KMZ Zorki 4 (Soviet Rangefinder)

The Leica rangefinder

Rangefinder type cameras predate modern single lens reflex cameras. People still use them. It’s just a different way of shooting. Since they’re no longer a mainstream type camera most manufacturers have stopped making them a long time ago. Except Leica, Leica still makes digital and film rangefinders and as you might guess, they come at significant cost. Even old Leica film rangefinders easily cost upwards of € 1000. While Leica certainly wasn’t the only brand to manufacture rangefinders throughout photographic history, it was (and still is) certainly the most iconic rangefinder brand.

The Zorki rangefinder

Now the Soviets essentially tried to copy Leica’s cameras, the result of which, the Zorki series of cameras, was produced at KMZ. Many different versions exist, having produced nearly 2 million cameras across more than 15 years, the Zorki-4 was without a doubt it’s most popular incarnation. Many consider the Zorki-4 to be the one where the Soviets got it (mostly) right.

That said, the Zorki-4 vaguely looks like a Leica M with it’s single coupled viewfinder/rangefinder window. In most other ways it’s more like a pre-M Leica, with it’s 39mm LTM lens screw mount. Earlier Zorki-4’s have a body finished with vulcanite which is though as nails, but if damaged is very difficult to fix/replace. Later Zorki-4’s have a body finished with relatively cheap leatherette, which is much more easily damaged, and is commonly starting to peel off, but should be relatively easy to make better than new. Most Zorki’s come with either a Jupiter-8 50mm f/2.0 lens (being a Zeiss Sonnar inspired design), or an Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 (being a Zeiss Tessar inspired design). I’d highly recommend getting a Zorki-4 with a Jupiter-8 if you can find one.

Buying a Zorki rangefinder with a Jupiter lens

If you’re looking to buy a Zorki there are a few things to be aware of. Zorki’s were produced during the fifties, the sixties and the seventies in Soviet Russia often favoring quantity over quality presumably to be able to meet quota’s. The same is likely true for most Soviet optics as well. So they are both old and may not have met the highest quality standards to begin with. So when buying a Zorki you need to keep in mind it might need repairs and CLA (clean, lube, adjust). My particular Zorki had a dim viewfinder because of dirt both inside and out, the shutterspeed dial was completely stuck at 1/60th of a second and the film takeup spool was missing. I sent my Zorki-4 and Jupiter-8 to Oleg Khalyavin for repairs, shutter curtain replacement and CLA. Oleg was also able to provide me with a replacement film takeup spool or two as well. All in all having work done on your Zorki will easily set you back about € 100 including significant shipping expenses. Keep this in mind before buying. And even if you get your Zorki in a usable state, you’ll probably have to have it serviced at some point. You may very well want to consider having it serviced rather sooner than later, allowing yourself the benefit of enjoying a newly serviced camera.

Complementary accessories

Zorki’s usually come without a lens hood, and the Jupiter-8’s glass elements are said to be only single coasted, so a lens hood isn’t exactly a luxury. A suitable aftermarket lens hood isn’t hard to find though.

While my Zorki did come with it’s original clumsy (and in my case stinky) leather carrying case, it doesn’t come with a regular camera strap. Matin’s Deneb-12LN leather strap can be an affordable but stylish companion to the Zorki. The strap is relatively short, but it’s long enough to wear around your neck or arm. It’s also fairly stiff when it’s still brand new, but it will loosen up after using it for a few days. The strap seems to show signs of wear fairly quickly though.

To some it might seem asif the Zorki has a hot shoe, but it doesn’t, it’s actually a cold shoe, merely intended as an accessory mount and since it’s all metal even with a flash connected via PC Sync it’s likely to be permanently shorted. To mount a regular hot shoe flash you will need a hot shoe adapter both for isolation and PC Sync connectivity.

Choosing a film stock

So now you have a nice Zorki-4, waiting for film to be loaded into it. As of this writing (2015) there is a smörgåsbord of film available. I like shooting black & white, and I often shoot Ilford XP2 Super 400. Ilford’s XP2 is the only B&W film left that’s meant to be processed along with color print film in regular C41 chemicals (so it can be processed by a one-hour-photo service, if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those around). Like most color print film, XP2 has a big exposure latitude, remaining usable between ISO 50 — 800, which isn’t a luxury since the Zorki-4 is not equipped with a built-in lightmeter. While Ilford recommends shooting it at ISO 400, I’d suggest shooting it as if it’s ISO 200 film, giving you two stops of both underexposure and overexposure leeway.

BiertjeWith regard to color print film, I’ve only shot Kodak Gold 200 color print film thus far with pretty decent results. Kodak New Portra 400 quickly comes to mind as another good option. An inexpensive alternative could possibly be Fuji Superia X-TRA 400, which can be found very cheaply as most store-brand 400 speed color print film.

Shooting with a Zorki rangefinder

Once you have a Zorki, there are still some caveats you need to be aware of… Most importantly, don’t change shutter speeds while the shutter isn’t cocked (cocking the shutter is done by advancing the film), not heeding this warning may damage the cameras internal mechanisms. Other notable issues of lesser importance are minding the viewfinder’s parallax error (particularly when shooting at short distances) and making sure you load the film straight, I’ve managed to load film at a slight angle a couple of times already.

