The Moskva-5

Alfred's Camera Page

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Always on the lookout for Russian cameras, I spotted my Moskva-5 in the window of a small antiques shop in Essen, Germany. It was December 1999, and I was there to visit the Christmas market (don't ask...:). I walked past the shop, looked in the window, saw some old folding cameras, looked closer, and saw a Moskva-5. Ofcourse I went inside immediately, and inquired what the guy wanted for it. One hundred and sixty Deutschmark, he said (which is some $80). I thought that these cameras were very rare and expensive, and pondered it for a minute. I decided to buy it, and then had to cross all through town to find a cash machine. When I finally found one, it was already half past four, and the shop closed at five. I was back at the shop at quarter to five, superficially checked the camera quickly, and for DM160, it was mine.

In hindsight this was perhaps the worst deal of my life (to put it dramatically). On the way back home, I checked the camera out a bit better. It turned out that the rangefinder was defect, that the leatherette had coloured totally brown from years and years of direct sunlight, and that the camera was just dirty in general. And it also turned out that these cameras weren't very rare at all. What was really frustrating, is that I don't have a big budget anyway, and that for considerably less money, I could have gotten a rare and fully operational aluminium-top Moskva-4 at a local camera shop. This Moskva-5 was an impulsive buy if there ever was one, and since I've seen better Moskva-5's in Prague for almost half the price, I wish I had kept my money in my pocket. But I guess that there's no use crying over spilt milk, and that I now have to face the fact that I own this Moskva-5. A bit too expensive, but still.

Before this review begins, a slight word of caution. My Moskva-5 is in a very bad state, and the only accessory I got with it, was the brown leatherette case. My experiences with this camera aren't so good, so overall, I'm not too happy with it. But this isn't to say that what I remark on this page, goes for all Moskva-5's. Like with most Soviet-Russian equipment, there are good examples and there are bad examples. Mine is a bad one, and as such not representative.

The first Moskva to be produced was the 1948 Moskva-1, that was at first produced with Zeiss Ikonta 6×9 pieces, and wth the help of Zeiss tools. Some 31.000 of this model were made until 1949.

The Moskva-2 was produced from 1947 to 1956, and over 197.000 of them were made. Where the Moskva-1 was assembled from original Zeiss Ikonta pieces, this one was made with original Super Ikonta pieces (which incorporates an uncoupled rangefinder).

From 1950 to 1951, the rather rare Moskva-3 was produced (only 11.385 made). This model resembled the original Moskva-1 in that it didn't have a rangefinder or a viewfinder. The strange thing about this camera is, that it wasn't meant for 120-film, but took sheet and plate film.

The Moskva-4 was produced from 1956 to 1958. Essentially a Moskva-2, it was equipped for both 6×9 and 6×6 photography, and was supplied with a 6×6 insert mask. Small numbers with Moskva-5 style tops were made.

From the Moskva-4 series 2, the Moskva-5 evolved. This was essentially the same camera as the former model, but it had an Industar-24 10.5cm f/3.5 instead of an Industar-23 11.0 cm f/4.5, and a Moment-24S shutter instead of a Moment-23S. Essentially still a Zeiss Super Ikonta copy, this camera has the advantage of a dual-format system, a good lens, a coupled rangefinder, an excellent finish, a self-timer, and a proper viewfinder.

The Moskva-5 stayed in production until 1960. A grand total of 216.457 (according to Princelle) were produced. Princelle also mentions that these cameras generally have an exemplary finish, something that I'm willing to take his word for.

The Moskva-5 has rather modest dimensions. It's as thin as a small 35mm camera (a feature that is still appreciated today among outdoor photographers), it's only slightly higher than a medium format roll, and it's not much longer than the 6×9 format. Ofcourse it's a medium format camera, and the large roll needs to go somewhere, but its dimensions are altogether modest.

When closed, the camera handles somewhat like a normal 35mm camera, but with some peculiarities. For starters, the viewfinder is to the top right of the camera, which is a good thing if you're left-eyed, but a nuisance if you take pictures with your right eye, since your nose could get in the way. The rangefinder window is to the left of the viewfinder window, and the Moskva-5 doesn't have a combined viewfinder/rangefinder.

Secondly, the shutter release button is not on the usual place (ie. on the top right of the camera), but on the top left! There is a knob on the top right where the shutter release normally is, but that's the bellows release button...

Compared to most cameras, things here are inverted. A lucky stroke if you're a left-handed, left-eyed photographer, but a less lucky one if you're right-eyed and right-handed, as most photographers seem to be...

