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RA-39A camera with Zenit-3 (Pic: Salefromdollar/eBay)
The RA-39A camera with Zenit-3 included to show the camera’s size (Pic: Salefromdollar/eBay)

The Soviet Union built a bewildering array of cameras over its 70+ year history, from tiny spy cameras you could hide under a coat to giant wooden large format cameras.

And those were just the cameras that required a human finger to press the shutter.

The Soviets also built a huge number of secret military cameras designed to take images from the air or space.

A few days ago, Kosmo Foto reported on a lens from one of these cameras currently being offered for auction – a giant (and rare) 348lb (148kg) telephoto lens used on a class of Soviet satellites in the 1970s and 80s. It’s expected to fetch as much as $16,000 (£12,400).

Now we have found another camera for sale – which might not be as rare, heavy or as expensive, but still ticks the boxes when it comes to Cold War cool.

Two separate sellers – one in Russia, the other in Ukraine – are currently offering RA-30A aerial cameras, standard cameras carried by Soviet reconnaissance aircraft during the Cold War. Both of the cameras also come with the standard Uran-27 100/2.5 lens which was fitted as standard.

According to the Russian site Photohistory.ru, the cameras were built in the Kazan Optical-Mechanical Plant, in present-day Russia, which was established in 1940 and still builds optics and cameras for the Russian military.

Polish M-G-21 (Pic: Wisnia6522/Wikimedia Commons)
A Polish MiG-21 with a centreline pod where cameras would usually be carried (Pic: Wisnia6522/Wikimedia Commons)

The seller in Russia says the camera they are offering was from a MiG-21R reconnaissance fighter – a version of the famous MiG-21, the most produced supersonic fighter in history. This example is being offered for $489 plus shipping.

MiG-21s usually carried cameras in a centreline pod underneath the fuselage. The camera would be loaded with up to 19m (63ft) of film. The RA-30A used 80mm film, shooting on a frame 70x80mm.

According to Soviet photographica collector Vladislav Kern, the RA_39A was designed to be held and operated by a crewman – meaning it would have been used in a two-seat MiG-21, as it would have been impossible for the pilot to have operated the camera and flown the plane. A variant of the camera, the A-39(A), would have been operated by remote control in single-seat fighters like the MiG-21R.

The other camera, offered from Ukraine, was mounted in an Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane, the seller says (the Soviet equivalent of a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter), and was removed by the pilot from the aircraft. This example is being offered for £615 ($793) but  that does include international shipping.

Both cameras show signs of use, so it looks as if they were indeed working models.

RA-39A camera (Pic: Depotmilitary_com/eBay)
The Russian example, with lens cap ((Pic: Depotmilitary_com/eBay))

The camera are more likely to be shelf queens than anything practical to use – you’ll have to find 80mm film from somewhere, and the cameras weigh in at more than 8kg (17.6lb) – but this is definitely something that’ll put your Zenits and Kievs in the shade.

Camera back opened (Pic: Salefromdollar/eBay)
The RA-39A features a removable back (Pic: Salefromdollar/eBay))

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Stephen Dowling
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