Published in HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 2, APRIL 1979
by Oscar Fricke
The Soviet photographic industry
was born in a manner very different from that in Western society. Pre-Revolutionary
Russia did not have a domestic camera industry. The small Russian optics
industry was dominated by foreigners, and all cameras, paper and accessories
were imported . The Soviet camera industry emerged only during the
late 1920s and early 1930s, a period of experiment and general social
upheaval which followed the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the
ensuing civil war. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was officially
created in 1923, Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin had begun his rise to
power. The first Soviet cameras were produced during Stalin's push for
the industrial and economic transformation of Russia.
The Soviet Union's first 35 mm camera was the FED , first produced by the F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune in Kharkov, then the capital of the Ukraine. Initially a colony for the rehabilitation of youth, the commune had been created as a memorial to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police. The person responsible for the unique path which the commune was to follow was its director, Anton Semyonovich Makarenko, who became famous, not in photography, but in Soviet education. In many ways the early history of the FED reflects in microcosm the changes the country was undergoing.
Figure 1. One of the advantages of a miniature camera, as seen by `Sovetskoe Foto' (May 1934).
The original FED cameras were a limited number of straight Leica I (A) copies produced in 1932-33, the first of many Leica imitations. Thus FED is one of the oldest surviving names in 35 mm photographic equipment. When the production of FED Leica II (D) copies began in 1934, they marked a milestone in Soviet photography, becoming the first Soviet small-format camera to be mass-produced and only the second major Soviet camera of any type. Production of this model continued for over 20 years, during which time only small changes were made in the camera's appearance and mechanism. Ironically, the total production of FED and other Soviet Leica II copies greatly exceeded that of genuine Leitz Leica IIs, and may have even surpassed the output of screw-mount Leicas of all types .
ALEXANDER RODCHENKO AND THE LEICA
Figure 2. V. Kovrigin: Alexander Rodchenko on the Moscow-Volga Carnal (early 1930s). (From 'Sovetskoe Foto', April 1936.)
Figure 3. Alexander Rodchenko: `Girl with a Leica', c.
1934. (From German Karginov, 'Alekszandr Rodchenko', Corvina, Budapest,
Figure 4. Unknown photographer: Aston Semyonovich Makarenko, Soviet educator and writer, director of the Dzerzhinsky Commune, in 1936. (From 'Makarenko, His Life and Work', FLPH, Moscow, c. 1963.)
Makarenko accepted the challenge,
and in September 1920 a small colony was established near Poltava on the
main road to Kharkov. The colony was relocated twice and grew to 400 members
by 1926. For seven years, Makarenko worked with the Gorky Colony, as it
came to be called, gradually developing the ideas of collective discipline
and labour education which he would later fully implement at the Dzerzhinsky
Commune. Discipline was provided by a quasi-military type of regimentation.
Competition between work 'detachments', each with a 'commander' in charge,
helped to create a needed sense of pride, achievement and community. Labour
education was the combination of formal secondary education with some
form of productive work, which at the Gorky Colony was mainly agricultural.
Extension of the productive work concept eventually led to the production
of the FED camera. Makarenko's success with the besprizorniki was
a rare exception compared with the results of other institutions. These
years of experiment at the Gorky Colony enabled Makarenko to develop the
fundamentals of his educational methods.
The colony had adopted the
name M. Gorky Colony [Koloniya imeni M. Gor'kogo] in honour of
the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky. Makarenko deeply admired Gorky, and shared
with him a great respect for people and a faith in man's vast creative
potential. The two men developed a life-long correspondence, and Gorky
encouraged Makarenko when he eventually began to write about his own experiences.
THE F. E. DZERZHINSKY LABOUR COMMUNE
Figure 5. Russian 'besprizorniki' [homeless ones] in the
1920s. (From `USSR in Construction', April 1934.)
In the years and famine that followed, the situation of the children in fact grew only worse, but Dzerzhinsky's gesture was remembered. When he died in 1926, the Ukrainian political police, now called the OGPU (Unified State Political Administration), decided to build a children's commune in his honour . The F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune [Trudkommuna imeni F. E. Dzerzhinskogo] was officially opened on 29th December 1927. Under eight years of Makarenko's leadership, the institution won a great reputation, and received visitors from many countries.
Figure 6. Unknown photographer: Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police. (From `USSR in Construction', April 1934.)
