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The Zorki-4 (Зоркий-4) is a real Russian classic. It was manufactured by KMZ, the Krasnogorskij Mekhanicheskij Zavod Imeni S.A. Zvereva (the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant, Bearing the Name of S. A. Zverev). KMZ was, and still is, located in Krasnogorsk, a suburb of Moscow, and made all kinds of optical equipment, both civil and military. The Zorki-4 was manufactured from 1956 to 1973, and evolved out of the Zorki-3S. J.L. Princelle says, in his book, that 1.715.677 were produced over those seventeen years.
The Zorki family started off as copies of the Leica Screw series, like a lot of Russian cameras did. The basic pre-war Leica design was copied since the thirties (by FED) and after the war continued by KMZ in their Zorki series. 'Зоркий', by the way, means 'sharp-sighted' in Russian.
After a range of Zorki cameras during the forties and early fifties, KMZ finally cooked the Zorki range down to the one Zorki-4, which contained all the advantages of its predecessors, such as all the shutter speeds combined in one dial, a variable flash sync delay, and (for those days) a reasonable finish. And when the Zorki-4 was finally taken into production in 1956, it stayed so for seventeen years. Talk about the Russian plan economy...
The Zorki-4 is a small camera, which still looks a bit like its inspirator, the screwmount Leica. My neighbour, a photographer who knows, said it has the feel of the pre-war Leicas. Generally the finish is fine, with all the parts fitting reasonably. On my camera, there is only some tolerance between the top plate and the body, which is quite harmless. One of the things perhaps less elegant, are the cogs and rods inside the film compartment. The knobs might also have been a bit more smooth and elegant, than the big protruding cylinders they are now.
The thick body metal is cast aluminium, but the top plate with the viewfinder is made out of thin sheet metal which was pressed into shape. The Zorki-4 is skinned in a fake leather substance, which on my camera has started to peel off.
To load the film, the bottom plate can be taken off by two locking keys. Then the film lip is fed into a loose take-up spool, then wound tight by the winding knob, and the body closed.
The camera has some distinctly old-fashioned features, that are directly borrowed from the pre-war Leicas, and certainly misfit a 1960's camera. For example, the thumb wind by means of an engraved knob. That system is not only very clumsy to use because the button is too close to the body, but also doesn't allow the force it takes to advance the film in this tractor-style camera. And then there's the rewind button and the dioptre switch: the rewind button is small and also clumsy, and the dioptre slide switch gets moved too easily.
Taking photos with the Zorki-4 is a pleasant experience if you're used to cameras like these, but agonizing if you're not. The camera handles like a brick, with very crude controls. It doesn't have a good grip, and feels sturdy and hollow. Where real Leicas feel elegant and have a mechanical souplesse, the Zorki-4 is obviously a crude people's camera. Taking photos with one is a challenge: there is no light meter, the viewfinder has odd colours, the shutter speeds are hard to set because of the uneasy going shutter speed dial, and you have to focus separately before each photo. Then when you press the stiff going shutter release button, the rubber shutter will make a sound like a clappering letterbox. Then you need to wind the film with the cursed thumbwheel...
All in all, the Zorki-4 is still a user camera and is capable of taking good pictures (the Jupiter-8 lens supplied, a Zeiss Sonnar clone, is far above average), but has some ergonomical flaws, not the least of which is the grip problem on the oval body. But if you don't mind having a real mechanical camera that kicks ass around your neck, the Zorki-4 is a pleasantly manual camera to use.
A Zorki-4 for sale, guarding our monarchy with its Soviet eye. Yes my friends, that's SIXTY-SIX Euros. Out of line? I think so.