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Made by LOMO in the city formerly known as Leningrad, the Sokol-2 (Сокол-2) is a fairly common camera in collections, which probably has everything to do with the fact that it was fairly advanced for its time and place. What also helps is that it was exported to Europe as well as sold within the Soviet Union. However its ubiquity can't conceal the fact that these cameras are marked by a very high malfunction rate – in this case being a heavy brick doesn't mean having an eternal lifespan. Shoddy isn't the word, but the world has seen more decent workmanship.
The first camera in the series was the Sokol ("Falcon") Avtomat, that appeared in 1966. LOMO was obviously inspired by the novel Japanese rangefinder cameras that had a lot of functions for a competitive price. So they designed the Sokol, as a Soviet-Russian attempt to copy what made Japan one of the rising stars in the industry.
The first Sokol has quite some functions up its sleeve. For starters, it had an automatic exposure mode that made things dramatically simpler for the amateur photographer – you push the button, the Sokol does the rest. Manual control was, of course, still an option. The Sokol also had parallax correction and a quite nice one at that: as you focus closer, the framelines shift to the lower right corner. Much better than the usual set of framelines for infinity and close-up. Other features include a large rangefinder base (72mm), a good lens, a Copal-licensed shutter and flash sync at all speeds.
The original Sokol was succeeded in 1969 by a model unchanged except for the number of cells in the lens facade: three instead of six. LOMO probably figured that half the cells did the job just as well for half the price, or perhaps they just doubled their sensitivity and added a transistor. This configuration stayed in production until 1979, when the Sokol-2 was released into the world. To quote Princelle: "Modernised version of the Sokol Avtomat. Identical characteristics". This would seem to mean that all the changes were either cosmetic or internal, and that the new index number is a bit of a farce. Maybe they did it for marketing reasons. (But in a communist market?)
Perhaps noteworthy is the budget Sokol that was for sale in 1974 and 1975 on the domestic market: this LOMO 130A had only one light meter cell and, in a clear effort to cut the most dramatic costs, lacked the strap lugs.
The first things that strike when you hold a Sokol-2, are its mass and its dimensions. For its class, it's a very heavy camera. To blame are the materials of which it's made: pressed aluminium plate for the top, and cast iron for the carcass. All this metal gives the camera a reassuring solidity, but also contributes to its plumpness.
Its dimensions are remarkable for an amateur camera too, since it's not only quite long and high, but especially thick. Reason for this is the very large back focus distance needed by the Industar-70 50mm f/2.8 lens. Why LOMO used this lens on an amateur camera I don't know, but perhaps there is a link to the MMZ Orion KM prototype of 1964, that also had an Industar-70 as lens. Perhaps MMZ made a prototype, ordered lots of Industar-70 lenses, cancelled the Orion KM anyway as too expensive to produce (?), and was stuck with lots of Industar-70's. Perhaps MMZ, through intervention of the Plan Bureau, donated them to LOMO? I don't know, but the Industar-70 with its long back focus seems hardly suitable for a relatively simple compact like this. Anyway, size was apparently not an issue when designing this camera, since the roll of film gets generous space inside the camera.
Considering that this is a Soviet-Russian camera that first appeared in the 1960's, when Leica-II clones still ruled the domestic market, the Sokol-2 has some very advanced features. For instance, it has automatic parallax compensation. As you focus closer, the framelines move more and more to the bottom right corner. Also, the Sokol-2 can be used as a point-and-shoot automatic camera, when set to the 'A' position. A system of luminescent arrows in the viewfinder indicate when the light conditions are suitable to take a picture. Thirdly, the Sokol-2 has a precise rangefinder with a very large base (72mm), and a teintless viewfinder. The Sokol-2 also had some minor improvements over other Soviet-Russian cameras of its day, like a hot shoe with incorporated X contact, strap lugs, a hinged back, an automatically resetting exposure counter, and a proper rewind crank.
