-fitting, sometimes fail to match up; for example, the shutter speed control arrow is slightly off the numbers it needs to match this, which can cause mild confusion for some and annoyance for others.
Some other shortcomings can be found on this camera, such as a squinty viewfinder window with a metal ring surrounding that scratches glasses. The film speed memento ring is made for the Soviet GOST (ГОСТ) standard — which would have to be converted to ISO to be useful today. The film-type memento ring is equally useless in 2020. Some essential tasks such as rewinding film are non-standard and thus tricky to figure out without a manual.
All that said, I can’t be too mad at this clunky rangefinder. It certainly looks unique, and it works. I’d even consider it more reliable than many plastic and vintage film cameras sold today for a similar price.
FED-5B controls and ergonomics.
FED-5 cameras are huge, measuring 14cm × 8.5cm with about 4cm depth (5.5” × 3.35” × 1.57”). Yet their immense size isn’t enough to make them comfortable in hand. The shutter button’s position forced my right hand to grip the slippery metal part instead of the leatherette — if you have huge hands, perhaps you’ll have better luck.
The camera’s winder isn’t particularly comfortable — you have to wedge your thumb into a small space between the arm and the camera body to pry it. And you also have to remember to set the shutter speed after you’ve would your camera. If you don’t, your camera may jam.
To set the shutter speed, you’ll need to lift the peg next to the shutter, rotate it until the red mark matches the number you’re looking for and let it go until it sets in.
The shutter button has a spring that’s a little stronger than I’d like it to be. With a long travel distance and that much resistance, it may be difficult to time your shots perfectly.
The shutter curtain slap is loud with plenty of vibration, making shake-free photos taken at shutter speeds slower than 1/125s difficult or impossible without a tripod.
The viewfinder window is small, squinty, and fairly dusk although the circular patch is one of the most contrasty ones I’ve used. I suppose there’s a tradeoff here somewhere. But in short, it’s not the best.
To rewind the film back onto the canister, you’ll need to press down on the metal jacket/sleeve around the shutter button until it clicks. This unlocks the spools letting you wind the film back using the crank on the top plate.
Loading film into FED 5B is fairly straightforward, though it’s not an entirely comfortable experience. The two lugs at the bottom plate should be flipped up and rotated — one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. The entire cover slides off, and the film’s leader can then be threaded into the slit on the takeup spool.
FED-5B vs FED-2.
FED-2 was a significant improvement on the original FED. It featured a longer rangefinder base, combined rangefinder/viewfinder and a decent finish. FED-5’s improvements over the 2 are the hot shoe for shooting with flash, improved film counter, improved film rewinder crank, a self-timer, additional slow shutters speeds, and a modernized rewinder crank.
However, the 5 became heavier (by 118 grams) as compared to the 2, at least 20% larger, and had some components noticeably degraded in quality. The leatherette grip isn’t very good, the takeup spool doesn’t appear to be as well-made, the rangefinder base is shorter, and there are no strap lugs.
Thus if you want to save a few bucks, see what the ‘80s Soviet engineers are up to, or would like to enjoy some modern conveniences as a single-stroke film advance, get the 5. Otherwise, check out my review of FED-2 for a prettier body in a more compact package.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your FED 5 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!