FED 2

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The FED 2 is a Leica-screw-mount rangefinder camera made at the FED factory in the Soviet Union for a long period starting in 1955. It is a new design that is quite different from the FED 1 in terms of its rangefinder/viewfinder setup: it has a longer rangefinder base (67mm, possibly the longest of any of the Russian Leica derivatives), a combined viewfinder and rangefinder window and an adjustable diopter for the viewing window. It also has a self-timer in later iterations, and a detachable back attached to the bottom lid, for convenient film-loading, unlike the FED 1 and the Leicas it was copied from. The camera is still recognizable as a variation on the Barnack-designed screwmount Leicas, while its successors would not be.

Variations

There are six variations recognized by most collectors.

  • FED 2a was introduced in 1955.
  • FED 2b has flash sync added. The new shutter speed dial has the reference point on a center post that rotates with the dial as the shutter is fired.
  • FED 2c has the flash sync port moved to the top deck from the body. It also has a mushroom-shaped film advance knob with a film reminder dial.
  • FED 2d has a new set of international-style shutter speeds, from 1/30 to 1/500, instead of the older set of 1/25 to 1/500.
  • FED 2L is the only factory-designated model number; all other models are stamped FED 2 by the factory. The body is identical to the FED 2d body but the lens supplied is an Industar 61 with (radioactive) Lanthane glass instead of the Industar 26m used in models 2b to 2d.
  • FED 2e is a FED 3b with the FED 2d-type shutter that does not have the slow speeds. Similar to the 3b, it does not have strap lugs but has a remodeled, taller top deck, shorter rangefinder base and a rapid film advance lever. Production ended around 1970.

Operation

To load a film, two locks in the base of the camera need to be turned. The entire back and bottom can then be removed as a single, Contax-style unit, allowing easy access to the film chamber. Standard 35mm film cassettes are used, with film being wound onto a removable take-up spool (the latter often becomes difficult to remove on older cameras). A spool from a spent film cartridge cannot be made to fit, unlike on some early 35mm cameras, so it is important to have an OEM takeup spool, unlike with various other Leica-style cameras.

Winding the film cocks the shutter; the advance knob is one piece with the takeup shaft, and consequently they both turn clockwise at the same rate. The FED 2 has a manual frame-counter located below the wind-on knob, which must be reset by hand when loading film. This works by turning with the advance knob; the whole assembly turns slightly less than a full turn every time it is operated, and so the scale appears to move counter-clockwise by one step. From model 2c on, there is also a film reminder on the advance knob, which has a short scale of film speeds in the Russian "GOST" system (quite similar to ASA) and three symbols representing tungsten and daylight color film and B/W, any of which can point to any number on the scale. The scale ranges from 22 to 180 GOST which is 25-200 ASA/ISO.

The rewind knob pulls out for more convenient turning; this does not withdraw the rewind fork from the film cartridge as on some cameras, rather it is merely a convenience that can be used or not. The fork is fixed and the cartridge must be pulled off of it when the back is open. In order to rewind, the collar around the shutter release must be pushed down and turned clockwise to release the shutter from the wind mechanism. The collar will screw down slightly.

Shutter

The Fed 2 has an early-Leica-type cloth-curtain shutter with a single (fast) range: speeds from 1/25-1/500s (later 1/30-1/500 in the modern progression) and B. No FED 2 had 1/1000 or higher or a slow timer, and consequently the FED 3 that also lacked them was referred to as a FED 2e. After detaching the back, two screws on the underside of the camera allow you to adjust the spring tension and change the shutter speeds, which will have become slow over time if the camera has not been adjusted periodically. The shutter-speed dial rotates when the shutter is cocked and when it is released. To set it, after cocking the shutter, pull up on the dial and rotate it until the correct speed is indicated, then allow it to fall into place there.