This camera is a modern one on many respects, and the designers had certainly taken a look at modern Japanese cameras. For example, placing a film is very standard: just drop the cassette in on the left, pull the film lip out, feed it over the sprocket and into the take-up spool, wind on the film a bit, close the back, take three false exposures with the back shut, and the camera's ready for operation. Similarly standard is rewinding a film: when the film is fully exposed, press the sprocket release button underneath the camera, and rewind the film with the rewind crank. The crank is on the left hand side of the body, and is placed under a 90 degree angle, I suspect as not to confuse the amateur public with knobs and levers and things on the top plate. Often though, the rewind crank has broken off. Apart from my own, I've seen several Sokols on eBay which have this problem.
Taking pictures is somewhat less straightforward than with those standard Japanese compacts. The shutter release knob, for example, is not on top of the body as you would expect, but on the front. It's also not a knob, but a slide that you have to press downwards in order to trip the shutter. On top of the camera, in the place where the shutter release knob is normally found, there is only a cable release connection. The slide cursor could better have been placed a bit more to the top, because as it is now, it's difficult to reach. I have to stretch my right index finger all the way down to operate the thing.
The Sokol-2 has a single-stroke wind lever, which isn't exactly well-designed either. The lever is not on top of the camera, but somewhere in the middle. It traverses along the side of the body. What's worse, is that the wind lever on my Sokol-2 does not block after the current frame is wound on. It's possible to wind on the whole film without the wind lever ever blocking. That can be very annoying when you put the camera away a few days, then pick it up again, and forgot whether or not you advanced the current frame. You'll probably advance the frame anyway to be sure, and probably waste the frame in the process. I don't know if all Sokol-2's have this problem or that it's only a particular quirk of my model, but make it a habit to always advance the films after taking an exposure, so that you won't have any doubts later on.
The Sokol-2's viewfinder system is fairly advanced. As I said earlier, it has automatic parallax correction and a light meter indication. It's also neutral-teinted, which is ofcourse better for judging colour. The rangefinder spot is a small bright yellow/greenish rectangle, which because of the large rangefinder base, can be focused precisely.
The light meter indication is done by five luminescent arrows in the viewfinder. All the arrows point downwards. Since I don't have the manual to this camera I don't know how the system works, but I guess that you have to try combinations until the middle arrow shows. If you set the camera's aperture ring beyond f/16 to 'A', the camera should automatically find an aperture to suit the currently selected shutter speed. If the camera detects an underexposure, the shutter blocks (but the wind lever doesn't...)
It's a pity that the Sokol-2 does not have interchangeable lenses, because as a L39 rangefinder it might have become quite successful. Instead, the Sokol-2 has a fixed Industar-70 50mm f/2.8 lens, that focuses from 0.8m to infinity. The rangefinder coupling is internal. If the pictures I've taken with it are representative, its image quality is quite good. It has a rounded-off five-blade aperture, that can be set both manually and automatically. If you want to switch from automatic to manual, you must first unlock the aperture ring by pressing a small iron lip on the bottom right of the lens barrel. Keep it pressed and turn the aperture ring at the same time.
Contrary to such cameras as the Voskhod and the Iskra, the Sokol-2 does not have a shift program, ie. that the apertures and shutter speeds can be shifted onto different values. You can easily mimick that though by grabbing hold of both rings, and moving them together.
The Sokol-2's meant for export have the film value stated in ASA, where the Sokol-2's for the internal market are marked GOST. My Sokol-2 takes 20 to 320 ASA film, the sensitivity of which can be set by a ring on the lens facade. The film sensitivity is rather crudely but effectively coupled to the light meter: the less sensitive the film gets, the smaller the aperture hole turned into place over the CdS cells...
What else is there to say about the Sokol-2? Not much, I think. It's a down to earth camera with some nice features considering the time and place of construction, but nothing truly unique. It's an amateur camera that, despite some quirks and a deplorable malfunction record, simply takes pictures. Nothing more, nothing less.
I found this picture on the LOMOgraphy Society's website. It shows a LOMO employee calibrating a Sokol(-2?)'s rangefinder. As far as I can see, he's focusing on a test card through a set of lenses of different magnitude. The Sokol is held firmly in place by a heavy base.