FED 3 type B

FED 3b

click for sample



Here I was, cruising along, thinking I don’t really have the Russian camera bug, that I have more of a Japanese camera habit. Then I slowly but surely succumbed to the siren call of soviet shooters and now it’s like a small collection unto itself! If I didn’t already have a Zorki 4 I would have gotten a 4K for the wind lever, though I do love that vulcanite. (The 4K comes with that cheesy ribbed cloth I dislike.) Maybe I’ll blame it on the photography student that emailed me asking about a FED 3 and whether I thought it was a good beginning, prompting me to research it and a few months later, my friends and I have our own little caches of FEDs. Yeah, that’s it. I can stop anytime. I swear. (“And so say all of us..”)

This is the second version of the FED 3, commonly referred to as the FED 3 type B. The FED 3 type A (it’s not an official designation) is a little more classic-looking, with a stepped top and a wind knob, very like the rare and potentially problematic Zorki 3. The 3A is also more collectible than the 3B as it’s far less common. The even earlier FED 2 is a real beauty, with a very long rangefinder base but no speeds below 1/25. To add the slow speeds they shortened the rangefinder base (moved the mirrors closer together). Then when they replaced the wind knob with a modern wind lever in the FED 3 type B they extended the top straight across like a modern Leica. Another improvement in the B: fixed takeup spool.

I won’t delve too deeply into the somewhat sordid history of the FED cameras. Suffice it to say that the FED factory in Kharkov was an orphanage-turned-work-commune named for Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet Secret Police. It’s a very interestsing story, and you can read all about it on this excellent page, just make sure to come back when you’re done (I love that site!). Oh and put your wallet away or you’ll find yourself off bidding on FEDs before you know it…!

The earlier FED 3A, like the FED 2, came with an Industar-26 lens, which was an excellent purple-coated Zeiss Tessar copy with apertures from 2.8-22. Then they moved to the amber-coated Industar-61, a slightly differently spec’d version with apertures ranging 2.8-16 and click-stops on the aperture ring. (Maybe someone could tell me why the Russians frequently use copies of Zeiss lenses on copies of Leica cameras?) Then they improved it further by adding rare earth element Lanthanum to arrive at the Industar-61 L/D, which they used in late 3B and the rest of the FED line through the 5. The FED faithful say the 61L/D is the best Russian-made LTM (Leica Thread Mount) 39mm lens EVER. The catch is that your mileage may vary as quality control varied, and some of these guys have several 61L/Ds so they can choose the best of the lot. By the way, LTM means you can use these lenses on your Bessa-R or swap with the Jupiter-8 on your Zorki. The running joke is that for roughly $30 postpaid from Ukraine you can get a world-class LTM lens with a big ugly rear lens cap (a FED 5). Sidebar: I mentioned to a Russian coworker that I thought the FED 5 was ugly, and her reaction was ‘Ugly? What’s ugly about it?’ Woops! I forgot that aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder.

The 3B is a solid and handsome shooter, well-designed and with a real heft to it that surprises you when you first pick it up. As a user it’s got a great feel, nicely weighted and balanced, with a lively snappy shutter. Too bad it lacks strap lugs, so you can’t realistically hold it in your hot little hands — you need to have it in its neverready case if you want to carry it over your shoulder. See below for a compromise tip.

To whet your appetite further, here’s a pic of the 3B with a 35mm Jupiter-12 lens and Petri tele-wide finder (no fair, I know 😉

FED 3 Finder


Clean as a pin, this one, but the focus ring was a bit reluctant, enough that when turning it counterclockwise the lens would start to unscrew from the mount. Turns out that the grease inside the lens had thickened and was preventing the ring from turning smoothly. This is a common condition for these lenses, and luckily it’s a fairly easy fix: on the back of the lens are three little screws, held in by a light touch of some kind of paint. Scrape the paint off with the tip of your jeweler’s screwdriver, then unscrew the screws and remove the retaining ring. Clean the ring with a suitable grease-cutting solvent, I used Windex. Next is a ring that is set in place with a notch over a set screw, simply lift the ring straight up, then clean the ring and all the grease beneath it (I used about eight Q-tips in the process). Lube lightly with synthetic grease and reassemble. Now it’s smooth like butter!

Tips & Tricks

As with the Zorki and any camera where winding on also causes the film speed selector to turn, ALWAYS cock the shutter before changing film speeds! It’s in the manual but it bears repeating. In fact, go read the manual before even attempting to use the camera, the stuff about shutter speeds is both non-intuitive and critical to the proper operation of the camera. Changing film speeds without tensioning the shutter can damage the shutter!

Speaking of cocking the shutter, you’ll at first think there’s something wrong with the wind stroke, it feels like it’s grinding on something. The Grind Wind seems to be a FSU (Former Soviet Union) camera thing — it’s present but toned down on my Zenit 12cd — I think it has to do with the way the film counter dial and wind lever are geared together. Here it feels like a ratchet wrench, but I understand that it’s normal. You get used to it.

Diopter adjustment using the ring around the viewfinder, and unlike the lever on the FED-2 / Zorki-4 it’s less prone to accidental adjustment. Nice. Set it and forget about it.

NO STRAP LUGS! This means you have to have it in its case if you want it over your shoulder. But the leather case is so heavy! Inelegant but practical solution from my buddy Ken Smith: if you cut around the combo snap with a sharp Xacto knife you get a two-piece case that is only half as heavy. I did the same for my Zorki 4 case, I had been wondering how I was going to solve that one.

FED Case Snap

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