From the start the Dzerzhinsky
Commune differed from the Gorky Colony. Makarenko had already built and
tested his educational system at the Gorky Colony, and was able to apply
his methods more confidently at the Dzerzhinsky Commune. Here he had the
full support of the authorities and was freed from the distractions of
disapproving supervision. And unlike the Gorky Colony, which began its
life in the dilapidated ruins of a former estate, the buildings and workshops
of the Dzerzhinsky Commune were new, in fact lavish in comparison, having
been built and in part furnished by contributions from local Cheka
At first the commune had 150
members, boys and girls ranging from 13 to 17 years of age and including
a nucleus of 50 former Gorky Colonists. The wards of the commune, or communards
as they might be called, were still classed as besprizorniki, but
now more in the Western sense of delinquents. Their number would grow
to 600 by 1935.
Makarenko's methods combined
productive work and secondary education in a Marxist system of polytechnical
education which sought to eliminate the distinction between physical and
mental labour. This was accomplished by dividing each day into two four-hour
shifts, with one shift devoted to productive work and the other to classroom
Whereas agricultural labour
had been the main emphasis of the Gorky Colony, more complex types of
work were developed at the Dzerzhinsky Commune. Initially, the commune
engaged in handicraft-type productions, with workshops for locksmithing,
carpentry, shoemaking and sewing. The commune also had a small foundry.
Production was started with the aid of outside craftsmen, but as commune
members developed their own skills, outside help was reduced to a minimum.
The products themselves, including
clothes and crudely-made furniture, initially went to serve the commune's
own needs, but orders were soon accepted from outside as well. In this
way, the commune became a completely self-supporting institution, a source
of considerable pride. By late 1929, the commune was making and selling
various kinds of furniture and other products. The resulting income allowed
the improvement of facilities and expansion of the carpentry shops. Production
of desks and chairs soon reached the thousands. The value of the daily
production rose steadily, and communards also received wages which rose
as the skill and value of their work increased. The commune even had a
marching band and a wide range of clubs, including drama, various sports,
photography, and service-type clubs for improving conditions within the
commune. There were also the Komsomol and Pioneer youth organizations.
The Dzerzhinsky Commune had become a complex community and would soon
undertake even greater challenges.
During this time the Soviet
Union had begun to undergo great changes. Stalin consolidated his immense
powers in the late 1920s and in 1928 launched the First Five-Year Plan.
The first three Five-Year Plans would transform the USSR from an agricultural
country with virtually unutilized resources into an industrial nation
no longer requiring large imports to fill her economic needs.
It was the Soviet intention,
as expounded by both Lenin and Stalin, to establish an autarkic economy
completely independent of and isolated from the economy of the capitalist
world . The First Five-Year Plan sought to bring about the wholesale
collectivization of agriculture together with rapid industrialization,
including the construction of heavy industry, development of transportation
and harnessing of new power sources. But to industrialize in such a short
time, Russia had first to rely heavily on the technology of the West.
Books, research, scientists, technicians and machinery enabled the Russians
to obtain some of the most advanced industrial technology in the world,
without having to pay the tremendous cost, in time and money, of experimentation
and development . In this scheme, international patent agreements
and the fact that the Leica, for example, was of foreign design and manufacture
would become largely incidental and irrelevant.
The forced collectivization
of the peasants resulted in the dispossession of millions of people, and
thousands died. Forced labour employed on heavy construction projects
also exacted its toll. Makarenko managed to survive this period while
many other educators did not. Sudden shifts in policy often had fatal
It was also during this period,
largely as a result of the drive towards industrialization and self-sufficiency,
that the Soviet camera industry was born. In 1929 the first EFTE plate
cameras were produced in limited numbers by the Foto-Trud co-operative
in Moscow, and by late 1930 came the Fotokor-1 . A 9×12
cm folding plate camera produced by the State Optical Mechanical Works
[Gosudarstvennyi Optiko-Mekhanicheskii Zavod or GOMZ] in Leningrad,
the Fotokor became the first Soviet camera to be produced in large numbers.
Close to one million were manufactured before the Second World War .
It was designed along Western lines and featured a four-element 13·5
cm f4·5 Ortagoz lens. Soviet camera production increased
from zero in 1928-29 to 2973 in 1929-30 and 23 008 in 1931 .
The First Five-Year Plan covered
virtually every phase of life in the Soviet Union, and also placed heavy
emphasis on education. Schools were required to produce more technically-trained
people to take part in the industrial fight . The Dzerzhinsky Commune
was affected in both its educational and its productive capacities. In
September 1930 a rabfak [workers' faculty] of the Kharkov Engineering
Institute was established at the commune to bring the worker-students
up to normal university entrance standards. More importantly, the commune
decided to construct its own full-fledged factory and begin a new industrial
phase in its life. This undertaking would lay the groundwork and create
the experience for the even more ambitious project soon to follow.
