Guide to buying Soviet cameras

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I bought a second hand Zenit-E in Kumanovo, FYROM while on a deployment in '97. It was pretty decent but the shutter was a little dodgy so short exposures were ruled out. It had a nice bulb setting though and I got a few nice photos of comet Hale-Bopp that summer.

Shortly after the deployment ended a shutter spring popped off and I couldnt get anyone to repair a Russian camera at a price I was able to pay. So it sat.

About a year later I was deployed to Bosnia and on a whim I took the camera with me. One of the local cleaners who worked on base helped find someone in Tuzla who was able to repair it and I got about four more years of use out of it.


Back when I was in film school, you could get big lots of Soviet and East German cameras on Ebay and a few other places for cheap.

Most of the bodies were in need of repair, but there were usually a few working ones in there. The primary use was poaching all the lenses for use on film and video cameras using adapter rings. Most of them were screw mounts so it was nice and easy. It was really excellent glass for the price.

Friend of mine got 30 lenses and 12 camera bodies for something like 50 bucks. I think 1 body was working, but there were 20 good lenses in there.

That was the problem with the broken ones. It’s not like parts are commonly available for these. Repairing them involves making replacements or poaching them from another camera. Which made all the borked bodies from those Ebay lots something you could shift to the right camera shop or flea market guy.


My first SLR was a Zenit. My decision was based on what I could afford and the fact that it took Pentax-threaded lenses. It never failed me and took decent pictures, but maybe I didn’t have it long enough for problems to show up.


So did I. It was a Zenit 122, such a robust camera, like a tank. I took it everywhere with me. The main problem with these cameras was the photometer. It consisted of 3 lights. 2 red ones for overexposure and underexposure and the green one for the ideal conditions. It worked for two weeks and then kaboing!

A picture I took with her in 1995.


Two of my favorite cameras are a Lubitel 166 Universal that I picked up new in the 90’s for about $30, back when Freestyle Camera still sold interesting Russian imports, and a 1973 Sputnik stereo camera that I grabbed on Ebay (for considerably more). The Lubitel in particular is made out of a Tupperware-like plastic, but MAN its cheap three-element lens makes gorgeous images. Though often classed as a “toy camera,” it has none of the quirks that are associated with those, and is a joy to shoot with. I wish the supply of these wonderful little cameras hadn’t dried up.


Nowadays people are buying these cameras as props or hipster decoration objects.


Yeah, the “Lomography” movement has a lot to answer for.


But I saw some people buying old cameras like Zenits, Leica clones or Olympus Trip at flea markets as props or hipster decoration objects. Nothing against it. But I can no longer keep things unused or keep many objects on the shelf. It also made the prices rise.

Some other people are buying these cameras for the decent lens. I have seem some of these lens, but one must beware of the fungus. I´ve lost two very good lens for the mold as I forgot them at the bottom of a drawer.


I snaffled a photosniper… had never seen a telephoto lenses before… until I saw a new SLR…

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I’ve shot a wedding on my Lubitel 166U, and the pictures were stunning. I have other, more sophisticated TLRs but the Lubitel is just such great fun to take on a day out.


My first SLR was a Zenit-B with a 58mm f2 Helios-44 lens, bought at Zeller’s in 1973 for $67 including the body/lens ‘ever ready case’. It didn’t have the light meter and was a little less expensive as a result. It served me through college and taught me what I wanted in my next camera. I bought a variety of lenses for it - 35mm f3.5, 135mm f3.5 and a very cheap (optically and $$) 400mm f6.3.


Lomography currently manufacturers new versions.

They’re pricey but those guys tend to make some quality improvements and add some nice features that help with the whole fucking around with film thing.

They also make current versions of the Diana and the basic Lomo fixed lense cameras that inspired their whole thing.

And I believe some of their build a camera kits are basically Lubitel parts you mount in a carboard box.

I have one of their instants, fun stuff.

People were doing that a long time ago.

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My very first SLR was an East German Praktica brought here by my British aunt. The lens was quite nice, but it didn’t take very many rolls of film before the shutter crapped out. I went on to a Minolta SRT202 after that, until I went digital.

In some ways, I miss film, but in other ways, I really don’t.


Holy shit. $375 for a $30 camera is EXACTLY what I hate about Lomography (looking at the features, I don’t see any that I don’t have on my original). And $159 for a reproduction DIANA kit? These cameras were literally given away as consolation prizes at carnival games. They’re worth about $0.50 if they’re not original antiques - and I’ve picked up several actual Diana (And Arrow, and all the other names the Great Wall cameras had) antiques for about $5-$10 at thrift stores. For the money you’d spend at Lomography you could buy an excellent used Hasselblad medium-format film body, with an assortment of lenses, on Ebay.

That said, the Konstruktor kit looks like fun, and seems to be reasonably priced, and there are some others (such as the instants you mention) that don’t seem to be outrageously priced as well - so maybe it’s not all bad - but if I was a beginner I’d be really careful about what I buy from them, and do a lot of research ahead of time.


Wot? No mention of the Sputnik?,(or%20twelve%20single%20images).


Right? My Sputnik is one of my favorite cameras!

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Have you gotten rid of the light-leaks and internal reflections? I’ve read those are a fixable problem.

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Mine isn’t too bad in that regard. I keep it in its case while shooting, so there aren’t any leaks through the doors. A little bit of flocked paper inside tames the reflections.

I hate to break it to you but $30 in the 90’s is about $60 today. And that’s the price people typically cite for a used camera. I can tell you for certain they weren’t going that cheap in working condition by the early to mid 00’s.

On top of that a low production run, niche product coming out of a Western European country today. Isn’t gonna cost what an item made in a soviet country 40 or 50 years ago did.

In terms of the Diana, I’ll admit $100 seems a lot for one. But it’s not $100 for a Diana. It’s $100 for their tweaked upgraded Diana with a bunch of accessories.

When I was in college a working Diana in good kit would often run you $50. You could get them cheaper but it either required some tweaking to make them usable or some serious hunting around flea markets. And any new production run I’ve ever seen was in the $50+ range.

I don’t think anyone is making and selling one of those for $20 in this day and age. Short of the “we make fake eggs” grade of Chinese manufacturer dumping stuff to Aliexpress. And I don’t know there’s enough of a market for them to really bother.

The issue I have on this front is that they don’t really make basic, non kit versions of these things anymore. They might not be able to sell you a Diana for $20. But they could probably sell you a “classic” version with fewer of their accessories at $50. And they used to do exactly that.