Saturday, November 21, 2009


smoking_lady_in_red_v, originally uploaded by Luis Rubim.

Hello again friends and passers by,

Just a quick update, a reminder that my official website is well underway and nearly finished (and online for those who missed it it's ). I am in the process of scanning some stuff to go into the published works section as well as sorting my media published work. Nevertheless, all work and no play makes Luis a boring person, but for me 70% of my work is also play, so I took some time to go take some shots today and here's today's shot. Hope you enjoy!

Until next time,


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Camera Review: Fujica GER - A Classic Pocket Gem

1 - Introduction

Having recently become a fan of the rangefinder, I have embraced the challenges of working on a shorter focal length as a learning experience, particularly as a street photographer. So, as challenges are always something empirically good, I decided to step it up a notch and look for rangefinders with fixed lenses. I was looking for a Minolta Himatic 7 when I came across the Fujica Auto-M and Fujica 35EE. I became more interested in the Fujica models as they are unusual in design and operation, but also have a solid reputation for quality lenses and reliability. But these models disappear in a blink of an eye from the market place.
I also was intrigued by the half-frame camera. The thought of having 72 frames of film meant for me more images in a roll of film despite any disadvantages (particularly enlargement sizes).I then came across the Fujica GER which I bought out of impulse, only realising later that it wasn't a fully manual camera and also not half-frame, it is by and large an auto-exposure camera and full frame. But when I received the camera, I was in awe of the simplicity of the design and in particular, the size. I knew it was small but haven't really gauged well how small. I became even more intrigued with it,so a couple of days later, I bought myself some process paid slide film and started a test of the camera to see how good it was if it was working at all. As a side note, I believe that this review may be of use to those considering this camera since manuals are hard to find.

2 - Body and Design

Upon receipt of the package, I could not figure out what did I order that deserved such a small box until I opened it. The camera is minute and this is almost an understatement. I opened the palm of my hand and the camera fits entirely on the palm of my average sized hands. Yet, this little camera has a nice comfortable wind lever,a very readable frame counter on top,a flash hotshoe, reasonable size rewind knob and pc synch socket to the left side of the top plate. It is well laid out and it is a typical example of excellent Japanese design with a good compromise of size and usability. The top plate, also features a LED that lights up when you half press the shutter button. Without having a manual for this camera and never having found one either,I can only assume that it lights up to say that the shutter is powered as this is an aperture priority only camera with an electronic shutter. To each side of the top plate there are also strap lugs. The camera despite its size also feels solid and that includes the plastics in the body.

3 - Features

3a - The viewfinder

The Fujica GER has a surprisingly good size viewfinder for its tiny body, with frame lines and it also seems to be parallax corrected. The rangefider patch is a bit small compared to that of a full size rangefinder, but it is bright and very visible. In fact, comparing it to that of a Fed 4, which is a full size interchangeable lens rangefider, it is better. The viewfinder displays a sign for flash when the light levels drop by use of its colour compensation glass. To the right hand side of the eyepiece (which has no dioptre correction), there is also a small window featuring a small cylinder with red arrows painted on it, which tells the user if the film is winding.

3b - Flash usage

As mentioned before, the GER features both a hotshoe and a PC Synch socket. Exposures with flash are controlled by the aperture ring on the lens which we will get to on the following section.

3c - Lens

The lens is a Fujinon 38mm f2.8, a fast lens with a minimum focussing distance of 0.9m (90cm or 36in). It features an aperture ring which has flash guide numbers instead of aperture values, plus "A" for fully automatic. No shutter speed control on the lens as you would expect of many fixed lens rangefinders without a shutter speed control dial or knob on the top plate. This camera is aperture-priority only. It features a light meter on the front of the lens to the left side of the glass element (if facing the camera) and a film speed dial on the right that reads in ISO and DIN. ISO/DIN speeds go up to 800/30, controlled by a ring mounted around the glass element.

3d - On the bottom plate...

On the bottom plate, there is the battery compartment, which houses two PC640A batteries or compatible to the center, a rewind button to its right (if the camera is upside down and lens is facing you) and an off center tripod collar.

