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 Is a Leica so good?
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John Demastrie
uccmmcpo

USA
92 Posts
Posted - Feb 08 2008 :  10:18:03 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I think if I posted this on RFF forum I`d be attacked and called a lot of things and frankly I wouldn`t have posted it here either but Vlad thought it might be of some interest if I shared my experience here.
So if you don`t agree thats OK too.
Having been impressed and highly satisfied with my small collection of FSU`s for the past few months I`ve decided to take my vintage RF experience to the next level and purchase a good CLA`d Leica IIIf since it was the Barnack itself that the Russians duplicated so well and since the closest thing i had to it was the Zorki 2C.(I sold my nice Fed 2) I regret that but I can always get another.

First, I must tell you that my Zorki 2C camera is mint in every respect especially the functionality of it. It simply could not work any better than it does. Actually I prefer to shoot my Kievs but this Zorki is a such joy to use too.
Regardless ,I couldn`t help but think if I can get so much pleasure and satisfaction from these archaic old Soviet cameras , imagine what shooting an expensive Leica could do for the ultimate experience?

I`m not sure I`n qualified to say whether they are comparable or not in materials used or workmanship but all the FSU`s I have or have owned certainly were of good quality materials and good quality of workmanship.
There`s no question in my mind that FSU`s tend to get bad publicity soley because they received less care / maintenance through the years than a Leica would get. This makes much sense since Leica purchasers / owners had to be somewhat well heeled individuals compared to the average Zorki/Fed owner and could therefore better afford timely reapirs and maintenance.
Add to this the fact that so many cheapsters somehow expect every $29 Soviet RF camera listed on Ebay to arrive pristine and in 100% working condition and they whine about it when they find out the camera needs to be serviced and consequently refer to it as a big lens cap delegated to the parts bin, without giving the camera a well deserved tune up it so badly needs.
Of course I would think a good camera repair person would be the best judge of how good these FSU`s are put together and the materials used but I can honestly say the 7-8 FSU`s that I have owned have not shown the slightest degree of inferior workmanship or do they show anything other than good materials used. Even the leather cases are nicely designed and very durable.
I`m not going to say that FSU`s are not a bit noisier and maybe they are not quite a silky smooth as a Leica to wind advance film but when one considers the cost differences it quickly becomes a non issue to the average person or at least to me. What I do know from having had 2 different Leica`s is that they are not any stronger or are they impervious to scratching, denting, and dinging anymore than a Zorky and both the Leica`s I had also needed to be CLA`d and one of them still had a problem of rough winding.
Ok to the point , I`ve have had a roll of film from the Zorki 2C, my Kiev 4 , and the Leica developed today . Obviously the results would be more dependant on the glass used rather than the camera used (all being perfectly functional) so I was not surprised all exposures were fine since I used FSU glass on all three cameras. I am not excessively critical but I am able to recognize results from a sharp lens and the contrast ,distortion, and flare effects.
One thing is certain and that is that Russian lenses are really quite good. Not to say that they equal the levels and criteria of those expensive $400-$2500 Leitz`s but definitely good enough for most typical advanced amateurs and certainly some professionals.
These days I think too much emphasis is on blowing up images on a computer screen and nit picking them to death.
Well anyway, back to the cameras. The Kiev was as always a joy to shoot with and the Zorki too being such a pleasure because of it`s outright smoothness and predictable dependability . The Leica was a cinch to bottom load (easier than the Zorki for some reason) and really no issues either . All three cameras each produced 24 perfect and predictably good exposures using a Jupiter 12 , and Jupiter 8`s, Industar 22, and Fed 50 lenses. Not a missed frame, spacing was perfect, no winding issues, and all shutter speed changes were smooth and precise.

The Leica produced some very good pictures but really no better than those from the Zorki or Kiev. very good and predictable from all 3 lenses.
IMO the Leica has a very poor VF (both viewers together are terrible)The Zorki 2C while not great is better.
The leica close RF distance of 32mm focus compared to the Kiev 90mm has to be humbling. The Kiev focussing really is superb and a strong point .

I think the Leica is certainly quite nice but not so much better than the Zorki and really not nearly as great as I had thought it would be. It is so small almost like it would be at home in a ladies handbag. It`s a bit too small to be a nimble user for me as I have large hands.
The bottom line is I just wasn`t impressed with it as a shooter. I certainly expected more especially from the RF and viewfinder. What a dissapointment that was.
I have to conclude that for anyone who has a good working FSU RF camera with a good lens there is simply no reason to think that costlier equipment with more snob appeal is going to improve the experience or image quality in a significant way.

. I probably shouldn`t say this but I suspect many Leica owners would like everyone to believe Leica is more than it really is because it supports the excessive costs but from a users point they are also old, subject to the ravages of time, use, and abuse and IMO not significantly superior to a good working Zorky or a Fed.
I won`t mention Kiev because I think the Kiev is considerably more advanced than any. (but they are newer)aren`t they?
However one thing to consider is Leica did have 1/1000 plus the slow shutter speeds long before the FSU`s did and that had to be a big factor. Fit and finish was also apparent. And lets not forget the great lenses too , not to mention the snob appeal.
Comments welcome. (Additional notes below.)
John


With the Leica and Zorki 2C both in hand I can see the differences are quite subtle . Could very well be that the Leica is indeed more refined but a nice working Zorky like mine can come much closer than some Leica owners might want to admit to. And at 1/10 the price the Zorki has to be an incredible value.
The RF viewing/focussing is noticeably better on the Zorki and that`s saying a lot because the Zorki 2 C RF viewing/focussing isn`t as good as the Zorki 4 which is really darn good IMO.