Attention: As with almost all Russian focal-plane shutter cameras, whether Leica-based or Contax-based, it's important to cock the shutter before operating the shutter speed dial. Failing to do so may harm the mechanism by breaking a control pin which will be out of place and under undue pressure. If the pin does not break, it will still be in an improper place in the mechanism and this will cause the shutter to malfunction for many exposures afterwards. On the initial model, the shutter-speed is only displayed correctly when the camera is cocked, but on models after the 2b the indicator is a dot on the axle of the dial, and so it moves to compensate. It is also preferable not to turn the shutter dial between 1/500 and B, instead turning it the long way.

While it is strictly inadmissible to set the shutter speed while uncocked, the dial itself may be turned to recock the shutter for a multiple exposure (or if the cap was on the lens when the shutter was fired.) To do so, the following procedure must be followed (and it takes some practice to do this right): with the shutter uncocked, depress the shutter release and turn the speed dial (without lifting it) counterclockwise until it reaches its stop, then remove your finger from the release. The shutter is now cocked and the film has not been advanced. The shutter speed may be altered as normal now.

As on a Leica, the spring tension for each curtain roller may be adjusted by two screws on the inside of the bottom plate, restrained by two locking screws. This is not to be done lightly, but an amateur who has read the proper documentation can fix an uneven exposure by tensioning the curtain that is slow. This is done by rotating one of the screws very slightly.

When well CLA'd, the shutter is about as quiet as that on a similarly-well-maintained Leica II, and much quieter than the mirror and shutter operating together on an average cloth-curtain SLR.

The self timer mounted on all but the early FED 2's is a fairly modern sort, exactly comparable to those mounted on Pentax and Minolta SLR's of the 1960's and 70's, though with the winding lever mounted pointing down. It is wound by turning the lever counter-clockwise and triggered by pressing a button on the front of the camera. It does not harm the shutter or the timer if the timer winds down with the shutter uncocked, unlike on some Russian Leica-descendants, and it is safe to trigger the shutter normally while the timer is wound.

Lens

The FED 2 takes 39mm LTM (Leica Thread Mount) screw-in lenses. The rangefinder is coupled to the lens via a cam on a swing-arm at the top of the lens mount, shaped somewhat differently than the cam in a Leica, but capable of engaging (almost) any normal M39 lens's cam ring. The rangefinder calibration can be somewhat delicate, so it is highly recommended that the lens be set to at or near the minimum focal distance (with the cam ring fully inside the lens) to avoid jarring it while mounting the lens. The field of view in the viewfinder is that of a 5cm/50mm lens. For other focal lengths, a separate turret or fixed viewfinder was placed on the accessory shoe.

The cameras were factory-matched to a 50mm lens, for most of the production run the Industar 26m f:2.8 with a focal length usually slightly more than 50mm, depending on the year. These are sold with both milled focusing ring with a short lever and a scalloped focusing ring without lever, depending on the year. Early examples were equipped with the f:3.5 50mm Industar 22, a Tessar copy in a collapsible tube mount copied from the Leitz Elmar, itself a modified Tessar design with the diaphragm in a different position. Finally the L model was sold with the Industar 61, similar in all respects to the 26m but with lanthane glass and somewhat better build quality. The lenses are calibrated to the camera, and the manual indicates that other lenses should be calibrated before use as well, though it seems likely that this was rarely done in practice. These lenses are considered serviceable but are far from the quality of professional German lenses from the same time; Soviet optical design lagged behind the West in key ways, and these lenses are typical of 1930's optics except for somewhat more modern coatings. For the 26m, the resolving power is noticeably lower than an equivalent Leitz, Voigtländer or Zeiss lens, and flare is quite problematic, but the color reproduction can be quite pleasing, if less than truly faithful to the subject.

There is significant debate about whether Soviet lenses can be reliably shot on unadjusted cameras other than the ones they were factory-matched to, and vice versa with these cameras and unmatched lenses. Internet consensus is that, while there may be errors, these are usually negligible with an otherwise well-calibrated camera, especially at small aperture or with a distant subject. In fact, it seems that most examples of this camera will have little trouble mounting Leica, Canon and other fine M39 lenses, and may be one of the cheapest cameras capable of so doing. (There are some non-Soviet lenses with a rangefinder coupling that is not ring-shaped, instead relying on the close tolerances of the screwmount to bring the coupling (usually narrow and bar-shaped or similar) in line with the cam. These will likely not operate the rangefinder on a Soviet camera or, for that matter, many non-Soviet LTM cameras other than their original model.)

