Introduction to KMZ

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Красногорский Механический Завод (Krasnogorskij Mechanicheskij Zavod, Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant), often abbreviated to KMZ but currently rather spelled as Krasnogorsky Zavod, is, with LOMO in St. Petersburg, one of Russia's largest optical factories, and therefore also one of the world's larger.

Krasnogorsky Zavod is located in the Russian town of Krasnogorsk, thirty kilometres from the Red Square. The town was originally known as posjolok Ban'ka (settlement Ban'ka; Ban'ka being the small river running through Krasnogorsk). After a State Optical Factory resided there in 1926, the town was renamed to "rabochij posjolok Ban'ka", worker's settlement Ban'ka, and finally to 'gorod Krasnogorsk' (the town of Krasnogorsk) on the 7th of October 1940. KMZ was officially founded in February 1941 as a defense factory, to supply the army with optical apparatus like sights and rangefinders.

During the Second World War German forces came within close range of Moscow, but ground to a halt somewhere near Krasnogorsk. By that time the plant had long been evacuated, like so many others, to the suburbs of Sverdlovsk, a town in the Ural mountains. After the war, KMZ developed a civil optics branch. One of its first products were opera glasses for the Bolshoy Theatre. In 1947 the first FED-Zorkis were produced from leftover FED parts, the first ZK and BK lenses were manufactured out of seized Zeiss products for Zavod Arsenal in Kiev, and the first Zeiss Ikontas were assembled in Krasnogorsk: the Moskvas. In the 1950's came Zenits, Iskras and Moskvas. Later eras brought essentially more of the same: though there were quite some experimental models, most of the cameras produced at KMZ were Zenit or Zorki derivatives.

Like most State factories in the Soviet Union, KMZ had both a military and a civil role. The civil role focused on cameras, lenses, binoculars, laser equipment, night vision devices, medical-optical apparatus, et cetera. The more important defense tasks involved making arial cameras for ground observation, telescopes for stellar observation, aiding the Russian space program not only by optical products (for instance the camera that made the first picture of the dark side of the moon), but also by testing facilities, making tank sights, artillery sights, aircraft parts, et cetera.

KMZ was more than a small workshop on a single site, it was a huge conglomerate plant with many sub-suppliers (for example UOMZ and ROMZ). KMZ kept many employed, as was in line with the communist ideal of banishing unemployment: in its heyday, KMZ ran a hospital, two culture palaces, one or two colleges, a stadium, an electric plant, a pump station, kolchozes and many more. KMZ also owned many of the houses in Krasnogorsk. The town of Krasnogorsk housed some 100.000 people and certainly one third of those were employed by KMZ. It seems fair to say that KMZ dominated the town.

In September 1976, KMZ was renamed to PO KMZ, PO standing for "Proizvodstvennoe Obyedinenie", a Production or Industrial Union. A PO engulfed more than one factory: it was the name for an entire line of factories and suppliers. That's why plants as Vilieka, Rostov and Valdai are known as "KMZ's sister factories" and not as separate plants: they were cogs in the PO KMZ machinery. In 1979, the government renamed KMZ "PO KMZ imeni S. A. Zvereva", the PO KMZ in the name of S. A. Zverev.

In 1991, when the communist system was abolished, most State factories had their problems in switching over to a competition-driven capitalist system, and KMZ was no exception. Suddenly companies needed to make profit. The markets opened up for foreign products and the Rouble inflated rapidly. For KMZ's workers, it meant either seeking another job or be content with a lower wage. For KMZ, the position was unenviable: not used to producing economically, the market was flooded with better and cheaper Japanese compacts, and their product lineup was a hardly competitive line of Zenit-E descendants. Krasnogorsky Zavod responded by at first canceling some of its products, like for example the KRASNOGORSK-3 16mm cine camera and the Russar 20mm (both of which had potential), and then by developing new ones: the cheaper -12 reflexes like the 212k, the 312m, and recently the 412dx. KZ further focused itself on niche products, like their Horizon-202, gyro-stabilised binoculars, night vision devices, the Zenitar 16mm fisheye, high-speed film cameras, radar devices, and others.

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