This page is no longer actively maintained. (Pardon?)
The Sverdlovsk-4 (Свердловск-4) is probably the most popular light meter of the Soviet Union, or why would I get about ten times as much mail about it as for the Leningrad-7? To be sure, the Sverdlovsk-4 is the better of the two. It has a more comprehensive light meter dial, its finish is better, and last but not least, it has a CdS cell instead of age-sensitive selenium. Despite the fact that it's most likely long out of production, it's still a popular tool – which is not surprising knowing how most Soviet cameras either have an ageing selenium light meter or none at all.
Soviet light meters are enigmatic objects insofar as they've never been fully researched, and we know little about their origins. So too in the case of the Sverdlovsk-4: there are no leads to go on on the thing itself (okay, an owl logo which we can't identify), so where do we start? One possibility is to look at other models in the Sverdlovsk series. So far confirmed are the models 2, 4 and 6 (more on them later). If we take a closer look at model 2 here, we discover on the back a logo that looks somewhat like that of KMZ, but isn't. This logo is known to belong to a Sverdlovsk-based optical firm, probably UOMZ, which cross-checks with the reasonable assumption that these light meters were named after the town they were manufactured in (now called Yekaterinenburg). The question then becomes if we can infer that the Sverdlovsks 4 and 6 were also manufactured at UOMZ, despite the fact that they have an owl logo instead of the warped dove prism. I can't answer that question for certain, but given the enormous functional similarities between the Sverdlovsk-2 and the Sverdlovsk-4 and some common sense, it seems overwhelmingly likely. UOMZ is still active today and even has a website (not so strange for a conglomerate larger than KMZ), so I'll send them a mail to gauge their reaction.
As for the time of manufacture of these light meters, your guess is as good as mine. Tantalizingly, the case of my Sverdlovsk-4 has a date stamp that reads "4 ИЮЛ (July) 198...", with an unreadable last digit. My guess is that these meters were made from the late '70's or early '80's, to somewhere in the late '80's or early '90's. The fact that these meters were exported shows that they were popular, mass produced and generated trade dollars, which means the Soviets would make them forever if they could.
As shady as the origins of the Sverdlovsk-4 are, even shadier are its predecessors. I long assumed they didn't exist, but now it turns out that at least a Sverdlovsk-2 and a Sverdlovsk-6 can be confirmed. More info can be found on this Japanese page or on Nathan Dayton's site. The Sverdlovsk-2 seems to be functionally equivalent to the Sverdlovsk-4. The Sverdlovsk-6 on the Japanese site was made in 1992. It lacks a finder, but has a wider field of view. Apparently the principle of operation (CdS cell, LED display) was inherited unchanged from the '4. If you have more information on predecessors or descendants, let me know.
There are quite a lot of cosmetic variations in Sverdlovsk-4's. After seeing a lot of units on the Internet and on pictures people sent me, I've come to recognize types I and II, and some variations within those.
This is the oldest variant. We can tell that it's older because it adheres to the GOST 9851-68 standard, which enumerates film speeds as 32, 65, 130 and 250 GOST. (The GOST standard that your Sverdlovsk-4 adheres to can be found printed on the back of your meter, but only on domestic versions since export models are calibrated in ASA.) All the Type I's I've seen are domestic models. They have a red or purple viewfinder with proper framelines, a green film speed dial, a white center key, and the letters "CdS" on the black face.
This is a newer variant. We can tell because it adheres to the newer GOST 9851-79 standard, which enumerates film speeds as 32, 64, 125 and 250 GOST. This type comes in export and domestic versions. The domestic version has the manufacturer's owl logo, whereas the export version bears Moscow-based trade organisation Tento's logo. The Type II has a white, as opposed to green, film speed dial, and lacks the letters "CdS". They generally have purple viewfinders with corner dots or brackets instead of closed lines. One Type II is dated by its passport to 1980, which feeds my suspicion that the "79" in the GOST specification is a date.
To complicate things, there's also something as the Type I–II crossover. This strange beast takes from Type I the green film speed dial, the white center dial, the letters CdS, and the GOST 9851-68 calibration, and from Type II the black/white exposure table on the back (with GOST 9851-68 speeds 32, 65, 130, 250 instead of 32, 64, 125, 250), the purple viewfinder with brackets instead of closed lines, and the newer type of cyrillic logo on the bottom of the meter. One of these I've seen has film speeds noted in DIN/ASA instead of DIN/GOST.
A reader reported owning a crossover type with number 254863, dated by its passport to September 1984. It conforms to the above in all respects except the following: though calibrated in GOST 9581-68, it has GOST 9581-79 labelled on the rear panel, and it has the CCCP quality stamp at the same level as the GOST marking. Furthermore, the special mark on the film speed dial is at GOST 65 (not at 21 DIN), and for calibration the special marks are at 1/250 sec and at f5.6 (not at f8).
Bear in mind that these are just tentative classifications. What more is out there?
The Sverdlovsk-4 has a CdS light meter cell that converts light intensity into an electronic signal. According to the manual, its sensitivity ranges from 0.15 to 19700 candela/m² and from 3.3 to 432000 lux (?), with a field of view of 12°×8°. That makes the Sverdlovsk-4 a definite spot meter: its field of view as given in the viewfinder is equivalent to a 180mm tele for 35mm.