Rangefinder

The rangefinder has a circular spot in the center of an otherwise plain viewfinder. The rangefinder can be calibrated by carefully, yet firmly turning the wedge-shaped cam around its bolt on the cam arm. The whole range can be shifted by means of a screw behind a bolt on the front of the top plate. The vertical alignment can be fixed by removing the glass in front of the rangefinder lens and turning the circular prism behind it slightly with tweezers or a small spanner wrench. This changes the calibration, so it important to do this before calibrating.

The whole viewfinder can be brought into focus for most near, far or normally sighted people by moving the diopter lever that pivots around the rewind knob, though some people with an astigmatism may not find this works for them.

Conclusion

Russian cameras are by-and-large a product of large-scale hand-production, with an unusually large number of workers (probably more than were ever employed to work on early Leicas, for instance) machining components and hand-assembling them. This leads to the unusual situation of a camera with the low price of a mass-produced unit and yet the highly variable (good and bad) quality of hand-made units; the best are as good as Leicas in terms of quality hand-craftsmanship, while the worst are barely-operational trash.

While hardly comparable to the early Leicas in terms of consistent fit-and-finish, there is still something to be said for this camera: in some ways it does represent a upgrade from the early Leica II's: the convenience of a combined rangefinder/viewfinder cannot be understated, and a back-loading camera is a massive convenience compared to the bottom-loading Leica design. The slow speeds of the Leica III were lacking, but the FED-3 would add these.

Furthermore, the FED has never cost even in the vicinity of a Leica, and it is possible to buy functional examples online for the same amount one might pay for a K-mount Pentax SLR, or less. Millions were made, and on eBay at time of writing, the FED 2 is one of the most common Soviet cameras, matched only by some of the later FED models and perhaps the Zorki 4/4K. In fact, an economic route to professional image quality on film might be to purchase a FED, calibrate it well and find a used Leitz Elmar or other lauded 50mm (which will cost more than the camera did) and shoot with the resulting kit. Fast Canon M39 50mm's are sometimes available rather cheaply, for example. Even more economic is to mount a widely-available Soviet Jupiter-8 50mm F:2, a faster, more well-respected lens with good close-focus characteristics (although there is a certain risk of getting a dud due to uneven Soviet quality control.) Wide-angles from Soviet factories tend to run slightly higher, but long lenses are generally fairly economic.

Extreme caution must be taken as there is much deception and the market is flooded with both enlarger lenses (which may have the same name as a rangefinder lens, but which do not have focusing mechanisms) and lenses for other 39mm mounts, which may have the wrong flange distance and will certainly lack a rangefinder coupling. For example, a certain Soviet half-frame viewfinder camera had a 39mm-mount screw-in 28mm lens called the Industar-69 that is often sold as a compact wide-angle m39, despite having no coupling to the rangefinder cam. This lens has terrible performance on a full-frame body due to its small image circle. Also, while deception may not be involved, early Zenit SLR's took 39mm screwmount lenses, many of which were special versions of Soviet m39 lenses, but these have a long flange distance (as there is a reflex mirror between the lens and shutter) and no coupling. The seller may confuse these with the true m39 LTM versions or the buyer may misunderstand. It is important to confirm that a lens is a rangefinder lens before buying. Contax/Kiev bayonet-mounting versions of almost all Soviet lenses exist, so caution should be taken to avoid these as well.

One lesser risk but still a thing to be aware of is this: early FED Leica copies were produced with different threading in the lens mount, specified as m39x1 (39mm wide with 1 millimeter DIN threads.) If one attempts to interchange these lenses with true m39 LTM cameras or vice versa, the threads will jam up and damage lens and camera both.

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