4 - Operation

Operation of this camera is very simplistic, focus the lens, wind the film and press the shutter release button.

5 - In actual use...

Loading film is a cinch and is virtually impossible to get it wrong, if that can be said.
The camera operates in an almost fully automatic way, the only control a user would have over the exposures is the flash guide numbers ring (the aperture ring) as such, if you plan anything more creative you need to brush up your guide numbers/subject distance mathematics to get an aperture value. The camera will set a shutter speed for you. Nevertheless, the camera still allows push and pull of film as you can set the film speed yourself. Despite all this, and even being a manual focus camera, there is a sense of ever readiness to the camera.
Focussing is smooth and quick. The only problem that I came across was that the rangefinder is out of horizontal alignment it seems, so I was looking for vertical lines or patterns all the time to help me focus, but this is perhaps something that may be corrected and does not seem to be inherent to the camera, but yet focussing was possible.
On half pressing the shutter, the user may notice that a small LED lights up inside the viewfinder as well as on the top plate (red LED). Without a manual, I can only assume that this simply is to notify the user that the batteries are OK and that the shutter is ready to be released. On fully pressing the shutter, a frame is produced in a whisper. It is very quiet in operation, which for the street photographer is a great bonus. The metering is very accurate, but I found that to have a sharp picture at all times (please note the expression " at all times") one needs to make sure that either there is good light or using a fast film. As it happens with digital cameras on Auto mode, you can get blurred photos if you come by a situation where the light drops, or dark shadows dominate the scene, but the fast and reasonably sharp wide open f2.8 lens can deal with a lot of these situations. There are of course limitations, since as mentioned above, films are limited up to ISO 800, which still gives plenty of scope even in night photography. For fast moving objects, a fast film or flash is recommended. Of course, one may come across light conditions that will allow the use of a medium speed film for this purpose, but for tack sharp images of fast moving objects even with good lighting, I would recommend sticking to ISO400 film or above.
As for flash usage, it is not a feature I have tested, but it will be done at some point.

In conclusion

The Fujica GER is a little pocket gem, with lots to like about it, in particular the fact that it's for the most part an ever ready camera. The camera does it all for you (except the focussing)and does it well. Of course, if you want a bit more creative control, you may be a bit frustrated, but for the fun factor, this camera gets 10/10.It is also one of those cameras for the enthusiasts' lazy days,where you just want something to point and shoot. It's compact body is very compact indeed, falls into a pocket and still leaves space for a couple of rolls of film,but yet the body feels well put together. The lens gives good results and seems acceptably sharp wide open, but in this first test it seems it may need a little contrast correcting in either the printing process or in Photoshop if you scan your film, comparing to other cameras' results. Obviously, if you are scanning, final results may also have to take into account your scanning equipment, but looking at transparencies through the loupe, they seem to hold very well. The only real downside considering this package, it is that the viewfinder has no dioptre correction,but one does wonder if it really needs it.
Again, here's a camera that can challenge the perceptions of the most demanding photographer, particularly that of the one who wants full control over the exposure process.
It is certainly a camera not to be dismissed for its minute size and automatic exposure control. Scracth the surface and it's a gem underneath.


Some images available here . As I still go through the transparencies, few more may be added.

