Common Bugs

Out of its brown paper and twine package emerges a beautiful FED, or Zorki.  It looks, feels, sounds, and smells (well, that’s another issue by itself) good.  You load it with film, shoot with it, and expect to get photos with a quality which you would expect to come from such a lovely little jewel.  But no.  The pictures come out a bit fuzzy.  Or blurry details which you remember focusing on. Or there maybe little white spots, or worse, general fogging.  The Hidden Bugs have attacked! Nothing can dampen enthusiasm for these cameras more than these mischievous  gremlins.  They almost succeeded with me.   Good thing though that zapping these bugs is very easy. Comrade Kevin Kalsbeek said so himself when the bugs started stinging. In fact this sort of bug-zapping can become an avocation to itself.  Cunard’s line once said, „Getting There is Half the Fun“ With FED, Zorki, and likely all of Russian/Ukrainian cameradom: „GETTING IT RIGHT IS HALF THE FUN!”


Before you start de-bugging, be absolutely certain that the faults were indeed the result of camera malfunction.  Some ‘faults’ may be due to incorrect camera handling.  In this case, try adjusting the user  first!






If the camera/lens won’t focus correctly on anything, or focuses on a  point before or beyond the one on the RF target,  the RF may be miscalibrated, or else the camera’s lens register is in error.  For the latter, adjust the RF for both infinity and close focus.  That’s right: with FED and Zorki, the rangefinder has to be calibrated for both points. A camera whose RF is calibrated for infinity alone will not guarantee its accuracy at closer settings. 


Incorrect lens registers result in improper focus.  All RF lenses are calibrated to function correctly if positioned properly relative to the focal plane (read: film surface).  Many of the FED and Zorki have their respective lens registers adjusted individually for their specific lenses at the factory.  This would present no problems if the lenses were not interchanged with other lenses.  But a lot can happen in half a century, and chances are, camera sellers would often replace lenses or bodies between originals to present a more saleable camera.   The issue of non-compliant lens registers should also be addressed when other lenses, especially the long focus or wide-aperture, are to be used with the camera.


Lens damage too, can cause overall image unsharpness. If the lens had been dropped, or if its body is distorted,  or has its elements displaced or misaligned, no amount of camera body and rangefinder adjustment can improve focus.  If this is suspected, test the camera by using another lens, or test the lens in another camera.  Either should cancel the odd man out.


Make sure too that the camera and lens are compatible.  It is does not mean that if a lens fits, it can work with the camera.  Assume that prewar FED cameras and lenses as non-standard.    A prewar FED (identified by its NKVD markings) to begin with, has a slightly different mount.  Later lenses, if they do mount, would be oriented incorrectly, with the focus tab stopping at odd places like the front of the the RF or VF windows.   The same could be said of a prewar FED lens if found on a later camera.  Not only mounting concerns are the issue here, but the focus compatibility of lenses and cameras as well.   The older FED were specifically matched with their respective lenses at the factory.  In fact, cross-fitting between  older FED cameras and same generation lenses is not always possible.    This problem can be corrected easily with a few simple tools and techniques.  SEE RANGEFINDER CALIBRATION, LENS REGISTER, AND INDUSTAR ADJUSTMENT PAGES.














The cameras’ shutters consist of two horizontally-traveling fabric curtains.  Each is powered by its own spring loaded roller.  The Leica-derived shutters are so simple that hardly anything goes wrong with its mechanism.  When you open the camera up, you’d be surprised to see that the shutter has very few parts. Despite the shutter’s elegant simplicity, a lot of things can still go wrong along its traverse. Dirt, dryness, or improper tensioning can cause it perform erratically.


These rollers need to be tensed properly to deliver correctly-timed exposures throughout the entire frame.  

Too less or too much tension leads to incorrect exposures, or uneven exposures – not from frame to frame, but within the same frame!   A focal plane shutter exposes the frame at high speeds one part at a time.


Uneven exposures are due to incorrect tensioning- one of the rollers, usually the second curtain’s (the one which closes the frame), is tensed too much.  This makes the second blind to travel fast and catch up with the first one.  At the least, it causes one part of the frame to go darker than the other.  At worst, the curtains catch up and “cap” (the slit effectively closes) before completing the frame traverse, causing part of the frame to go totally black.   Uneven exposures are most obvious at 1/60 or 1/50  and other moderately fast speeds.  Capping usually happens at the top speeds. 


Dirt or dried lubricants can also hamper the shutter’s operation, causing it to wheeze or slow down anywhere during its movement.    The same can also cause the shutter to stop midway and leave the frame open.  In this case, the camera should be disassembled- the body shell is removed to expose the shutter’s works.  Most of it are located at the bottom of the crate, and can be flushed clean with lighter fluid or naphtha without further disassembly. 


After cleaning, new lubrication is applied. Watch or clock oil has always been recommended, but several synthetic fine lubricants appear to be equally effective.  I’ve even tried using “Singer” sewing machine oil diluted with an equal part of lighter fluid, as well as filtered WD-40.  They work, but  they haven’t been proven in time yet.


Shutter capping can also be due to improper curtain installation.

GHOSTS? Nope.  These apparitions were caused by holes on the shutter curtains.  The vulcanised rubber coating can wear, dry, and crack, losing their light-tightness.  Focusing the sun on the curtains can burn holes on them—as what can happen if the camera is brought along with its lens uncovered (and focused to infinity) in sunny situations, or if the camera is pointed to the sun for too long.  It’s difficult to see these holes with bottom-loading, non-opening back cameras like the FED / Zorki.  It is also difficult to patch them without disassembly.  And since the curtains are never seen through the camera’s back, it’s hard to tell the condition of the curtains.  Pinholes can occur and have its ghosts manifest themselves when least expected!  


If the holes are small and few, the curtains may be saved by patching them with black textile paint (same one used for T-shirt printing).  However if the curtains are cracking and look more like a sieve, REPLACEMENT is the only solution.  New curtains also eliminate the risk of getting pinholes, at least for the next decade, if you’re careful.

Irregular curtain travel produces ‘banding’; Capping produces partially exposed frames.