Updated: Sep 16
When I began photography as a teenager, there was a far more peaceful Russian invasion going on than the one the world faces now. In the pages of Amateur Photographer we read reports and reviews of the arrival of what seemed amazingly cheap 'Fed' 'Zorki' & 'Zenith' cameras - plus a bunch of other Soviet photographic products.
My father was an avid Leica and Contax collector but, unlike some other rather puritanical collectors, he was always interested in trying other lenses on his Leicas. And, of course, for my brother and I, the Soviet lenses were a very cheap way of expanding our lens collections - and learning to see the world through different focal lengths. We ended up with quite a collection... My brother still has his old Zorki and a couple of lenses. I traded my collection over the years for various lenses. It's nice to once more meet a couple of these old 'Soviets' amidst the stock at The Latent Image.
These days, Soviet era lenses have become a common sight at camera fairs - and frequently overlooked. But not by us at The Latent Image! We are on a perpetual quest to find, test and thoroughly evaluate every unusual lens we can lay our hands on. It's frequently painful to part with these gems but we have to somehow operate a business and not a collectors forum..! Although I guess we are probably going to always remain a bit of both.
We have two really quite lovely vintage wide angle 'Soviets' here - an 20mm f5.6 and a 28mm f6. The 20mm comes with an original and very rare finder - which is quite excellent to use.
It's a long time since I used a Soviet lens. In my pursuit of all things Leica, I'd forgotten how good these vintage lenses could be. I should have remembered better my father's example!
William relaxes in the TLI office -
You can see that the 20mm has a really nice quality to it - as, indeed, does the 28. These lenses feel like a very nicely matched pair. They really should go to the same buyer. Both have a quality that is somehow rather hard to define but certainly unique; when you use these lenses and see the results, you find yourself transported back to the look and feel of the classic era of European photography - or with a political twist, the work of a photographer like Joseph Koudelka, who captured with astounding clarity - and a great deal of bravery - the invasion of Prague by the Soviets in 1968. Nearly all his pictures have that explosive 'wide and close' feel that short focal length lenses deliver with such a punch - just like the two Soviets we have on offer at TLI.
Photos by Joseph Koudelka of Prague '68 -
“...The only other photographer I saw was an absolute maniac who had a couple of old-fashioned cameras on string round his neck and a cardboard box over his shoulders, who was actually just going up to the Russians, clambering over their tanks and photographing them openly. He had the support of the crowd, who would move in and surround him whenever the Russians tried to take his film. I felt either this guy was the bravest man around or the biggest lunatic around.” – Joseph Koudelka remembered by Ian Berry, Magnum photographer
It doesn't take much bravery to try a Soviet era lens on your camera - be it on any number of digital cameras that will accept these fine old lenses with the right adapter fitted or, of course, you can also use them on Leica Thread Mount film cameras like the Leicas featured here.
Blog copyright Matthew Whiteman 2023
Camera images copyright The Latent Image 2023
Historic images copyright various