As I’ve mentioned, the Zorki-4 does not come with a built-in lightmeter, which means the camera won’t be helping you getting the exposure right, you are on your own. You could use a pricy dedicated light meter (or a less pricy smartphone app, which may or may not work well on your particular phone), either of which are fairly cumbersome. Considering XP2’s wide exposure latitude means an educated guesswork approach becomes feasible. There’s a rule of thumb system called Sunny 16 for making educated guesstimates of exposure for outdoors environments. Sunny 16 states that if you set your shutter speed to the closest reciprocal of your film speed, bright sunny daylight requires an aperture of f/16 to get a decent exposure. Other weather conditions require opening up the aperture according to this table:



If you have doubts when classifying shooting conditions, you may want to err on the side of overexposure as color print film tends to prefer overexposure over underexposure. If you’re shooting slide film you should probably avoid using Sunny 16 altogether, as slide film can be very unforgiving if improperly exposed. Additionally, you can manually read a film canisters DX CAS code to see what a films minimum exposure tolerance is.

Quick example: When shooting XP2 on an overcast day, assuming an alternate base ISO of 200 (as suggested earlier), the shutter speed should be set at 1/250th of a second and our aperture should be set at f/8, giving a fairly large field of depth. Now if we want to reduce our field of depth we can trade +2 aperture stops for -2 stops of shutterspeed, where we end up shooting at 1/1000th of a second at f/4.

Having film processed

After shooting a roll of XP2 (or any roll of color print film) you need to take it to a local photo shop, chemist or supermarket to have a it processed, scanned and printed. Usually you’ll be able to have your film processed in C41 chemicals, scanned to CD and get a set of small prints for about € 15 or so. Keep in mind that most shops will cut your filmroll into strips of 4, 5 or 6 negatives, if left to their own devices, depending on the type of protective sleeves they use. Some shops might not offer scanning services without ordering prints, since scanning may be considered a byproduct of the printmaking process. Resulting JPEG scans are usually about 2 megapixel (1800×1200), or sometimes slightly less (1536×1024). A particular note when using XP2, since it’s processed as if it’s color print film means it’s usually scanned as if it’s color print film, where the resulting should-be-monochrome scans (and prints for that matter) can often have a slight color cast. This color cast varies, my particular local lab usually does a fairly decent job, where the scans have a subtle color cast, which isn’t too unpleasant. But I’ve heard about nasty heavier color casts as well. Regardless you need to keep in mind that you might need to convert the scans to proper monochrome manually, which can be easily done with any random photo editing software in a heartbeat. Same goes for rotating the images, aside from the usual 90 degree turns occasionally I get my images scanned upside down, where they need either 180 degree or 270 degree turns, you’ll likely need to do that yourself as well.

Post-processing the scans

Generally speaking I personally like preprocessing my scanned images using some scripted commandline tools before importing them into an image management program like for example Shotwell.

First I remove all useless data from the source JPEG, and in particular for black and white film, like XP2, remove the JPEGs chroma channels, to losslessly remove any color cast (avoiding generational loss):

$ jpegtran -copy none -grayscale -optimize -perfect ORIGINAL.JPG > OUTPUT.JPG

Using the clean image we previously created as a base, we can then add basic EXIF metadata:

$ exiv2 \
   -M"set Exif.Image.Artist John Doe" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.Make KMZ" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.Model Zorki-4" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.ImageNumber \
      $(echo ORIGINAL.JPG | tr -cd '0-9' | sed 's#^0*##g')" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.Orientation 0" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.XResolution 300/1" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.YResolution 300/1" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.ResolutionUnit 2" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.DateTimeDigitized \
      $(stat --format="%y" ORIGINAL.JPG | awk -F '.' '{print $1}' | tr '-' ':')" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.UserComment Ilford XP2 Super" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.ExposureProgram 1" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.ISOSpeedRatings 400" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.FocalLength 50/1" \
   -M"set Exif.Image.MaxApertureValue 20/10" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.LensMake KMZ" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.LensModel Jupiter-8" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.FileSource 1" \
   -M"set Exif.Photo.ColorSpace 1" \

As I previously mentioned I tend to get my scans back upside down, which is why I’m usually setting the Orientation tag to 3 (180 degree turn). Other useful values are 0 (do nothing), 6 (rotate 90 degrees clockwise) and 9 (rotate 270 degrees clockwise).

Keeping track

When you’re going to shoot a lot of film it can become a bit of a challenge keeping track of the various rolls of film you may have at an arbitrary point in your workflow. FilmTrackr has you covered.


You can find a scanned manual for the Zorki-4 rangefinder camera on Mike Butkus’ website.


If you want to read more about film photography you may want to consider adding Film Is Not Dead and Hot Shots to your bookshelf. You may also want to browse through which seems to be a pretty good resource as well. And for your viewing pleasure, the [FRAMED] Film Show on YouTube.