History. Fed made rangefinders from the 1930s through the 1990s. The original Fed is a straight copy of the Leica II. There were several subsequent models, and within each there were submodels with incremental improvements. (Occasionally cameras will be referred to by submodel such as Fed 2b. This lettering system comes from Princelle's Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras.) The Fed 5 was the end of the line. Soviet cameras such as Feds and Zorkis are very inexpensive compared to Leicas of the same era and they’re a cheap way into the rangefinder world.
I bought a Fed 5 on eBay because the price was good and it was shipping from the US. I can't remember why I thought this was a good idea.
It was heavy and the shutter was aggressively loud for a rangefinder. The lubricant in the lens had dried out so focusing was a chore, which didn't really matter because the rangefinder was way off. The light meter didn't work. Even if it was working the film speeds were not in ASA or DIN but in GOST, the Soviet system. The tripod mount fell off the first time I put it on a tripod, leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of the camera which exposed the film.
Rather than throw it into the trash I got to work. I took apart the lens, scraped off the dried out lubricant, greased it up and recollimated it (which is a fancy way of saying that I made sure the distance scale on the lens was accurate). I adjusted the rangefinder via a screw and by gently bending the follower arm with pliers. Really, pliers, per the Fed service manual. The tripod mount got screwed back on and secured with Loctite.
Repairing these cameras requires little more than a butter knife and a pair of pliers. Impressive. (OK, you do need a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers. But you need pliers, too.)
The lens that came with the Fed 5, the slightly radioactive 55mm f/2.8 Industar-61LD, is supposed to be one of the better Soviet options. I was not impressed by it and wanted to try a Jupiter-8, which is a stop faster and a copy of the prewar Zeiss Sonnar. I found one for a good price if it was only the lens, but as a bonus it came with a Fed 2 as a rear lens cap.
Which is the long story of how I ended up with a Fed 2 with a Jupiter-8 50mm f/2.0 lens.
Body and construction. The Fed 2 is very compact and heavy. It has a combined viewfinder/rangefinder with built-in diopter correction. The lens mount is the Leica thread, or M39.
The winding knob is the larger one on the right side; the rewind knob is the smaller one on the left. For loading the entire back comes off the camera, not just the bottom plate as on the Leica. There’s a cold shoe on the top and a standard PC connection on the front. Flash sync speed is 1/25. The shutter button has a standard cable release thread.
Speeds are from 1/500 to 1/25 plus B using the old sequence: 1/500, 1/250, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, B. Later Fed 2s use the modern sequence. There are no slow speeds - you’ll have to get a Fed 3 or later for those. The shutter speed settings are not evenly spaced on the dial. 250 and 500 are so close together it’s difficult to distinguish between them.
No light meter. No battery required. This is an all mechanical camera.
Viewfinder and focus. The viewfinder, while not blindingly bright, is more than adequate and the rangefinder patch is clear. The eye needs to be very close to the finder window to see everything, so this is probably not a great camera if you wear glasses. There are no frame lines. The field of view in the viewfinder is for a 50mm lens; anything else requires an auxiliary viewfinder.
The case. My Fed 2 came with a gorgeous thick leather everready case. I hope to one day own a pair of shoes as well made as this case.
Loading the camera.
- There are two latches on the bottom. Twist them and slide the entire back of the camera down and off.
- Pull off the removable take-up spool and hold it the same way as your film cassette - nipple down.
- Thread the film on to the take-up spool.
- Put the film in the left side and put the take-up spool back in the camera. Make sure the sprockets in the camera meet the perforations on the film.
- Slide the back into place and fasten the two latches.
- Fire and advance three times, then set the film counter (a sliding ring around the winding knob) to 1.
- The diopter adjustment lever is on the left side of the camera sticking out from the the rewind knob. Look through the viewfinder and set it, because it’s sure to have moved.
- Take off the lens cap - this is a rangefinder camera and it’s easy to shoot with the cap on.
- Figure out the exposure settings using an external light meter, a smartphone app, the sunny 16 rule or a wild ass guess.
- Make sure the camera is wound, and then set the shutter speed. Don’t change the shutter speed on an unwound camera!
- Next set the aperture on the lens - if you’re lucky you’ll have a newer lens with evenly spaced clicky apertures and it will stay where you set it. If you have an older lens it won’t have click stops and the smaller apertures will be very close together, and I wish you good luck.
- Focus using the rangefinder patch then frame up your shot.
- Check to make sure you haven’t changed the aperture setting when you focused.
- Shoot and wind on immediately using the large skin-stripping wind knob.
- Put the lens cap on. The Fed-2 manual says to rewind with the hood on, but I assume this is a mistranslation and they mean the cap.
- The rewind switch is a ring around the shutter release with the Cyrillic П <-> С. At the end of a roll push down on the ring and turn it clockwise towards П. This will cause the shutter to fire if the camera is wound. The ring should stay down.
- Rewind the film using the skin-stripping knob near the viewfinder.
- Undo the bottom latches, take the back off, and remove the film.
- Put the back on, latch it, and turn the ring around the shutter release counterclockwise. Wind the camera.
All cameras have quirks. The Fed is more like a collection of quirks that can be used to take pictures.
- No slow shutter speeds. It's 1/500-1/25 then B.
- ⅜” tripod mount needs an adapter bushing to work on most tripods.
- Have I mentioned the metal knobs can take the skin right off your fingers? They’re especially fun when it’s cold out.
- The diopter adjustment lever can become so loose that it will move too easily. Wedge a small piece of craft foam underneath it to make it stiffer.
- Eye needs to be close to the metal-rimmed eyepiece, a problem for glasses wearers.
- Shutter speeds and aperture settings are not equally spaced on the dial. They're too far apart at the low end and too close together at the high end. Good luck setting f/16 and a half, or figuring out if the speed is 1/250 or 1/500.
- The aperture ring is clickless on older lenses, and right next to the focusing ring. The aperture frequently changes when focusing. I use a tiny piece of gaff tape to prevent the ring from moving accidentally.
- Changing the shutter speed when the camera isn't cocked can supposedly damage the shutter. At the very least the shutter speed won't be reliable for the next frame or two so you have to wind and shoot a few times to get it back to normal. Always wind on after you take a picture.
If you’re expecting Japanese or German reliability and bulletproof build quality, look for something else.
These are old cameras and Soviet quality control was not the best. All 3 Feds I’ve owned - 2 Fed 2s and a Fed 5 - have had problems. I've already listed the Fed 5's issues. The rangefinders were out of whack on all of them. One had a shutter curtain that was falling apart, so I had it replaced only to find there was an internal light leak that I absolutely could not track down. One had shutter capping. A rewind knob came off while I was using it because the set screw had worked loose.
The one Fed 2 I have left, after a few minor fixes, has been clunking along for five years. They are not very complex mechanically, and most issues can be fixed if you’re patient and willing to do the work. Paying someone to repair it will usually cost more than the purchase price.
My take. The Fed 2 is a frustrating camera because it's so close to being great but misses the mark. The limited shutter speeds makes it difficult to use in low light. The Jupiter-8 is not a super sharp lens, but renders nicely. Still, it's fun to use, and when I pull the Fed 2 out of the drawer I always put more than one roll through it.
- The history of FED and a listing of all the models.
- Fed 2 instruction manual (PDF)
- Fed 2 service manual (PDF)