I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Until next time,


Monday, November 02, 2009

Film camera review - Zorki 4K vs Fed 4

The Zorki 4K


The rangefinder was, for good while in my early photographic days a photographic tool that I thought I would never understand. Why on earth would anyone want to use something that does not let you view the image as it is through the lens? Over time, I was convinced that there was something about it, otherwise there wouldn't be so many photographers swearing by it, including some of my favourite ones. So, many years passed until last January/February I decided to buy one. I always thought the prices were prohibitive for both cameras and lenses, making it difficult for an amateur to build a considerable or solid kit. Also, considering a Russian alternative was out of the question, if I was to use a rangefinder I would want a Voigtlander or Leica; that is until I saw some photographers, some Leica photographers including, singing praises for the Russian copies of this reknown camera maker. So my curiosity grew. I searched Ebay and found a very affordable Zorki 4K with a Jupiter-8 lens and it started my foray into the rangefinder photography world. I was hooked. The compactness and silent operation (relatively silent in the case of the Zorki) and the apparent anonymity that the camera brings to picture taking got to me. That was, without of course getting used to some quirks which seem to be inherent to all Russian made cameras, ruining a couple of films in the process. I also acquired from Ebay a turret finder in case I ended up buying more lenses. Anyway, in a bid to get to the review a bit sooner, a couple of months later I decided to retire the camera but not for any particular faults, just because it ended up being autographed by the one and only David Bailey. As such, I ended up buying a Fed 4B which presented a few quirks of its own not too dissimilar from the Zorki.It came with an Industar-61 lens and seemed a bit stiff in operation, which I later resolved with careful application of some WD-40. In fact, having successfully done this, I decided to do this to all my classic cameras, which resulted in improved operation in all of them. I have to add that this may in fact be of greater benefit to Russian made cameras given that the majority of their quirks tend to be mechanical in kind.

The review

A. The Zorki 4K

The Zorki 4K is a Leica copy, just like its counterpart the Fed 4, made by KMZ factory in Krasnogorsk, Russia. It uses the M39 mount, just like the Leica. It does not have a built-in light meter nor strap lugs, so a case is a must, but I personally don't like to have the top cover of the case hanging down when I use it (you can't separate them either unless you cut them). So if you are to buy one of these, make sure that a case and a light meter are on the list. Also, the viewfinder will not give you a totally accurate view of the scene so a finder (or finders) is a must as it will also be parallax corrected. My Zorki 4K came with a Jupiter-8 lens, which had some fungus on the back element, but it does not seem to affect much the image quality, nevertheless I will be getting a clean optic.

Loading your favourite film

I had some trouble loading film in the beggining, in fact I thought my camera was faulty initially, due to my inexperience with it. Without instructions, I was loading the film as I would normally load your usual SLR or modern compact, but the Zorki will soon tell you that you have done something wrong as it either will not cock the shutter or get stuck at some point in the film wind. It is vital when one loads the film, to rotate the knob around the release to the raised position to allow shooting (the other position is for rewinding)and to use three short strokes of the lever (not full strokes) upon loading. It will then operate as normal. You also need to make sure that the three dots on the top plate are aligned. The camera also features a manually resettable frame counter.

Features,Operation& Kit Lens

The shutter mechanism is typical of Russian cameras. The usual quirk of having to wind on the shutter before changing speeds as well as changing them clockwise except for the speeds of 30 and B. Also, one should never turn the shutter speed dial over the interval between 30 and 1 as that will damage the mechanism. The slower speeds are also harder to get to and are on a slightly raised position. After you release the shutter, the dial will land on what at first seems like a random position but usage will show that it is not random, but one wonders why it lands on such positions. Nevertheless, the Jupiter optic, gives great images and the camera is a pleasure to use. The focussing is smooth and the rangefinder patch is big and bright in comparisson to the Fed 4 (which we will be getting to in a bit). The shutter sound is a snappy, blade like sound which I personally found not to be as silent as I thought it would be, but in any case, quieter than an SLR. Overall, I found that the camera is quite inconspicuous, unless I put the turret finder on. Being a fan of street photography, it was a great bonus and in a first rangefinder experience I could see why these cameras have such an appeal among street photographers and seeing the results reinforced the positive experience. There is something quite different in rangefinder images and while it is hard to pinpoint what it is, I personally think that they seem to be more correct in terms of perspective and slightly sharper (I get good sharpness and contrast with a Jupiter lens with fungus in the back element, which says something about it apart from clean the lens or get a new one). The camera has also a PC synch socket for bulb or electronic flash, but I never used this feature, I might at some point, in homage to Bruce Gilden.