The camera folds open by pressing the small button on the top right of the camera. The bellows and the lens clap out with some speed and force due to a couple of springs inside. When unfolded, the bellows should click themselves into position. If they don't, then click them in manually, because otherwise the lens isn't aligned planparallel to the film surface, and the sharpness plain would be uneven.

The camera has a small foot underneath the hatch, that can flip up, and act as a support foot for putting the camera exactly level in vertical position. Unfortunately the side of the hatch doesn't have a similar foot, so placing the camera level horizontally requires a tripod. But that is easier said than done: the Moskva-5 has a German screw tripod thread, but most modern tripods have English screw. There are adaptors and special plates available, but it's not ideal.

Incidentally, I believe that German thread (3/8") is a much better system than English thread (1/4"), because of the larger support base. But somehow the German thread got suppressed by the English one in the 1960's, which I think is an eternal shame. Lenses like a 600mm Canon shouldn't be screwed onto a tripod with a small, brittle rod, but rather with a large and solid screw, preferably German thread. Anyway, this is fighting a lost battle...

When the camera has folded open, don't forget to turn the auxiliary rangefinder window into place, so that it aligns with its pal on the body! Otherwise the rangefinder system will be mute.

The Moskva-5 is a true dual format camera. It was designed for 6×6 and 6×9 photography, and both types are equally well manageable. On the top plate, there is a format switch, but the only thing it does, is place or remove a 6×6 mask in the viewfinder. There is another switch in the pressure plate. Setting that switch to either format, blocks the red window for the other format shut. The wind system does not know of any formats: you wind on the film yourself, and check the red window to see when the next exposure is reached. By the way, you need a 6×6 insert to take pictures in that format, and it's an often lost accessory. Moskva-5's without this standard piece are worth less than those that have theirs. Because of the special insert, it's not possible to change formats in mid roll, like with the Hasselblad XPan, for example. Which is quite a pity.

The Moskva-5 doesn't bother with either a film counter or an automatic wind system. The film counts itself, in a way, because through the appropriate red window in the back, you can see at just which exposure number the film is now. In a way, this camera is very low-tech. Unlike the Iskra for example, nothing's automated.

Like I said earlier, the wind system knows nothing about formats. You just wind until the next number appears in the red window. However, the wind system does know something about incomplete winds and double exposures! After you press the shutter release button (on the top of the camera, but connected with rods and things to the shutter up front), the exposure system blocks until one 6×6 image has been advanced. A small dot next to the advance button turns red after taking a picture, and only when it turns white again after sufficient winding, is the film fully advanced for 6×6. The exposure system also blocks when the shutter is uncocked, and when the lens assembly is collapsed. It's not much, but enough of a system to avoid double exposures.

Placing a film is not very difficult in this kind of roll film camera. First you place the 6×6 insert, if you want 6×6 negatives. Then you place the film on the right, making sure that there is an empty spool in the left bay. Feed the paper lip from the right to the left spool, stick it into the crease in the center, wind on a bit, and make sure that the paper stays neatly in the middle of the spool. Then wind the film on a bit with the back open, to make sure it stays in place. Then set the lever on the pressure plate to 6×6 or 6×9, depending if the insert is applied or not, and close the back. Closing the back is done by dropping the left of the back over the hinge-like rim on the left of the camera, and slowly pressing it into place. It should click shut at the end. If you need to apply force, you've probably hung the back wrongly in the hinge, so give it another try, without forcing anything excessively. Anyway, after the back is properly closed, you wind on the film with the red window open, until the number '1' appears in the window. There: the Moskva-5 is now set for the first exposure.

Taking pictures goes as follows. First, open the camera's door with the knob on the top right. Then cock the shutter, by moving the small lever on the shutter assembly upwards. Only then can you change shutter speeds. Set a speed and an aperture (the aperture scale goes to f/32, and its needle is located behind the 'Moment-24S' type plate), and focus the lens by turning the focusing scale, and checking focus through the rangefinder window. The subject is in focus when the two superimposed images fall together. Then, handle the camera like a normal 35mm RF, but keep in mind that the shutter release is to the left. Frame the image in the proper viewfinder, and take the picture. Then, wind on the film with the large knob on the left, until the next number appears in the red window on the back. Then cock the shutter, set the shutter speeds, etc etc etc, until you reach the end of the film (the twelfth picture with 6×6, and the eighth with 6×9).

When the film is full, simply wind it on and on and on, until all the film and all the paper backing has been transferred from the right roll to the left one. You should feel pressure when you reach the end of the film, and suddenly it 'll shoot loose. Then open the back, take out the film spool, wind on the last end tightly, and seal it shut like a stamp, by moisturizing the gummed strip, and using it to seal off the roll. Then just take it like that to the photo store, and have it further developed.

