Soviet Zenit camera (Pic: Valentin Antonucci/Pexels)
Zenits like this are one of the cheapest ways to get into film photography (Pic: Valentin Antonucci/Pexels)

The Soviet Union had the world’s second-biggest camera industry during the Cold War, but only a handful of its cameras were widely known in the West sat the time.

Cheap and cheerful Zenits and Zorkis were exported far and wide, no-frills SLRs and rangefinders robustly built and with a pricetag which made up for their lack of sophistication. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. Many Soviet camera designs were never exported: more secrets to be hidden from prying eyes behind the Iron Curtain.

When I properly got into film photography in 2000, one of the first cameras I bought was a Lomo LC-A, by then already a cult camera in the West thanks to the Lomography movement. The humble Lomo (which still works as well as it did the day I bought it) got me intrigued as to what else might have been made in the USSR’s camera factories.

The Soviet Union’s designs indeed span far more than the Leica knock-off Zorkis, bare-bones Zenit SLRs and the crudely charming Lomo compact. There were innovative designs like the Kiev SLRs with their fan-shaped shutters; the stylish Voskhod 35mm camera; the pro-spec Start SLR and the Leningrad rangefinder, as well as cheap plastic viewfinder cameras churned out in million after million. The received wisdom was that the Soviets were good at copying simple Western designs but not a lot more – the truth has turned out to be a lot more complicated.

Thanks to eBay and the blogosphere, the more esoteric Soviet designs are no longer a mystery: you can buy them in flea markets and camera shops from Moscow to Manchester. And in the 21st Century a lot of these cameras are being dusted off and used again. Kosmo Foto definitely isn’t the only one interested in them.

Here you can find all the Soviet-related posts on Kosmo Foto. And if you’re a Zorki zealot, FED fanatic or Lomo lover, drop me a line at foto.dowling@gmail.com – I’m always looking for more posts, and every one published earns you two rolls of Kosmo Foto Mono film.

Camera reviews
FED-50 review (Kosmo Foto review)
KMZ FT-2 review by Ziga Cetrtic
Lomo LC-A review (Kosmo Foto review)
Lomo Lubitel 166U review (Kosmo Foto review)
Lomo Sokol-2 review by Anthony Fisk
Zenit-3M review (Kosmo Foto review)
Zenit-19 review by Paul Farca
Zenit-E review (Kosmo Foto review)
Zenit-TTL review (Kosmo Foto review)
Zorki-1 review by Paulo Moreira

Soviet camera history
The rare Soviet camera took colour pictures before colour film
These are almost all the cameras Lomo produced over seven decades
The Moscow Olympics commemorative cameras
The flea market Zorki with a special secret

The Soviet camera disguised… as another camera
The Soviet camera owned by the man who shot JFK
The Zenit-E that served on a space station
A Soviet time capsule from the 1950s
These are the most produced 35mm cameras of all time
The Lomo LC-A built to fool a Soviet general
A strange homemade Soviet stereo camera
The stash of Soviet cameras found in a Kazakh warehouse
Fancy owning a camera from a Soviet MiG?
The camera from a clash which could have sparked World War III
The fake Nikons and Canons made for Soviet movies
The Lomo LC-A family

Kosmopedia
Kiev-19M
KMZ Fotosnaiper
KMZ Kristall
Zenit-B

World on Film
Angkor on a Zorki-6

Kosice on a KMZ Moskva-5
Lomo LC-A in New Zealand
Malta by Lubitel
Marrakech on an Iskra

Around the World in 80 Cameras
Christchurch, New Zealand on a Kiev-60

Tips, tricks and repairs
Hacking a half-frame lens for wide-angle photography
Zenit-16: the Russian revolution that never quite happened

Shooting with Soviet gear
Life as a Covid patient in Kazakhstan, captured on film
Kosmo Foto Mono on a Kiev-60
The Lubitel 166B: My grandfather’s camera

Shooting the Kiev-60 and Arax-60 MLU
Hunting dragons with KMZ Fotosnaiper
KMZ Narciss: Shooting the ‘world’s smallest SLR’
An xpro Easter on Zenit SLRs
Studio shooting on the Kiev-88
Zenit-E sampler
Greenwich on a KMZ Start
A Soviet Start in Soho
Zenit xpro: Greenwich and Whistable
Xpro in Antwerp
A Paris daytrip on film
Chinese New Year on film
Lomo LC-A review
Agfa Precisa on London South Bank
Publicity portraits on a Kiev-60
Summertime drinks on a Zenit-3M

Stephen Dowling
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