B.The Fed 4

The Fed 4 was bought as a replacement for the Zorki 4K as it acquired a certain value and I thought I should take great care with it. It is in many ways similar to the Zorki as such we will keep this section short and highlight the differences. It is an Ukrainian made camera and took it’s name from it’s creator’s initials (Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky). I ordered my Fed from Ebay once again, and it arrived with a brown leather case in very good condition. The all expected quirks were present, except that I found that the slower shutter speeds were even harder to get on to on this camera. The Fed has the advantage of having a fairly accurate built-in meter but it only allows for readings up to ISO400; over this setting you have to use a secondary meter or your own judgement, which is not too difficult since you can use the meter as guidance if you are fairly experienced. The Fed 4 is tall for a rangefinder and has a certain heft to it. It has a collar around the shutter release, which locks and unlocks it.

Loading your favourite film

The bonus that the Fed has over the Zorki in my experience is that to load the film you can take out the take up spool to load it, making it easier to properly load the film, avoiding looseness. The user can adjust the film easily simply by rolling or unrolling the film from the spool. Just make sure that before loading the camera is set to “C” on the collar ring around the shutter release.

Features,Operation& Kit Lens

The Industar-61 lens that came with it was clear but I found that the focussing ring sits too near to the body making it more difficult to focus than with the Jupiter-8. With my Fed 4, both lenses felt somewhat stiffer in focussing, which is something that I attribute to the focussing mechanism in the camera (and this even after applying WD-40). Nevertheless, the sharpness is very good as I came to expect from Russian lenses. There is information on the Internet in regards to the lanthanum component used in this lens (or some copies of it) being radioactive, but apparently its radiation is so low as to be harmless. This component is also said to give the lens its good colour, contrast and sharpness.

As I look through the viewfinder I also feel that the rangefinder patch is too small in comparison to the Zorki and so is the viewfinder, as such it is a camera that certainly benefits from an external finder for this reason.
In operation, the shutter speeds are set in similar fashion as with the Zorki, so cocking the shutter prior to changing speeds is imperative. Unlike the Zorki 4K, the Fed is much quieter and the shutter sounds more like a low muffled clunk. From a certain distance this is also barely noticeable. Nice, but the camera is not as inconspicuous as the Zorki, even more exacerbated if you put the said turret finder on top of it. The usual apparent “Wheel of Fortune” type landing positions of the dial after an exposure also apply.

To rewind the film, the camera uses a thumb wheel to the left side of the body which I find a bit inconvenient in comparison to the Zorki’s rewind knob. Even more so, if like myself, in first usage, do not load the film properly.

In conclusion

Zorki vs Fed

As with everything it comes down to subjectivity, but here is what I find as pro and cons of each:

Compactedness: Zorki wins

Features: Fed wins (built in light-meter)

Operation: Zorki wins (albeit noisier in operation)

Ruggedness: I would give this to the Fed, but the Zorki doesn’t trail by much

Kit lens: Albeit you can find Feds with Jupiter lenses, they are more common with Industars. I would say that in this case for actual final results performance they would be neck and neck but the Industar’s focussing ring sits too close to the body, making it more difficult to focus.

Viewfinder&finders I only brought this up for an issue reported by some, that I have not come across yet, but apparently the height of the Fed can lead to increased parallax error while using a turret finder. Personally I haven’t come across that, but perhaps I am not shooting close enough to subjects to see this. Nevertheless, it’s not a problem reported by that many and in fact it may be due to faulty or bad finders.


In short, they are both fun to use cameras, which as always, if you can work around the quirks they produce great results. Even better if you have established brand M39 lenses which you can use on them. For me personally there was a bit of a learning curve when I started using a rangefinder because all I knew before this was to focus through the lens, but the challenges that rangefinder photography put before the SLR photographer are a very educational experience as well as a totally new and exciting one. It also makes one think if you really need to carry all that kit around in your camera bag; in fact, my Zorki with lens and turret finder, fit my jacket and vest pockets very easily. Not only that, in this digital age they can turn into great conversation pieces. More importantly for the budget minded enthusiast photographer, they only cost a fraction of the cost of the established brands and provide quality images. Thoroughly recommended as a system or as a learning tool for the future rangefinder photographer thinking of take the plunge to a more expensive and established brand model.


With this concludes this review which was fun to write. I may add or edit some more as 95% of this came from the top of my head and even add some images. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did using the cameras and writing it.

Until next time,