Can you think of something more magical yet uncontrollable than a USSR rangefinder adapted as a pinhole camera?

So it all began a month or so ago. In a desperate attempt to fill the emotional void left by the sudden departure (sale) of my first and most loved 35 mm Canon AE-1, that leaked light beyond any repair and thus attained the certainly noble status of “collectable camera”.

I got myself a FED5 – a cheap Soviet copy of the everlasting Leica rangefinder – but surprise, surprise! Made into a pinhole!

The package arrived from Lithuania, carefully wrapped up, with a dedicatory print from a well-known and established photographer of his own time, now retired and gracefully giving life and photography lessons – (for the sake of privacy I will not mention his name).

Said parcel was misplaced by the post – so much so – that I had to overcome my distress while publicly speaking Czech and pick it up at the post office myself, as to avoid further delays.

Upon checking out the online manual by Butkus (life saver), I realised that this camera, in its utterly simple functions, was a way harder nut to crack than any other cameras I ever had (and to be a one-room apartment tenant I had a quite extensive collection of them, around 40 models).

I will list the 5 plus 2 difficulties of this camera in its functioning and mechanics (heavy and sturdy body aside):

1. Loading and unloading the film:

To load the film, the dial on the left hand side of the camera has to be lifted and rotated counterclockwise.

The secure locks on the bottom part of the camera have to be turned towards the outer sides and the back part of the camera will disengage completely.

Once pulled out, the cartridge can be placed in the take-up spool and the film will pass underneath (!) it and be rewound on top of it. The teeth have to lock the film so it does not slip away. The cocking lever can be then actioned and the shutter can be released to advance the film.

To unload the film, press the second ring around the shutter release (!) – it is quite unnoticeable at first, so it took me a while to realize it actually was there for a reason.

This will free the take-up spool and the dial on the left hand side can be rotated again until no resistance is felt and the full film is back into the light proof cartridge.

2. Cocking lever mechanism:

It is intrinsically dependent on the shutter speed dial. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever can you change the shutter speed dial without first cocking the lever.

In this feature relies the actual maintenance of the camera. If the speed is changed before the lever is cocked, you can say До свиданья to your camera. Also, never try the old trick of “I will set the shutter speed dial halfway, for better or lack of accuracy and have more chance of a correct exposure”. Just. Do not.

If your arrow points somewhere unspecified between 1/30 and 1, again the mechanism will start working erratically and the resistance it will encounter once the shutter is fired, will likely, very likely destroy the clockwork.

Not only your photos won’t be correctly exposed, but again, you can farewell your friend and never brag that you know your way around Leica, because you once owned a FED-5.

3. Dial:

Just below the frame counter is rather useless and I dare say, mysterious, in the sense that it being actioned won’t really make a difference on the camera settings.

It is just for your own peace of mind to remind yourself of what light condition you are shooting in (with much effort, as per point 1): flash, daylight, and incandescent light.

4. Metering system! OR…NOT:

Long gone are the days when bracketing made proper sense, that is, taking several photos matching the film speed, shutter speed and aperture! Instead, this camera metering system will pick your brain.

Match needle systems are no longer common and are confusing to the new user. In practice, it is really quite simple. Not convenient, mind you, but simple.

Note the match needle window next to the flash hotshoe and the meter settings rings just above the viewfinder. All meter settings are made with these controls and windows.

First, hold the camera normally, with the lens pointed away.

Choose the correct film speed by setting the correct GOST (label looks like “roct”) number at the engraved marker on the innermost ring of the meter scale.

Now point the camera at the subject and note the number under the needle in the match needle window. Turn the outermost ring until the match needle number appears in the small window.

You may then select any F-stop and shutter speed combination which appear opposite each other on the outer shutter speed ring and the next inner ring.

Example – GOST setting is 250, match needle reads “5”, combinations of f2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/500th should give a proper exposure.

So should f5.6 at 1/125th as well as f11 at 1/30th.