The Sverdlovsk-4 has a flip-up diffusor which can be swung in front of the cell to perform a direct light metering. With the diffusor in place, you point the meter directly at the light source to measure the amount of light actually cast on the scene. The meter calculates an exposure time and aperture that will result in a medium gray coverage of the negative. This method has the advantage that it is independent from the subject being photographed, and will for instance not underexpose a very high-key scene, such as a snowy landscape.
Without the diffusor, you point the meter directly at the subject, converting it to medium gray. This means for instance that snowy landscapes will be underexposed, but the fact that it takes properties of the scene into account, like whether the subject is reflectant or very absorbant, is sometimes useful. In practice, neither method is preferred; both have their spheres of use.
Metering with the Sverdlovsk-4 is simple: look through the viewfinder, frame the subject you want to measure, keep the thumb button pressed, and rotate the finger dial until you reach the LED's pivot point (just on or just off). That point is your reading, which the scales translate to workable aperture/shutter speed values. (Small note: I don't officially know that this is how to use the Sverdlovsk-4, since I can't read the manual, but it's fairly obvious.)
Understanding the various scales is usually the most difficult part of mastering any light meter (not that mastering a light meter is difficult). The Sverdlovsk has an intuitive system of three rings that is easy to understand.
Ring one: shutter speeds. This ring is rotated by the finger wheel. It displays values from 1/2000s to two hours (interpolated probably, no meter is that sensitive), and also cinematic frame rates from 8 to 125 frames per second. The fractional shutter speeds are set on yellow, the speeds between 1 and 30s on red, and those from 1 minute to 2 hours on grey.
Ring two: aperture and film speed. This dial is stuck underneath a clear plastic disc and can be rotated by two notches on its surface. It's also coupled to the film speed setting. Because film speed is a constant, you're not supposed to use this dial in mid-roll. Photographic apertures range from f/1 to f/45, while cinematic apertures, from f/1 to f/32, are shown in conjunction with a cinematic frame rate.
Ring three: correction and film speed. Changing the correction dial (between +1⅔ and −1⅔) shifts the film speed. You set a correction by rotating the plastic screw in the axis.
The meter is very straightforward once you get used to it. Just set film speed and aperture or shutter speed, and the rest is a matter of pointing the meter to the subject (or the light, depending) and keeping an eye on the LED as you rotate the big thumbwheel. Nice and simple, this esteemed and expensive Soviet boy's toy.
The Sverdlovsk has an interesting relation with its power supply. Mine says 'supply voltage 3–4 V' without any further explanation, so I guess the electronics are just very liberally designed to allow use under less than ideal circumstances. However, it appears there's a one stop readout difference between supplying 3 or 4 volts. If you're going to use this meter, I'd recommend you calibrate it first using the self-calibration procedure described below, or by gauging it against a known good meter.
The native power source for the Sverdlovsk is the Russian 3-RTs-53 battery (3,75V nominal at 0.25A). Price one rouble, guaranteed lifetime 1.5 years, and out of production since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, mine is going strong on four PX625's (they don't really fit the compartment, but with some squeezing...), and the possibilities for modification are endless, as long as you provide the necessary juice.
The Sverdlovsk has a 'power checkup' switch that doesn't seem to do anything, but is in fact the centerpiece in an ingenious calibration procedure:
Note that this both checks the batteries and calibrates the meter. If the light fails before the 20 seconds are up, your batteries are obviously low. If the meter somehow drifted off calibration, step 6 will compensate the error.
An interesting accessory is the AA Power Pack (see the drawing to the right) that takes the place of the standard bottom plate in motor drive style. It feeds the meter with the power of three AA batteries through some sort of probe.
The Sverdlovsk-4 comes in a black or brown leather pouch that is secured by threading the black or brown carrying chord through an eye. The chord is fastened to the screw that secures the bottom plate. Many Sverdlovsks appear to have come new in gift boxes with an AA adapter present, but I don't know if that's true for all units. There are two types of gift box known: one with a black plastic base and one with a pink one. The base has a moulded owl logo and a moulded (!) inscription that tells us the Sverdlovsk-4 was sold for 47 Rubles.
This is the luxurious plastic shop box for the Sverdlovsk-4, complete with chord, AA battery pack, leather pouch and manual.
Two of the three exposure tables that I'm aware of. The one on the left is oldest because it adheres to the older GOST-9851-68 standard — the one on the right sticks to GOST 9851-79. The difference is in the way they note film speeds: GOST '68 as 32–65–130–250, GOST '79 as 32–64–125–250. The bulb, sun and cloud symbols missing in the left table were printed on the front of the meter. The third exposure table not shown here is identical to the right one, only it's calibrated in GOST '68 and has a small SSSR Quality Seal in the top right.
Two variations in Cyrillic Sverdlovsks. Left: Type II. Right: Type I.
Two of the three logos found on the Sverdlovsk-4. Above is the domestic cyrillic logo with the manufacturer's owl, below is the export version with Technointorg's logo.
A Hungarian reader writes that he uses this 3.6V battery from a motherboard in his Sverdlovsk-4, and that it works fine.
Thanks again to our Hungarian reader for this picture of the original 3РЦ 53 battery.