Using funds accumulated from
the sale of their products, and with the aid of a state loan, a new two-storey
building was erected for the manufacture of portable electric hand-drills.
Planning began in early 1931, and the cornerstone was laid that May .
The communards took an active part in the construction, and the building,
designed to house the machinery for the manufacture and assembly of the
drills as well as additional sleeping quarters, was completed in November.
All aspects of planning and construction were carried on in co-operation
with qualified engineers, designers and other specialists from outside
In January 1932, the new factory
was festively dedicated and soon thereafter the first drills were completed.
They were designated type FD-1 and were patterned after certain Austrian
drills . The FD stood, of course, for Felix Dzerzhinsky. These drills
were the very first electric hand-drills to be manufactured in the Soviet
Union. In fact, one of the requirements in deciding what the commune would
produce was that whatever it was to be, it should free the country from
depending on its import.
To cope with the commune's new activities, the number of communards was increased to 300, now with an average age of between 15 and 20, and including 50 girls. By the end of 1932, the number reached 340, at which point there was, in addition, one adult for about every four communards . These adults directed the work; they included engineers, technicians, mechanics, instructors, managers, clerks and hired workers who did some of the difficult operations and machinery repairs. Communards participated in all aspects of the production and had the opportunity to learn several different skills.
Figure 7. K. Kuznetsov: Plaque commemorating the organization
of the Dzerzhinsky Commune in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in 1927. (From
`USSR in Construction', April 1934.
The production of the electric drills proved to be a successful enterprise. In June 1932 it was decided to begin the design of several new models . These were based on Black & Decker models from the United States and were designated FD-2 and FD-3. A goal of 11 500 drills was set for 1933, mostly of the FD-1 type.
Figure 8. Fotokors being assembled in Leningrad in 1931. Early examples had imported Compur shutters as shown here. (From `USSR in Construction', November 1931.)
Figure 9. K. Kuznetsov: The first Soviet-made electric hand-drills, first industrial product of the Dzerzhinsky Commune. (From `USSR in Construction', April 1934.)
Figure 10. K. Kuznetsov: Drills were manufactured in this two-storey hall constructed in 1931. (From 'USSR in Construction', April 1934.)
Figure 11(a) and 11(b). K. Kuznetsov: Young communards working in the Dzerzhinsky Commune machine shop in 1934. (From 'USSR in Construction', April 1934.)
Finally, in The Road to Life Makarenko wrote, 'In 1932 it was said in the commune: "We're going to make Leicas!" It was a Chekist who said it, a revolutionary and worker, not an engineer, optician or technical designer' . In a chronology written for the fifth anniversary of the Dzerzhinsky Commune (celebrated on 29th December 1932), Makarenko was considerably more specific: on 2nd June 1932, planning for the production of Leica cameras was formally begun; on 21st June, a special experimental department for the manufacture of Leicas was established at the commune .
How exactly the commune decided
upon the Leica may never be known, but the reason is quite clear. In 1936,
Makarenko wrote, 'The manufacture of the products themselves, the FED
camera and electric drills, is above all else a struggle towards the economic
independence of our land' . Feeling a need for the new camera, but
not wanting to import it, the Russians took the only other alternative;
they would make their own 'Soviet Leica'.
On 26th October 1932, the first three Soviet Leicas were completed . The new cameras were first described in the 5th November 1932 issue of the newspaper, Izvestiya. The fact that the achievement was worthy of mention in the official organ of the Soviet government shows the high degree of importance which must have been attached to the event. The cameras were exact duplicates of the Leica A, complete with accessory rangefinder. The Russians may not yet have known of the Leica II which had been introduced earlier the same year with built-in rangefinder coupled to the lens.
Figure 12. 'The first Soviet Leica-FED' was the caption
to this photograph in 'Proletarskoe Foto', January/February 1933.
The cameras were referred to only as Soviet Leicas in the Izvestiya article, although the lens caps of the two cameras pictured were inscribed FED-Khar'kov. The quality of these new 'commune-produced Leicas' was praised; the writer enthusiastically claimed that 'the Leningrad Optical Institute, having examined the lenses, acknowledged their "higher quality in comparison with similar foreign-made lenses"' . The 50 mm f3·5 anastigmat lenses of these first cameras were made in Leningrad at the Experimental Factory of the All-Union Optical Industry Association (VOOMP) in co-operation with the State Optical Institute (GOI), also in Leningrad .