The Fed5 meter has a selenium meter, has no battery, and cannot be turned off, so don’t you even try.

The selenium needle is very old-fashioned and this particular FED5 model has it unfortunately poorly placed, where it cannot be aligned with anything else, unlike other FED models.

5. Viewfinder and rangefinder:

Extra point for those who wants to know about the use of viewfinder and rangefinder in this camera:

Notice the bright “spot” in the middle of the viewfinder. This is the rangefinder. It will provide a spit image of the object in your viewfinder. Rotate the focus ring left or right until the split image merges into a single image.

If this cannot be accomplished, you are too close to the object for that particular lens.

What you see in the viewfinder is not exactly what the film “sees.” At normal distances, and with the “normal” 50mm lens, there is little difference. Change to a wide angle or telephoto lens, or try and move in close and other factors come into play.

Many, though apparently not all Fed5’s have a “brightline” type viewfinder.

The Fed5 viewfinder has a field of view roughly comparable to a 50mm lens as seen inside the outer brightline frame. If your Fed 5 does not have a brightline frame, your field of view is somewhat wider than a 50mm lens. If you use a wider lens, say a 35mm, you will capture somewhat more than you can see through the Fed 5 viewfinder.

Conversely, longer focal length lenses take in smaller and smaller areas, until at 135mm the lens may see only the area encompased by the rangefinder dot.

The solution here is to use one of the many available auxiliary viewfinders. These come in both dedicated (a single viewfinder to match a single focal length), multiple brightlines, and adjustable varieties.

These are inserted into the accessory shoe and will provide the proper field of view for the lens desired

Disclaimer: for the purpose of this post, the additional information on point 5. is not required since we have an adaptation for pinhole, we have no lens, everything will be IN and simultaneously OUT of focus, and basically there is an INFINITE or NON-EXISTENT depth of field.

Because, that’s how pinhole works and you will see two images taken with this camera just today.

6. Self-timer / Cable release:

Your Fed5 also has a timer to allow delayed shutter release. This is commonly used for group shots while the camera is on a tripod and the photographer wants to be in the picture as well. You can use it for slow speeds to avoid “camera shake”.

First, advance the film. Second, turn the self timer lever counterclockwise until it points at the 12:00 o’clock position. When ready to release, press the timer release button directly above the self timer lever.

You can also screw a simple cable release in the shutter button, changing the speed to B – bulb mode for long exposures. When the cable release disc is pulled down in the B position, a thick needle will hold the shutter open while capturing.

When the cable release disc is snapped back up in N normal position, the needle will spring back in its site and the shutter can be pressed down and the curtain system will close. This system is fundamental to avoid shakes, especially during pinhole photography.

7. Lenses:

For those of you who wants to know how to change lenses, the great news is: you can mount a Leica lens in this camera via the LTM screw (if you can afford to buy a Leica lens, which is unlikely, since you bought this very inexpensive camera).

Caution 1: KMZ (Zenit, or sometimes Zenith) made some LTM mount lenses for their early SLR cameras and these have a different film registration depth. They may mount, but will not operate properly except at infinity.

Caution 2: Not all LTM mount lenses will work with your Fed 5. Some lenses use a “tongue” to push against the rangefinder cam, rather than a cylinder. As the shape of the cam itself is different on the Fed from that of a Leica screwmount, it may not push pass the cam to completely seat the lens.

Disclaimer: for the purpose of this post, the additional information on point 7. is unnecessary, because the entire pinhole concept is centred on the lensless camera experience and where once a fitted thread and a mount were, now lies a coated black panel with a bare laser-cut hole.

Now that you have an overview of the complexities of this camera and made it through this long rant on WHY A RANGEFINDER MADE INTO A PINHOLE is basically a thorn in your side, you can sit back and enjoy these magical 5- second exposures (around 11 am, autumn) of our beloved Vyšehrad, made into a fantasy kingdom.