fed cat...

Popcorn the cat poses again.

Or maybe he is just interested in the camera I am using? It is a FED-2, an old soviet 35mm rangefinder dating to around 1961. I bought it last summer in Sofia, Bulgaria, while wandering around at a flea market just on the other side of Nevsky Cathedral.

The asking price was all of 20 euros -- impossible to refuse! -- and the camera itself has turned out to be in quite fine condition. It just needed a little bit of work to sort out a sometimes-sticky shutter, and now it is good to go.

One thing especially nice on this model is its diopter correction mechanism. This allows me to adjust the viewfinder image exactly to my own eyesight, so I don't have to use the reading glasses I normally need to determine focus. And this is the only camera I have ever owned to incorporate such a feature!

Regular viewers of incidence will know that we don't do much 35mm around here, mostly preferring the larger 120 rollfilm used by our Rolleiflex and Graflex cameras.

But it is fun to try something different now and then. That, plus the fact that the FED finally grants us privilege to the elite FSU Rangefinder Club. It is a peculiar cult, one whose members share a quirk for vintage photo equipment produced in the Former Soviet Union.

Soviet equipment in general has a reputation for poor quality -- or at least poor quality control -- and that reputation prevails both outside and within the FSU. Back when I lived in Ukraine myself, for example, some Ukrainians asked me to help get them that Nikon or Canon SLR they dreamed was perfect, rather than the Zenit they proclaimed was junk.

But hey, it turns out that FSU gear can be pretty good after all. And this can be especially true where it counts the most: in lenses and optics. Something about FSU glass is just nice. Even the humble Industar 26M lens on this FED, considered extremely modest by most standards of comparison, has a sharpness and character that is the equal or better to anything else I own in 35mm.

Regretfully, I missed the opportunity to join the FSU Rangefinder Club when I actually lived in the FSU some years ago. That seems ironic and sad now, especially since the FED itself was born in Ukraine.

But sometimes you get lucky to live long enough for a second chance, and a FED-2 from the former Soviet Union.

Tirana, Albania, February 2012.

FED 2, Industar 26M, Arista Premium 100.