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nightphoto's Soviet/Russian Photographic Equipment Collection

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Imbir KGB Movie Camera

nightphoto's Description
Body Serial #:
Lens Serial #:

Wiki Catalog Entry

The "Imbir" (Ginger) is a 16 mm movie camera, probably made by KMZ in their "special workshop" and used by the Soviet KGB, usually hidden in a briefcase, for surveillance films. It was also used by other Soviet block police and special services, including the Stasi (MfS - Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit der DDR) in East Germany and the StB (Czechoslovakian Secret Police). Although rare, there are several Imbir cameras in private collections, as well as one in the Czech Police Museum and two in German museums.

Reliable information from a source in Moscow has said that the Imbir was used in the famous Penkovsky espionage case. Oleg Penkovsky was arrested by the KGB on October 22, 1962, after being filmed conveying secret information to the CIA. He was responsible for arming President John F. Kennedy with the information that the Soviet nuclear arsenal was much smaller than previously thought. Penkovsky was tried and convicted of treason and espionage in a trial in 1963 and was executed.

The Imbir shown is still coupled with its KGB workshop-made device that allows it to work, concealed in a briefcase. The briefcase shown did not come with this set and is just for illustration purposes. The black metal device has a trigger which opens a window and at the same time triggers the camera to start filming. It has a place for a large battery and the switches that operate the camera are exposed. The device has a serial number of 59347 and so probably dates from 1959. It also has a cloth label which reads "ONLY LOAD 30 METER FILM", a warning to the agent who uses it!

The camera itself has a serial number of 840001 and so may have been made in 1984 (although the camera looks older and so it may have just been numbered at that time). The Imbir camera features a small glass window on the top to keep track of how much footage has been used, a metal knob on the top to set the aperture of the lens (f/2.8 - 16), a round chrome swivel lock on the side to open the camera up, and an electrical connection to provide power from the device to operate the camera mechanism.

When the camera is open, you can see some green-blue foam which serves to wrap the small electric motor that runs the camera and make it quiet so the subject of the film or bystanders will not hear a funny sound coming from the "innocent" agent's briefcase! The small f/2.0 - 28 mm lens seems to be fixed at a fixed focus, although I believe were different lenses for this camera. The Imbir takes double perforated 16 mm film and films at 16 frames per second. The power source is 9 volts / 0,3 amps.

Much of this information comes from BStU documents that were provided to me by Detlev Vreisleben. The BStU preserves the records of the East German Secret Police (the Stasi) and in those documents this camera is called "Filmkamera Schwan" from the "Sowjetunion". My thanks to Detlev Vreisleben.

collection Bill Parkinson
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