Zorki 1 Type C

Vintage Camera #026

Zorki 1 Type C

Next out to play from my camera cabinet is one of several Soviet era cameras I bought. This is a 1953 Zorki 1 Type C. If you’ve seen my Pearl River post, you’ll be both pleased and unsurprised to learn that this camera is not as bad as that.

I got some really nice sharp images from this camera. I wanted to use HP5 as it’s slightly cheaper when testing an unknown camera, but I probably didn’t need to be so cautious. I’m going to test more with colour film as long as I’ve checked it mechanically beforehand. You should be able to get a good feel for whether a camera is likely to give decent results prior to even loading a film if you do the right checks. I might write about this one day, but I’m sure there are already plenty of resources online that will suggest much better methods than I’ll be able to think of.

My experience

The Zorki 1 C isn’t really the easiest camera to use. Because of this, I would struggle to recommend it as a first foray into film photography. It’s not difficult, per se, but there are a lot of better and easier options out there. The first difficulty is that loading the film is not like most other 35mm cameras. The camera back doesn’t open, instead you open the bottom and have to load the film that way. I needed YouTube to figure out that bit.

Focusing and composing is done through two separate viewfinders. This has its advantages because the viewfinder you use for focusing is zoomed so you can achieve faster focus. After focusing you switch to the other viewfinder which matches the lens’ focal length for composing (as long as the lens is the default lens from the factory). In reality, I found myself having to start with the main viewfinder to check for a composition, then switching to the rangefinder to focus and then switching again, so it was fiddly.

Also fiddly is setting the aperture. It’s a little sticky ring on the inside of the focusing ring. It’s right at the front of the lens, so getting it to turn is a challenge. Aperture numbers aren’t intuitively placed so you have to turn the camera around completely to see them. I found that once I’d set the aperture for a session I left it well alone. Using the shutter speed setting is somewhat easier to manage.

A note on shutter speed

An important thing to point out while we’re on shutter speed; many of the mechanisms in these Soviet era cameras mean that you must not adjust the shutter speed dial until after you have advanced the film. You’ll notice as you trigger the shutter that the shutter speed wheel turns through a part of a turn. As you advance the film, the wheel continues until it’s made a full turn and the speed setting is on its previous value again. If you’ve used other cameras in manual mode then this might be quite counterintuitive.

The camera makes a really satisfying clunk when you take a picture. I love that. Im likely to keep this camera in my collection. As cameras go, it’s very aesthetically pleasing. I may even use it again one day because I achieved decent sharpness in almost all my images.

One slight annoyance when I got the negatives back was that the frame sizes seem to be slightly wider than the standard 35mm size and this meant that on my negative scanner I had to scan a few frames in parts then stitch them up in Photoshop*. Now I know this though, I can easily mitigate the problem by ensuring that nothing is too close to the edge of the frame when composing. As long as I know where the edge of the frame is. And as with any non-SLR camera, there’s the classic Parallax issue. The viewfinder is not in the same place as the lens, so they see different things. The problem should reduce as you become further away from your subject. However unless you’ve done specific tests at specific distances by carefully documenting at the time of capture so you can compare with the negatives, you’ll never really know if the viewfinder view is anywhere near lined up with the lens view. Especially with the lack of quality control of many of the early Soviet makers.

Sample images

I’ve included a whole bunch of examples here, mostly quite satisfactory. The first example though, I don’t understand (that’s the coffee cup image). I can usually work out what went wrong on a particular negative. Whether it was the lighting and conditions when I took the picture, the film handling in the camera or the developing process, but I cannot make sense of what caused this. I have ideas, but everything that I can think of I would expect to see across the entire film. I’d welcome any suggestions in the comments and best suggestion earns a beer.

* Update: I’ve since established that this is probably a characteristic of the scanner I’m using. I’ve shot several films on different cameras since (yes, I know I’m way behind with writing about them) and I’m seeing similar on every film.

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