Figure 13. K. Kuznetsov: Two members of the commune's
new camera factory and one of the first production cameras. (From 'USSR
in Construction', April 1934.)
The photographic world was introduced to the new FEDs, as they were soon called, by the pages of Proletarskoe Foto [Proletarian Photo]. An article in the January/February 1933 issue proclaimed, 'There is a Soviet Leica!' Here, too, the new camera was praised. It was, after all, a remarkable achievement for the Soviets, and especially for the Dzerzhinsky Commune. Defects were pointed out also, with the confidence that they would soon be eliminated. The photos show a very familiar-looking camera, baseplate and top deck painted black, lens and infinity lock finished in metal.
An engineer familiar with the
new camera urged all photographers to offer suggestions and help the commune
in its new challenge. He wrote, 'The Leica is an indispensable camera
for press photographers, photojournalists, tourists and scientists. Its
versatility, compact size, ease of use, film capacity and light weight,
combined with its optical qualities of lens speed, image sharpness, shutter
speed and numerous other virtues promise the FED enormous popularity and
a wide range of applications' .
The commune devoted 1933 to
planning and preparing for camera production while the manufacture of
electric drills continued at its normal pace. The challenge for the commune
was a great one; to make a Leica would be much more demanding than making
wooden chairs or even electric drills. With about 300 parts, tolerances
to a micron and exacting optics, nothing like the Leica had ever been
made in old Russia. New techniques had to be mastered and much new equipment
had to be made. A detailed production and financial plan was drawn up
with considerable help from the State Optical Institute. Construction
was begun on a new building to house the factory, with a planned capacity
of 30 000 cameras per year. The Leica A copies remained only a pilot production
and by the end of 1933 a total of only 30 had been made .
The first 10 regular-production FEDs, numbered 31 to 40, were completed in January 1934 . The lenses for these cameras, unlike the earlier ones, were also made in the commune's own facilities. The new FED was first pictured in USSR in Construction for April 1934, an issue devoted to 'The OGPU Labour Communes'. The caption to one page of photographs reads, 'These youngsters of the commune work at the new photographic apparatus factory, producing the most delicate and accurate articles-camera lenses and cameras of the "Leica" type'. Considering the date of this issue, the camera pictured must be a very early example. The new FEDs were now straight Leica II copies, except for the lack of an accessory clip. The example shown in USSR in Construction is noticeable for its slightly taller rangefinder housing and smooth('celluloid') covering on the camera body. A surviving early FED (No. 279) has the same smooth covering, but the rest of the camera is finished in black paint, and the rangefinder housing is of normal proportions. It is reasonable to assume that among the first examples there must have been some experimentation.
Figure 14. FED No. 279 (1934), from the first year of production.
Apparently the commune had
difficulty finding a suitable finish for the camera's exposed metal parts.
In a letter to Gorky in June 1934, Makarenko wrote, 'Incidentally, the
"Leicas" ("FED" or "Fedka" as we call them)
which our new factory now produces are not bad. Only the secret of the
lacquer still eludes us. When we overcome this problem and the FED achieves
a really elegant appearance, the communards dream that you will accept
one from them; this is, after all, one of "our achievements"
[i.e., including Gorky]' . An initial solution was to adopt an unusual
burnished finish on the plated brass, actually almost galvanized in appearance.
Such a finish is found on another early example (FED No. 922) which also
has a more leather-like covering. One of these early cameras is shown
in Makarenko's Werke . Camera No. 4049 is identical to No.
922. Both of these cameras bear numerous marks of hand-finishing on the
part of the communards, especially fine file-marks on the rangefinder
These early production FEDs are characterized by their lack of accessory clip, 'notched' viewfinder window and large shutter-speed dial. Shutter speeds included six settings from 1/20 to 1/500, plus 'Z' (bulb). The top of the rangefinder housing carried the engraving FED/ Trudkommuna/im./F. E. Dzerzhinskogo/Khar'kov [FED, F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune, Kharkov] and the lens was engraved FED 1:3·5 F=50 m/m in a style which remained virtually unchanged for the next 20 years. The aperture scale included six settings from f3·5 to f18. Total production for 1934 was about 4000 cameras .
Figure 15. Map of the Dzerzhinsky Commune in 1935. Cameras were manufactured in the two buildings at lower right. (From A. S. Makarenko, 'Marsh 30 Goda' [The March of the Year 1930], Prosveshchenie, Moscow, 1967.)
