The Iskra-2

Alfred's Camera Page

This page is no longer actively maintained. (Pardon?)

In my opinion, the Iskra-2 is one of the most beautiful cameras KMZ ever made, and a camera that, despite its respectable age of more than 35 years, is still useful today. It was my most expensive Soviet-Russian camera and though not flawless, is one of the most special cameras in my collection.

Although there are no sources that explicitly indicate it, I think that the Iskras was made to follow up the Moskva series. That series was started in 1947 as a range of Zeiss Ikonta copies (medium-format collapsable bellows cameras, some with rangefinder and some without), but when the Moskva-5, the last in the series, was discontinued in 1961, it was quite outdated. At that time, professional 35mm photographers used Leica M3's or Nikon F's, not clumsy and large medium format bellows cameras with small viewfinders and odd rangefinder coupling systems. So I reckon that KMZ thought it time to come up with something new, which they did in the form of the Iskra line.

The original Iskra, the name meaning 'Spark' and referring to Lenin's reactionary 1900's newspaper, was marketed in 1960, overlapping the Moskva-5's sales period entirely. It had several main advantages over the Moskva-5.

The most important one was no doubt its viewfinder system. The Iskras used the same bright, slightly blueish rangefinder/viewfinder system that the Zorki-4 had been fitted with four years earlier, with the obvious difference that the Iskra's viewfinder window was square. The viewfinder, a marvel of clarity, transparency and sharpness though with a bit of distortion, had in its center a square, slightly greenish rangefinder spot, that was coupled to the collapsable lens by an ingenious system involving a sensing rod that could hinge under 90°. Like the Zorki-4's viewfinder it lacked framelines, but unlike the former, its viewfinder edge was better demarcated.

The second advantage over the Moskva-5 was its increased portability. The Iskras are slightly higher than the Moskva-5, equally thick, but a lot less rectangular. Their weight is aproximately the same; for practical purposes, both are quite heavy since they are both made of plentifully applied aluminium.

The third advantage that the Iskras had over the Moskvas was the more advanced level of automization. The Iskras, for example, had an automatic image counter (renowned unprecise), whereas the Moskvas had the old-fashioned red window system, that left the initiative and responsibility for winding film correctly at the user. The Moskvas also didn't have a wind block that blocked the take-up spool after the next frame was reached, a commodity with which the Iskras were fitted. The Iskra-2 also had a light meter, which was no doubt an advantage over the lightmeterless Moskva series.

So all in all, the Iskra was a worthy successor to the out-dated Moskva-5, introducing many new possibilities and lacking only the multi-frame support.

Two cameras appeared in the Iskra series: the 'original' Iskra and the Iskra-2. The latter differed from the former through its uncoupled light meter. According to the all-knowing Princelle, the 'original' Iskra was produced from 1960 to 1963, in the relatively small number of 38.722. Again according to him, the Iskra-2 was produced from 1961 to 1964, in the even more exclusive quantity of a mere 6.118 pieces. Princelle gives no clues as to why the Iskras were withdrawn from the market, but I guess that either the line was too expensive to produce and therefore it was cancelled (as was common in the Soviet Union), or that the interest in medium format photography rapidly vanished. The Iskra series was to be KMZ's last production medium format camera, not taking several prototypes (Horizon-205pc, Zenit-70, Reporter) into consideration.

Some quick notes on handling

We all know I should get back to this soon, but for now, as long as it lasts, here are some quick pointers on how to use the Iskra-2.

The Iskra-2 is an exposure value (EV) centric camera. What is an exposure value? It's a value (with a nice unit I'm sure) that is isomorphic to f/s (f is the aperture, s is the fraction of a second). If the EV grows, so does the f stop you can use, or conversely, the shutter speed becomes shorter.

The EV range is, briefly, a measure of light intensity. Because light meters measure light intensity, it's not so awkward that this camera's light meter returns readings in EV's, from 2 to 18. These are the red numbers. On the aperture ring, you see the same red numbers. What you do is line the red number that the light meter gave you up with the dot, and hey presto, you have an instant shutter speed and aperture combination. The best thing about it is that you can rotate the aperture and shutter speed dials in unison, thus moving through the range of possible combinations, while staying with the same EV.

The green shutter speeds are not meant to be set, but are an extrapolation of the actual shutter speed range (in white) into the whole seconds range. For "B" you can substitute 2s. Think of it as a virtual scale. Often when you set a certain EV value, part of the aperture range will "reach out" into the green numbers, indicating that you could, for example, take the picture at 15s and f/22, had the camera been able to provide that speed.