The leica is about 1/2 " lower and just about the same other wise as it fits very nicely in the Zorky half case. The Leica is bit lighter than the Zorky and this makes the Zorky feel more durable but really to me it is not an issue but it`s nice to have 1/1000 shutter speed plus the slow ones too on the leica.

The retrimmed film leader went in easier and slicker than ever before in my experience with bottom loaders.
I was kinda surprised to see the leica shutter dial spin just like the FSU`s. The front dial/slow speed did stick on 1/25 sec though and it wound/film advance roughly. This supposedly was recently CLA`d?
John


Bill Parkinson
nightphoto
USA
1027 Posts
My Collection

Posted - Feb 09 2008 :  7:53:43 PM  Show Profile  Visit nightphoto's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Hi John,

Thanks for your ideas and conclusions after your tests. I have to say that I pretty much agree with you on most things and which camera of the 3 you tested will make a better photograph will be more up to the photographers eye and printmaking skills than the camera.

But I would say that a more fair test to see if a Leica is better than a Russian camera would be to test a Leica II with its Leitz lens against a FED-1 with its FED lens (or Zorki-1 with Russian lens), both in CLAed condition. The other FED and Zorki cameras are not exactly "Leica Copies" although they are heavily influenced by Leica design. For example, the viewfinder of a FED-1 or Zorki-1 is also hard to use, similar to a Leica.

The Kiev is totally different from the Leica and hard to compare, but could be tested against a Contax. Much of the expense and reputation of the Leica stems more from later models like M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, etc. and I think you would find lots of differences if you were using one of these against any FED or Zorki that I can think of.

And thanks very much for sharing your experiences in detail.


Regards, Bill

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John Demastrie
uccmmcpo
USA
92 Posts
Posted - Feb 09 2008 :  9:06:29 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by nightphoto

Hi John,

Thanks for your ideas and conclusions after your tests. I have to say that I pretty much agree with you on most things and which camera of the 3 you tested will make a better photograph will be more up to the photographers eye and printmaking skills than the camera.

But I would say that a more fair test to see if a Leica is better than a Russian camera would be to test a Leica II with its Leitz lens against a FED-1 with its FED lens (or Zorki-1 with Russian lens), both in CLAed condition. The other FED and Zorki cameras are not exactly "Leica Copies" although they are heavily influenced by Leica design. For example, the viewfinder of a FED-1 or Zorki-1 is also hard to use, similar to a Leica.

The Kiev is totally different from the Leica and hard to compare, but could be tested against a Contax. Much of the expense and reputation of the Leica stems more from later models like M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, etc. and I think you would find lots of differences if you were using one of these against any FED or Zorki that I can think of.

And thanks very much for sharing your experiences in detail.


Regards, Bill





Thanks for your comments Bill.
Yes,a comparison of the more original models of each would be interesting for sure and I`m sure you understood that I wouldn`t
deny that Leica is a great camera but only to say that the Zorki`s and Feds should not be looked at as being inferior as their low cost
suggest. I see it as a good opportunity to collect and use some nice gear at unusually low costs.
I have many old cameras that I actually use other than the Leica including some Retina folders that I paid dearly for and I can say from my experiences that the FSU`s hold their own very well against all of them.
It`s rather humbling to know that these old FSU`s were far better than anything that we made here in the US at those times.
John
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Bill Parkinson
nightphoto
USA
1027 Posts
My Collection

Posted - Feb 09 2008 :  9:56:48 PM  Show Profile  Visit nightphoto's Homepage  Reply with Quote

I agree with you John ... the Russian cameras are very good and probably part of the reason that folks say that they are not has to do with a lasting prejudice against almost all things Soviet, due to the Cold War, as well as what you have mentioned about upkeep and maintenance. The United States is not famous for the quality of its cameras. I too have found Soviet cameras to be as good as any. I think any camera would be hard put to go against the Iskra for sharpness, contrast, and overall quality in medium format!

Regards, Bill

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Vladislav Kern
Vlad
USA
4196 Posts
My Collection

Posted - Feb 11 2008 :  08:58:17 AM  Show Profile  Visit Vlad's Homepage  Reply with Quote
You also can't forget the part that all these cameras were manufactured on the military factories, that means that they went through the same quality control as the other military production that was manufactured there, at least until 1970, that is when everything went downhill and you get different quality from unit to unit.

Vlad.
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zhang
Kievuser
310 Posts
Posted - Feb 11 2008 :  10:15:26 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Some Soviet cameras are very good, but I am more impressed of their optics quality. Many can produce excellent quality images at a fraction of their western counterparts.:-)
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