PIONEER AND FAG
Concurrently with the FED and
Pioneer, yet a third factory began the production of Soviet Leicas. The
Geodeziya Zavod [Geodesy Factory] in Moscow distributed the first 50 examples
of its Leica II copy in early 1934 . The only observable difference
between this camera (as pictured in Sovetskoe Foto) and Leica/FED/Pioneer
was its rectangular viewfinder window with a screw on either side. Baseplates
and top decks of the first examples were reported to be nickel-plated,
with chrome planned for later models. The lens, produced by VOOMP in Leningrad,
appears to have been engraved VOOMP Z-d Geodeziya 1:3·5 F=50
In mid 1934, it was hoped that
total production of the Geodeziya Leica would reach 300 for that
year and 1500 for 1935. By early 1935, the introduction of a model with
detachable back was reported . The Geodeziya designers had
hoped to incorporate various improvements into their camera, including
combined viewfinder/rangefinder, but like the Pioneer, the project was
apparently dropped in favour of the FED before more than a few hundred
cameras were manufactured. Since geodeziya is the Russian word
for geodesy or large-scale surveying, it seems that the factory normally
produced surveying instruments. Initially their camera had no name, so
Sovetskoe Foto readers were invited to 'give a militant Soviet name to
a Soviet camera' . The result was the acronym 'FAG' , but what
it stood for has not been ascertained.
At least some news of the Pioneer and FAG cameras penetrated outside the Soviet Union; both were reported in the March 1935 issue of the Polish journal Fotograf Polski, although no surviving examples are known to exist.
In July 1934, the police functions
of the Soviet state were transferred from the OGPU to the People's Commissariat
of Internal Affairs (NKVD). The administration of the Dzerzhinsky Commune
was thus also transferred to the NKVD (although still with Makarenko in
charge). This change is reflected in the second version of the FED, which
appeared in early 1935 and carried the new engraving FED/Trudkommuna/NKVD-USSR/im./F.E.Dzerzhinskogo/
Khar'kov [FED, F. E. Dzerzhinsky Labour Commune of the NKVD of the
Ukrainian SSR, Kharkov]. The camera also acquired a more professional
satin chrome finish, an accessory clip, smaller shutter speed dial and
rectangular viewfinder frame. By late 1935, the top of the viewfinder
frame was made flush with the top of the rangefinder housing (on the front
of the camera), becoming the most distinctive feature of all succeeding
Soviet Leica II copies; it was virtually the only detail which differed
from the genuine Leica.
1935 was an important year
for the Dzerzhinsky Commune. As a combined education and labour institution
it was near its peak. The commune had grown to 600 members and its productive
capacity was at an all-time high. Virtually all aspects of camera production
were undertaken by the commune itself. However, this growth also brought
problems as economic and educational considerations began to compete with
one another. The commune was beginning to outgrow its original function
as a rehabilitative organization. In particular, the Leica was a system
camera and as yet the FED was not. Demand for the FED was high and already
Russian photographers were beginning to clamour for needed accessories
such as enlargers, developing tanks, slide projectors and additional lenses.
This demand eventually resulted in a basic change in the commune's organization.
The significant event of 1935 came in July when Makarenko's directorship
of the Dzerzhinsky Commune was suddenly terminated after eight years of
intense and dedicated work. The occasion was a sad one for both Makarenko
and the commune. He was appointed, instead, as Assistant Director of Labour
Colonies for the NKVD in Kiev. In January 1937, Makarenko moved to Moscow
where he devoted himself entirely to writing and lecturing until his death
on 1st April 1939.
The Dzerzhinsky Commune retained
its original form for about another two years after the departure of Makarenko
. During this period the commune continued to grow, reaching 750 members
with an additional 400 hired workers . Sometime in 1937, after Makarenko
had left his post in Kiev, the school and production activities of the
commune were separated, and the factory was turned over to direct administration
by the NKVD. NKVD economic activities, generally in the form of various
forced labour enterprises, amounted to 1·2% of total Soviet production
by 1941 , and FED production was specifically listed among the activites
. However, it is unlikely that forced labour was employed at the Dzerzhinsky
Commune. The commune was a model institution and under Makarenko had developed
a very fine reputation, one which the authorities probably wanted to keep.
The changeover in the commune's
administration coincided with a decree of the Narkompros of 4th
March 1937, which ordered the abolition of labour education and liquidation
of all school shops in the Soviet Union . While the decree did not
directly affect the Dzerzhinsky Commune (which was not under the administration
of the Narkompros), it was an indication of the changing sentiments
concerning labour and education which were developing at that time.