The green lever is for selecting the delay for flash sync; X is for electronic flashes (all current types), M is for bulb, I think, and the A position is probably short for 'Auto', because it cocks the self-timer.

How I got mine

The way I obtained my Iskra-2 is perhaps worth mentioning. In the spring of 2000, my dad, brother and I went to Prague on a two-day Frequent Flyer trip. My dad had saved points for the flight, so all we had to pay was the hotel. When we arrived on a Thursday, I had in the back of my mind that I could perhaps buy some interesting cameras for my collection in the Czech Republic, a former Warschaw Pact country that had historically a lot to do with the Soviet Union (the 'Prague Spring'; the Soviet invasion of 1968, for instance). We spent the whole of Thursday walking through town, where on one occasion I came along a camera store. It was half past six pm already, so the shop was just closing up. In the window of the shop, BS Foto near the Betlemské Namesti, however, I saw all sorts of wild and crazy Russian cameras. There was an Iskra-2, a Zenit-6 with Rubin zoom, several Fotosnaipers, three FT-2s, a 1968 Horizont, a Horizon-202 four-speeds, several Narcisses, tonloads of falsified Leicas, Zorkis, FEDs, Moskvas, Zenits: you name it, they had it. My eye fell on the Iskra-2 in particular: although I don't have the whole of Princelle in my head, I knew enough about the Iskra series to realise that an Iskra-2 being sold for $50 was a bargain. So I wrote the address down and went to the hotel, since the shop was closed and the blinds had gone down. On Friday, I didn't think of the Iskra, because I had in mind to buy that camera on Saturday, during the few hours we had left before we needed to get to the airport. On Friday, we walked all through town, from the deteriorated factories in the East to the Moldau island in the North, we returned to our hotel rooms at two o'clock in the afternoon where we did nothing till six pm.

On Saturday, we had gotten up early to pack for the return flight. We put all the luggage in the hotel storage area, and went to town in one of those exceedingly cool red-white trams. I had extracted the money from my bank account, and it was burning in my pocket at the time. As I made my way towards the shop I thought that I was really in luck to find a rare camera like the Iskra-2 (although I didn't know its production figures back then) for such a price in a foreign city. But when I got to the shop a sign indicated that the shop was closed on Saturdays. Argh! The frustration was unbelievable and ruined the whole day and the whole return trip. My brother was constantly teasing me about it and I was really cursing myself for not having bought the camera on that lazy Friday on which we had done nothing but sit in the hotel and walk around aimlessly. I was frustrated to the point of being aggressive and angry, and made plans to go to Prague on my own by bus in the Autumn holidays.

Luckily, as it turned out, we went on summer holiday to Austria that year, and came within one hundred and fifty miles of Prague. Because my dad, brother and myself all wanted to go back, we made a slight detour and stayed in Prague for a day. This time I had learnt from my previous mistakes, and went to the camera store at first occasion, the city map burnt in my mind's eye, to see if they still had the Iskra-2. Wondering if it was sold or not, I came to the shop again, after three months of absence, and saw to my utter horror that the Iskra-2 was gone! The window had the same Russian camera splendor it had had before, but the prize piece, the camera that had become a bit of an obsession to me, was not there! Quite uncontent, to put it nicely, I went to another large camera store in Prague city center, one where they didn't have an Iskra-2 earlier that year. I looked around, and sure enough: this time they had one. I felt as if my prayers had been heard and my dream had come true: there stood the camera which I had been after for so long. So without further ado, sighing with relief, I bought it for the to me quite substantial amount of around $100.

My conjecture is, by the way, that that Iskra-2 is the same one I saw in the Spring, only the large photo store bought it and sold it for profit themselves, feeling correctly that they could make a better deal than the $50 it was priced at first. Anyway, after I returned to The Netherlands I noticed that the whole camera was drenched in ink to hide the bladdering paint, and worse of all, that my Iskra-2 had been hacked by an independent repairman to take 6×4.5cm pictures. That might have explained the low price in the first store... So with a slightly bitter taste from all that I went through to obtain my Iskra-2 and from feeling a bit disappointed with what I have in my hands, I still regard it as perhaps one of the most beautiful cameras in my collection, competing for the title with the Voskhod and the Zorki-10.

(still under construction)


Manufacturer:KMZ; Krasnogorsk; USSR
Film:120-film; 12 6×6 images per film
Lens:Industar-58 75mm f/3.5
Shutter speeds:FXCh-18 shutter; B—1s—1/500s; synchronised
Graph of production data
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