The Moskva-5 has an Industar-24 10.5cm f/3.5. As is the case with most Russian cameras and lenses, there are good ones and there are bad ones. There are Moskva-5's with excellent, sharp, brilliant Industar-24's, and there are the ones with Monday morning lenses. Sadly for me, mine is one of the latter, although I don't quite know for sure. The only roll of film I ever shot with my Moskva-5, was a roll of FP4 that had expired by over five years, and that I developed in a used one-shot Rodinal mixture. I shot the pictures under poor light conditions and leaden skies, with 1/25s and f/5.6, without a tripod. It's not difficult to understand that the pictures came out looking truely miserable. If I were to go by those, I would think that the Moskva-5 is only capable of producing gritty, out-of-focus images with no brilliance and sharpness at all; and that clearly isn't the case. I reckon that if I use colour slide film, a tripod, a cable release and a light meter, and I shoot something happy under a clear blue sky, I would appreciate my Moskva-5 a lot more. But for now I can't say anything sensible about lens quality, other than that that of mine is very disappointing. But don't let that mislead you: the wildest stories roam about this lens, telling about the fabulous and miraculous quality of the Industar-24, and personally I believe some of it is probably true. I prefer to think that my Moskva-5 is a poor home-market example...

The Moskva-5 has no light meter, but its wind dial incorporates a memo dial. You can set three film types, and with each film type, four film speeds. There are:

  • Tsvetnaya (colour film): 22, 32, 45, 65 GOST
  • Panchrom (b/w film): 32, 45, 65, 90 GOST
  • Izopanch. (b/w film): 32, 45, 65, 90 GOST

The whole memo dial rotates, and when you load the camera, you are supposed to align the arrow on the rim with the correct film type and sensitivity.

Perhaps interesting is the way in which the rangefinder system works. Having a rangefinder with a collapsible camera is a problem, since how do you make a coupled rangefinder system onto a collapsable lens? KMZ's solution (or actually, that of ZEISS), was to attach a separate rangefinder 'agent' to each lens. It folds up with the lens, but when the lens is retracted, it aligns with one of the rangefinder windows on the body, and voila: a coupled, yet collapsable, rangefinder system.

When you focus the lens, two images in the rangefinder move apart from each other. One is stationary, but the other one can move sideways. By focusing the lens, you can make that one overlap the stationary image. When there is full overlap, the subject is in focus.

An interesting question is, how on earth the rangefinder images move separately from each other. Think about this. In a normal Leica-style 35mm rangefinder, a rotatable mirror rotates as the lens focuses. But on the Moskva-5, there are no rotatable mirrors. Inside the camera's top, everything is stationary. But how can the rangefinder images then move sideways? The 'agent' fixed to the lens doesn't move... The only thing moving in the whole rangefinder system, are two lenses in the 'agent'. They rotate opposite from each other: the one clockwise, the one counterclockwise. They don't move in or out, nor to the left or the right, but only rotate opposite to each other. Somehow this must translate into a sidewards movement of the rangefinder image, but I'm not sure how it works. Mirrored glass? Polarized glass? Small prisms? I don't know...

The Moskva-5 was undoubtedly designed as an expensive professional camera, and not as an amateur model. It was built in an age (1956–1960) when 35mm photography was already suppressing 120-film, and only professionals still insisted on using the larger format. Its dual-format characteristics, rangefinder and excellent lens and finish indicate professional use also. Apparently these cameras were used until very late (the 1980's?) by Moscow street photographers. Even today these are often used as portable travel cameras, because when collapsed, they are very small. If you are lucky enough to find one in good state and with a good, sharp Industar, then you gain not only a nice collector's piece, but also a well-useable camera.

Incidentally, the Moskva-5 was followed up in 1960 by the Iskra. The Iskra was a sort of Moskva-5, but then much improved. If didn't have dual format, okay, but it had a Zorki-4 like viewfinder with combined rangefinder, it also had a collapsable lens, it had a better rangefinder system (KMZ got rid of the 'agent'), and an automatic film transport. I own an Iskra-2 myself, and personally think it's a better picture taker than the Moskva-5. But there's no arguing about taste, I guess... Until then, the Moskva-5 remains a popular Russian user camera, and rightly so.


Manufacturer:KMZ; Krasnogorsk; USSR
Produced:216.457 between 1956 and 1960
Film format:6×6 and 6×9 on 120 film
Exposures:8 in standard 6×9; 12 with 6×6 insert
Lens:Industar-24 (sometimes abbreviated I-24) 10.5cm f/3.5–f/32
Shutter:Moment-24S; B–1s–1/500s; self-timer; manual cocking
Graph of production data
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