Meanwhile, work continued.
FED production totalled 12 000 in 1935 and 15 000 in 1936 , when production
of the 25 000th camera was celebrated . The first accessories appeared
by late 1937, initially including developing tanks, photoelectric exposure
meters, loupes for examining negatives, film cassettes and mechanical
and hydraulic self-timers. The list grew to some 18 items by 1938, many
of which were direct copies of their Leitz counterparts. In the September
1937 issue of Sovetskoe Foto a Leica is shown with an accessory
folding-frame sports viewfinder. The caption stated, 'An analogous viewfinder
is presently being developed at the factory of the Dzerzhinsky Labour
Commune'. And in fact a FED was illustrated in the November issue with
this 'analogous' FED item. It is in connection with accessories that the
factory received some of its strongest criticism from Sovetskoe Foto
. Apparently, of the 18 items announced, only four were actually produced
in 1938. Other complaints included, interestingly enough, low quality,
high prices and lack of relevant manuals.
By 1938, four accessory lenses
were being produced in addition to the standard 50 mm f3·5 Elmar-type.
These included a 28 mm f4·5 wide-angle, a 50 mm f2 fast lens, a
100 mm f6·3 long-focus lens, and a so-called reproduction lens
for close-up work, which was actually the basic f3·5 lens elements
in a longer close-focusing mount.
Figure 16. FED 28 mm, 50 mm (f3·5 and f2) and 100 mm lenses. The FED right-angle finder was a duplicate of its Leitz counterpart.
While under the administration of the NKVD, the Dzerzhinsky Commune did something which is perhaps unique in the annals of camera history; it copied the Leica in name as well as form. The FED was already a physical copy of the Leica, but some of the cameras were also engraved with the familiar 'Leica' trademark, and some f3·5 lenses were engraved 'Leitz Elmar'. Whatever the motivation, this strange practice persisted over several years, during which an apparently sizeable number of cameras was made. Beyond any shortcomings in workmanship, the give-away features of these cameras was the distinctive FED viewfinder window. The earliest known 'counterfeit Leica' was manufactured in 1936, while the most common year seems to be 1938.
Figure 17. 'Counterfeit Leica' No. 8734 (1938), actually
a FED-S and FED f2 lens with Leitz engravings. Almost indistinguishable
from the genuine item.
In 1937, preparations began
on the development of the two new FED models. The first was the FED-B,
to be introduced in 1938 . It was identical to the standard FED, except
for a top-shutter speed of 1/1000 and a separate slow-speed dial on the
front of the camera body for the additional speeds between 1/20 and one
second. The FED-B would have been a duplicate of the Leica IIIa (G), but
the project was dropped and never reached the production stage. Only 40
examples were built experimentally in 1937, after which they were no longer
mentioned in the literature.
A second new model, however, did reach the production stage, and was indeed introduced in 1938. This was the FED-S (Cyrillic letter 'C', which corresponds to the English letter 'S'). The sole deviations from the standard FED were an additional top speed of 1/1000 and the faster f2 lens as standard equipment. Innovations were very slow in coming. It is apparent that the FED-S was produced in smaller quantities than the standard model. This model also appeared in Leica guise, with its f2 FED lens engraved instead 'Leitz Summar'. The focusing mount of this 'Summar', however, was quite different from that of the real 50 mm f2 Summar.
Some styling changes were made in the FED's appearance in 1938, reflecting changes which had been made on the Leica several years earlier. Early in the year the platform under the shutter-speed dial was changed from a rounded contour to one more cornered in shape and at the end of the year the stud on the camera's side (for engaging the baseplate) was enlarged.
Figure 18. This photograph marked the production of the
80 000th FED in late 1938. (From 'Sovetskoe Foto', January 1939.)
To satisfy the demand for a
comprehensive manual for the FED and for 35 mm photography, the first
edition of Kamera FED was published in 1938 with a second edition
following in 1942 . The work covered many aspects of 35 mm photography
and FED equipment, and must have been greatly welcomed by Russian photographers.
Apparently the author found some of his inspiration in the Leica Manual,
if not for its scope, then at least for its illustrations. Cross-sectional
views of the FED in Kamera FED are identical to those of the Leica
in the first editions of the Leica Manual. At least they show how
close the two cameras really were.
