Tips for buying Soviet cameras

Ancient Soviet lenses fetch solid prices nowadays, not least because they're fast, low contrast and perfectly short of sharp, giving a no-effort "filmic" look to digital camera footage. The cameras themselves are cult items too, for stills shooters at least, but the get-lucky-on-eBay game is far more fraught with risk. Kosmofoto posted a buyer's guide, with the emphasis solidly on how to find a good 'un: Read this before you buy a Soviet camera.

This article – and it's a big one, so get a drink handy – is an attempt to dispel some of the myths that have developed around Soviet cameras, especially since the 1990s. It's not trying to pretend that it's only politics got in the way of the USSR's cameras, and that every Zenit and Zorki is a match for a Nikon or a Leica. Some of the horror stories you might have heard about Soviet camera quality are 100% true. But not every Soviet camera is a lemon, and some are capable of taking fantastic images if you take the trouble to learn their strengths and, yes, their weaknesses.