Fed 5 and its Radioactive Industar 61 L/D Lens!

I always attempt to source vintage cameras within the European Union and if possible in Greece so as to save on shipping and Customs duty. It is rare that I find anything in Greece but I have recently sourced a Fed 5 from Athens. It was described as ‘film tested’ and ‘fully functional’. I am always something of a skeptic but the photos looked good.

It turned up complete with an ever-ready case and carrying strap. I must confess that it looked pristine. It appeared fully functional and I look forward to running some film through it.

The FED5 is a Soviet rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses, produced from 1977 to 1990 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. As far as I am aware, it is not possible to be exact with the date of manufacture but going by the script on my model, I suspect that it is a later model. Its condition is also a bit of an indicator. Until 1982, the cameras were produced with 2 sync contacts, and since 1982 with one central one. Hence it follows that my model is from 1982. It is very sturdy and constructed of steel. All the parts appear to be extremely well engineered. Personally, I don’t find it an overly attractive camera but then, as they say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

Type: 35mm rangefinder camera
Manufacturer: FED
Production period: from 1977 to 1990
Format: 24x36cm on 135 film
Lens mount: m39 thread mount
Lens: Industar-61 L/D F2.8/55mm
Rangefinder base: 43mm
Shutter: focal-plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/500 sec. + B
Viewfinder: optical parallax viewfinder combined with a rangefinder and has a diopter adjustment.
Light meter: built-in selenium light meter
Flash synchronisation: sync socket “X”, sync speeds from 1/30 sec and longer.
Self timer: mechanical
My Fed 5 (with lens) weighs 745 grams but I have seen references of them weighing up to 960 grams

A Little Detail
Firstly, I must say that this appears to be an extremely well-built camera with a lens that has a good reputation. It is totally manual. There is no autofocus and aperture, shutter speeds as well as focussing are set manually.

Most of the controls are to be found on the top plate. These include frame counter, exposure meter read out, a recessed film rewind knob, film wind on lever, hot shoe accessory mount, shutter release and rewind release. The FED 5 camera was fitted with an Industar-61 L/D (ИНДУСТАР-61 Л/Д) 2.8/55mm lens, which mimics the Carl Zeiss Tessar lenses. The camera has an M39 thread mount, standard for many Soviet rangefinders, inherited from the first Leica cameras and has a 40.5mm filter thread.

This is where the radioactive issue of the lens needs to be discussed! (Or debunked!)
The Industar 61 L/D is constructed with Lanthane glass, which is what the ‘L’ stands for. (The ‘D’ stands for ‘dalnomernaya’, which means “rangefinder type”.) Lanthane is radioactive. This causes a degree of angst amongst some photographers. Tests have proven that the Industar-61L/D is indeed radioactive, but its radiation is already hard to make out against the background radiation and comes nowhere near the levels you absorb when sunbathing or flying. So, for all practical uses, the FED-5 with Industar-61L/D is perfectly safe. A fuller description of this subject is available at: http://cameras.alfredklomp.com/fed5/radiation

The viewfinder combined with the rangefinder is not particularly bright and if I am honest, as a spectacle wearer, it is not the easiest that I have used. There are no frames in the viewfinder and if the user choses to swap lenses for something with a larger (or shorter) focal length than the standard lens, it will be necessary to mount an appropriate rangefinder on the hotshoe. There is a diopter adjustment around the viewfinder which for me, at least, is very welcome.

The shutter speeds available are B, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and 1/500 sec. As with many Soviet rangefinders, it is necessary to cock the shutter before altering the shutter speed or risk serious damage to the shutter. The manual also warns that under no circumstances must the shutter setting knob be turned from 1/30th sec to ‘B’. Serious damage is likely if this is attempted.

Flash sync speed is available at 1/30th of a second. Until 1982, the cameras were produced with 2 sync contacts, and since 1982 with one central one. As my camera only has the one central contact, it is clearly post 1982. There is also a hotshoe.

The FED 5 is equipped with a selenium exposure meter. It is not reckoned to be particularly accurate because like all selenium meters, it covers a wide field of view. Unlike many vintage cameras with uncoupled meters, I find this one particularly … er … unusual. Rather than reading off aperture and shutter readings directly, one has to:-

  1. Set the film speed on the large dial. Even though the speeds on the dial are in GOST, just set the ASA value.
  2. Point the camera to the scene you want to photograph.
  3. Read which number the needle indicates through the light meter window on the top plate.
  4. Turn the light meter dial until the silver number underneath corresponds with the number from (3) above.
  5. Read off the suitable shutter speed and aperture combinations and set the camera accordingly.

Loading Film
To load film into the Fed 5, is relatively simple. By rotating the two locks in the baseplate, it releases the back of the camera which simply slides completely off. The 35mm cassette is loaded into the left-hand chamber and the film leader should be drawn across so that the film leader can be inserted into the fixed take-up spool. I suggest cocking the shutter to ensure that the film is secure and rotates correctly over the sprockets.

Rewinding and Removing Film
To remove the film, it is necessary to press the skirt at the base of the shutter button down and then lift the rewind knob on the left by pressing it and rotating the knob anti-clockwise until it pops up. Rotate the knob clockwise until it is fully rewound and released from the take up spool. It is then a simple matter of releasing the camera back as described when loading the film and the cassette can be removed.

As with all cameras, whether they be vintage or modern, there are always things for and against them. Often this will depend upon the user’s perception. The following are my observations.

The camera appears really robust and well made.
The shutter is very quiet and unobtrusive.
The Industar 61 L/D f2.8/50mm lens is very competent.
There are an inordinate number of different m39 mount lenses available.

There is no depth of field preview.
There are no frame lines in the viewfinder which means that if any lens with a different focal length to the standard lens will require an external viewfinder for accurate framing.
Changing shutter speed without cocking the shutter first will cause serious damage. This is second nature to regular users of Soviet manufactured rangefinder cameras but can easily catch out the unwary or novice user.

All in all, I think that the Fed 5 is an excellent rangefinder camera for the money. They are not expensive even if I think that I got a bargain with this one!

A downloadable manual is available here: https://cameramanuals.org/russian_pdf/fed_5-eng.pdf

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