Other Soviet cameras also began to appear by this time, chiefly products of the GOMZ factory in Leningrad, which was the major pre-war Soviet camera factory. The 6×9 cm Turist, 6·5×9 cm Reporter and large-format (13×18 cm and 18×24 cm) FK appeared in the mid-to-late 1930s in addition to the Fotokor. Of special interest is the 35 mm Sport single-lens reflex, introduced in 1936 . Even though it was produced for only a few years, this camera represents one of the world's first 35 mm SLRs, appearing at about the same time as the Kine Exacta in Germany. The Sport had a focal plane shutter, and accepted cassettes capable of holding enough film for 50 exposures. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/25 to 1/500 plus 'B'. The lens was a 50 mm f3·5 Industar-10 in bayonet mount (even though there were no other bayonet lenses available). The standard FED lens was also an Industar-10, although that designation appears in print only. Since the FED Industar-10 was evidently an Elmar copy, it follows that the Sport's Industar-10 must have been an Elmar-type lens as well. Other Russian cameras to appear in appreciable quantities before the war included the plastic 35 mm cameras Liliput, Malyutka and Smena. It is also worth noting that while in the United States, Kodak 35 mm film boxes were labelled 'For Retina, Contax and Leica cameras', Russian 35 mm film boxes were similarly labelled 'For FED, Leica and Contax' .
FROM COMMUNE TO KOMBINAT
The FED factory was renamed the F. E. Dzerzhinsky Kombinat of the (central) NKVD of the USSR in early 1939 . Kombinat is a term (roughly equivalent to the English term 'combine') used in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries to denote a large industrial complex usually combining several establishments, each responsible for a consecutive step in the production process. Whereas 'commune' was a hold-over from the days of Makarenko, kombinat better described the factory's new size and capabilities. The camera also reflected this change with a new engraving on the rangefinder housing, FED/NKVD-SSSR/Khar'kovskiilKombinat/im./ F.E.Dzerzhinskogo.
Figure 19. FED No. 150803 (1941), the version most often
encountered by collectors.
Production of the 100 000th FED was celebrated in mid 1939. Sovetskoe Foto wrote, 'One-hundred-thousand Soviet amateur and professional photographers and reporters who once eyed with envy the few owners of the compact Leica now have Soviet Leicas of their own. With pride and joy for the progress of our photo industry, the Soviet photo public reacts to the news that the 100 000th FED has left the factory's final quality control section' . But, as before, the factory was also strongly criticized, basically for failing to respond to the needs of the Soviet photographer; specialized accessories and innovations in camera and lens design were sorely missed.
Figure 20. Dzerzhinsky Commune factory building as shown
in 'Sovetskoe Foto', January 1939
The pre-war Soviet camera industry reached its peak in 1939. A total of 478 600 cameras of all types was produced in that year, a figure which would not be reached again until 1953 . The 1941 State Economic Plan called for the NKVD production of 40 000 FEDs , an increase of 24% over the 1940 production of 32 300 . However, the plan was cut short by the war. Total pre-war FED production reached approximately 175 000 cameras.
WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION
On 22nd June 1941, Germany
invaded the Soviet Union, initiating a conflict which eventually claimed
the lives of some 20 million Russians and destroyed thousands of towns
and villages. The Ukraine, situated in the west and rich in both agriculture
and industry, suffered most of all. As German forces advanced, Soviet
forces evacuated many industrial enterprises to safety beyond the Urals,
while demolition teams destroyed much of what could not be moved. Retreating
German forces in turn followed a 'scorched-earth' policy, so that by the
end of the war destruction of Ukrainian industry was virtually complete.
Kharkov, an important communications centre, changed hands no less than
four times during the course of the war. The city first fell to the Germans
on 25th October 1941. The Russians tried to reclaim it in May 1942, but
failed. They tried again in February 1943 and this time succeeded, but
only after retreating German air and ground forces had systematically
destroyed the entire city. The Germans retook Kharkov only a month later
and abandoned it for the last time on 22nd August 1943. The FED camera
factory and the buildings of the former Dzerzhinsky Commune were also
totally destroyed . FED production probably ceased with the first
takeover of 1941.
The Soviet camera industry
as a whole came to a halt during the war, but with the return of peace
in 1945, it began slowly to rebuild. Official Soviet figures for camera
production show a total of ten cameras for 1945, increasing to 5700 for
1946 and 91 500 for 1947 . The former commune school buildings were
being rebuilt by this time , and probably the FED factory also. The
entire post-war period is difficult to research, as there was no Soviet
photographic magazine between 1941 and 1957, and books do not provide
the same detailed coverage. Information on individual factories is seldom
Figure 21. FED No. 563638 (1955), from the last year of
production. Of better quality, but basically unchanged from its predecessor
of 21 years earlier.
Brief mention should be made
of one other Russian Leica II copy which accompanied the post-war FED.
Introduced about 1948, it was called Zorkii (and referred to in
English as Zorki), a Russian word meaning 'sharpsighted'. Although virtually
identical with the FED, the Zorki was actually manufactured by the Krasnogorsk
Mechanical Works [Krasnogorskii Mekhanicheskii Zavod or KMZ]
in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow. Why the two factories were producing the
same type camera is not clear. The KMZ is today a considerably larger
enterprise than the Dzerzhinsky Factory, producing a wide range of sophisticated
optical instruments and other camera models (including Zenit 35 mm SLRs)
. The Zorki's main physical difference from the FED was its Industar-22
lens, a coated anastigmat only slightly different from the FED and Elmar
lenses. Unlike FEDs, at least some Zorkis were destined for export and
carried dual Russian/English engravings. Both Zorki and FED Leica II copies
were last produced in 1955.
A succession of FED (and Zorki)
models followed the original models, gradually departing from the Leica
II design, but clearly retaining their Leica heritage. The FED-2 appeared
by 1955  with such new features as removeable back, combined rangefinder/viewfinder,
long (67 mm) rangefinder base, self-timer and flash synchronization.
The world-wide trend toward
the 35 mm single-lens reflex has greatly reduced the number of 35 mm interchangeable-lens
rangefinder cameras on the market, and the current FED-4L is among the
few still available. It is not a very sophisticated camera by Western
standards, and its chief virtue is perhaps its extremely low price. However,
even among Russian cameras it is often passed up in favour of the Zorki-4K
or Contax-like Kievs. Once a pioneering enterprise, the FED factory today
probably contributes only a small part to the sizeable Soviet camera industry
In 1936, Anton Makarenko wrote, 'and perhaps the FED is even better known than the F. E. Dzerzhinsky Commune' . Indeed, 40 years later the initials and the camera are almost all that remain. Camera historians recognize the original FED as one of Russia's contributions to the world's collection of Leica imitations, and little more69. But behind that simple name there is a story unexpected and sometimes amazing. For the FED was much more than just another Leica copy; it was a unique product of the social, economic and photographic history of the Soviet Union.
This article is based on a lecture originally presented at the annual meeting of the Leica Historical Society of America, held in New Orleans, Louisiana, 8th October 1977. Photographs from USSR in Construction are reprinted with permission of Sovfoto (New York). Cameras and lenses shown are from the collection of Rolf Fricke and the author.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
Published in HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, VOLUME 4, NUMBER 4, JANUARY 1980
The Dzerhinsky Commune
Correspondence from Oscar Fricke
In my recent article on the Dzerzhinsky Commune , I included a cartoon (Figure 1 in that article) which had accompanied an article on miniature cameras in the May 1927 (not May 1934 as incorrectly stated in the caption issue of Sovetskoe Foto. I have since been alerted that the cartoon was originally part of an early Leica advertisement which had appeared in the No. 4 (February) 1927 issue of Photographische Rundschau and Mitteilungen . Thus, even as the FED was copied from the Leica, this early cartoon was copied from a Leitz advertisement.
From 'Photographische Rundschau and Mitteilungen', No. 4 (February 1927).
On a related
point, I may have been too strong in stating that the making of 'counterfeit
Leicas' was the work of the commune (p. 147 of the article). While it
has been assumed by collectors that such counterfeiting was actually done
when the cameras were manufactured, this has no substantiation. It is
evident that many counterfeit Leicas were created by outsiders, either
in the Soviet Union or in other parts of the world. This is suggested
by a re-evaluation of a number of such cameras. First, the actual counterfeit
engravings seem to vary widely in both style and quality. Second, the
chrome finish on the engraved parts of these cameras also varies, and
is often discernibly different from the finish on unengraved parts and
on normal FEDs. Crude forgeries have also been encountered. The variations
and different finishes suggest that these cameras were re-engraved and
refinished at perhaps many different locations, the work of individual
'craftsmen' seeking to transform FEDs into more prestigious and expensive
'Leicas' to pass on to the unwary. So the existence of the FED did lead
to the appearance of some counterfeit Leicas, but the counterfeiters were
anonymous, and probably diverse.
(Also, the date in footnote 35 should be January 1939, not January 1934.)
Purpose and Objectives
International Advisory Board
USA and Canada
UK and elsewhere